Pepper Malone

Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
Pepper Malone and her friend, Braxton Rosen, become embroiled in the politics surrounding cities choosing their security company to be their law enforcement organization. But she has responsibilities to the Skin Slippers who are heart family and partners in their new venture.
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1

Braxton Rosen leaned against the side of the window in his office watching the clichéd black SUV parked mid-way down the street. The driver’s outline included a stock ballcap. Who hired these bozos? “Pepper, darlin’, did you get my overnight delivery? You’ll need it today.”

Pepper Malone stood on the hill providing an excellent view of the recently closed shopping center sprawled across a 122-acre parcel, along with the buildings on the five outparcels, adding an additional 50 acres to the total property. Casually turning away from her objective, she strolled across the hilltop to the north side. “I picked it up this morning but haven’t had an opportunity to open it. Is it what I’m hoping it is? Is that your intuition telling you it’s needed?”

Her body prickled with the sensation of hundreds of ants walking over her skin from the distant presence of multiple Skin Slippers flooding through the ether.

Braxton pushed away from the window. Walking toward his desk, he detoured to the door and locked it. “Hang on a minute, Pepper.”

Moving around the large walnut desk, he placed his cell phone on the wooden top and sat in the black leather chair. He pulled open the bottom drawer and withdrew a polished maple box. Braxton held it close to his left eye for the scanner. At the beep, he placed his thumb on the fingerprint reader beside the scanner. The top of the box popped up. He turned it over, catching the satellite phone in the palm of his hand. Initiating the joint message app, he sent a text to the three hackers… IT specialists… and sent a short text: “Go.”

“Sorry, Pepper. I meant to take care of that before I called you. My mind is slipping. Must be getting old.”

Pepper frowned. Something wasn’t right. “What’s going on, Brax?”

“In answer to your first question, if you were hoping for the grant of jurisdiction over all the properties you own in the upper East Coast, yes, the three states approved your request. You are the first one to complete and file the application. You’re a test case. There’s a minor problem.” He leaned the chair back, putting his feet on the bare desktop.

Pepper leaned against the SUV’s grille, eyeing the man walking up the hill toward her. “I don’t want to know about this problem, do I?”

“Your name was connected to the new security company we formed. I have my specialists looking into how that happened. Your name isn’t on any of the paperwork. Petitions were served on the Board overseeing the process for cities requesting an alternative to law enforcement. The citizens in five cities within or close to the borders of your lands want you as their designated LEO, in opposition to the plans their governing boards are setting up.”

Pepper stood upright, lifted an arm, and raised her forefinger to the man closing in on her indicating he should wait. She turned and walked along the front of her SUV, made a left and headed along the side, putting space between the real estate broker and her. “It’s the wild west! Bring in a gunslinger to take over and hope like hell he, one, knows what he’s doing, and, two, won’t take advantage of them. We’d need to set up meetings with them to hear what they want. Maybe reserve a room at a restaurant.”

Pepper ran a hand through her hair. “I don’t know, Brax. That’s a lot of responsibility and I don’t know that we have enough people. Do we have federal approval on our application?”

Brax pulled his legs off the desk, scooted his chair forward and leaned his arms on the top. “Yes, the feds have signed off on it. Daniels, Ray, Scottie and Jesper have been working overtime doing deep dives on servicemen who have applied to the security firm. We’ve only bounced two. They’re on the list to watch for any revenge scenarios. That’s more than sixty people. Background packets have been uploaded to the dropbox for your review and approval. You’ve got all those Skin Slippers, as well as the Tribes and Magickals. I believe you… we… can do this.”

Shooting a glance over her shoulder, Pepper turned around and marched back toward the SUV. “The real estate broker is getting anxious. I need to focus on closing this deal. If you’re happy with the applicants, hire all of them. They’re elite operators with specialized training. Even if we don’t agree to handle the work for the cities and other small towns, we’ll have work for this group. I also want to include any law enforcement people who might lose their jobs in this political climate. We want to recruit medical personnel, EMTs and the like. We have the resources.”

She stopped at the end of the SUV. “When are you joining us? How are your partners in the firm handling your diversification into the security field?

“Brax. What’s going on? I’ll get a Strike Team together and be there in…,” she pulled the phone away from her face and glanced at the time at the top of the screen, “two hours. Find a safe place, pull in the Boys and…”

“Pepper, stop. I’ve already negotiated a deal for them to buy me out. It’s a more than reasonable amount.”

Pepper interrupted him. “You mean you’re giving it to them at a cut rate price. What do they have on you?”

Braxton laughed. “Pepper, stop. Just stop. They are getting the partnership. They believe the building and land as well as the parking structure across the street are in the partnership’s name. All assets in the partnership name are listed on the sales papers.”

