J.T. Lewis on the Origins of Pepper & Longstreet-Part I
The Origins of Pepper and Longstreet
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 Africa… 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, and 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 England, and 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 year since.
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.