Pepper and Longstreet
The Missing Inheritance
Part 2: The Quest
By JT Lewis
Copyright 2012 by JT Lewis
Pepper showed up at Sara’s house bright and early the next morning, even though her puffy eyes attested to the fact that she had gotten little sleep the night before.
She was too excited to sleep.
Helping Sara find the coded message from her dead father yesterday, the day ahead promised to be even more exciting as they followed the clues Sara’s dad had set up years ago, clues that would lead to a final treasure.
Pepper knew the treasure was probably not something like gold or jewels, Sara had told her as much. But the mystery of it all had drawn Pepper to hunt, and her new friend Sara had almost insisted anyway.
“I’ll wait here, missy,” Pepper heard behind her before she entered the house. She had not known for sure if her ghostly partner had followed her to Sara’s, but had suspected he would be here early as he seemed to love a mystery as much as she did.
“Longstreet…will you ever learn that my name is Pepper?”
Jacob Longstreet’s face exhibited the expected confused look he always got when confronted with an unexpected fact of the modern world. Just as quickly though, his normally determined look reappeared as he did what he normally did when these things confronted him…he ignored them.
“I’ll be here when you need me,” he said as he disappeared with a swish or wind.
Shaking her head in wonderment, Pepper turned back toward the house and knocked on the door.
“Pepper!” Sara gushed as she opened the door, immediately wrapping her arms around Pepper in greeting. “I’m so glad you came early, my brother and I haven’t been able to sleep all night!”
Leading her into the kitchen, “Pepper, you know my brother Matthew don’t you?”
Pepper did indeed, her heart skipping a beat as she waved at Sara’s dark-haired brother. Matthew Lawson was a junior at her school, and all of the girls wanted to get to know him. Although he had always seemed nice, Pepper had never had the nerve to do anything more than say hi to him when he passed her in the hall.
“Hi Pepper,” he said with a warm smile, “nice to meet you.”
“We are both so happy that you found the message,” Sara said as she set some fruit and fresh baked muffins on the table, “and that you agreed to help us today.”
“My pleasure,” Pepper said as she sat down next to Matthew at the table, “you know I love a good mystery.”
“I hear you’re pretty good at it,” Matthew said with a smile, “it’s kind of a serious hobby, or business for you isn’t it? At least, I’ve heard that.”
“Yes it is,” Pepper said, blushing, “a business, but not for money…yet anyway.” Remembering the business cards, she pulled one out of her pocket and laid it on the table in front of Matthew.
“Wow, business cards too…impressive! Pepper and Longstreet…I like the name, who’s Longstreet?”
Although she knew this question would come up, she had yet to pull together a good explanation of her ghostly partner, leaving her stumbling over her words as she tried to explain.
“He’s ah…a guy…I met him, and he is really good at mysteries…but he doesn’t like attention…anyway, he very seldom shows up in the field.”
“Kinda a ghost huh?” Matthew said smiling as Pepper tried to control her blushing at how near he had come to the actual truth.
“Yes…sort of a ghost in that way,” Pepper added finally, hoping the subject was now closed.
“So, do you have any ideas on the first clue from the note last night?” Sara asked as she sat down at the table.
“Not really, not yet anyway, I have thought about it a few times, but since I don’t know what you have around here, I thought it best to wait until I arrived. Can I see the note again?”
Sara slid the note across the table, saying, “Matthew and I have been trying to decipher it all night, but it doesn’t make any sense.”
Pepper reread the clue on the sheet before her.
“You will find your next clue behind the coat that you never wear.”
“Do you have any old coats around that you don’t wear?”
“A few,” Sara answered dejectedly, “but we’ve been through all of them, even some of mom’s old coats, we found nothing in any of them.”
Pepper gave the clue some more thought before speaking again. “You know, he said ‘you will find’ in the note, but he knew that both of you would be together, and he doesn’t mention either of you by name. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but it seems like he is saying to look for a coat that you both own but don’t wear.”
