tagSci-Fi & FantasyPepper On The Inside

Pepper On The Inside

byPrevertOne©

A Sequel to "Keep It Down" by Jay Petto

Author's Note: I wish to convey my deepest thanks to Jay Petto for his permission to post this story.

Keep It Down tells the story of Patricia "Pepper" Waite, a college student who annoys an elderly sorcerer, Ambrose Wright, who turns her, temporarily, into a bronze figurine. This story examines the aftermath.

Thanks to Todger 65 for the edit.

*

"And it was going so well," sighed Ambrose. He was dismayed; no, not dismayed, pissed. At least as pissed a man of his age could afford to feel. "That . . . woman," he sighed again, and in that exhalation went six months of fame, fortune, social standing; decades of hard work and research culminating in great reward, gone, because of "That woman."

Six months ago

He finished his book. The college student, Pepper Waite, was returned to flesh. He chuckled at the memory. He needed the humor considering his situation. She'd scampered out the door the second the restoration spell was finished; in such a rush, she didn't even bother to pick up her clothes. Ambrose briefly worried about the authorities, "But really, who would believe her?" The mundanes were more like as not to put her away. His theory on her silence was confirmed over the following weeks. There no visits by the police and, as an added bonus, no noise from Pepper; no music, no thumps, nothing. So far as he could tell, she went upstairs and never came down.

Ambrose felt a twinge of guilt over what he had done. He was a Grey magician but Greys had some ethics, less so than Whites but still . . . His ethical concerns, however, were brushed aside in the heady climate following the publication of his book.

It was a success beyond his wildest dreams. All the prominent, important critics, some were his peers, had nothing but praise.

"A brilliant, fine piece of work," wrote Dr. Mildred Kruger of the Collegium.

No less a personage than Morris Whitaker, current head of the White Order wrote, "A work of scholarship to stand with the ages."

Literaries praised its simple, accessible prose: "A great work that takes complex subjects of spell casting and magic, and shapes them into forms that are compelling and yet instructive. A definitive work," The Magister Review.

"No comment," the Order of the Shadow. "But then the Blacks are never inclined to comment on anything," thought Ambrose.

Along with the acclaim came royalties, invitations to lecture at the great secret universities, requests for advice and input from some of the most prominent magicians of the Grey and White. Literary awards piled up: The Dowling, The Falcon Prize, The National Alchemy Award, and the biggest of all, The Merlin Prize for non-fiction, announced but not yet awarded.

It was during the Cockmoore Conference on Technomancy that the Law of Unintended Consequences, subsection fame, came into play. The conference was held at Dartmouth and Ambrose's lecture was modern transmutation. The packed lecture hall expressed Ambrose's popularity. He was almost finished when, "Plagiarist! Fraud! Thief!"

"Eh?" Ambrose asked.

"I am talking to you, Ambrose Wright! You are a plagiarist, a fraud, and a thief! And a shit to boot!"

The audience stirred unsettled; people glanced about, searching for the accuser. Ambrose was not nervous, merely confused. His work was impeccable. He neither stole nor plagiarized from anyone. If any examples of other people's work were in his book, they were cited with due credit given, like any good research. Still, an accusation of this nature, in a public place . . .

"Those are very strong words, whomever you are. Do you have proof of your claim?"

A figure emerged from the milling crowd. The first impression for Ambrose was, "Red hair,"; flaming red hair, set on the head of an extremely attractive, mature, leggy woman, wearing a garishly loud pink Donna Karan power suit.

"She's 40 at the least," Ambrose thought, "Very attractive, bad taste in clothes, love the hair."

She strode to the stage, green eyes flashing with self-righteous ire. She pivoted dramatically to face the audience. "My name is Audrey James. My father was William James, and I have proof," she reached into her DKNY bag and pulled out a tattered notebook, "that Ambrose Wright stole my father's research."

"Bill James? I haven't heard that name in ages. A notebook is not proof, Ms. James."

"That is why I demand an inquiry. A double-sided inquiry, scientific and magical. When it is over I am confident," she emphasized the word confident, "that the age of the paper and ink will be authenticated. The inquiry will find that Mr. Wright's chapter on transmigration will match those notes, word for word."

