Up Close

and Personal

with

the Main Characters of the Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series

JAKE KELLEY

JK: Come on in and bring your stuff back to the kitchen. I've got a pot of coffee on, and Nellie--that's my daughter, the one you came to talk about, brought home a box of goodies from Rose's Bakery this morning.

JN:  Actually, Mr. Kelley, I came to talk about you.

JK:  You did? Well, that's nice. Have a seat. And it's Jake. Just Jake.

JN:  Tell me about Jake then.

JK: Where do you want me to start? From the beginning? Well, that's a long time ago, seventy-five years to be exact. I was born right here in this house, upstairs in the front bedroom. Grew up here, graduated from high school in the spring of 1942, and went down the next day and enlisted. Maybe you're too young to remember we were at war then. World War II. All the boys from my class enlisted, all  five of us. Three didn't come back.

JN:  Did you see action during the war?

JK: Did I see action? Son, I was part of the 29th Infantry Division that got dumped on Omaha Beach on D-Day! You know about D-Day? It was a bloody mess, and I don't talk about it. But one good thing came out of the war. I met a girl in London. Wynne. Married her. She was the best. And then there was Nellie--Penelope Corinne Louise, our daughter.

JN: What did you do after the war?

JK:  I went to work at the Garden Market and stayed there until I had a little stroke a few years ago. Then I retired. Or they retired me. Said it was time. I didn't like it much then, but I do now. Nellie opened the B&B when the town had to pull together to save itself after Tobin Textiles pulled out and took so many jobs with it. So she stays busy and out of my hair.

JN:  I guess I do want to know a little about her.

JK:  She's the best, my Nellie. Takes after her mother. We lost Wynne twelve years ago. Twelve years. She was the best, too.

JN:  So the two of you live here together.

JK:  Don't know where else either one of us would live. 'Course, Nellie's always asking if I want to drive out and look at the old folks home...but it's a joke. Told her I wanted a room next to a pretty woman, and she said, "With or without teeth?" Nellie's sharp like that. Good sense of humor.

JN:  I understand you have a grandson.

JK:  Brad. Detective Sergeant Bradley Pembroke, Amaryllis PD. Nellie and I are really proud of him.

JN: What about his father?

JK:  Well, Travis was a better father than he was a husband. He liked the women, if you know what I mean. Nellie got enough of it and came home. Brad turned out better that way, if you ask me, but he saw his father all the time and had a pretty good relationship until he decided he wanted to be a cop instead of a cotton grower. Still, they got along, I guess.

JN:  Your daughter never remarried?

JK:  Nope. A divorced Catholic can't remarry and still receive the sacraments, and the Church is important to both of us. And we get along all right. Nellie stays busy with the B&B and a lot of other stuff, and I like being a man of leisure. Three meals a day, laundry done, room cleaned. Yep, it's a good life.

JN:  Is there anything you wish for?

JK:  No...well, I wish Nellie had someone in her life. I'm not going to be around forever. 'Course, like I said, there's the thing about being divorced...but there's this guy named Sam and ever since he's been around, things have been poppin'.

JN:  Sam? Poppin'?

JK:  That's a story for another day. You recording all this? Hey, I like that little thing-a-ma-bob there...that recorder...might just go looking for one myself. I keep up with the times, you know. That's the secret, son...you get older, but you don't stop living. Nope. You don't stop living, not a single second of a single minute of a single hour of a single day. You remember that.

MRS. MAYOR

Pen and I've been best friends since my family moved to Amaryllis just before I started high school. What makes best friends? Who knows? Pen and I don't always agree on everything, but we're always there for each other.

She got a bum deal when she married Travis. I was her maid of honor, of course. That was right before I left for college. She should've come with me instead of marrying him and going to live on that antiquated pre-Civil War plantation. Old Mrs. Pembroke was a good mother-in-law, but she couldn't make up for that philandering son of hers.

