Buried Deeds — Part 1 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

Meghan Bode changes the satellite station as she drives to Wyndham Thicket Farm. She needs more than classical music to stay awake on this late November morning. REM does the trick, taking her back to her college days in Wisconsin.

She’s on her way to meet with Wyndham Thicket’s owner, who wants to add more guest cottages to the property she runs as an upscale bed and breakfast. Meghan and her crew did preliminary archaeological excavations during the summer and found evidence of several buildings from the 1700s. Now she’s ready to start the more intensive work.

Meghan shivers as she passes the road leading to a nearby county park. The chill has nothing to do with the weather. Last month, she was called in to excavate a skeleton after a dog dug up a bone. Her pride at identifying the victim still mingles with sadness over the tragedy of the boy’s life.

Her thoughts return to her current project. Unlike most landowners, Evelyn Browne is thrilled with Meghan’s discovery of the old plantation buildings. The original Wyndham Thicket was the home of her ancestors, who owned the property from the early 1700s until economic hardships forced her great-great-great-grandfather to sell the land in 1868. Evelyn Browne and her husband bought the property in 2007, proudly taking possession of “the new house” that replaced the Colonial manor.

A few miles past the park, Meghan turns right onto the B&B’s long drive, lined with ancient magnolias. Ahead of her, the 1870s manor house looms in the misty light.

Hell of a weekend for a getaway from DC, she thinks, imagining the people who had booked their reservations months in advance. Still, she’s sampled Evelyn’s regular fare for breakfast and high tea. The visitors will be well fed, even if they can’t take full advantage of the area’s golf courses and riding stables.

Meghan parks in the visitor’s lot, where her Prius soon disappears amid the luxury SUVs of the guests. She pulls her coat close as a gust of wind unleashes a shower of hickory leaves onto the cobblestones. Behind the expansive lawns of the manor house, Chesapeake Bay’s dull gray waters reflect the gloom.

Jackson Carter, the Brownes’ property manager, greets her at the front door.

“Hello, Dr. Bode. You’re just in time to catch the house tour if you’d like. Miss Evelyn’s assembling the guests now.”

Inside, the house is bright and warm, and Meghan slips off her raincoat. She catches Evelyn’s eye and smiles as she takes a position at the back of the group. She’s been through the house before and listens more to the guests’ questions than Evelyn’s stories as they move through the rooms. By the end of the tour, it’s clear some of them know all about the local legends.

A woman asks, “Is it true that one of the old owners killed his mistress and buried her in the garden?”

“I heard it was a slave,” another woman replies.

“Probably one and the same,” a man says. “I’d bet old Isaac Walker’s the culprit. Or maybe his son Abraham. They’re your ancestors, aren’t they, Mrs. Browne?”

“Those are just old stories, Mr. Sloma, told to amuse visitors and frighten children at Halloween,” Evelyn replies, ever the proper Virginian host. “All the Colonial plantations around here have their own version. There’s no evidence any of them are true, I assure you.”

Meghan suspects Mr. Sloma and his wife will never find another weekend opening at Wyndham Thicket.

“Makes for a good story, though,” Mr. Sloma says.

“For some, maybe. But most guests find the real history even more interesting. That’s why I’m so happy to have Dr. Meghan Bode performing an archaeological excavation around the Colonial manor house, the one that Isaac Walker built between 1725 and 1727. She’s here today to go over the next phase of research.”

Evelyn climbs the bottom step of a grand staircase and rises on her toes to point over the group to Meghan. “I don’t mean to put her on the spot, but perhaps she can give you some of the highlights from the summer’s work.”

Meghan twists the belt of her raincoat in her hands. She’s here to talk with Evelyn, not the public. She feels distinctly underdressed in her old jeans and scuffed field boots.

“Oh, well, of course,” she says. “My crew did some test excavations, and we found a large cellar and some outbuilding foundations. Most of the material is from the 1700s, although there are some Native American artifacts, too. I think we have the kitchen cellar. We’ll be looking over a wider area this winter if the weather holds. I know Evelyn would love to find the original house foundation.”

“Maybe it was an Indian that Isaac killed,” Mr. Sloma suggests.

Meghan’s cheeks tighten, but she doesn’t rise to the bait. “I’m afraid there weren’t any Native Americans left in the area by the 1700s. They’d either died of European diseases or moved away. And as Evelyn said, every plantation has its haunted legends. But there aren’t any bones to back up the stories.”

“I hope you’ll all excuse me and Dr. Bode, but we need to talk about her project,” Evelyn says. “Jackson will take you on the garden tour. I think the rain will hold off another few hours. Do enjoy yourselves. Fresh coffee, tea, and hot chocolate will be ready when you get back.”

