Saturday, December 31, 2011
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.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
The Economy…It Sucks!
Being a business owner during these current days of economic strife has really been an eye-opening experience for many of us in the business world. As I think about the way we bill work in my company, and then have to almost beg to collect the money sometimes, well, one just has to smile at it all. (By smile, I of course mean grimace, a tightly drawn false smile located under the deer-in-the-headlight looking eyes on a business owner's face).
This was heavily on my mind when the following story crossed my screen the other day, and the more times I read it, the more I saw it for what it was...actual fact.
Did I then in turn create a lesson on the human experience, using the story to show how to put the economic situation into a better light and make it a true learning experience for the masses?
But it is a lesson for us all in the absurdity of doing business in our present economy.
You see, the story starts with a visitor, a tourist really, visiting the area and stopping at the local motel. Laying a $100 bill on the front counter, he stated that he wanted to inspect the motel's rooms before he decided whether to stay there that evening.
As soon as he left the lobby, the motel owner grabbed the $100 bill and ran next door with those deer eyes we were talking of earlier. His next door neighbor was a butcher, and the motel owner slapped that $100 bill on his counter, saying "put it on my account," doing so with much false bravado and a satisfied look on his face. (You see, the butcher had that very morning threatened to cut off the motel owner if he did not come up with some money today to pay down his account.)
The butcher nodded with satisfaction, having put his foot down and getting results as planned. However…as soon as the motel owner left…he took the $100 and ran down the street as quick as his heavy body would allow…to retire his debt with the pig farmer.
You see, Mr. Green, the farmer, had also put his foot down that morning, telling the butcher to pay up or find another source of meat for his shop. (Of course, the pig farmer was in his pen at the time, so the process of putting his foot down made a big splash…literally!)
Now farmer Green is a quiet fellow, and he stood by patiently as the butcher laid the money on his table and quietly left the farmer’s house. Walking to the window, he watched the butcher walk back down the street and round the corner in the road before he quickly slipped into his coat and headed out the door. Walking up the street to the Co-op, the farmer took the $100 to the accounts manager in his office, a nasty little man with beady eyes.
The dilemma Mr. Green was facing you see, was that not only had the Co-op been ready to cut off the feed for his pigs, they also were going to cancel the oil delivery for his furnace.
The beady eyed guy set down his finely sharpened pencil and proceeded to lecture Mr. Green on the moral and financial ineptitude of not paying ones bill on time. With slumped shoulders, Mr. Green then left the office with a heavy heart.
As the farmer was leaving by the front door, Mr. Beady Eyes was sneaking out the back, taking the $100 bill through the alley to Sarah Jane…the local prostitute. You see, she was at the point of cutting off the accounts manager too…a situation that had left the accountant scrambling for money.
“She had obligations too,” she had said, and “maybe your wife would be willing to lend a hand.”
Well, you can imagine the situation that that would have put Mr. Bug Eyes in…it was not pretty. So he had gotten to work this very morning, squeezing Mr. Green for cash, which ultimately started the ball rolling on the whole town.
Now everything was right with the world…or was it?
You see, that not the end.
Sarah Jane then walked across the street to the motel, leaving the $100 with the motel manager to settle her account…at the business rate, of course.
The motel owner, having been nervously pacing in front of the counter when she had arrived, was now happily engaging in small talk with the girl (are you busy on Thursday afternoon…about 4:00?) as he calmly laid the $100 bill onto the counter.
At that very moment, the traveler came back down the stairs, stating pompously for all to hear that the rooms were not to his liking, and that he would just be moving on that night. Picking up the $100 bill off the counter, he pocketed the money and walked calmly out to his car.
So, I know there is a moral to this story…I can feel it! But I will get to that in a moment.
I had put together a few observations to share with you after reading this, and although they may have seemed well thought out and even enlightened, they were really just so much bunkum.
For you see, I was one of the people in this story. Although I would not dare to name my character for the whole world to make fun of, I would suggest that maybe we have all fell into the role of one of the town’s folk of the story from time to time.
So I would finish this story with the wisdom I have gleaned from the situation. Grasp it firmly and reflect on it, or delete it from your screen, for morals to stories are always there whether we accept them as true or not.