Everyone around the table was perplexed, silently eating their breakfast as they thought about what Pepper had said.
“That makes sense,” Sara said, deep in thought, “at least about who owns the coat, but I still have no clue as to what it means.”
“Let’s walk around the house after breakfast,” Pepper added, trying to keep her hosts cheerful, “maybe something will pop out at us.”
Finishing the meal minutes later, Pepper asked to be taken to where the old coats were they had looked at previously. Since the clue had said behind the coat, she wondered aloud if there wouldn’t be a secret door or something in the back of the closet. Ten minutes later however, they had looked through all of the closets in the home, finding nothing.
“Ok, why don’t you just show me through the house, Pepper finally said, “we must be looking at this all wrong.”
Matthew begged off, saying he had to go to practice, so Sara and Pepper started off alone. One after another the rooms were gone through, one after another their search proved futile.
Pepper noticed that the house was full of watercolor paintings, they were in every room and hallway. The subject of the paintings varied from tranquil fields, family members, and even the family crest.
“Someone in your family is a painter it seems,” Pepper observed as she passed yet another painting of a barn and an old farm implement.
“Yes, that was my mom,” Sara answered sadly, “she loved to paint.”
“After she died a few years ago, my dad made frames for all of her paintings, placing them everywhere in the house so we would always have a reminder of her.”
“Ahem,” Pepper heard from behind her, turning and spotting Longstreet standing in front of one of the paintings down the hall.
“Come here a minute girly,” he said as he continued to look at the painting.
Thinking quickly, “Sara, would you mind leaving me alone for a minute, I need to look around and think.”
“Sure,” Sara said with a smile, “I’ll just go clean up breakfast in the kitchen.”
As she left, Pepper slowly walked down toward Longstreet, pretending to be thinking and looking as she walked.
“What is it?” Pepper whispered quietly as she approached her partner.
“What do you call this thing on the wall here,” he said as he continued to look at the painting.
Turning her head to look, “that’s their family crest…why?”
Finally turning his head to face her, “In my day, we called it a coat of arms.”
It took a few moments for it to sink in, but when it did Pepper said loudly, “Longstreet, you’re a genius!”
“What’d you say Pepper?” Sara called from the kitchen.
Embarrassed at her outburst, she nonetheless called back, “come here a minute, I think…we might have found something!”
Smiling at Longstreet, she whispered “Thanks Jacob!”
Tipping his hat, he disappeared with a whoosh.
“What is it?” Sara said as she approached down the hall.
Pointing at the painting, “Your coat of arms!”
It took Sara a few moments also, but then a big smile spread across her face as she reached up and lifted the painting off of its hook. Looking behind the frame, they found an easily removable back.
Taking the painting into the study, Sara laid it face down and turned the clasps to remove the back. Inside there was a neatly folded piece of paper which Sara removed gingerly, unfolding it slowly like it would fall apart if she mishandled it. Tears sprung to her eyes once more as she started reading the words on the paper.
Congratulations guys! I knew you could do it! Isn’t this fun?
Ok, first to the business at hand. You will find a key taped to the back of this picture, and it fits a safety deposit box at the bank. There you will find another life insurance policy, as well as my official will and other legal papers you will need.
And now for the fun part!
The medallions you will need, that cover your heart
A/cross the field from where I depart
Sara handed Pepper the note as she went to find some tissues. Reading the clue over and over, she memorized the verse, but could not fathom the meaning.
“Any idea what the medallions are your dad is referring to?”
“Read it to me again please Pepper.”
“The medallions you will need, that cover your heart.”
“I have no idea,” Sara said as she covered her heart with her hand. She stood there looking confused as she held her hand to her chest before seeming to realize something with a start. Reaching into her shirt collar, she pulled on a chain that was draped around her neck, revealing a Chinese coin attached to it.
“The good luck piece! Dad gave Matthew and I each one of these years ago. He told us to never take them off, that someday we would come to see their importance.”
