Poetic Archaeology A.10 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

Where memory lives

Those departed are not lost

Knowledge brings closure

(Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9)

Four weeks later, Meghan is back at Tom Sandberg’s station. The County Medical Examiner’s office has taken DNA samples from the skeleton and Chuck Compton. The analysis results are in.

Meghan and Sandberg look up from their conversation as two men approach them. One is elderly but walks with strong strides and stands tall. The other is younger and bears a striking resemblance to him. Father and son, Meghan realizes.

Sandberg met the two men when the ME took the DNA samples and introduces Meghan to Chuck Compton and his son, Ray. Or, more accurately, to Chuck Hardin and son. On his twenty-first birthday, Chuck walked into a county courthouse to reclaim his biological father’s name.

Chuck takes Meghan’s hand in a firm grasp. “I don’t have the words to thank you enough, ma’am, for helping to find my brother. All these years, I knew he didn’t run off. Ray would’ve said ‘goodbye’ to me and Ma. Or sent word from somewhere. Pardon my language, but I always knew that bastard Sam Compton was behind it.”

The four settle around the table in the small conference room. Chuck looks at his son and smiles sadly. “Growing up, my boy was the spitting image of his uncle. On his eighteenth birthday, I looked at him and started thinking, ‘This is what my brother would’ve looked like at this age.’ I wish someone had walked their dog in those woods back in 1944. Ma wouldn’t have spent the rest of her short life hoping maybe Ray was okay somewhere.”

“Your mother died young?” Meghan asks.

“Yes, ma’am, when I was eighteen, four years after Ray disappeared. Tuberculosis they said. More like a broken spirit. Every day she told me how sorry she was for marrying that no-good Compton. She said it would’ve been better for me and Ray to be put up for adoption and had a chance for a better life.”

An image of her son John as a baby in another woman’s arms is too much for Meghan. She takes a tissue from her bag. There’s no point trying to hide her tears.

“I never told no one my plans. But after the funeral, I didn’t go back to the house. I’d talked one of my teachers into letting me spend the night at her house. The next morning I caught the bus to the capital. I didn’t take no clothes or nothing. Just the Sunday suit I’d been wearing and a few dollars I’d saved up from odd jobs. My teacher paid for the bus fare and gave me twenty-five dollars. She said it was the least she could do. She knew Ray would’ve wanted me out of there.”

“She’s the one who made the report to the police about Sam beating up Ray?” Sandberg asks.

Chuck nods. “She’d always told Ray how smart he was and how he could be a college boy. But we didn’t have no money, and Sam Compton wouldn’t have given it to Ray if we did. He didn’t think even high school was needed. Ray wanted to join the army and maybe make enough money to go after. If that didn’t work, he’d try his hand at baseball. He was a real good pitcher.”

Chuck looks at his son. “My Ray was always good in school, too. And his sister. It was hard work, but me and my wife saved every penny to send them both to college. Mary’s a nurse, and Ray here’s an architect. Their uncle would be proud.”

Meghan is too choked up to speak. She can only smile and wipe her eyes again.

“That bastard Compton must’ve heard Ray leaving,” Chuck continues. “And then followed him. We lived on the Watkins farm in one of the tenant houses. Compton was their manager. They sold the land to the county in the ’50s when old Mr. Watkins died, and that’s when it was turned into a park.”

Chuck’s voice wavers. “Compton always hated Ray and me. He and Ma never had kids of their own—not for lack of him trying. And he couldn’t blame it on Ma since she had us. But we were a sore reminder of his failure as a man. He must’ve used Ray’s talk of joining the army as a way to hide the deed. That’s why I never said nothing to no one when I made my plans. I would’ve left earlier, but I couldn’t leave Ma when she got sick.”

Ray Hardin takes over as his father pulls himself together. “When Dad got word that Sam Compton died in 1972, he and Mom were still living in the capital. They had my grandmother’s remains brought to a cemetery there and reburied as Mary Hardin. There’s room for Uncle Ray to lie next to her. We’re having a funeral service the Saturday after this one. We’d be honored if you could join us. The family would like to thank you for all you’ve done.”

Meghan and Sandberg both promise to attend. When the Hardins leave, there are a few moments of silence. Then Sandberg speaks.

“This case reminded me not to take family for granted. Becky and I are surprising the kids this weekend. My boy’s a football fanatic, and my girl loves the theater. We’ve got two tickets for the game in DC and two tickets for a play. Then we’ll join up for dinner. I think they’ll have fun.”

“I know what you mean. My son’s been talking about karate lessons for a few months now and hasn’t lost interest like he usually does. So Rick and I are taking him to sign up this Saturday. We’ll see if it lasts. But I want him to have the opportunity.”

