Pepper and Longstreet
Mystery at the Mall
Copyrite 2011 by JT Lewis
Pepper Jones was bored.
It had been over two weeks since she and her partner had captured a robber that had been stealing electronic equipment around the whole county. It had created quite a stir when everyone found out the case had been cracked by a sixteen year old girl! The local papers had even gotten a hold of the story, dubbing the robber ‘The Wolf Creek Bandit’.
Of course, her partner’s name never made the papers, by necessity. It would be hard to explain a ghost’s role in capturing the bandit, and of course he didn’t mind. Jacob Longstreet had a hard time understanding the modern world, and seemed happy only as long as he could keep busy doing something that he was familiar with.
She was embarrassed at first with all of the attention that had been heaped upon her, but eventually came to accept that it was exactly what she needed at the moment…advertising!
Pepper had been toying with the idea of testing her investigative skills for quite awhile now. When she had noticed a pattern to the robberies…well, she just went with her gut, taking Longstreet along only at his insistence.
She was glad she had.
Sitting at her desk, she was rapidly chewing her gum and twirling her long red hair with her left finger, while distractedly trying to come up with a business name for her enterprise.
She thought she had come up with it until a minute ago, when she had crossed out ‘The Pepper Jones Agency’ with annoyance. That just wasn’t right either, and she knew why. Although she had garnered all of the attention, it was Longstreet that had saved the day.
Leaving his name off of the business’ title just wasn’t right, even though she had no idea how she would explain who or what he was to anyone.
Sighing with resignation, she ripped off the sheet of paper she had been working on, wadding it up and shooting it through the miniature basketball hoop across the room. Staring at the top of the new sheet of paper, she used her best hand to fill in the title across the page.
Pepper and Longstreet
A smile crossed her face as she looked at it in print. She thought it sounded very professional! She could definitely get used to giving out business cards with that title imprinted across them.
“Business cards!” she thought suddenly, writing that on her to-do list for later investigation.
“Howdy missy,” the voice suddenly behind her caused her to jump as she turned to look at her partner.
“Longstreet! Can’t you learn to knock or something? And my name’s Pepper!”
A confused look crossed Jacob Longstreet’s face for a few moments, before it returned to the normal determined look she was used to seeing. Although she still had much to learn of her sometimes invisible partner, she was starting to put a finger on some of his unexplained habits.
She had realized over the last couple of days, that he had no problem handling tasks as long as they were mission oriented, a leftover of his days in the Union Cavalry she supposed. Given orders, he would lead his men to a conclusion of his mission, and then he would return for more orders. It was just the day to day stuff…and the modern world that seemed to baffle him sometimes.
One other observation she had made after her last case was that he was very brave. It wasn’t because he was a ghost and no one could really hurt him though, it was just in his nature to be fearless.
She was exceedingly glad about that!
“Nothing is going on… I’m so bored I can’t stand it!” Pepper lamented, turning back to her paper. “If I didn’t have work in a couple of hours, I’d probably be crazy by now.”
She picked up her cell, seeing that her friend Beth had sent her a text. Bringing it up, she sat straight forward at the words on the screen.
“Something weird is going on down here.”
Pepper loved weird!
Beth was her best friend, and they both worked at the pretzel stand in the food coral at the mall. Looking at her watch, Pepper determined that she would go in early to investigate. She didn’t care what was going on; she just needed to do something!
“I’ve gotta go to work Longstreet, there is something going on down there, but I don’t know what…it’s probably nothing. I’ll see ya later.”
“You sure girly,” He asked, not wanting to be left out, “It would be no problem to go down there with you, check it out.”
“No thanks,” she said a little too gaily, “I think I can handle this myself.”
Nodding imperceptivity, Longstreet turned on his heel and walked out of the room, straight through the wall.
“I wonder where he goes when he leaves here?” she thought to herself for perhaps the hundredth time. She shrugged off the question as she put on her uniform and headed out of the room. Grabbing her keys off the table by the door and then running down the stairs, she called out, “I’m going to work…Cya!”
“Hold on young lady!” her dad’s voiced boomed from the kitchen.
She stopped dead in her tracks, a sigh escaping her lips before she turned to trudge into the kitchen with slumped shoulders.
Pushing through the swinging door, she saw her parents sitting at the table drinking coffee.
“I thought you didn’t go to work for two hours yet?” her father questioned. Her parents had been super angry at her for getting involved in her last case, being beside themselves at her putting her life at risk. They were even more baffled as to how she had overpowered the large man that had been robbing houses all over the county, and had questioned her endlessly on how she had survived unscathed. She had been unable to come up with a good explanation, and she had basically been grounded for the last two weeks…except for work…and school.