In the end, the true moral to this story is:
Everybody feels just a little better if they can pass the buck, and nothing ever happens until the girl threatens to cut someone off.
Copyright by JT Lewis 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Merry Christmas from my family to yours! Please enjoy this short story from the Pepper and Longstreet series...'A Christmas Tale'.
Pepper and Longstreet
A Christmas Tale
Copyright 2011 by JT Lewis
“Silent night my ass!”
Pepper thought this as she looked upon her very noisy companions that surrounded her at the moment. She was not happy; a loud boisterous party was not what she had been expecting when she arrived at her friend Jill’s house tonight.
She had been looking forward to getting together with her friends Jill and Beth for Christmas Eve, as usual. Known collectively as the ‘Three Musketeers’, they would exchange presents and have a nice quiet evening listening to Christmas music and talking.
It didn’t happen that way.
Jill’s fifteen year old brother Joe had decided to take advantage of their parents being gone for the night by inviting his whole class to a party, a very loud and out of control party. There was no place in the small house where they could get away from the hordes.
Pepper had lost track of the other two, so she grabbed her coat and headed outside to get some air. Standing on the porch, she looked out on the moonlit pine woods behind Jill’s house, finding little comfort in the scene before her due to the only slightly muffled noise from within. Taking a deep breath of the cold air, she watched her exhaled breath turned to a frozen fog as she blew it out.
“You don’t look like you are having any fun little lady.”
She was much too annoyed to be surprised by the sudden appearance of her partner, Jacob Longstreet, even though he was in fact…a ghost.
“I’m not!” she said in a huff, “those bratty kids in there have ruined our Christmas! I think I’ll just go home and sleep through the whole holiday!”
A concerned look crossed Longstreet’s face, but was soon replaced by the determination that graced his face most of the time.
“Follow me,” Longstreet uttered as he started stalking off toward the woods.
“Excuse me?” Pepper answered, put-off. I’m sorry Longstreet; I’m just not up for an adventure tonight.”
With that, she turned away from him, leaning against a post and staring at the side yard, ignoring her partner.
Longstreet stopped and turned, a confused look crossing his face once more before he nodded imperceptibly, and then said quietly, “please?”
Pepper looked over her shoulder, somewhat surprised at Longstreet’s asking her to go with him. She shrugged as she mumbled, “Ok,” then turned to follow him as he walked to the woods. He had never asked her for anything before; the least she could do was see what he was up to.
“Where are we going anyway?” she asked as they threaded their way through the sweet-smelling pine trees.
“Almost there,” he said without looking back, “It’s just up ahead.”
A few minutes later he stopped suddenly at the edge of a clearing, silently looking toward the middle. Pepper sidled up beside Longstreet, looking into the clearing and seeing nothing, confused.
“What are we looking at?”
“Shhhh,” he said quietly, still looking forward. “Keep still, you will see soon enough.”
Sighing, she settled in for what she thought would be a long boring wait when the world around her started changing before her eyes. The glow of the moon diminished slowly until it was gone as a small fire in the center of the clearing took its place.
A biting coldness set in then, followed by a nasty mix of snow and rain falling steadily down around them. Pepper pulled the collar of her coat around her throat and zipped her coat all of the way up, finishing by covering her head with her hood.
“It’s gotten really bad out here Longstreet,” Pepper said as she looked up, worried, “can we go back now?”
Longstreet just stood there, looking into the middle of the clearing like he was expecting something when a small smile started forming on his lips. Pepper had never seen Longstreet smile before, and moved her eyes back to the clearing.
There were now three men sitting around the fire, men that looked soaking wet and miserable.
Pepper was amazed, whispering “who are those people?”
The smile still on his face, he turned to face her as he said softly, “that’s my battalion, from the war…this was our last Christmas together.”
“Christmas?” Pepper said, looking up at the skies again, “it’s a lousy night for Christmas!”
“That’s Jeb there with his back to us,” Longstreet continued, pointing out the men with his hand as he ignored her discomfort, “Benjamin’s on the right, and there’s ole Samuel on the left. We call him the Rev.”
“Great,” Pepper thought to herself, “more ghosts!”
“That’s really nice Longstreet; we got to see your old friends, can we go back now…I’m freezing!”
