Pepper and Longstreet
The Missing Inheritance
Part 1: The Key
By JT Lewis
Copyright 2012 by JT Lewis
“Is this Pepper…Pepper Jones?”
“Yes,” Pepper said, confused, she had not recognized the phone number that had popped up on her screen.
“Sara Lawson, I graduated last year, I live over on
Pepper remembered her, and told her as much. Sara had been very popular in school, a cheerleader and very beautiful. She had also once called Pepper a dweeb for no good reason as she passed her in the hall.
“So…what’s up Sara?”
“I heard you were pretty good with mysteries, and…well…could we meet somewhere?”
Looking at the time, “I have to go to work at the food court in the mall in an hour; I could meet you there in thirty minutes…would that work?”
Sara excitedly agreed to the meeting so Pepper started gathering her things for work.
Pepper jumped at the sound of the voice behind her, turning rapidly and glaring at the intruder.
“Longstreet! Quit doing that…I’m going to buy you a bell so I can hear you coming…and my name’s PEPPER!”
A confused look crossed Jacob Longstreet’s face momentarily as Pepper finished her rant before returning to the determined look that he usually wore.
“I hear tell we got a mission brewin.”
“Were you listening to my phone call?” Pepper asked, appalled. “That’s just rude!”
“Maybe if you didn’t talk so loud,” Longstreet mumbled.
“What’d you say?” Pepper asked, not able to make it out.
“Nuthin,” Longstreet said quickly, “Besides, you are getting ready to meet somebody ain’t ya?”
“Yes, but it’s probably nothing, just an old…umm…friend from high school. Seriously Longstreet, it would just be boring for you, I’ll let you know about it tomorrow…I promise.”
Seeming satisfied, Jacob Longstreet nodded imperceptibly, turned and left the room…through the wall.
Pepper saw this through the mirror as she was trying to hide her freckles once again with makeup. For the hundredth time since she had met him she wondered to herself where he went when he left…did he have like a house somewhere or something?
Longstreet’s ghostly abilities had certainly come in handy since Pepper had decided a while back to put her untested abilities at solving mysteries to good use, teaming with her ghostly friend on a couple of cases now. Eventually, she had even included his name on the title of her business, even though no one could see Longstreet but her. She thought it important to include his name in the title as he had been equally responsible for solving their cases up to that point.
An ex Civil War Cavalry Sergeant, Jacob Longstreet was mission oriented and a man of action, and had saved hers and many other’s lives already in their investigations.
Hesitating for a moment before leaving her room, she opened a drawer in her dresser and pulled out one of the business cards she had had made up on one of those free internet companies. Up to this point, she had been hesitant to give any of them out, being a little shy at actually telling anyone she had come up with a name for her hobby, much less trying to explain who Longstreet was to anybody.
She smiled with pride however as she looked at one of the finished cards:
Pepper and Longstreet
Grabbing her keys as she left the room, she decided that since Sara had sought her out, this would be the opportune time to start using the card as she pushed it into the pocket of her uniform from the Pretzel Shack.
“I’m leaving!” she called over her shoulder as she bounded down the stairs and pulled open the front door.
“Pepper!” she heard from the kitchen door, “you don’t work for an hour, what’s the rush?”
Looking back, she saw her mom looking at her with a look of concern. Pepper’s parents had been both surprised and mad at her “antics” as they called her cases, wondering aloud how she had pulled off the dangerous situations unscathed.
Saving multiple lives at the mall on her last case however had softened their concerns somewhat, but they were still anxious and watched her like a hawk when she did stuff they weren’t expecting.
“I’m just meeting a friend at the mall before work is all mom… for coffee.”
“Ok, but none of your antics.”
“Just a friendly meeting mom…I promise.”
Pepper made good time getting to the mall, but found that Sara had beaten her there and had found a table by the coffee stand. Seeing Pepper approach, Sara stood up excitedly, waving to make sure that she was seen.
“Thanks for coming,” Sara said with what looked like a worried smile. “I really appreciate you agreeing to meet me.”
“No problem,” Pepper said as she took a seat, “so, what’s up?”
“Well,” she started, her face suddenly saddened, “I don’t know if you have heard, but my dad died recently.”