“I believe you just have Sara; that has to be the medallion he was talking about!”
Smiling at the coin as she gazed at it, Sara then clasped it to her chest with both hands.
“I can’t believe that he set up this treasure hunt all of those years ago…he was such a special man Pepper…I wish you could have met him.”
Pepper wished she had too, and said as much to Sara.
Sighing then, Sara looked up at Pepper, her eyes alight with excitement. “Let’s figure out the rest of the clue!”
They stood side by side at the desk, working through the wording of the note.
“A/cross the field from where I depart,” Pepper repeated the words out loud for the tenth time, still with no hint as to the meaning. Suddenly an idea crossed her mind, “Sara, where is your dad buried?”
“That small cemetery off of West Fork, our whole family is buried there…that’s mostly the only people buried there…why?”
“That’s a pretty small cemetery all right, pretty far out in the country too. Isn’t there still a part of it that is empty, a part that kind of reminds me of a field?”
Recognition lit up Sara’s face at that moment, “from where I depart!”
“A field across from where he departed! Pepper, that’s it! That has to be it!”
Pepper was smiling too, “It seems like a good lead…but we could be wrong Sara, don’t get your hopes up yet.”
“Too late Pepper,” Sara replied with a grin, “but I’m sure this is the place! I’m going to text Matthew and tell him to meet us there…this is so exciting! Let’s go!”
Literally running out the door, they were heading to Sara’s car when Pepper heard, “better take a shovel missy.”
Stopping dead in her tracks, Pepper turned to face Longstreet, a confused look now on her face.
“What?” she whispered through clenched teeth.
“I ain’t never seen anything go in or out of a cemetery that didn’t involve diggin of some sort,” he said with certainty.
“Of course…duh!” she mumbled to herself, aggravated at her lack of forethought.
“Hey Sara!” she called after her friend, “we had better take a shovel.”
“Oh yeah,” Sara said, embarrassed as she returned to the house to retrieve a shovel. “Unless it’s lying on the ground in plain sight, we probably will have to do some digging.”
“I’ll find Lady and meet you there,” Longstreet said as he walked toward the road. “Lady!…where’d ya go girl?”
Pepper sighed inwardly, Longstreet always forgot he was a ghost. Walking by him on the way to the car, Pepper talked to him quietly out of the side of her mouth.
“Lady’s gone…remember? Just ride with us in the car…you’re able to do that aren’t you?”
A confused look crossed Longstreet’s face as he once again tried to work through what Pepper had told him. Finally his determined look returned, “Forgot, I sure do miss that old gal.”
Walking toward the car, he disappeared with a swishing sound before reaching it. Pepper didn’t look around, knowing he was invisible, not sure if he would be actually riding in the car with them or if he would just magically appear at the cemetery.
She realized suddenly that she had as much to learn from Longstreet about ghostly matters as he did from her about the modern world.
“This may take awhile,” she mumbled to herself as she entered the car.
Arriving at the cemetery, Sara opened the door and immediately started walking slowly toward her father’s grave as if in a trance. Plopping down on her knees in front of the grave she silently touched the face of the gravestone, gently tracing out her father and mothers’ names with her fingers.
Pepper had sensed that this was Sara’s way of coping with her parents’ death, so she had stayed back at the car for a few minutes, watching her friend from a distance. Finally Pepper went around the car to get the keys, opening the trunk and removing the shovel.
Walking up the hill to Sara’s location, she stood silently by as Sara continued looking at the stone.
“They were such great people,” Sara said evenly, seeming to sense Pepper behind her. “You would have really liked them.”
“I’m sure I would have,” Pepper replied, looking down the hill as she noticed the arrival of Matthew’s car.
Sara also looked down the hill then, pushing herself up and turning to face her approaching brother.
“Hey guys!” Matthew said in greeting, “what have you found so far?”
Sara filled him in on the clues they had uncovered so far, handing him the letter with the last clue on it.