“Beth called…they are….busy…”
Her father mulled this over for a few moments.
“Ok, but no where else but the mall.”
Pepper smiled, telling her dad that was the only thing she had in mind as she crossed the room and gave first her dad then her mom a kiss.
“Bye,” she said nonchalantly as she turned and waved her hand over her shoulder. “See you tonight!”
Heading out to her car, she hurried as fast as she legally could to get to the mall, literally running from the parking lot to the pretzel stand. When Beth spied her coming through the food court, she came out from around the counter and met her thirty feet away.
“What’s going on?” Pepper asked as Beth approached.
“I’m not sure,” Beth answered, looking around warily, “Look over there!”
Pepper glanced in the direction Beth had pointed, seeing two uniformed men patrolling along the food stands. Seeing nothing unusual at first, she was taking a second look when it hit her.
“One’s a real cop?
“I know, right?” Beth said with excitement. “Real cops never patrol the mall, just the mall cops. Something is weird, and they all look real serious too.”
A voice behind her then made her shoulder stiffen with anxiety. “Extra patrols mean they’re expecting trouble,” the voice intoned with authority, “they must have an informant with the enemy, or something has already happened that clued them in.”
Glancing over her shoulder confirmed the presence of Longstreet, the determined look of his face telling her he was ready for action. Relieved that no one else could see him, she turned back toward Beth, telling her she needed to go to the restroom and she would be right back.
Turning around, she made her way to the woman’s restroom with Longstreet in tow. “Didn’t I mention staying home?” she hissed through her clenched teeth as she walked.
“Seems you may have mentioned that,” Longstreet said, unconcerned, “but I smelled trouble brewing.”
Pepper had to grudgingly accept Longstreet’s assessment. After seeing the extra cops patrolling the mall and having a growing respect for Longstreet’s supernatural senses, she was now sure trouble was brewing...but what kind of trouble?
Longstreet seemed uncomfortable when she locked both of them in a single stall in the restroom before continuing the conversation in a whisper.
“Got any ideas?” Pepper said lowly, trying not to draw attention.
“I could reconnoiter the perimeter; see if anything jumps out at me. It’ll be quicker on a horse; I’ll find ole Lady and get started on a patrol.”
Another one of the things she constantly had to deal with was Longstreet’s constant confusion over the past and present, especially about his horse, Lady. He must have really loved that horse, and it was hard to remind him of his loss
“Um, about your horse,” she said with compassion, “she’s gone…remember?”
“Forgot,” he finally said after a few moments silence, “I sure do miss that old gal.”
“Tell you what,” she started, “you go look around and see if you come across anything, I’ll go talk to the cops.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said, the sound of his voice followed by a swishing sound as he disappeared quickly. Leaving the stall, pepper started toward the sink to wash her hands but stopped in her tracks…a woman police officer was standing before her, flicking water off her fingers as she prepared to dry them off.
This was her chance!
Trying to act like she knew something, she stepped up to the next sink before saying, “I can’t believe it is taking so long to…uncover this thing.”
Eyeing Pepper suspiciously at first, but knowing the mall owners had let a few of their employees in on the threat, she finally relented to discuss it.
Looking over her shoulder to make sure they were alone, “I know, I can’t believe it would be this hard to find, I’m about ready to call our chief and tell him they need to evacuate…but it could still be a hoax I guess.
Saying she had to get back to her patrol, the cop turned and left the restroom, leaving Pepper to her thoughts.
They were trying to find something, something bad enough to want to evacuate the mall but not bad enough to go ahead and do it.
“A bomb threat?”
She said it out loud before realizing it, looking quickly around to make sure that she was still alone.
“A bomb threat,” she whispered to herself, certain of it now.
“Not much to report missy,” the voice behind her shocking her out of her revere, “just some feller working on one of them green boxes on the roof.”
Green boxes on the roof…
“Show me where Longstreet…quick!”
Weaving in and out between shoppers while quickly trying to keep up with her guide, she realized she had developed a cold sweat on her face.
She knew it wasn’t from the exertion.
If this was the threat everyone was looking for, and if it was coming through the air conditioners…it could mean only one thing, and it wasn’t a bomb threat.
One other thought clearly came through at that moment; one that put fear into her soul…it was ‘Black Friday’, the busiest single day of the year for shopping.