Pepper guffawed. It took her a minute to gather her wits. “They didn’t check the partnership name, did they?”

“Nope.” Brax popped the last of the word. “The Boys and I should be headed your way in two days and, no, I don’t need any bodyguards. I knew you’d say to hire those who passed our security checks. I’ve got thirty of those people right away plus an additional fifteen when we’re ready to head toward you. The remaining fifteen have some debriefings and paperwork they must take care of before they’re free. So, I’m covered. Word about our set up is spreading fast. We’ll be receiving more hiring requests soon. Get the deal closed with that broker. If you have any problems, use this number. I’m shutting down everything else.”

“Take care, Brax. If you’re not here in two days, I’m coming for you.” Pepper ended the call on her promise. “Mr. Sneed, sorry to keep you waiting. Berry Brewing appears to be doing well since it has some of its crews working on Saturday. I heard from informed sources they’re looking for a buyer.”

She gazed across the fields to the small distillery in the distance. It was nestled inside a ring of mature trees, their full crowns shading the half full parking lots on the south and west sides. The company produced world renown whisky which won the highest awards every year.

“No, no, Ms. Malone. It’s passed father to son for over two hundred years and Gus has five sons of varying ages to carry on the tradition.” Robert Sneed glanced over his shoulder at his big opportunity before mincing across the grass to stand at the woman’s side. “About that shopping center… there are plans in place to break up the larger parcel, demolish the mall and then sell the outparcels separately to a number of consortiums and individuals. The current owners believe your offer is twenty-five million below market price. If you would come back with a higher figure, they’d sure like to sell it to you.”

Pepper barely heard the drivel spouting out of the man’s mouth. She gazed at the forest and hills past the boundary of the distillery’s 50-acre parcel. Pride of ownership swelled first in her gut before moving on to enfold her Soul. Her eyes caressed all the land she could see toward the north, to the west and back toward the east. As far as she could see and more beyond was hers.

Subdivisions and the main downtown complex with small and large shops, buildings housing various governmental agencies – federal, state and local – and towering condo, townhouse and apartment buildings occupied the land to the south. She owned some of the buildings housing the governmental agencies which she had retrofitted with hidden cameras as well as siphons on all data equipment and servers. A little illegal… well, a lot illegal, but she planned to stay ahead of the information curve to protect all Skin Slippers in the event of more economic chaos fostered by the President and Congress and facilitated by the life-time Supreme Court justices.

If any of the Others got off their collective asses and made moves to set up safety and economic protocols for their people, she was more than willing to share the analyses prepared by her tech crew. But she was not going to actively approach the various Ruling Councils. Rich and entitled assholes.

Her fascination with the area started in her early teens. Letting her closest friends handle the online research, she had pursued the hard copy data: grubbing in records kept by old churches and libraries and purchasing old journals and letters at estate sales which led to talking with, and recording the memories of, senior citizens at various social centers and assisted care facilities or retirement centers.

She and her friends had collated the information in a large database before setting up filters to find the common thread… and discovered one of the best-kept secrets of several centuries or longer. A major energy node existed beneath the mall with trailers running out to twelve additional nodes of varying sizes and power. That information she planned to keep between herself and her friends… who all agreed it would be disastrous for the Ruling Councils of the Others, as well as the government, to know.

She parlayed the money she received from several inventions she developed during her early teens into sometimes risky investments on the stock market as well as buying land – some of which she sold for a major profit and some she kept. Money poured in from more inventions through her teens and into her twenties giving her additional resources.

Over the years, she acquired developed and undeveloped property in the area, selling and trading parcels until she had the space she wanted then beginning again in a nearby area, carefully staggering the purchases and trades so there was no discernable pattern.

Being a very private person, she found it difficult to make friends. A small group of people refused to let her back away and the pebble of friends in her pond rippled outward. She and her friends banked the rents from jointly owned commercial buildings as well as homes and a few farms.

Periodically, they withdrew most of the money from the accounts keeping some in cash. The rest of the money was used to buy other portable commodities like silver and gold bars and coins, small diamonds and other precious gems. They cached the cash and portables in various places in the surrounding states.

Bank deposits acted as camouflage to distract governmental, military and police agencies – give them what they thought was appropriate for a person with her resources and they would mostly leave her alone. Mostly.

She had been keeping a close eye on the owners of the shopping center property and its outparcels. She missed, by only a few days, the original sale of the land many years ago when she could have purchased it for much less while still giving the farmers a decent deal. Now, the current economic chaos had scared a multitude of investors into selling off items they deemed risky; taking the money and moving it into “safer” venues. The 122-acre parcel was finally within reach.