Sandberg nods. His “non-case” is now officially closed, and he walks Meghan to her car. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Dr. Bode. And I appreciate everything you’ve done. I’ll see you at the funeral. And who knows? Maybe I’ll need your help on another case down the line.”

Meghan’s throat tightens at the thought of another body. Even truly old skeletons will be difficult to excavate now. But the chance to bring closure to a family has been worth the emotional cost.

“You can count on me,” she tells Sandberg before driving home.

And so ends this adventure for Meghan. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. We’ll hear more from her before long, but we need a short rest to work on new ideas.

48 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.10 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

  1. I’m disappointed that the story is finished, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to more of Meghan’s adventures one day. I’m also curious about what you have in store for us now.

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  2. A really nice wrap-up to your story, JM. While I’m going to miss Meghan and Sandberg, I also know what it’s like to need to step away and turn your attention to other projects and ideas. I’m sure they’ll be tapping you on the shoulder (if they aren’t already), and you’ll be back here with your next short story.

    This piece has been a nice introduction into your writing style and voice (although I have already had the privilege of reading your work). I think this is the kind of example that will help agents/publishers/reading audience get to know you better as an author.

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    • Thanks, Kate. 🙂 I’m sure these two will be back with something. I think I’ve seen them out for a big family dinner, going over possible ideas and roles for everyone. 😉

      Knowing what I do now, I would have approached this story differently—the perils of pantsing in some ways, too. Next Tuesday’s post will be about what I learned. Beyond that, er, we’ll have to see what inspiration strikes.

      From day one I’ve hoped the blog would get a good reaction from a potential agent considering whether to take me on. I may not have a huge readership compared to other writers, but I think there’s a great level of interaction, and people can see if they’ll like my novels. Fingers crossed!

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    • I agree with everything 4amwriter said in the third comment. Although I don’t know anything about the publishing industry, a serial like Poetic Archaeology could serve as a wonderful introduction to your style and ability.

      I’ve been very impressed with two things:
      1. Your talent for explaining a difficult subject in everyday terms WITHOUT talking down to the readers;
      2. Each installment does a perfect job of answering questions posed in the previous one, but not at the expense of moving the story forward–excellent pacing.

      I’m really looking forward to more of your writing 🙂 .

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      • This is the kind of comment I need to come back to on the days when I feel like, “I can’t do this.” 🙂 The encouragement I get from you and other readers really helps get me over those humps and out of the valleys.

        This story was such a learning experience for me. And I think I’ll be able to apply those lessons to the novels as I finish the revisions. I’m “seriously toying” with the idea of expanding and revising it to ca. 20,000 words. At the same time, I’d also do another two “shorts” on the blog and then expand them, too. Then I would put the three together in an e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. We’ll see!

        Meghan is making sure you’ll see more of that writing soon. 😉

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  3. OK. Now, you’ve done it. These two characters have real lives (all those details and plugging in emotions that reach out to the reader)…these two are so determined, no way you can stuff them back on the shelf…just be ready, they’ll grab you again with something new….and obviously readers will be waiting. (and meanwhile browsing through your other stuff?)
    Well done

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    • Thanks, Mouse. 🙂 I’m looking forward to doing another story with these two. I just have to find out what it is…. I’m fairly sure Meghan and Sandberg are talking with each other and their families about it. I think they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction and want to step out on the stage again. I’ll be ready when they are.

      I get a few browses through the bits I’ve put on their own pages, but not huge numbers. Sometimes I wonder if people notice them at the top of the page. The tabs and text are a bit small with this theme… Now, what to do next….

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  4. Yea! Great closure to a sad family mystery. That Compton is a nasty character. Meghan and Sandberg are great detectives (I like their humanity).

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    • Thanks, Char. 🙂 Despite the pressure of coming up with a new installment every week, I’ve really enjoyed writing this story. I hope Meghan and Sandberg will get another story to me soon.

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  5. Wonderful conclusion! I really enjoyed this. Well done.

    And I think these posts inspired me to finally pull the Kathy Reichs book down from my shelf that I haven’t read yet–“Flash and Bones.” I like her books, but sometimes I find her writing a bit stilted. Short sentences and incomplete sentences are great for effect, but they get a little tiring paragraph after paragraph. Still, I love fiction about forensics, and I’m already sucked into her story, just as I was with Meghan’s. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Carrie. 🙂 I might have to try some other forensic books, too, although I really can’t take much gore or “sick” behavior from the killer. I just don’t have the stomach or temperament for those types of books.