Didn't Pen know about Travis? I think she didn't want to know. She never really said so, but I think she'd have backed out of the whole thing if she hadn't felt it would be such a scandal. Yes, small towns still take scandals very seriously. But she got Brad, my godson, out of the deal. And a good divorce settlement when she finally got the guts to leave Travis and go home to her parents when Brad was twelve.

What about me? Well, I went off to college. Vasser, would you believe? My mother was an alum. I majored in English and thought maybe I wanted to teach. I gave Miss Maude Pendleton a bad time in senior English, but she made me love literature all the same. But then I graduated and came home and started going with Harry Hargrove.

Harry was second-string everything in high school, but he finished UA with honors. We had a sort of whirlwind courtship and got married just before he started his second year of law school. I worked as a teaching assistant at the University until he finished. Then we came home to Amaryllis, and Harry hung out his shingle.

My parents moved back East and died within a year of each other. Harry and I wanted kids, but it just didn't happen. We have a good marriage though, not like Travis and Pen. Harry's got too much paunch and not enough hair, and people look at him and think he's not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but they don't know Harry. He knows how to work people--all for the good, of course--and he'd never look at another woman.

When Tobin Textiles pulled the rug out from under the town's economy by leaving almost overnight, Harry singlehandedly saved this town with a brilliant plan. He doesn't care whether or not he gets credit for it, but I do. I'm Mrs. Mayor--and I'm a lucky woman.

Sgt. Brad Pembroke

I can't remember when I wasn't interested in law enforcement. I applied with the Amaryllis PD while I was still in college, and as soon as I graduated, Chief Harley Malone hired me and sent me to the police academy. Recently he sent me for more training and put me into the newly-created position of detective. At the time, I didn't think there was much to "detect" in Amaryllis, Arkansas, but as Pawpaw (Jake Kelley) said, ever since Sam showed up, things have been popping around here. And don't ask me who Sam is. I'm not sure myself.

My mother and I moved home to my grandparents' house when I was twelve, and three years later, she and my dad divorced. I was pretty irritated with her at the time, but now that I'm a grown man, I can see she did the right thing--and probably should've done it sooner. He was, well, a ladies' man, and that's being nice about it.

Dad also inherited the family cotton plantation. Pembroke Point has been out there since the first Pembrokes came here in 1839, even before the town of Amaryllis was founded. He always thought I'd take over for him, being the only son and all. I'm interested in the history of the place, but growing cotton wasn't what I wanted to do. It put a distance between us, one I really regret.

Mother--that's Penelope Kelley Pembroke--landed on her feet. She took care of my grandmother until she died and then worked as an ER nurse over in Little Rock until she decided she didn't want to commute anymore. Then she turned the Kelley home place into a B&B. Pawpaw retreated to what he calls his hideaway, which was the servants' quarters back in the old days. He's fixed up real cozy with his own sitting room, bedroom, and private bath. He's always on the go with the  Toney Twins. (I sure hope I'm not the one who ends up arresting those two for reckless driving.)

Amaryllis is changing, but it's still a good place to live. I want to stay here and raise a family just like my Mother raised me. I've dated a few women around here, but no bells rang.  But about six months ago, Chief Malone hired Rosabel Deane fresh out of the police academy, and she's...well, let's just say I might be hearing something. Not bells exactly, not yet, but wind chimes maybe.

Meanwhile, I just try to do my job the best I can--and keep Mother out of trouble. She's a handful. But I guess I wouldn't have her any other way.

Abijah the Cat 

You might've heard that people don't own cats, that it's the other way around. It's true. My person found me when I was just a few days old, starving and freezing under the camellia bush beside the garage. My eyes weren't even open. She brought me inside where it was warm and bottle fed me until I could lap milk.

I didn't really like the idea of her turning the house into a B&B, but she didn't ask me. I've learned to stay out of the way, especially if any of the guests have children. I don't like kids. I don't much like anybody but my person--Penelope Pembroke. And since this Sam guy turned up...well, let's just say he's my least favorite person of all. He shuts doors and shuts me out.