“Mr. Sneed. Carolen Investments and Darvyn Funds have offers on the table, both of which have six months or more timelines for closing while they run through the various title searches and due diligence. I’ll pay cash. I’ll take the property in its current condition. The money is available for immediate wiring. Your seller has my purchase agreement. He has until 5:00 p.m. to sign it – as is – and return it to me. I’ll authorize the transfer of funds when my bank opens tomorrow morning. If he wants the money today, 2:00 p.m. is the signing deadline since 3:00 p.m. is the cut-off time at my bank for sending wires.”

Pepper wanted the property and buildings. She had plans… as indicated by the multiple Skin Slipper signatures floating at the edges of her consciousness. Inhaling deeply, she steeled her resolve… and let go. The seller either agreed to her terms or she walked.

She whipped around and marched toward her SUV, shaking her head at Sneed who cleared his throat to pursue the conversation. She stepped sideways away from the man following her and stopped. “This is it, Sneed. That’s my final offer. He either accepts or I walk.”

Visions of similar sites, two near one or two nodes at the end of trailers from this main node, rose in her mind. She recalled the distance to those places and calculated her travel time based on the 2:00 p.m. deadline. Pulling her cell phone from a pocket, she glanced at the time.

Looking directly into Sneed’s eyes, Pepper saw his decision to continue the negotiations. “I’m not bluffing, Sneed. I will call the seller at the end of my deadline as I leave the city and advise him personally about my offer, the activation of the termination clause and requesting the return of the outrageous amount he requested as earnest money. Good day, Sneed.”

Chapter 2

Pepper strode forward, climbed into her SUV and headed down the lane toward the main concrete highway. Fifteen minutes later, she pulled up beside the lead semi in a convoy of fifty trucks parked along the side of the highway.

Whirling lights on top of multiple police cars parked in front of the lead semi flickered across a huddle of police officers. Heads turned toward her stopped vehicle. Exasperation and anger crossed one man’s face, evidently the head guy, before he pointed toward her sending a young man her way. She shifted the SUV into drive and angled it into the small space remaining between the front of the semi and the back of the last police car.

Her action pushed the young officer to move faster, drawing the attention of the men sitting in the trucks.

Riker Denton opened the door of his Cascadia Freightliner, climbed down and walked to the SUV, keeping his body in line with the side view mirror, seeking to calm Pepper’s anxiety at allowing someone to approach her from the back. Reaching the driver’s door, he leaned against it, resting his right elbow on the edge of the open window. He lowered his voice. “Pepper, darlin’, you know better than to goose those lawmen.”

Hearing doors opening behind him, he dismissed the cop from his immediate perception, knowing his Enforcers were moving into place. "Did you buy the property? Me, Doggert, Mason, Chaz and Wils want to buy in.”

“Is that who are on the other end of the tingles causing the hair on my body to stand at attention?” She settled her chin on Riker’s shoulder watching the officer get closer.

“Yep. Along with the same number of trucks and drivers.” His voice softened to barely audible. “About half of the trucks are pulling trailers set up with heating and air conditioning, a kitchenette, lounge and beds for twenty or more men and women to ride comfortably. We stopped often for bathroom breaks at rest stops along the highways and at truck stops.

“We rented blocks of rooms at motels in small towns within twenty miles of a stop for people to have showers. Anyone who wanted more shelter stayed in the rooms while the rest of us camped out after taking a shower.

“We saved some money and upset stomachs by coming together to cook our meals over a fire at night and snacked during the day. We combined our clans and left the majority of the men to guard our families, but there are more than sufficient numbers to handle any ruckus.”

Pepper rubbed her chin on Riker’s shirt before she sat upright and unlatched the door. “You know I’d already planned for the five of you to be part of the plan. Just so you know,” she pushed the door open, “help me down, big guy… Ernesto, Gabe, Tater and Carson with their crews are handling the tech side of this project.

“Samuel, Brighton, War Cloud, Marjorie and Perry are bringing in their Circles. Their planes should be landing in different cities in the next hour. Vehicles have been set up to bring them in when I give the okay. I called the two different groups just before I arrived and told them to hang back for now. They’ll settle in at the hotel you and I purchased… yeah, I put your name on the title with mine… and no arguing about it.

“And to answer your question, no, I didn’t close the deal. I smell a skunk. There are two investment companies competing with me for the property. I think the real estate agent is working with them and against the seller. I gave the agent a deadline of 2:00 p.m., if the seller wants his money today, to give me a signed contract. No contract by 5:00 p.m. today and I walk.”

She slammed her ass against the front fender. “Damn it, Riker, I want that property.” Pepper rubbed her eyes with her fingers.