Pepper was surprised at the news, and immediately offered her condolences.
“Thank you,” Sara said, sadder looking now, “he was a really great man Pepper; I sincerely wish you had known him.”
Sitting up straighter now, “I know I came off as a spoiled brat at school, offending people, especially younger kids. I’m relatively certain that I have offended you at some point too, and if I have…I’m sorry.”
Pepper kept her silence, not wanting to interrupt as Sara looked down at her hands, pondering what to say next.
“My dad was a stickler for grades, not pushy, but my brother and I knew he wouldn’t put up with slacking off. If he had ever thought I was slacking off in my schoolwork, he would have pulled my ass out of cheerleading in a heartbeat.”
A single tear ran down her face, and she quickly wiped it away with the sleeve of her sweater. Taking a deep breath to steel herself, she then continued on with her story.
“He would not have appreciated the “Sara” everybody knew at school, and it makes me sad that I thought I needed to be that way. Anyway, six months ago, they found cancer in his throat…it was very hard. While we were at the hospital one night, the night he died, our house caught on fire. The neighbors spotted it quickly, and the fire department got it out before there was too much damage.”
“Sara, I’m so sorry…I had no idea…I can’t imagine the pain you must be feeling.”
“Thanks Pepper,” Sara said looking at her, “but I didn’t call you here to make you feel sorry for me. I did want to apologize for how I probably treated you in high school…I’ve been doing a lot of that since dad died. But, there is…something else.”
“Now we’re getting to the gist of the matter!”
Pepper jumped slightly at the sound of Longstreet’s voice behind her…why wouldn’t he ever listen to her?
“You see,” Sara continued, “dad thought we needed to work for everything that we got in life, including our inheritance. He thought it would be great fun to have us follow clues on a treasure hunt after he passed. He always thought it would be a good thing if my brother and I worked toward a common cause to seek the treasure, helping us overcome the pain of his passing I guess.”
“I don’t think it will be any great wealth or anything, we aren’t rich, but I’m hoping for, maybe, one last communication with him. I’m certain there will be messages for my brother and I…I really need to see that Pepper…more than I can tell you.”
“How can I help?” Pepper said, determined now to help Sara in any way she could.
“Oh, forgot to tell you that part. The fire we had, it was in dad’s study. Almost everything in the room was damaged by fire or water. He had told me numerous times that we were to look through the study for the first clue of the treasure hunt after he passed; it was the key to the whole mystery. The room has since been repaired, but we kept all of the damaged stuff and put it in boxes in the garage. I have been through all of that stuff a dozen times and can’t come up with the clue.”
Pepper remained silent for a few moments as Sara looked down sadly at the table. Jumping up suddenly, Sara grabbed her purse, getting ready to leave, “This is dumb, I know you have better things to do than this, I’m sorry to have bothered you Pepper.”
“What are you doing tomorrow morning,” Pepper called after Sara as she started walking away. Stopping dead in her tracks, she looked back at Pepper with a surprised look.
“Really? You’ll do it?”
“Sure!” Pepper said brightly, “I’ll give it my best shot. I can be at your house at 8:00…will that work?”
Walking quickly back to Pepper, Sara gave her a hug, “That would be awesome! I’ll see you then!”
As Sara walked away, Pepper noticed she had a spring in her step as she crossed the food court.
“You forgot to give her one of your cards girly,” Longstreet intoned behind her.
Stiffening at the rebuke, “Longstreet, you are so annoying!”
Turning to face her partner, she talked through her teeth so as not to appear crazy to people passing her. “Didn’t I mention staying at home…and my name is Pepper!”
The confused look again crossed Longstreet’s face for a moment, “I told you there was a mission brewing, you know I’m a good hand at these things.”
Oh yeah,” Pepper said, still annoyed, “You will be so much help digging through boxes of burned up papers and stuff.”
She had looked around; making sure that no one had seen her talking to herself. Turning back toward Longstreet…he was gone.
“I hate when he does that!” she mumbled to herself.
Nevertheless, she was excited about her new case, and couldn’t wait to get started on it in the morning. The evening shift was going to be a long one as she anxiously waited for it to end. Sighing, she made her way over to the Pretzel Stand to get it over with.
