be vewy vewy quiet Who: Percy & BB. What: Lottery prompt that fed p easily into some overall plot... Where: Somewhere in L.A.... When: Not too long after this network exchange.
BB put her feet up on the passenger side dash of Percy's car as they made their way down the street toward the painting of an orangey setting sun in the distance, paying no heed to the sign that said 'passenger airbag within'; she was tapping away on her phone, quite possibly noting their movements on Twitter turn by turn.
"So lemme get this straight," she said, glancing away from the screen for five seconds, "you're looking up this guy, for a friend, except you don't know where to start and you can't tell me anything about him? Perce, that's not sketchy in the slightest. If you wanted to get me alone so you could strangle me, you didn't have to go to so much effort."
The small white Scion was built for speed, not for dirty dashboards. Still, it was a slight that Percy could ignore, given that BB was collaborating with him. He’d been grateful that she’d agreed to come along, although he didn’t feel like now was the time to let her know.
“You don’t have to tell me,” he answered with a touch of frustration, weaving in-between the other cars on the road to get ahead of them. “I never promised this was going to be easy, I said it would be a challenge. And you’re up to it, aren’t you?” He cast a sidelong glance at BB, a half-smirk curling the corner of his mouth. “Besides, I’d never strangle you. You’d probably prefer arsenic or hemlock. Subtle isn't your style, but I’d make an exception.”
"Poisoning? Isn't that, like, the womanish way to kill? Whatever floats your boat." She looked back to her phone screen, smirking, and tapped out a few more letters. "So where're we going first to find your mystery date? I hope you don't think I'm gonna act as a lure or something because I tend to kick 'nads and scream bloody murder first, ask questions second."
He chose to brush aside her remark, focusing on the road ahead of him. From what he’d gathered about Bryan Stations, he’d been spending far too much time close to Isobel’s business. It hadn’t taken long to find the location of her plant nursery, and Percy’s makeshift plan was to moreorless take a stroll around the surrounding blocks to see if he could spot the man from a picture he’d found that looked suspiciously like a mugshot.
“I don’t want to burst your bubble, BB, but you’re probably not his type,” Percy quipped. BB was, for all her faults, a woman who could handle herself--and that was not the kind of woman who would catch Bryan’s eye. “We’re almost there; we’re going to pay a visit to certain neighborhood. Have you ever been into growing plants? This place has a nursery nearby; we can start looking in the nearby vicinity for this guy.”
"I'm terrible with plants," BB replied, to no one's surprise. "Mom used to say I had a black thumb and started keeping me away from anything potted in my immediate vicinity. But seriously? We're just gonna walk? God, I haven't beaten the pavement like that since my freshman year. You seriously have nothing on this guy?" She glanced up and out the window, watching buildings pass by. A large, translucent structure scrolled past as the little car zipped down the street, a plain green and white sign reading Spring Growth there and gone on the left. BB paid it no real mind; there were dozens of Home Depots, nurseries, and other stores attempting to combat the Golden State's generally plain indigenous plant life.
"Did this guy, like, break into this place? Shouldn't your friend just be calling the cops?"
He shook his head, quiet for a beat as he attempted to sort through what he did know about Bryan--and how much of it he should tell BB. Certainly Obed would not want all of the ripe details to be spread to a stranger, but if he was going to work with BB on finding Bryan, she needed to know at least something about the man’s insidious crimes.
Cherry picking it was, then.
“Hey, a little walking never killed anyone. Your calves will thank you for the toning, trust me,” Percy countered, noting with a frown that he’d just missed their stop. As there was a paid parking lot coming up on their right, he switched lanes and pulled into it, thinking it’d likely be for the best if they weren’t conspicuously parked in Isobel’s lot all afternoon. She didn’t need the stress of thinking she had not one, but three stalkers.
