Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Possum Hollow Hullabaloo by Judy Nickles Excerpt

The Possum Hollow Hullabaloo (The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series) by Judy Nickles
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Possum Hollow has existed outside Amaryllis for as long as anyone can remember. It’s a dark place with dark secrets, and outsiders aren’t welcome. The elementary school which has sprung up inside the impenetrable wall separating the people of the Hollow from the town, struggles to show the children there’s a better life outside. Soon after Penelope and Mary Lynn volunteer to fill in for an absent faculty member, one of the students and her little sister accidentally lead police to a fresh grave deep in the woods. And Miss Maude Pendleton, who scared generations of high school seniors into reading Shakespeare and Chaucer, faces the necessity of learning a whole new curriculum if she wants to stay alive. Penelope keeps the B&B slick as a whistle, but now she’s in the middle of a mess she’s not sure anyone can clean up.

Excerpt from The Possum Hollow Hullabaloo

George is right about no one wanting to volunteer in Possum Hollow.”
What about Miss Maude Pendleton?”
Mary Lynn choked. “She’s a hundred and forty years old!”
She’s seventy-seven, the same age as Daddy. She only retired because she had her years in and didn’t like some of the new federal rules and regs, especially the testing.”
I think it’s pretty dumb myself.”
Well, it’s here to stay, I guess. I’ll bet Miss Maude would jump at the chance to work in a school again, even if she doesn’t get paid.”
Penelope shook her head. “No maybe about it. She doesn’t have a blessed thing to do except go to the library and check out murder mysteries. Think of what she could do to help the teachers out there.”
She’s so bossy she might run them off.” Mary Lynn sighed. “We could ask her, I guess.”
And I will. Tomorrow I’ll go to see her and just tell her we need her.”
Mary Lynn snorted. “She might run you off with her grandmother’s antique pearl-handled umbrella, the one with the bare spines—the one she used on Wally Powell.”
I’ll take my chances.” Penelope chewed her lip. “But I’ll bet she’ll think about it at least.”
When would you like for me to begin?” Miss Maude Pendleton set down a translucent porcelain tea cup and folded her hands in the lap of her trademark navy blue dress.
You’ll do it?” Penelope leaned forward across the marble-topped table holding the silver tea service which had belonged to Miss Maude’s mother.
Of course. They need help. Experienced help.” She dabbed her colorless lips with the corner of a linen napkin. “I taught George Harris, you know.”
I guess you did, didn’t you?”
Also Paul Hollis, though Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Hollis aren’t natives of Amaryllis. I retired, however, before Miss Tindall and Miss Foster reached my English literature class as seniors, but I knew them.”
I’ll just bet they knew you, too, and breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to endure three weeks of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I kind of liked the stories, but most of the kids didn’t.
You’d be a teacher’s aide,” Penelope said, trying to gauge Miss Maude’s reaction. “And these are elementary kids…”
Pupils. Kids are the offspring of goats.”
Yes, Miss Maude, but some of their parents are stubborn as billygoats—mules, too.”
I’m aware of that. I’m also aware I will not be in charge of a classroom but rather there to serve the needs of the teachers. I believe I can make myself useful.”
Oh, I’m sure you can, Miss Maude.”
My niece Priscilla is employed as a teacher aide at the junior high school, you know.”
Yes, I knew that. I think her idea for a children’s theatre at the community center is wonderful.”
The corners of Miss Maude’s mouth turned up only briefly. “Mrs. Hargrove seemed to favor the idea.”
I think everyone does.” Penelope placed her napkin beside her cup and saucer, making sure it was perpendicular to the edge of the table. “I’ll be going now, Miss Maude. I can’t tell you how happy I am you’ve agreed to help out. I’ll call George Harris when I get home, and he’ll get in touch with you.”
I’ll look forward to hearing from him.” The older woman’s eyes fixed on Penelope’s. “I detect a change in your demeanor, Penelope Kelley.”
I hope for the best, Miss Maude.” Penelope resisted the urge to check the buttons on her modest blouse worn with a skirt instead of jeans for this visit.
You seem more at peace with yourself.”
I’m very lucky to have what I have, if that’s what you mean. Daddy’s doing well, my son just married a lovely young woman, and I have plenty to keep me busy.”
Perhaps that’s it. But it occurs to me that you’re still alone.”
Penelope felt her cheeks burning. “Well, that’s all right, Miss Maude. A woman doesn’t have to be married to be happy.”
That’s true. As a young woman, I rejected two proposals because I knew very well the unions would be unsuccessful. Then, of course, the war ended the relationship which would have lasted a lifetime.”
Oh, Miss Maude, I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.”
Maude Pendleton inclined her head slightly. “But I’ve not been discontented, and I feel I’ve made a contribution.”
Of course, you have.”
And perhaps I’ll do the same in Possum Hollow.”
I know you will—and thank you, Miss Maude. Thank you for everything.”
The woman held up a bony hand. “Possum Hollow isn’t a good place, Penelope. At my age, I don’t fear much of anything, but you and Mary Lynn Hargrove—you shouldn’t wander beyond the perimeters of the school.”
So my son says.”
Listen to him.”

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