A long shift indeed!
She arrived at Sara’s before 8:00, but Sara was already there with the garage door opened, waiting on her to arrive.
“Hi,” Sara said brightly, “ready to get started?”
“Sure!” Pepper catching her enthusiasm, “where do we start?”
Leading Pepper over to a stack of about 20 boxes lining one wall of the garage, they pulled one out and started looking through it. Not seeing anything of value to their search, Pepper nonetheless found a couple of the articles that she wanted to look through more thoroughly.
“If it’s ok,” Pepper said to Sara, “I’d like to keep a couple of these out, maybe a few more in other boxes…if you don’t mind.”
Smiling, Sara went across the garage and picked up a new and empty box. “You can put that stuff in here; there is no particular order to any of this anyway.”
They spent the morning going through the boxes piled against the wall, finding nothing. Pulling out items here and there throughout the search, Pepper had ended up with a box of about twenty items to look through more closely.
“I’m sorry we didn’t find anything,” Pepper said when they had gone through the last box. “If you don’t mind, I’ll take this box home with me, see if I can find anything buried in any of these things.”
“Sure,” Sara said dejectedly, “it was a long shot anyway; it was probably burned up in the fire.”
“Don’t give up hope,” Pepper said reassuringly, “It probably wasn’t that easy to find before if your dad wanted you to work for things. Let me go through these tonight, see if anything pops.”
Sara wrapped her arms around Pepper, smiling. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you Pepper, even if we don’t find anything; it’s just awesome that you are trying so hard.”
Her face had tears on it when she pulled away, “I’m sorry, I’m blubbering like a baby!” she said through her smile as she attempted to wipe away the tears with her dirty hands.
Pepper couldn’t help but laugh as the accumulated smoke residue on Sara’s hands now became smeared all over her face. Sara was looking at her questionably until Pepper pushed her over to an old mirror on the garage wall.
“That’s a good look for you,” Pepper said gaily as Sara started laughing at herself. After having a good laugh for a couple of minutes, they both felt better. Pepper picked up the box, getting ready to leave, “I may call you if I have any questions.”
“No problem,” Sara said nodding her head, “I’ll be home all night, call anytime…no matter how late.”
Pepper said she would as she waved and then packed the box to the car, not hopeful that she would discover anything but determined to give it her best.
Leafing through the old notebooks and some leather journals that night, Pepper was getting discouraged.
“Find anything yet missy?” a voice over her shoulder grated at her already frustrated demeanor.
“No” she said passively, too tired to get mad at Longstreet’s interruption, “just a bunch of notes on houses he built and customer’s accounts. Some of these are 15 years old.”
“It’s here,” Longstreet said confidently, “I can feel it.”
“Why don’t you come over here and do some of this then,” Pepper said with frustration, instantly regretting her choice of words.
Looking behind her, she saw Longstreet’s normal confused look when something came up that he couldn’t quite grasp.
“I’m sorry Jacob…I’m just frustrated…and tired.”
Looking at her clock, she realized it was 2:00 AM, and she had been looking through the papers for something like twelve hours.
Sighing, she put the notebook down that she had just finished. “That’s the last of them anyway; I didn’t find anything in any of them.”
“What about that one there, under the desk.”
Pepper looked confused as she looked under the desk, seeing a little leather book lying at her feet.
“I didn’t notice this,” she whispered, distracted as she picked up and opened the little book. Inside the front cover, she noticed that the year was printed out neatly, 2003. The rest of the book was page after page of lists, with names at the top and lines of figures below.
“Looks like more of the same,” paging through one page at a time, “list of clients and what I would guess were expenses for their jobs. Would have been easier on a computer,” she said with disgust, throwing the book on the desk after looking at the last page.
“Go to the last page again girly,” Longstreet coaxed, “I think I saw something.”
Doubting that it meant anything, Pepper nonetheless picked up the little leather volume once more and turned to the last page. Instantly, she sat up straight in her chair, not believing she had overlooked the page in her haste.
“It’s not the same, that’s for sure, but it just looks like so much gibberish…just a bunch of numbers grouped together…it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Hmm…looks kinda like a cipher to me…we used them a lot in the war.”
