Poetic Archaeology A.4 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

the restless night watch

last crickets usher the dark

rustle, then silence

[Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3]


Detective Tom Sandberg sips his coffee and checks his watch—ten o’clock. Two more hours until a uniformed officer takes the second shift. He huddles deeper into his fleece jacket. The night air is seasonably crisp, but he keeps the window down. Not that anyone will show up at this burial site. He won’t know until tomorrow if this is even a crime scene.

Let it be a hundred years old, he hopes. I’ve already got two arson cases and a jewelry store robbery on my plate. I don’t need a murder.

Sandberg’s car is parked on the jogging trail, near a break in the tall shrubs. He flips on the headlights for a minute to view the taped-off scene. A pair of yellow-reflecting eyes stares back before disappearing in the underbrush. Probably a raccoon, he thinks.

In a bigger city, he wouldn’t be here. Hell, three years ago in this job he wouldn’t be here. But massive budget cuts in his town of  twenty thousand mean fewer bodies to share the load. Becky wants him to apply for a job in one of the big suburbs. Maybe he should. Then he wouldn’t have needed to drive more than an hour to see Dr. Bode. He’d have the crime scene unit she expected.

He shakes his head and reaches for a power bar. Shouldn’t a university professor know real life is nothing like TV? Small towns can’t afford those specialists. Uniformed officers and detectives do most of the work, relying on basic training, occasional seminars, and well-worn manuals from the Justice Department.

To be fair, he expected Bode to look like a Hollywood archaeologist, maybe a female Indiana Jones, or else an absent-minded professor. But she was an average-looking blonde, about five-foot-five, with stylish glasses framing her brown eyes. Her lab was clean and organized. And while her truck needed a wash, all the equipment and supplies in it were neatly stacked.

Rustling sounds near the scene rouse Sandberg from his thoughts. He turns on his spotlight this time. But it’s only a few deer, three does and two fawns that he can see. He turns off the light, and a few moments later the crunch of leaves fades as the deer move off.

He decides to inspect the tape and grabs a flashlight. The deer might have pulled it down, and the walk will warm him up and loosen his stiff legs.

Everything’s as it should be. Returning to his car, he checks his watch. Ten-thirty. Another ninety minutes before he can head home for a few hours of sleep before coming back to meet Dr. Bode. He takes another sip of coffee and huddles back into his jacket.


Meghan sits in the family room with her husband, Rick. Their ten-year-old son, John, is tucked in bed upstairs, no doubt reading a comic book with a flashlight.

“So what did this guy really find?” Rick asks. “You never go look at ‘a possible site’ with some farmer on the spur of the moment.”

“It wasn’t a farmer. I didn’t want John to know it was a detective. He brought in a bone some dog dug up in the county park.”

“Wow. Was it human?”

Meghan nods. “He asked me to check out the area. I found more of the lower arm. That’s why I’m leaving early in the morning. I have to excavate it for him. God, don’t let me say anything stupid. He must think I’m an idiot already.”

“You? No way. Why?”

“I kept talking about crime scene units, even after he said this isn’t TV and his town doesn’t have anything like that. But I’ve never worked on a possible forensic case before. I don’t want to mess anything up if it is.”

“So that’s what you were doing online after dinner?”

“Yeah, I was looking for excavation tips. But I guess I handle it like any burial. Take it slow and careful and document the heck out of it. I’m hoping it’s some old settler, but we’ll see. Based on the condition of the humerus, it’s too well-preserved to be any older than that.”

“But if it’s a murder, they’ll call in someone else, right? You wouldn’t have to do the forensic work, would you?”

“God, no. I’m not qualified for that. I don’t even feel qualified for the excavation. But I guess I am.”

“Good. I don’t want it turning into one of those TV shows where the investigator gets targeted by the killer.”

Meghan shivers. “Oh, thanks. The nightmares are already taking shape. We’re sleeping with a night light tonight. Did you lock the doors?”

Rick pulls her close and laughs. “Yes, I locked the doors. Want to watch a scary movie?”

Meghan reaches for a throw pillow and smacks her husband on the arm.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next installment of Meghan’s brush with forensic archaeology. At the office again today, so I’ll be back this evening.

[Author’s note — Meghan also photographed the area in Part 2.  Posting these in near “real time” leads to glitches I would normally catch in editing.]