“Calling the cops wouldn’t help in this situation,” he said as he shifted the Scion into the parking gear. The engine off, he set free the barest of details. “Not yet, at least. Let’s just say he’s ignoring a restraining order and making threats towards this friend.” Percy fixed BB with an uncommonly serious expression, judging her coming reaction. “He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.”
"Man, sounds like 50 people I know, one of whom's sitting in this vehicle," she retorted, pulling her feet off of the dash finally. Perhaps to Percy's reassurance, her sneakers did not leave a mark, and she shifted to sit up straight in her seat, turning toward him.
"So we're legit just gonna Scooby Doo this and see if he's around here? Because, what, your friend's agricultural hobbies is a giant magnet for him? Man, you get the weirdest assignments." She reached to unbuckle her seatbelt, popped the passenger side door open and stepped out into the tepid evening air. Her own writer's satchel hung around her small frame, and she stretched, pushing her arms up into the sky before tossing her hair over one shoulder.
"So where're we starting, Scooby? Or do you need a Scooby Snack first?"
BB, for all her amusing qualities, was nevertheless a prickly sort. Percy had quickly learned to either ignore or brush off most of her commentary in the short time they’d known each other. He was under the impression that it directly aided their unlikely friendship.
“Weird is right. But this is more of a favor for my friend.” Percy vacated the Scion as well, grabbing his personal bag from the backseat and locking his treasured speed demon. A few coins were dropped into the meter before he shrugged his bag on over his shoulder, taking a look up and down the main street.
“Let’s take a look around the block, Velma. I have a hunch as to where he might be staying.” He started off back towards the nursery, though he certainly wasn’t going to stop in to pay Isobel a visit. Not today. BB lingered by the car for only a moment, quickly following in Percy's wake until she was caught up to him pace for pace. It took a ridiculous amount of effort on her part; she was short, but she'd never had an issue keeping up with longer-strided, taller folks. Percy, however, was a whole other deal, one that BB could not understand.
"Hey, man, like, where's the fire? You wanna slow it down before we look like we're in a hurry to be nowhere?" She glanced around the neighborhood, which looked to mainly be industrial warehouses and storage units for businesses. Alleyways spread east and west, full of scrub brush, old cars, dumpsters, and in some places, small communes of homeless people that were nearly unnoticeable beneath the garbage they wore as clothing. A handful were clustered around small fires, which were enough to keep them warm but not enough to make smoke to draw police.
One hand adjusted her bag's strap, wondering if she should be getting her phone out. She just couldn't wrap her head around this idea that they were onto some great crime. "Also, if you were trying to say I'm fat earlier, that is not cool..."
“Oh, sorry,” he said, obviously distracted. He forced himself to slow down--truly a conscious effort on his part. Percy certainly wasn’t familiar with this area of L.A. but he knew the nursery was downwind from where they’d parked. If Bryan was stalking Isobel’s business, he had to be keeping close to it. Percy had saved an image he’d found of the perpetrator on his phone, and was debating pulling it out to show BB, despite the fact that the only people nearby were either flying by in cars or hovering around scraps and dust devils.
With a second conscious effort in such a short time, he tore himself away from his thoughts to answer BB. “And no, not at all. I grew up hiking and that sort of thing, it’s just basic science that you build muscle mass in your legs if you exercise them a lot.” He peered down the street, in the direction of the nursery. “I should have told you, BB. This guy could be dangerous.” And I am way out of my element, Percy wanted to add, thinking back to his odd dream (had it been a dream?) in which he’d been warned against searching too closely for Bryan.
"Dangerous? Dangerous how? Like homeless person dangerous, or Janie's got a gun dangerous?" She followed his line of sight, glancing around in each direction. To her eyes, nothing looked out of sorts; this wasn't even an area where a lot of homeless people congregated. Sure, it was away from the main tourist areas, so less police to keep people safe as cops focused on the Starwalk and those who would pay big bucks to keep Hollywood safe, but that also less chance at people's overly-expensive leftovers and change. BB decided to pull her phone out after all, clicking through to her camera; one never knew when a story might appear, however unlikely the locale.