      And that might mean I couldn’t write a “modern” forensic novel with Meghan and Sandberg. That audience would probably want more of what I can’t handle. A novel might have to be more like a cozy, and I don’t know how well I’d do there, either!

      I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what those two come up with. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kourtney. 🙂 I’ve really grown to like these characters. Meghan was just so sneaky in how she introduced herself and then offered this story. I hope she has more in store for me.

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  6. Very brave thing to do – set out to tell a story (publicly) without knowing where it’s going. I’m sorry it’s over. I think you could very well make a novel out of a story like this one – and the thing about an old death is that the blood has long since decayed. The archaeologist angle would make it unique and play to your strength. And everyone loves a mystery. Think about it – though of course you have to do what you can find your way to doing.
    Whatever the case, I’m looking forward to your novel.

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    • Thanks, Carol. 🙂 Writing this story really pulled me out of my comfort zone. I never could have foreseen myself doing any such thing on the blog. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Meghan decided to do it again this way with another story. Will it be another forensic case? Or will she turn a “typical” archaeology project into a story somehow? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. Of course, I’m still trying to figure out what comes next while I wait for her….

      I hope I will sustain your interest over a full novel. 😉

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  7. Well there was something positive at the end there. I’m sad to see it end. I’ve said it before but you’ve done a great job with these posts. Lots of possibilities with Megan, depending on time and effort you are willing to put in of course.

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    • Thanks, Elliot. 🙂 There are things I would do differently, but that’s part of next Tuesday’s post. But I realize I’m at a point where I need to come up with something new for the blog but still in keeping with my vision, such as it is. There’s a bit of floundering in my thought processes today. But Meghan will be back with something, I’m sure.

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  8. What? It’s the end?! Ah well…it was good while it lasted 😉

    Funnily enough, I only just noticed with this installment that it’s written in the present tense! I’ve never written in the present tense myself, I’ve imagined it to be quite difficult and wondered if it would sound odd, and yet clearly it doesn’t sound odd if done well because as I said, I hadn’t noticed you’d done that! It’s a good way of keeping the reader right there with the action isn’t it.

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    • Present tense is not my normal writing style! My novels are very traditionally past tense. I did get more comfortable with it as I wrote more installments, but I’m not sure I could sustain it through an entire novel. I know it’s becoming more common, so a younger generation is growing up with it as a “normal” type of writing. But I find myself still stumbling at times when I read novels that use it.

      I hope your partner will also be interested in the next Meghan adventure when it starts. 😉

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  9. I don’t think this is goodbye for Meghan and Sandberg… I’ll stay tuned and see what happens in the future. ; )

    Thanks for sharing your fiction with us via your blog. I like to see what goes on in writers’ minds when they’re not working on their longer projects.

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    • There’s a germ of an idea for Meghan’s next adventure, but I need to mull over it to see if I can pull it off. 😉 I think you’re right—Meghan (and Sandberg) liked the spotlight and may not want to relinquish it….

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    • But I have two I need to finish revising first! You’re right, though. Meghan and Sandberg won’t be satisfied with one short story. The glimmerings for another are taking shape. 🙂

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  10. Congratulations, JM! You have written a terrific series of posts and kept us all coming back week after week. I haven’t tried to write anything of this magnitude yet and feel that I have learned quite a bit about introducing characters and a building a story around them. Thank you so much for putting it out here for the rest of us. And congrats on your one-year blogoversary too!! 🙂

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    • Thanks! 🙂 I probably shouldn’t admit how much I’ve learned while writing this story! 😉 Part of me still can’t believe I even tried it. Of course, I didn’t realize what I was doing until the end of the first post—and dialogue appeared. And now I’ll be doing it again? Yikes!

      What I really want is to apply what I’ve learned writing this short story to the revisions on my novels. I think they’ll become much stronger stories and will keep the reader saying, “Just one more chapter before I go to bed.” We’ll see if I can do it. 🙂

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  11. I, like the others, am sorry this story is already over. I want more too! I’ll read about what you learned next (sorry the making a living thing put me behind), and then will look forward to more of your writing.

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    • That making a living does get in the way of the fun stuff sometimes. 😉 And I really appreciate that readers like you will spend some of that limited free time with my posts. I could never take that for granted.

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  12. So good! I wish I’d finished this last year… I love how you can wrap so much up in such short posta. I’d write for days just to convey the same amount. Really good! Now on to the second set. 🙂

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    • These stories aren’t easy to write, but I’m happy to see they’re getting positive reviews. If Meghan gives me an idea for a third story, I’m still thinking of putting the three together as an e-book. I just need that third idea, Meghan…. 😉

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