50 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.4 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

    • Thanks, Vanessa! Meghan and I need to sit down and decide where this story is heading! After all, it’s supposed to be grounded in a “simple” portrayal of forensic archaeology. 😉


    • Thanks, Brigitte. 🙂 I’m not sure I can portray main character women in any other way. My characters can have their self-doubts, but usually they’re comfortable with who they are. And none of them are pushovers or stereotypes. I’m not writing “feminist fiction,” but I think the women are simply well-rounded—like real women.


  1. I am impressed with how believable your characters are and how the story is flowing from one installment to the next. Looking forward to the next one!


  2. Fun to see the two different viewpoints–both insecure with the assignment. Unlike on TV where they’re all so cocky. 🙂 I’m wondering, do you have a contact in the police world from whom you solicited some of this information, or is it more from your research?

    I look forward to more. The foreshadowing of the killer targeting Meghan is great!


    • Right now, this is all my personal research. If the day ever comes that this develops into a novel (with a different outcome), I’ve “got people” I could talk with.

      Hmm, targeting Meghan. As Elliot noted below, that could be a “Chekov’s rifle” moment. All those mystery elements you have to consider, too, like red herrings, in addition to foreshadowing…. I’ve got the rough idea now of where this is going. But that doesn’t mean Meghan and Tom can take off for some beach. 🙂


  3. I like how you’re coming at the case from two different perspectives. Not only is this a legal situation, but it’s becoming a personal one for both Meghan and Sandberg (more so Meghan now, but I am seeing glimmers of how it will affect Sandberg). There is more at stake for both of them than simply just solving a case.

    I agree with Carrie–I really like the added twist of the killer possibly coming after Meghan. 🙂


    • I really hope Meghan and Tom are coming across as realistic—even though as a short story there’s not a lot of room for character development. They’re both professionals but deal with the daily stresses of their home and work lives, too. I have this strange feeling of déjà vu that I’ve already written that comment somewhere…!)

      And I’m curious if the story doesn’t end exactly as a reader wants, will s/he still enjoy it? I have never tried anything like this before, and part of me is wondering how I braved setting it out so publicly. Then, I’m also writing it as I go. I haven’t got “X number of posts” already written out for this series. Maybe I am getting a bit bolder as I get older….

      You can bet Meghan’s got that night light plugged into the wall right by the bed. 🙂


  4. This is great. You might have a Chekov’s gun with the line:

    “Good. I don’t want it turning into one of those TV shows where the investigator gets targeted by the killer.”

    Or to me anyway. But either way I am enjoying these – good posts.


    • Chekov’s rifle, red herrings,…. If I ever use this as the basis for a short story submittal, I’ll have to make sure I clean up any loose ends that might have strayed into this version. I think mysteries are especially tough to do well.

      But here, I’m aiming for an entertaining way to talk about one type of archaeology. And getting good writing exercise with it certainly doesn’t hurt. 🙂


    • Ah, but all mysteries are supposed to build that suspense, right? 😉 Then, just when you think it’s another raccoon . . . the hero’s hit from behind with the butt of a gun!

      Seriously, I hope Meghan and Sandberg are coming across as three-dimensional characters. That’s something I need to work on in my writing, so I hope this exercise is helping!


    • Thanks, Dianne. I think Meghan’s someone I’d enjoy hanging out with. She’d be a good friend, I think. This “case” is such a new experience for her, and I bet she’d be talking a-mile-a-minute as she related it to her friends. 🙂


    • Thanks, Jennifer. 🙂 There’s something to be said for the old “write what you know,” as long as we keep it interesting. So far no beta readers have come back on my WIPs saying I put them to sleep with too many archaeology details. I hope that means I’m at least getting this part of the writing done well. 😉

      I think King mentions a Clifford Simak novel example in his book On Writing. Simak basically wrote a book about the janitors on a space ship. And it was supposed to be good. Given your talent, I bet you could come up with an interesting and entertaining story based on your day job!


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  12. Like button broken… Like button broken… Aargh WordPress and their bloody broken like buttons. Reloading, reloading. Aargh! Load! Load, dang it!


    • They’ve made some recent changes to it, and I think it’s gone wonky. Now, you don’t see all the gravatars at once of people who like a post. You have to click on “you and N other bloggers like this post” to see them all.


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