I'm quite fine these days. The vet told my person I needed to lose weight, but she still gives me treats. I'll admit it's getting harder to jump up in the bay window in the kitchen, but I can still do it in a couple of tries.

Where do I sleep? Anywhere I want to, thank you, but usually on Penelope's bed. I've trained her not to wiggle around much.

She has a friend, Mary Lynn, who's always giving me dirty looks and saying she wouldn't let a cat sit at her kitchen table. But recently there was some sort of crisis--I never did figure it out exactly--and my person disappeared. Mary Lynn came in twice a day to feed me and make sure my litter box was clean. She didn't give me treats though. I didn't like that.

Well, it's time for my morning nap, and there's a nice sunshiny spot in the bay window, so I'll be going now. I won't say thanks for stopping by--but be sure to tell everyone just how fine I am. Toodles.

Who am I? Whoever you say I am. I'll never tell. At least, not right now. You can call me Sam just for convenience.

Do I have a past? Of course, I do. Everyone does. A present? Oh, yeah, that's what keeps me busy. A future? I hope so...a future with Penelope Pembroke.

I call her Nell, a good old-fashioned name for a good old-fashioned girl. Okay, she's a woman, not a girl. A delicious, desirable woman, and I can't get to first base with her. Maybe I don't really want to. Maybe that's one of the things I like about her:  she knows what she believes is right, and she isn't backing down, not even if she wants to. I guess just knowing she wants to is enough.

Jake, her father, is a great guy. Sort of reminds me of my own dad who I don't have anymore. And young Sgt. Brad Pembroke--his mother is rightly proud of him. I wish I'd had a son.

Amaryllis is a small town, but it's not immune to trouble. I guess it was for a while, but the days of not locking doors is over. No place is safe anymore, sad to say. But if I had a home, Amaryllis would do very well indeed.

Oh, I heard Abijah bad-mouthed me yesterday. Brad Pembroke refers to him as 'that devil cat'. He's a nuisance, but Nell loves him. At least she isn't of a  'love-me-love-my-cat' bent. He's a fixture at the B&B, so I just have to tolerate him.

Nell's gotten under my skin--in a good way, of course--but sometimes I find myself thinking of her when I need to be concentrating on other things. In my business, lack of concentration can be deadly. Before I met her, I really didn't care one way of the other, but now...well, now I'd like to stick around. Yeah, I'd like to stick around and see if I can get to first base one of these days. And, eventually, I'd like to have a home run, but it'll be on her terms, not mine. And that's okay, too.

 Since everybody's been telling off on me, I suppose it's my turn, so here goes.

My name is Penelope Corinne Louise Kelley Pembroke. I was named for my mother, one of her sisters, and a cousin who died during the German blitz of London during WW II. My mother was a war bride, and she came to Amaryllis in 1946 and settled in with my father Jake Kelley and his family right here in the house where I live now.

I had an idyllic childhood. Then I made a huge mistake--instead of going to college like I should have, I married Travis Pembroke. I don't regret my son Bradley, but that's all I got out of that marriage. I should have gotten out of it a lot sooner, but I believed then--and still do--that marriage is forever. As a divorced Catholic, I knew I couldn't marry again and still receive the sacraments, so I just accepted I'd be alone forever and moved on from there.

Everything's been good--or it was until Sam showed up. Don't ask me who he is. I don't know. Bradley might, but he's not telling me anything.

It's not just that Sam's come close to getting me killed a couple of times...well, maybe I was a little bit responsible, too. It's how he makes me feel, which is guilty with a capital G. He'd have me in bed in a second if I'd let him, and believe me, I've come close.

Meanwhile, my hometown of Amaryllis is changing and not for the better. Bikers, drug-running, feuds, hidden secrets coming out--I don't like any of it.

But I like Sam. I like him too much.

And that's all I have to say about that or anything else. I'm going to tend to the B&B, mind my own business, take care of Daddy, hope for the best for my son, and not let anybody or anything into my bed except Abijah the cat.