Longstreet had just disappeared through a wooden door, but Pepper couldn’t get through it…locked.
She heard the familiar scratching coming from the other side of the door and knew Longstreet was working the lock to the best of his abilities to get it open. Finally the door popped open and Pepper was able to enter the room, finding it full of electrical boxes and pumps.
“Up there!” Longstreet pointed to the ceiling.
Looking up, she saw a hatch in the ceiling, leading to the roof by way of a metal ladder…a very tall metal ladder.
“Oh God,” she said under her breath.
Pepper Jones had Acrophobia, she was extremely afraid of heights.
Gulping hard and steeling her courage, she grabbed the rung of the ladder in front of her with her hand, and then put one foot on the bottom rung.
“Here goes nothing,” she thought as she agonizingly reached for the next rung with her other hand. Grabbing it securely, she started pulling herself up one step, repeating in her head, “one hand, one foot, one hand, one foot.”
Slowly she made her way up the rigid ladder, her eyes straight ahead, never looking down, or up, fear dripping off her in sweat. Finally, she reached the top, willing herself to let one hand go from the ladder in order to reach up and twist the latch.
The hatch popped open, letting the cool outside air fall in on her, rejuvenating her enough to craw out of the hatch and roll onto the roof on her back. Laying there for a few moments, she caught her breath while staring at the cumulus clouds above.
That one there kinda looks like Longstreet.
“You gonna lay there all day girly?” the cloud said to her as she finally realized it was Longstreet.
Jumping up with renewed strength, she ran over and hid behind the air-conditioning unit closest to them, peering around the corner at the rest of the roof. What she saw there sent a chill down her spine.
There was a man two units over, working on that unit.
Pepper’s dad was a heating contractor, so she knew a little something about what a person should need to work on an air-conditioner. What she saw in front of her wasn’t making sense. If the unit was low on Freon, he would have a tank of compressed gas with him to replenish the unit. Also, if he was working on the electrical part of it, he would have a pouch with an array of electrical tools in it.
Neither of these were there.
What she saw instead was some sort of small box, with what looked like a chunk of putty stuck to the side and an electronic timer stuck into it.
Looking around at Longstreet, “I don’t think he’s working on the air-conditioner, I think he’s planting a terrorists bomb Longstreet, one that could hurt or kill everyone in this building…I think he’s trying to release something called anthrax into the air.
Longstreet’s face became a mask of determination as he started around the unit, pulling up his sleeves in anticipation of a fight.
“Get back here!” Pepper whispered loudly, “You can’t touch humans yet…remember?”
Turning back toward her with a confused look on his face, he finally uttered, “Oh yeah.” Looking around quickly, he spied a piece of pipe lying on the ground.
“Pick up that pipe for me missy, hold it straight up!”
Pepper ran over to the pipe and lifted it up off the roof, holding it vertical as Longstreet ran over to her position. With a determined look on his face, he slowly wrapped his hands around the metal pipe. A crackling noise like electric emanated from his hands for a few moments until finally he had it firmly in his grasp, taking it from Pepper as he turned and ran quickly toward the crouching man.
The man was hovering over the timer, ready to set the time when a steel pipe, seeming to come out of nowhere, suddenly whacked the side of his head, rendering him unconscious.
“Get on your doohickey and call the marshal,” Longstreet called across the roof. Smiling at doohickey, Pepper pulled out her cell, calling 911.
Cops were soon pilling out of the hole in the roof, approaching the prone figure with guns drawn. A hammer team was called in to deal with the anthrax and any potential spills
“Ya done good missy,” Longstreet intoned as they stood watching the action unfold in front of them. “That guy ain’t right in the head, trying something like this.”
Pepper nodded absentmindedly. She was working on an explanation in her head for when the cops started questioning her about how she once again had found and overpowered a bad guy. This one was going to be harder to explain.
“You may as well get on home Longstreet; it’s going to be awhile here I’m afraid.”
“You sure girly? I can stick around…”
“No you go, it’s all modern day stuff from here on out, you’ll just get frustrated.”
Nodding, he started looking around. “I could use some time alone anyway, gonna take a ride. Where is that darn horse anyway? Lady!...where are you girl?”
Smiling once again, she knew that she would have to let him down easily about his long lost horse. She also knew he would be ok though, once he again got used to the idea. She however still had two fears consuming her at the moment: What was she going to tell her parents this time…and how was she going to get down off this roof?
Looking at her partner finally, she gave him a smile as she said, “Lady?...oh she’ll turn up soon, you wait and see.”