Ambrose was incredulous, and from the snickers in the audience, his high skepticism was shared. His agent warned him of people like her. Fame attracts more than its share of parasites; opportunists who cry plagiarism, just so they can extort a little money or snatch a bit of glory from the successful. The last person Ambrose expected was the daughter of an old college roommate. "Sad that Bill's daughter would sink to such a level," he thought, when another wrench was thrown. "I say let Ms. James prove her case."

The speaker came from behind him. Ambrose turned to confront him, Dr. Horace Bentley. "I hope you're not serious Horace," Ambrose said, knowing full well Horace probably was, given their cold dislike towards each other since college.

"Hiding something Ambrose?" Horace asked with the cocked eyebrow and smirk Ambrose always hated. "The stupid smart-ass is at it again. Well, I can kill two birds with one stone and settle the issue. All right, let her prove it, and when this little farce is done, I don't want to see her or you again." And with those words, Ambrose flushed his brief literary celebrity down the crapper.

The inquiry was held at Yale. The Ivy Leagues always contained the best facilities for magework. The U.S. Associated Mage Authority brought in three mages, two White, one Grey, plus a mundane forensics expert.

The White mages were present to ensure the inquiry's integrity, the Grey to represent Ambrose's order, and the forensics expert to provide scientific evidence. Three judges from the Grey council presided. Present were Ambrose, Audrey, Horace, several of Ambrose's friends and colleagues, Ambrose's lawyer William Pierce, plus an executive and a lawyer representing the publishing company, and a slew of reporters representing various mage publications. Even so Ambrose was not worried. "I did not plagiarize," he thought confidently.

He actually felt some pity for Audrey. Whatever scam she was running would be exposed before the media and some of the most prominent people in the mage community. "She looks very confident for someone whose life is about to fall apart," he thought. Indeed, Audrey wore a lavender Prada right out of, "What was that show Kate loved so much? Love in . . . no, 'Sex In New York?' No, that's not quite it. Drat this memory of mine!"

Her face displayed a confident smile; wavy red hair cascaded like a sunset over her shoulders. "An excellent figure," Ambrose thought, "Very much like Pepper Waite. Her breasts are slightly larger however. Pity, amazing Bill could produce such a woman. He must have married well."

Horace was sitting next to her, a little too close, Audrey didn't seem to mind. "So that explains it." Ambrose's dislike of Horace stemmed in part from the latter's tendency to be too much the cat, less the gentleman. "He'll drop her as soon as the results come in," he sniffed.

The results came in. Horace did not drop Audrey. Ambrose would spend the next month replaying the moment over and over.

The presiding judge looked at Ambrose, frowned, dropped his eyes to the paper before him, cleared his throat, and said, "After extensive review and forensic analysis we have concluded that the notebook is authentic and the notes contained therein are accurate."

Jaws dropped around the room, none lower than Ambrose's. Eyes turned to him, accusing, condemning, some, like Horace, smug. William didn't look happy, obviously, but his expression could not compare to Ambrose's.

"Impossible!" he cried, "My research is impeccable! And peer reviewed!"

"Obviously the peers need to be reviewed!" snarked Horace loudly.

"It took years, decades to gather that research. I-was-thorough! I quadruple checked my notes! Made sure all the sources were credited and listed! I've worked on this project since college, college!"

"Ah! So that's where it started," came a sneer from Audrey. "You've been stealing from my father since college. Tell me, did you cheat on your SAT?"

"I barely knew your father," Ambrose retorted, "We were roommates but we barely tolerated each other. Besides, he studied a completely different discipline from mine, outside my area of research. I had no reason to steal from him, nor any interest in his research."

"We will need to examine your findings, of course," William told the panel, "And we demand an independent forensics specialist to study the notes. Plus we need to look at the notebook itself."

"It is your prerogative to examine the notebook and other evidence," one of the White mages, Cassius Brumby, Ambrose recalled, said. "However, under the circumstances, we shall have to send our findings to the Mages Union and the National Mage Society, and recommend that your Merlin Prize be rescinded pending further investigation, temporarily of course."

"And I must recommend your suspension from the Grey order until this unfortunate affair is resolved," the Grey mage, Cynthia Byrd, said, "I'm sorry Ambrose."

"I'm . . . sorry too," Ambrose replied, gut-punched. Objectively, he knew Cynthia had no choice. The rules of the Grey were set in stone; still, it hurt. Cynthia was one of his closest friends.