“Maybe both. He’s got an interesting rap sheet.” The two of them walked further down the street, gradually encroaching upon a homeless commune. BB made a face; this had not been what she'd gone to journalism school for. The building didn’t look particularly busy, merely a few stragglers entering and exiting, and a couple of men standing out front discussing some topic or another. In such a mildly empty stretch of L.A., it was nice to know that at least there was respite waiting for the street’s various down on their luck travelers.
“Keep your eyes open for this person,” Percy stated quietly, bringing up Brian’s mugshot on his phone. He held the phone with the screen pointing up where BB could easily glance over at the picture. BB grabbed his hand, holding the phone steady as they moved, her brows meeting in the middle of her forehead in surprise. “We’re not going to do anything if we spot him, we just need to make note of where he’s been.” And the time. And the date. And the exact distance from Spring Growth. But that wasn’t fully BB’s concern, and Percy didn’t want to drag her much further into this situation than he was sure he was willing to go. Besides, there was always the pesky business of informing Obed that he’d had assistance in this case…if he let Obed know.
"You seriously expect to find someone who looks like that here? Unless, like, he grew a beard and, like, twenty pounds, he's gonna stand out like a swan at a duck parade." She let go of Percy's hand, turning to scan the area. Everyone she saw looked like a stereotypical homeless person; mainly men, though to be fair, she wasn't going to get close enough to be absolutely sure of anyone's gender, at least not in this immediate area. The ripe stench of BO invaded her nostrils, and BB picked up her shirt enough to pull it over her lower face.
"God, I wish you'd said we were coming here, I would've brought a face mask. This is disgusting," she muttered, her whining continuing long past their initial approach. A number of men were glancing in their direction; both Percy and BB were too clean, too well dressed to be in this part of town. One man decided to broach the subject, turning and extending a hand.
"Y'all got any spare change?" BB retreated back, letting Percy handle that particular interview.
His phone was tucked safely away again in his pocket, Percy shifting his position on the sidewalk to keep BB on the outside of the street. It was not so much that he didn’t have viable proof she would be able to defend herself, merely that it inherently felt like the right thing to do--he’d been the one to ask her along on this journey with him, after all. If he wasn’t going to at least attempt to keep her in a semblance of a sanitary safety bubble, then he’d have no right to ask for her help at a later date.
As if he might need it again.
“They’re people too, BB. Just trying to do the same thing we’re doing right now--surviving in a city like L.A.” There was no actual chastisement in his tone, however, as he’d only finished speaking when they were spoken to by one of the nameless strangers. Instinctively, Percy stepped forward when BB retreated, digging into one pocket for a few spare bills and some odd change.
“Sure we do, man. Here, this is all the cash we have on us today.” The crumpled up bills and coins were deposited into the straggler’s upturned hand. Despite the dirt smudges on the homeless man’s face, hands, and clothing, Percy’s smile to him was no less than genuine. He met the man’s eyes when the money was accepted in a grubby, rough fist, thinking for a second that if the stranger cleaned up, he might look awfully familiar. “Take care, now.”
BB's own eyes narrowed, staring at the man in front of them; his eyes were a clear blue, the same as the one in the picture Percy had shown her. The homeless man was bent over the money he'd received, carefully flattening out the few bills, pocketing the change. Keeping her shirt pulled over her nose, she edged toward him, still completely unhappy with the turn of events.
"'Scuse me, sir," BB tried, glancing at Percy and hoping he'd follow along. "We're doing a story for our school paper." Percy was a touch too old looking to pass for a college student, but weren't droves of the elderly population going back to school to perpetuate their career ambitions and opportunities? "About the local homeless. Do you think you could tell us a little bit about how you came to be here?"
The man glanced up, looking at the pair with fresh suspicion. One grubby hand slid the bills into a torn pocket on the inside of a layer of jackets.
"What paper? What school?"