Seeming to ignore her, he continued to stare at the men gathered around the fire before starting off toward the clearing and saying, “let’s go get warm.”
“Wait!” Pepper said as he left the cover of the trees, “dammit Longstreet!”
Her anger turned to wonderment though as she watched Longstreet enter the clearing, his clothes magically exchanged for an old wet uniform before her eyes. She felt a sudden tugging at her soul to walk also into the clearing, finding herself following Longstreet to the fire.
“Evening gents,” Longstreet said comfortably as he approached the other men.
“Evening Sarg,” Benjamin said to Longstreet before looking back at Pepper, “who’s your follow along?”
“That’s little Petey, the drummer,” Longstreet said without looking back, “he just wants to get warm like the rest of us.”
Surprised by his answer, Pepper looked down, finding her down-filled coat replaced by a very wet and tattered blue and gray uniform, an old canvas parka draped over her shoulders. Feeling around her head, she found she was wearing some sort of floppy felt hat over hair that seemed to have been hacked by a knife. The three men around the fire made room for the two of them, welcoming them in muted but friendly smiles.
“Merry Christmas Sarg, Petey” Jeb said while pulling his coat closer around his neck, “a might better than last year I’m thinkin.”
“Yep,” Samuel said, throwing a stick on the fire, “last year we didn’t have any food at all, least wise we got some hardtack this year.”
They all nodded solemnly in agreement, gazing into the fire, everyone quiet for a few moments.
“Back in ’54,” Jeb started off, “I remember my Pa had been working at the mills in
that year. We never thought he would make it home that year; he was a hundred miles away. We hung a stocking for him anyways, but none of them stockings had a stitch of anything in them no how, it was looking pretty bleak. Well, that night a miracle happened boys, as I live and breath. When we got up in the morning, them stockings was filled to the top, and standing next to them was the old man, tending to the fire. Seems he walked two days straight to get home for Christmas that year… that ended up being the best Christmas ever!” Pittsburg
Pepper noticed that Jeb seemed a little more uplifted as he finished his story.
“We always lived in a tenement in
,” Benjamin chimed in then, “Maw worked at a shop where they make dresses for rich folk. Paw had been long dead; it was just me and her for as long as I can remember. Along about December, there’d be no bread in the house anymore, none. I always asked her why there was no bread when I was younger, and she’d tell me she just didn’t have enough flour to make it.” New York City
“Well sir, Christmas morning I’d wake up to the heavenly smell of baking bread, and there’d be cake and biscuits too! Seems she would save her whole ration for the month so’s we could have a feast on Christmas morning. I tell you what…I’ll never forget those days…nosirre!”
Pepper noticed everyone around the fire seeming to reflect on the stories, noticing the cold and pouring weather less, small smiles forming on their lips.
“Well gents,” Samuel piped in then, “I ain’t got no good stories to tell you about Christmas, save one.” Looking up at the heavens then, he seemed to be looking for the right words to say, “For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
Looking back down at his friends, “that’s the one I remember most every December 25th, the first Christmas.”
Everyone around the fire nodded their head in agreement, even Pepper, finding herself moved, the cold rain forgotten.
Jeb started first, quietly singing the beginning of Silent Night, as everyone around the fire joined in, one after the next. Pepper looked around at the ragged and dirty men sharing this fire in the middle of nowhere in the freezing rain, finding comfort in their memories and beliefs. A single tear started making its way down her cheek as she joined in quietly singing with the others…”Holy Night…”
She found herself singing to herself on Jill’s porch, her breath visible as she quietly finished the song.
Looking out toward the pine trees with a smile on her face, she whispered “thank you Jacob.”
“There you are!” she heard Jill exclaim behind her, “we’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“I lost you guys,” Pepper said with a smile, “so I just came out to get some air.”
“It’s too cold out here to be enjoyable, especially for Christmas,” Beth said with a shiver, “come on inside and we’ll go to Jill’s room for some quiet.”
“Sounds great,” Pepper said as she followed them to the door, thinking about another night long ago as she walked.
“You’d be surprised though,” she thought quietly to herself, “at the memories you can create on a cold winter night.”
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Another installment of my new YA serial, hope you like it! Merry Christmas my friends!
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.”
Friday, December 23, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011