“You mean like a code?” Pepper asked, getting her second wind now.
“Yep, probably a substitution cipher, I’m guessin probably not too tough unless he taught his kids code breaking.”
Reaching for her phone, Pepper called Sara, waking her out of a sound sleep.
“Hello?” the sleepy voice on the other end of the call answered.
“Sara, this is Pepper.”
“Did you find something?” Sara’s voice now more awake.
“I’m not sure; did you and your dad ever do anything with codes…or ciphers?”
“No…I don’t think so…”
“Tell her he may have given her a key,” Longstreet cut in behind her.
“My partner thinks there is a coded message in one of these books, he told me to tell you we need a key.”
There was silence on the other end…”a key?”
“Yes, a key, that’s what he said we need.”
“No…oh wait…let me think.”
Silence followed for a few moments.
“He had me memorize something; he never told me what it meant. A=4.”
“He would always say ‘what’s A equal?’”
“I would always say ‘4’.”
“And then he would say, ‘that’s the key’! Would that be it, it was just a game we played, I never knew what it meant.”
“A=4,” Pepper said to Longstreet, “could that be it.”
Nodding his head with satisfaction, he said that was probably it. “That’s probably it,” Pepper said, trying to hide her excitement, “I’ll call you back if we find anything.”
Turning then to Longstreet, “What’s next?”
“Well, you probably need to get some paper and copy the message down.”
“I can do better than that,” Pepper said as she jumped up and put the book on the glass of her printer, making a copy of the small book’s page.
Longstreet’s confused look at modern technology didn’t surprise Pepper as she said, “Ok, what now?”
Snapping back to reality, Longstreet had her write out the alphabet across the page, he then had her put a 4 under the A, following through the whole alphabet until they came to Z, the numbers increasing with each letter.
“Now, decode the message, each number now has a letter,” he said with satisfaction, “at least it will if we have the right key.”
Pepper quickly assigned letters to each number in the original message, finishing the task in a few minutes.
“That’s it!” she said excitedly as her phone rang.
“Hello, this is Sara, I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t sleep. I’m outside, do you mind if I come in?”
Pepper quietly went down the stairs, letting Sara in through the front door. When they got back to Peppers room, Sara could hardly contain her excitement.
“Did you find anything?” she asked hopefully.
Smiling, Pepper handed her the deciphered note with a huge grins as tears ran down Sara’s face once more.
“I can’t believe it!” Sara nearly sobbed, “You found the message!”
“Just minute ago,” Pepper added while Sara read the note.
You found it! I’m very proud of you two; you have started the first step in the quest!
If you are reading this, I have probably passed from this world. Please don’t be sad for me, or for yourselves. You know I’ve always believed there is more than we can see with our human eyes, now I get to explore that world too.
I think I have raised some pretty great kids, and I have no doubt that you will do well in this world, but you must have faith, faith in yourselves, faith in God.
Ok, now on with the quest!
You will find your next clue behind the coat that you never wear. You will also find some other instructions on where to find another life insurance policy, and various other things you will need.
I’m excited to be on this quest with you, and I will be with you, have no fear on that account.
I Love you
Pepper got some tissues for Sara, who couldn’t help from crying as she read and reread the note. Looking at Pepper and smiling through her tears, “how can I ever repay you?”
“Just let me know what you find,” Pepper smiled, “that should be really cool!”
“I’ll do better than that, you’re going with us!...if you want to.”
Pepper could think of nothing better than finishing out the treasure hunt with her new friend. Looking over at Longstreet, he too seemed pleased at the offer, nodding his head affirmative.
“We’d…I mean I’d love too!”
“Awesome!” Sara gushed, “come over for breakfast about 9:00 and we’ll get started.”
Pepper then showed Sara out, coming back to her room tired but ecstatic. Looking at Longstreet, he had a satisfied look on his face.
“Told ya you needed me missy.”
Pepper just smiled, too tired to argue, and not wanting to argue anyway. He had once again proved his worth, and she suspected he may be more than handy on the approaching quest they were now involved in.
Laying down in her bed and pulling the covers over her, she was looking forward to the coming day with anticipation.
If she’d only known what they would be up against, she may not have slept so well this night.