Looking it over, he read the last line out loud, “A/cross the field from where I depart.”
Looking around then, he studied the layout of the partially overgrown cemetery, taking in any objects that may lead them to the spot.
“The only thing in that part of the cemetery that I can remember is a very old stone with the family name on it. Dad showed it to me once, but it may be hidden by brush or weeds.”
“Let’s go look down there then,” Sara said quietly, suddenly overwhelmed.
Pepper noticed her friend’s sudden quietness, “Hey, we’ve found all of the clues up to this point, remember, your dad wanted you to find this, so he wouldn’t have made it impossible to discover…plus he wanted you to have fun with it!”
Sara looked at Pepper, realizing what she said was the truth. A smile reappeared on her face then, “You’re right Pepper…lets go find the next spot!”
The three of them walked down the hill, spreading out a little when they reached the overgrown part of the cemetery. Pepper was to the far right of the others, following an old fence line while poking through weeds and thorn bushes.
“Over here girly.”
Hearing Longstreet’s voice to her left, she nonetheless could not find him as she scanned the area. Suddenly his head poked out of an old Multiflora Rose bush, “In here.”
Making her way to the clump of thorns, she was taken aback by the size of the thorny mass. At least six feet tall, the clump had a circumference of at least ten feet.
“There’s a stone in there missy, dead center of that mass of thorns…I don’t envy you getting to it.”
It did indeed seem daunting.
Calling the others over, she told them she thought she had seen a stone inside the prickly bush. Looking around closely, Mathew said, “how in the world could you see anything in this…it’s a wall of thorns?”
Shrugging her shoulders and offering no further explanations, Matthew sighed and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Trudging back to his car, Pepper asked Sara where he was going.
“Probably to get some tools from his car, he works part-time at a nursery, so he always keeps a few things in his car.”
After a few minutes, Matthew returned carrying a saw and an ax. Throwing the saw into the grass, he took the ax and started whacking at the gnarled roots of the plant, alternating between the ax and the saw.
Ten minutes later, he let out a yell, “there is a stone in here, it’s the one with the family name on it!”
Crawling back out and looking at Pepper again, “You must have x-ray vision to have seen that through that mess!”
Pepper shrugged again, but everyone was now too excited to worry about how she found it.
“It’s been hidden for quite awhile judging by the size of this plant, I’m not sure this could be the one we’re looking for,” Matthew questioned as he stood up and brushed off his pants.
“The book that I found the original clue in was from 1999,” Pepper interjected, “he could have done this 13 years ago.”
“What’s it look like?” Sara asked her brother.
“It’s about two foot tall, with Lawson written across the front…I’m still not certain that this is it though.”
“Let me see the clue again,” Pepper asked Sara, who handed the paper over to her friend.
Rereading it, something struck her in the way it was written.
A/cross the field from where I depart.
“Matthew, what shape is the stone?” Pepper asked.
“It’s shaped like a cross….why?”
A smile spread across Pepper’s lips as she held out the paper to the others.
“See the way the first word is written…A/cross…I think he meant it to have dual meanings…across…and… A cross.”
The brother and sister smiled at the realization, “my dad would so do something like that,” Sara said with a huge grin.
Smiling, Matthew added, “He certainly would! You’re pretty sharp there kid!”
Reaching up, he mussed Pepper’s hair, adding, “You’re my good luck charm from here on out!”
Pepper blushed at the attention from the good-looking boy. Luckily, he was grabbing the shovel in preparation of digging and didn’t notice her embarrassment.
Crawling back into the massive bush, he got busy scraping the ground in front of the stone while the girls anxiously waited.
“Found something!” his muffled voice said as he started crawling back out of the hole. Exiting the hole, Matthew drug a plastic storage box out behind him. Setting the box on the ground in front of them, he started removing some dilapidated duct tape from around the lid of the box. Trying to lift the lid then, it wouldn’t budge. Looking at it closely, “Looks like he put a bead of Silicone around the top edge.”