“Keep an eye out for a hidden grave,” Mr. Sloma tells his fellow guests as they follow Jackson to the gardens.

Evelyn leans against the ornately carved railing. “The nerve of that man. Honestly, I think he came here just to stir up trouble. Yesterday at high tea I heard him telling that horrible story of Abraham Walker being a secret Tory. If you find proof positive he was a Patriot, I’ll invite Mr. Sloma back just to show him the evidence.

“And then have the dogs escort him off the property,” she adds with a mischievous wink.

Meghan smiles. “I can’t promise anything, but you never know. Some of this summer’s artifacts could date to the Revolutionary War.”

“Wonderful. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, then. Maisy and Chess love a good chase, even though they wouldn’t know what to do with a rabbit if they caught one. Let me grab my coat and boots, and we can head over to the site. It’ll be easier to understand what you need to do if I can see it in front of me.”

On the way, Meghan and Evelyn pass the kitchen garden and overhear Mr. Sloma.

“Look at that huge statue of Venus. I’ll bet Isaac put it up over the Indian slave mistress’s grave as a memorial.”

Meghan stifles a laugh at Evelyn’s theatrical shiver. Jackson’s explanation that the statue dates to the 1870s, not the 1720s, will likely go unremembered by the guests.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 2 next Tuesday.

New to the Meghan Bode Mysteries? You can catch up with her first complete story with this link.

55 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 1 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • I’ve learned she doesn’t mind the spotlight. Of course, she gives the general ideas while I have to write them in an entertaining manner. The pressure’s not on her! 😉

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  1. Great start! I felt a bit of you there in this bit ‘Meghan twists the belt of her raincoat in her hands. She’s here to talk with Evelyn, not the public. She feels distinctly underdressed in her old jeans and scuffed field boots.’ Just how I imagine you might feel if you were suddenly put on the spot to talk to the public when you weren’t expecting it!

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    • Ah, yes. It’s one thing to be wearing field clothes when you’re talking with people in the field. But poor Meghan’s surrounded by some well-dressed and well-to-do folks in that grand old home. 😉 I might shred the belt in that situation! Plus there’s the awkwardness of not having any kind of talk prepared, even a short one. Meghan handled the speaking far better than I would. We can’t edit those “ums,” uhs,” and “you knows” when we’ve said them!

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    • Ha! The first scene must include some foreshadowing, right? Maybe our troublemaker knows something? Or he’s made a lucky guess? Or something else? I hope I’ll soon know exactly what it is!

      And I hope neither you nor Meghan is facing a recall. 😉 Fortunately our hybrid Sonata only had its mileage per gallon overstated. We’ll get rebates for that. 🙂

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    • They’re definitely not the sort of people Meghan and her husband would socialize with. 😉 Meghan and Rick are comfortable enough, but the guests at Wyndham Thicket are typically well up the social ladder. Definitely not Meghan’s cup of tea.

      At this point, I’m not completely sure how (or if) she’ll be dealing with these folks…. 😉

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  2. I seem to catch up on this, when possible, on my tuesday lunch time. Over the last month or two it has become lunchtime with Megan. Anyhoo, interesting start. Megan has more to live up to now she is on the next adventure and holding a more prominent position on the blog!

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    • She has grabbed a part of the stage, hasn’t she? She’s perfectly calm about it. Of course, she doesn’t have to write the posts each week. Pass along the ideas and leave the messy work to the writer. 😉

      There is added pressure with this one. I think maintaining the original level of quality is always difficult on the second endeavor. The Muse doesn’t seem to have a problem with shoving me into this very public forum, however, so we’ll see if I succeed or have a major face plant.

      I’ll do my best to keep the lunchtime reading up to par!

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      • You know what, lets say this adventure didn’t entirely work like you hoped. You actually have a great forum to try, experiment, learn etc, with these Megan stories. You might find you learn so much more than you ever expected, when you review it in a few months. That said, I would say this adventure is off to a good start.

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        • That’s absolutely right. Getting comments on the blog, both positive and constructively critical, will help me with writing the “fleshed out” versions for e-publication. I wouldn’t do this with a full novel, but I think it’s some “out of the box” thinking that will be a useful exercise for turning these short stories into engaging longer stories. No matter what happens, I will definitely learn from the experience.

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  3. Mr. Sloma likes to stir the pot. I’m guessing he’s going to plant some false evidence. Of course, Meghan would uncover that too fast…so never mind. I love stories set back in Colonial America with the slaves.

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    • Meghan’s given me the roughest of outlines for the story. So at least I know what she finds and what it means. How we’ll flesh out those points is still a mystery to me. 😉 I guarantee there are clues in the first scene and Meghan will find something interesting in this Colonial site!