As if they were taking part in an elaborate stage play wherein all casual bystanders smelled three shades too ripe, BB wielded the neckline of her shirt like a mask. For an instant, Percy looked upon her actions disapprovingly; the stranger certainly could have used a shower, but that didn’t justify treating him like a leper.
But he was not exactly a saint himself--although he was a quick study. In the short time he’d known her, BB hadn’t seemed like the type of person to do anything without a reason behind it...even if the reason only made sense in her mind.
“Mount St. Mary’s, actually. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that a school for women?” Percy laughed at his own jest, watching the man for his reaction. “I’m an exception to the rule. But the Sacred Heart is for everyone.” Everyone except Percy’s second oldest sister, who had hated the idea of attending a Catholic college.
Preferably, the man would believe him. Percy hadn’t the slightest idea where this story would take either of them, but it certainly couldn’t be abandoned now.
The man narrowed those lividly blue eyes at them, clearly attempting to weigh their story and not finding it wanting like he apparently desired to. His hands hung limply at his sides.
"What'd'yah wanna know?"
BB charged forward, believing her ruse a success -- at least, so far. "We're collecting anecdotes about homelessness to use in our paper. Lobbying for more funding for shelters, food, that sort of thing. If you could just tell us a thing or two about you -- you know, scratch our back, we'll scratch yours, sorta thing." She did her best to lower her shirt, trying to appear more friendly than she felt. A lopsided smile fixed itself to her face, and she reached into her reporter's bag (the homeless man's eyes followed her hand down, taking a step back as the appendage disappeared, but was visibly relieved when she came out with only a tape recorder) and held a device up to record him.
"This is just to make sure we get your story right, sir," she said again, unconsciously emphasizing the title; after a childhood of being raised by an LEO, it was a difficult habit to drop.
The man eyed them for a moment longer, then finally seemed to settle into the idea that they wanted to know more about him, and it seemed he relished his opportunity.
"Well, I'm not originally from around here, but a lot of people could say that; most of the folks here aren't, but they're getting pushed to the wayside, because people in charge don't wanna notice 'em," he started, BB nodding along to the usual rant. “That’s how it always goes,” Percy agreed with an extra touch of sympathy. She glanced at Percy, flicking her eyes at the homeless man to imply something she couldn't apparently say aloud. Taking a step backward, she whispered into her co-conspirator's ear. "If you've got questions about the guy you're looking for, now would be the fucking time!"
Taking his cue from BB once the underdog had finished his first spiel, Percy coughed thoughtfully before asking his questions.
“We’re originally from out of state, too, so we completely understand. But how did you find yourself in L.A.? It’s a big city, and no offense meant, sir, but this area isn’t exactly full of opportunities. I imagine a charming guy like you has bigger aspirations.” He paused, studying the dirty wretch. Were his true aspirations of the stalking variety? Spring Growth was likely the only viable business on this small stretch of land--and possibly the only friendly location.
“Pardon me if this is too forward, but were you in the Grace of God until you moved? Was it L.A. that cost you the roof over your shoulders? Gentrification is terrible in these parts.” Percy’s eyes shot to the tape recorder, as if to ascertain it would pick up the man’s every word. “And, again, if this is too forward...what’s the most welcoming aspect of this commune for you? Do they offer you more than a place to sleep?”
The man's eyes narrowed again. "Y'all sure are asking a lot of questions..."
BB could barely keep from rolling her eyes; the smile on her face became more forceful. "That's the nature of an interview, sir."
His head bobbed, uncertainty clear in his gaze. "Well, I... I came here from Texas, for school. But it's expensive, you know? Couldn't make ends meet. So I ended up here, because others 'round here don't care, there's nothing to fight over like downtown, where there's food and tourists who'll give you change." He shrugged. "They're updating the buildings, sure, but it takes time. Sometimes they get slowed down a little." A wicked curve took the side of his mouth, implying something more than he was saying.