Afterwards, the room cleared; Audrey and Horace looked particularly triumphant as they left. William turned to Ambrose, "I'll appeal the suspension of course. There's nothing I can do about the Merlin Prize. It looks like they have you dead to rights. The evidence looks convincing."

"I did not plagiarize, William. I'm being framed here."

"Yes, yes of course," William replied but Ambrose could hear the skepticism in his voice. "But unless some new evidence comes up, proving your innocence, there's little I can do."

Today

Ambrose was poring over his notes. The news from William was not encouraging. It looked like the appeal would go against him, and rumor had it the Grey order was about to convene an expulsion hearing. Time was running out.

"I need something, an angle," Ambrose thought. "The notes are forgeries. They have to be. How did she do it? I need to know her secret. I can't find a technological, chemical, or magical process capable of such authenticity. I need a . . . spy!"

Ambrose slapped his head in exasperation. "Blast my senile old mind. I could have done this after the hearing, blast me! Magic got me into this mess, magic will get me out. Now, who to hire . . . wait a second . . . of course!" Ambrose laughed.

****

Patricia "Pepper" Waite sat at her desk, going over the latest draft of her essay. It was the dullest thing Pepper ever wrote but she had to turn in something, not that it would do much good.

Her tuition was running out and no more money was coming. Her father cut her off; telling him she wanted to change her major from environmental law to creative writing probably had something to do with it. The other reason, "Probably Abbie's fault."

Pepper's stepmother had had it in for her almost from the day she married Dad. "Figures she'd find a way to get more money from him; telling the old man I didn't want to follow him into law was a good excuse for both."

Pepper sighed; she couldn't be sad. She'd long since given up trying to please her father, knowing whatever she did would never measure up to his exacting standards. She was a disappointment, the major overriding one being born a girl; paying her tuition was a noblesse oblige, so long as she followed his orders.

She adjusted her earphones. Ellie Goulding's "Lights" thumped it's heavy beat through her brain. The music made her feel better but it wasn't the same. There was a qualitative difference between a state of the art Bose sound system and an iPod but it couldn't be helped. She didn't want to piss HIM off, so now it was an iPod. Even the thought of HIM sent a shudder through her body. ""Stop it Pepper! Don't think about it. Just listen to the music. Feel it!"

Looking back, Pepper thought she should have just moved out of the house. She spent two weeks, following the incident, in a motel quaking with fear, before summoning the courage to return. He didn't seem to be home but she nearly pissed her jeans when the steps on the stairs creaked.

The following two weeks were spent on tiptoes, terrified if she made a noise he'd storm into her room and turn her into a toad or newt or whatever curse his devil-worshiping mind could conjure up.

Plus, she had excuses to make, to her friends, professors, her dad for her absence. She couldn't very well tell the truth, "A lecherous old man turned me into a bronze paperweight because I played my music too loud. That'd go over real well with the psychiatrist they'd force me to see."

Still, that incident was partially responsible for her current troubles. An experience that crazy drove home a realization: life was too short to waste trying to please a father who didn't care, and a stepmother who hated her. On the other hand , the disruption caused by "that" put a dent in her grades. If she had any hope for a scholarship and possible independence, she needed to get them up; hence the boring essay. Compounding her tuition problem, she was running out of rent money.

Under other circumstances, especially earlier, she would be happy to leave, but then as now, the choice was between the street and home, both not good options. Besides, the old man hadn't bothered her since that week. She begrudgingly figured he wouldn't so long as she kept quiet. Still, "Damn! I really need some money, fast."

Ambrose stood outside her door, wondering if he should knock. He felt some guilt from their last encounter. She'd been terrified after all. He'd decided it was best to keep his distance, give her some space to recover. The events surrounding his book's publication and subsequent scandal consumed his time however. He'd given her little thought until now. "She'll refuse of course. It won't be surprising, but desperate means and all that."

He raised his hand. "Hmmm, maybe I should use a directed sound amplification charm. That might draw her to the door."

Ambrose sang a brief chant, then knocked, waited, and knocked again. Thick footsteps accompanied by a stream of curses approached the door. It opened to reveal the pretty but annoyed face of young Pepper Waite, who immediately screamed and tried to close it again . . . on his foot.

"Ow!" shouted Ambrose.

"Augh!" shrieked Pepper. She made repeated, futile attempts to slam the door. He made repeated, futile attempts to ignore the trauma to his foot.