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    • I wondered if the setting would put anyone on edge—a dark, dreary November day and an old plantation house…. So many writerly possibilities there. Thanks for stopping by during your break—I swear I really wasn’t fishing for views in my comment on your post! 🙂

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      • I know you weren’t fishing! It was good to have the opportunity to stop by your place.

        Yeah, the place made me worried for her. Good visualizations and dialogue.

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        • Thanks! I don’t have much time to edit out extraneous dialogue tags or really tighten the descriptions, so I hope they’ll be “telling,” but not intrusive. 😉

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    • We all have run into people like him, though, haven’t we? Why does he know about Evelyn’s ancestry? Did he hear it from her? From someone else? I don’t know—Meghan hasn’t said! I just have to trust that enough will be revealed for me to put together a coherent story. 😉

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  4. Great start–very atmospheric. That Meghan is kind of bossing you around, huh? In a good way, though. Looking forward to next week’s installment.

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    • Yeah, she’s been running the show recently. 😉 I’m hoping the other characters will take that as a challenge and start pushing for more revisions for their stories!

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  5. That second line is terrific! And I love the line where Meghan speculates whether the Sloma couple will ever find another “open” date to visit. (makes you want to giggle along with her)
    Oh lots of plots to dig up with this one. You’ve got quite a picture created here….(really, movie or TV series…better have good scripts to do her justice – or we’d all scream at them!)
    YEA! ready to read more.

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    • I was hoping the humor would come through—neither too subtle nor too over the top! I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but I still can’t get over the way Meghan sneaked up on me like this. I’ve even added a “tag line” to her page.

      “Archaeologist Meghan Bode led a normal life—until the day Detective Tom Sandberg showed up in her lab.”

      Now, a series of adventures befalls her. How many? I have no clue! It’s fun to imagine a TV series based on her stories…. But I’m also enjoying the visualizing of an e-published collection. Who knows? Maybe I’ve discovered a “market” that the experts never knew existed. 🙂

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  6. I’m really enjoying your characters and your plot! I love the underlying humor and how the mistress’s grave evolves into the Indian slave mistress’s grave.:) Terrific job. You also set the scene really well. Just the right amount of detail. 🙂

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    • Humor can be one of the hardest things to get right. So I’m trying not to overdo it without being so subtle that it’s missed. And I hoped someone would mention that morphing from mistress to slave mistress to Indian slave mistress. 😉 It’s funny, I have a better idea of Mr. Sloma’s larger role in the “fleshed out” version that will be part of the e-published collection than I do in this more immediate version!

      Writing “live” like this is terrifying, but also exhilarating. I think my Muse is doing a great job of pushing me out of my normal introverted, self-doubting comfort zone. And even if I fall flat on my face at some point, the learning and experience gained is completely worth it. 🙂

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    • That week seems awfully short from where I’m standing! 😉 Must.Finish.Draft!

      I finished The Eleventh Question last night. I don’t normally read YA, but I really enjoyed the story and characters. I’m looking forward to The Everything Theory as it moves up the to-read list.

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  7. Sounds like another great adventure! Really interesting setting already – I like how there’s different historical time periods involved so you never know what you might find. I could feel her awkwardness too when everyone suddenly turned to her and she had to talk.

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    • Thanks, Shelia. 🙂 Meghan is so sure things are back to normal after her brush with forensic archaeology. But what kind of mystery would we have here if that were the case? 😉 I think archaeologists sometimes reveal more than we think when we uncover the past….

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  8. What a great setting! For awhile now, I’ve been loosely following a wordpress blog about the renovation of Belle Grove Plantation in VA. (A retired military couple is turning it into a bed and breakfast, and they’re very interested in the property’s history) I don’t want to post the link here, but if you’re interested I’ll send it along!
    Now, a question: How do you decide which names to give your characters? That’s something i’ve always wondered about every book I read!

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    • I follow the Belle Grove blog, too. And I promise the B&B and owner in Meghan’s story are completely fictitious! The fictional Wyndham Thicket draws from my own genealogical research and the various plantation excavations I’ve been involved with. Just the kinds of things to provide fodder for a mystery or ghost story. 🙂

      Characters’ names—I suspect every writer has their own system. The main characters in my two novels told me their names right away. I have some say in the minor characters’ names. Sometimes, the name just comes to me. Other times, I’ve been known to thumb through magazines and pull names from there (mixing up the first and last names from different authors). But now that I use Scrivener, it’s got a great name-generator feature. You can tell it you want male first names of English origin and surnames of Greek origin, for example. And it has a good variety to choose from. I’ve pulled some names from there, and I’m sure I will again. 🙂

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  9. Nice work, JM! 🙂 I’m finally starting my catch up, yay! 🙂 Beautiful descriptions that make this a really visual piece. Nice use of dialogue as well, I’ll look forward to the next section! 🙂

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