Looking around him, he finally settled on the shovel, sticking the pointed nose of it into the crack of the lid and leveraging it up as the lid popped off of the plastic container.
They all put their heads over the now open storage box, seeing an oily looking cloth wrapped around something else in the box. Reaching in gingerly, Matthew lifted the package out and started to unwrap the cloth, revealing a finely carved wooden box with a domed lid.
“That’s beautiful,” Pepper exclaimed as she stared at the wooden container.
“I remember this!” Sara exclaimed as she carefully took the box from her brother. “I remember when he made this years ago, when I was a kid!”
“How do you open it?” Matthew questioned suddenly, “There is no clasp on it, and no hinges.”
They all looked closer at the box now, finding that indeed there was no clasp or hinges evident on the box, only two slots, one on each side of the lid, each slot made of metal that had been inlaid into the wood.
“You must have to have a key that will fit into those slots,” Pepper said, trying to talk through the puzzle.
“Or…” Sara suddenly exclaimed, “a medallion!”
Pulling her medallion out of her shirt and unclasping it from around her neck, she gently reached over and tried inserting it into the slot…it fit perfectly, a mechanical click indicating that something had released inside the box.
Excitedly, Matthew also pulled out his medallion and unclasped it before also pushing his into the opposite slot with another satisfying click.
Carefully reaching under the lip of the box and pulling up, the lid easily opening in Matthew’s hand.
Looking inside, they found a few things, all wrapped in plastic, including an envelope labeled ‘Sara & Matthew’.
Gently taking out the plastic bag and removing the envelope, Sara opened the envelope and opened the letter.
You did it! I knew you would!
I hope you had fun with my little preplanned adventure. I was hoping that it might help take a little of the sting out of my passing, and you did it together!
Do not bereave at my passing, for I am with you still, after all…To live in the hearts we leave behind…Is not to die.
Keep me and your mom in your hearts throughout your lives and we will always be there. We have prepared you to the best of our abilities for your life ahead, and I for one am very proud of both of you.
As for the treasure…well…it’s not much in the whole scheme of things. Inside the box you will find two gold coins, one for each of you. Your mom and I picked them out soon after Matthew was born. Each one is dated 100 years before your birth, and they are a reminder of the longevity of our love for each of you. Hopefully you will be able to keep them forever, but they are yours to do with as you wish. In a pinch, they should be worth quite a bit of money should you need it for an emergency down the road.
The other treasure, at least I hope you consider it a treasure, is in the form of a personal note to each of you. You may keep them to yourself, or share with others, it is your choice. But know this, these are heartfelt messages, and they are truly messages to you and the person you have become…or will become. Please take them to heart.
I thanked God every day of my life for you two, and I can only hope that you can come to find the same level of satisfaction and happiness in your lives.
I Love You!
Tears were flowing from everyone around the circle as Sara finished the note. Sara and Matthew found their coins and the notes addressed to them, both opting to read the notes later.
Walking back to the car, Sara put her arm around Pepper. “I don’t know how I can ever repay you Pepper, you have solved a puzzle that we may have never found without you…you gave us our father’s last words.”
“I’m glad I could do it,” Pepper said with heartfelt joy, “And I’m so glad I got to know you guys, it would have been a shame to go through life having not gotten to know you.”
“Especially the way I was in high school,” Sara added, “I have my work cut out for me making that right with everybody.”
Back at her house, Pepper was reflecting on Sara and Matthew’s case when her thoughts were interrupted.
“You done good girly.”
Looking up at her partner, she could only smile.
“You weren’t too shabby yourself Jacob, you found all of the missing pieces we needed…your kinda awesome truth be known.”
The confusion at being complimented quickly changed to determination as Longstreet said he was going to take a ride.
“Where is that darn horse anyway,” he said as he looked about the room.
Pepper just smiled, feeling more patient than usual, “Longstreet, about Lady…”