In honor or the release this weekend of Volume 6 of the Pepper and Longstreet series, I thought I would revisit an earlier post, the origins of the Pepper and Longstreet series!
Asked to tell the story of the origins of the Pepper and Longstreet series, I sit down at the computer and prepare to write another mundane piece of self promotion. Sitting in front of the blank screen though, a tear slowly makes its way down my cheek as the memories come flooding back into my mind.
It has been over twenty years now, and I was at a sad turning point in my life. A messy divorce, my kids hundreds of miles away, and my meaningless job taking me nowhere…I am alone.
A searing pain in my mouth had added to my misery, and forced me to visit the dentist, an appointment I had held off making for as long as I could. Sitting in the waiting room, I mindlessly paged through a magazine as I nervously waited my turn in the chair. Stopping suddenly, my eyes focused on a singular word that suddenly held my focus like nothing had in months…Safari.
Two weeks in
living in tents, heat, bugs, animals surrounding me that could easily have me
for dinner. I stared at the page, reading and rereading the ad over and over
like my mind was trapped.
As a nagging voice finally made its way through to my conscious, I realized that I was up next. The annoyed hygienist looked at me over her glasses with disdain as she impatiently waited. Still in a trance, I slowly looked back down at the page on my lap, the magical word calling me with its simplicity.
Quickly making the decision, I reached down and ripped the page out of the publication. Flipping the remnants of the magazine on the table, I folded the page and walked around the woman as her mouth hung open in astonishment.
The hot Savanna wind cooled the sweat on my face as I stood looking out at the landscape before me. I had just arrived at camp after two days of travelling. A porter had taken my luggage to my tent as I took in the vastness of the African plains that was to be my home for the next two weeks.
The lilted voice gently floated from behind me. I turned into the setting sun seeking the source of the voice and was taken aback at the sight before me. The twilight made a halo of the bright red hair as the woman confidently approached me. Wearing a tan shirt and riding breeches, the smart-looking woman held out her hand in greeting as she drew near. The smile lighting her face was as bright as the day as she gripped my hand in hers, announcing herself as, “Pepper…Pepper Macready, at your service.”
I was awestruck at the strong beauty of the woman before me, and more than a little embarrassed when I caught myself staring at her face uncomfortably long. Stumbling over my name, I finally spit it out as she seemed to take the whole transaction in stride.
Her face gave away little information as to her age, but the small tinges of gray peeking out at her temple led me to believe she was probably in her mid-forties. I again found myself staring at the strikingly good-looking woman who was, I believed, fifteen years my senior.
“Is everything ok?” she asked innocently.
Finally snapping out of my revere, I smiled and stated that everything was just perfect. Smiling back, she asked if I would care to join her for tea. Walking to the end tent, we sat under the canvas veranda in front of it. The luxurious shade and the dry gentle breeze offered a comfortable repast as the porter brought tea and biscuits.
I found out that she was from
had spent most of her adult life as a private detective. Having taken one of
these trips twenty years before, she had become hooked, and had come back every
My story of course seemed so much less exciting as to seem to be of no consequence. But she seemed held in rapt attention as I spilled out much more of my life than I had intended. Sipping her tea as I droned on, her pale blue eyes twinkled over her cup as she listened in seeming fascination as the train wreck of my life spilled out.
We talked well into the night, getting to know each other as people tend to do on such occasions. But it was much more than that for me. I had never met a more interesting person, not to mention a woman. She shyly regaled me with tales of her cases as the night sped by around us.
I asked her at one point how she had come to find an interest in detective work, and her secret to being so successful. Looking over her shoulder, she held her gaze there for a few moments before turning back. She explained that she had just always felt it was her calling to seek out and solve mysteries. And as to her success…she explained that she had some very good help over the years.
Over the next two weeks we spent every waking hour together, and I enjoyed myself immensely. For her part, she seemed to be enjoying my company as well.
But there was one odd thing that presented itself now and again. Periodically, she would seem to be having a conversation with someone else, someone that was not there. I noticed it infrequently at first, but as we got closer and spent even more time with each other, it seemed to occur more frequently. Bothered by it a little at first, I came to accept it, figuring I would find out eventually if we spent enough time together.
On the second to last night at camp, I was in a quandary. I liked Pepper immensely, and was certain that these two weeks were not going to be enough…not near enough. She had easily dug me out of the hole of gloom that I had previously been buried in, and had done so effortlessly.
But she had a life back home, and I wasn’t sure as to how to proceed. Although she seemed smitten with me as well, I did not want to force myself on her just because our time here was becoming short.
That night around the fire, she got up to retrieve something and tripped on a root in the ground. Losing her balance, she started to fall. I was up in a flash, easily catching her in my arms. As we stood there, staring into each other’s eyes, I could smell her sweet musk of lavender and Savanna dust.
Her smile told me everything I needed to know.
We held hands as we sat close to each other the rest of the night with nary a word passing between us. Although it would have been the easiest thing for either of us to fall into bed together that night, we just sat there and let the essence of each other soak into our souls.
I woke at sunrise in front of the now dead fire, she in my arms. We got up and got ready for our day…the last.
This day was going to be a treat for the customers; we would be riding elephants on our excursion today.
Getting everybody up on their pachyderm took awhile, but the porters and the elephants themselves seemed to take the wait in stride.
Everything was going great as we slowly lumbered our way through the plains, taking in the birds and other wildlife around us.
Suddenly Pepper’s elephant let out a loud trumpet as it started swinging its trunk side to side, clearly agitated about something.
As I watched in horror, her elephant reared up as Pepper was thrown from her seat, landing hard on the dry, packed earth. I tried to get off of my perch quickly, getting tangled up in the reigns for my effort. I finally unwound the leather straps from my feet and slid down the side….just as the other elephant fell…on Pepper!
By the time I reached her side, the damage had been done. I quickly helped the porter get the animal up and ran around to find Pepper. She laid flat on her back with those pale blue eyes staring up at the sky, a small smile on her lips, a line of blood running down her cheek.
Tears stained my cheeks as I kneeled beside her, wanting to hug her, but taking her hand gently in mine instead.
She rolled her head slightly to look at me, her smile as bright as the day we met.
“It would have been grand,” she said as a small tear formed in one eye, “grand indeed.”
“It’s not over! You are going to pull out of this!” I yelled at her, “You have to pull out of this! I Love You!”
“Aye, I’m thinkin I’m a wee bit in love with you too,” she whispered, an Irish lilt coming to the fore.
I smiled through my tears, “damn good thing!” I whispered back.
She smiled brightly at me, but then looked back up to the sky suddenly. Her eyes glazed over slightly as she raised her other arm to the sky, her smile returning once more.
“Longstreet, I think I may need your help one more time.”
So that’s my story of how Pepper and Longstreet came about. The stories of a teen detective and her ghostly partner, inspired by a love lost that left me a better man in the wake.
I hope you have enjoyed this tale, and watch for the new Pepper and Longstreet~ The Haunted Camp~ out this weekend!