The southern accent grew thicker with each tidbit of information the man revealed; Obed had ascertained Bryan Stations hailed from Texas, and this fellow was sounding increasingly Texan. At least, Percy was pretty sure there were only a few states where someone could use the phrase ‘ya’ll’ and mean it with absolute sincerity--wouldn’t the ten gallon hat state be the foremost runner in that competition?
“Funding issues, right?” Percy nodded along while the man finished saying his piece, although his eyes narrowed momentarily at the man’s sudden gleam of nefariousness. Beneath the grub and smell, something more sinister may have been lurking. Surely there was only one way to find out…
“Damages to new construction projects happen all the time in these parts, I guess. I mean, from what we’ve read about, a lot of people object to the mass gentrification scene. People are getting pushed out of their homes and onto the street, kind of like you.” He tilted his head, studying the homeless man. “If any of them were to fight back against the new developments, I certainly couldn’t blame them. Sabotage might be necessary in the name of justice. But that’s not something you would know anything about, right?”
BB glanced worriedly at Percy, wondering just what he was getting at; the man, too, narrowed his gaze in Percy's direction. He held his hands up, spreading them wide to imply he was no threat.
"Like you said, buddy, problems happen all the time. Tools get misplaced, animals cause damage. I just try to keep out of the way, as much as I can." If he was responsible for any issues in nearby construction sites, he wasn't going to implicate himself there. "There's one that had a few problems around here, the newest one on the lot. Some nursery place, grows plants? Who grows plants in Los Angeles?"
"Someone who wants to sell them...?" BB started, before remembering why they were there. "What's the name of the place?"
The man shrugged. "Can't remember."
If the warning bells in his mind had gone off in reality, none of them would retain their sense of hearing. Percy immediately tensed at the mention of a nursery--and whose nursery but Isobel’s? There was no other oasis in the middle of this dry stretch of the city.
The look he shot at BB was anything but subtle; his only saving grace was that it had been quick before it was replaced once more by a friendly expression. “Spring Growth…?” Percy’s question was not spoken lightly; there was an undertone of an accusation within it, which the stranger--surely Bryan himself--would note if he had half a sense. It appeared that he had, his eyes narrowing further than they had before, a look of clear annoyance on his face.
Double checking the name displayed on the front of the commune, Percy continued with his barrage of questions, unrelentingly pushing an air of friendliness that was, for all his purposes, nothing but deceitful.
“It’s a shame isn’t it, that someone would try to destroy a business that has a goal of making a silicon world greener. I guess it takes a lot of guts to sabotage a bunch of harmless plants, though. But that isn’t our focus today,” he drove the point home with a tight-lipped smile. “Although, if you have any idea who might be looking to knock down a few buildings, we’d love to hear. Completely off record, of course. Would you mind telling us more about retribution on the street? We’re interested in the cross-community policing of neighborhood turfs.”
The homeless man blinked, clearly taken aback by Percy's jabber-jawing. He rubbed his hands together, either attempting to warm them or keep them from committing a more nefarious act.
"Y'all know what, I think...I think this interview is over." He took a step back, closer to some fencing that lined one side of the alley they were currently in. "Y'all got enough, right?"
"Could we just get your name, sir?" BB followed up, holding the recording device high. The man glanced at it, clearly no longer liking the sight of it, and BB drifted back far enough to keep it out of his reach.
The man scowled, as though reading his intention. "Bryan," he offered, as he turned away and started to walk off. BB glanced at Percy, whispering under her breath.
"So? Was that him?"
Shellshocked, it took Percy a minute to respond. And then he did--silently at first, nodding. There was a rare, hard set to his jaw. “Yeah. There’s no mistaking it. That’s the sorry piece of work. Come on, let’s get out of here.” He motioned for BB to follow him, and they made a direct route back to the car. Percy spent the return drive unusually quiet, mulling over how, and when, to tell Obed what he’d discovered.
And whether or not he’d let slip that Obed would be paying more than one investigator that’d been on the case.