"Ow! Arrgh! Bloody hell! Miss Waite! Stop! Ai! I just want to talk! Ow!"

"Getawaygetawaygetaway!"

Ambrose raised his hand to try to stop the door. Pepper thought he was casting another spell. "Eeee!" she screamed and ran to her desk.

"Miss Waite, wait!" Ambrose cried, limping after.

Pepper snatched two objects out of the desk, a crucifix and a bottle of water. "This is fucking holy water you bastard! Get away from me or I'll splash you!"

Ambrose would laugh under other circumstances but his foot throbbed too much for humor. "Please, Pepper . . ."

"I was quiet. I didn't tell anyone. Please, what do you want? I use an iPod. Was it too loud? I'll turn it down, I promise, sob!"

"Um, Miss Waite, I just want to . . . " Ambrose started, limping forward.

"Eek!" she shrieked and threw the bottle. She grabbed her cell and ran into the bathroom. "Call the police. Yeah, he broke in. I can spin it that way. I don't have to mention anything about getting turned into statues or frogs or whatever."

Ambrose limped to the bathroom and knocked on the door. "Miss Waite, please!"

"Go away! I'm calling the police!"

"Please Miss Waite, I need your help!"

"Go away! You're some freaking demon-worshiping warlock!"

"I'll pay you two thousand dollars!"

"Nine-one-one, what's your emer . . . 'click!' Two thousand dollars?!" she gasped; enough to cover a semester at least, and rent, but this man turned her into a paperweight. "You're lying! You want to turn me into a lizard or a toad or something!"

"Um, look Miss Waite. It's not quite like that. I need your assistance, really. And the money's real."

"Why do you need my help? Can't you just use your magic or mumbo jumbo or something?"

"It's more complicated than that. Look Miss Waite, It's a bit awkward trying to explain through the bathroom door, and my foot is killing me. We really must continue our talk in a more appropriate area. I promise I will not turn you into a lizard."

Pepper was torn. This man, after all, had turned her into a statue. On the other hand, "He did leave me alone after that crazy stuff. Plus, he can blast the door down with his magic lightning or something, and he said two thousand dollars."

The bathroom door creaked open. "Don't come near me. I don't trust you yet."

"Okay, um, you wouldn't happen to have some ice I can use?"

A short time later with his foot in an ice bucket, a couple of aspirin in his stomach, and a mild healing spell, Ambrose explained. Pepper found it difficult to take it in. Magic books? Sorcerer's guilds? The whole thing would seem like a cheap fantasy novel if she hadn't experienced it herself. The legal aspect of his problem was easier to understand. Even though her major used to be environmental law, she knew enough to acknowledge he was in a tight spot legally. She almost felt sympathy, almost until . . .

"She accused me of plagiarism but I think the opposite is true. I need to know how she did it, and for that I need a spy or, to be specific, how you mundanes say? A bug."

"So what does it have to do with me?" Pepper asked. "You want me to plant a bug in, who did you say she was? Audrey's house or apartment or whatever? How? I can't just waltz in and slip it under her desk. I'm not a P.I or a spy."

"Well, actually she lives in a penthouse in a well-off neighborhood. As for the other, well, it's a bit awkward, um, you'll be the bug," Ambrose looked very uncomfortable.

Pepper was not happy. "A bug?! You're going to turn me into a bug?! No! Absolutely no!"

"No! It's not what you think!" Ambrose interjected, quickly. "Well, not exactly, it's, well it's . . . um . . . something you've experienced before." He looked at her intently with considerable nervousness.

A chill raced up Pepper's spine. "Get out," she said quietly. "Get out or I'll call the police. I don't care if they put me in the nuthouse or fucking arrest me but if you're not out of here when I count to ten I'll have you arrested; one."

"2200!"

"Two!"

"23!"

"Three!"

"25!"

"Four!"

"28!"

" . . . F-five!"

"Three-thousand!" Ambrose's desperate shout and the money stopped her. "Three thousand?! Two semesters and three months' rent!"

She looked at Ambrose as if for the first time. This man was willing to pay that much money, far more than anyone would expect, for an amateur P.I, and she was far less than amateur. It basically qualified as a Hail Mary. She looked closer and saw the desperation in his eyes. Pepper knew that look. She wore it herself these days, but she had one question, "Why? Why offer me all that money?"

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