Buried Deeds — Part 5 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

The good weather continues in mid-December, but the university’s winter break draws close. This is the last field day for Meghan’s crew until classes resume in January. If there are open test units at the end of the day, Meghan will finish them before the holidays.

The house cellar is half-excavated. Meghan had the students take down the south end first, and they’ve reached the brick floor.

It’s ten o’clock and several students need something to do. Meghan works with them to document the brick floor with photographs and sketch maps and then directs them to lift the bricks that are out of alignment. She suspects the soil in that corner was unstable, and the Walkers had to reinforce it.

Meghan instructs the students to let her know when they finish pulling, bagging, and tagging the bricks. They’ll be reset in place once she documents the disturbance, undoubtedly some heavily packed earth to stabilize the foundation.

Just before lunch, one of the students calls out to her. “Dr. Bode? You should see this.”

Meghan eases into the cellar to examine the floor. A roughly oval stain of darker soil is visible, roughly four feet long and three feet wide. The students have troweled the surface, which enhances subtle color differences. Whitish flecks dot the surface at one end of the pit.

Bending down, Meghan sees a thin, curved line of sponge-like material in the soil. Silently, she reaches for a trowel and gently clears some of the surrounding soil.

Crap, she thinks and sits back on her heels. She pulls out her phone. Of course, she gets voice mail. She leaves a brief message asking Evelyn to call as soon as possible. Then she switches to her web browser. For once, Meghan appreciates her smart phone. Within a few minutes she’s found the phone number for the County Coroner’s office.

By now, the students realize what they’ve found. Their whispered conversations are peppered with “legend,” “slave,” and “mistress.” Meghan gathers them together while she waits for the coroner.

“It’s not a recent burial,” she tells them. “No one’s dug into that cellar any later than the 1860s except us. But the law says we have to bring in the coroner. Right now, we don’t know whether it’s two hundred years old or two thousand. This isn’t a normal compliance project, and I’m not sure which laws apply. I’ll have to talk with the state.

“Under no circumstances do you tell anyone anything about this. Unexpected bodies get sensationalized, and newspapers are notorious for getting the facts wrong. Evelyn may want to just leave it alone, and that’s her right. If you’re going to be professional archaeologists, you have to be respectful of landowners and laws. ”

She points to the cellar floor. “Most importantly, you respect the people you’ve uncovered.”

And someone like Frank Sloma wouldn’t share that view, she thinks. What kind of mischief would he cause if he got word of this?

While the students return to the other units, Meghan waits for the coroner and Evelyn’s call. The buzz from her phone alerts her to Evelyn’s text—be there ASAP.

The coroner arrives first, an hour later. Meghan prepares to meet him as he walks through the field. And then she groans.

Bounding past him are Maisy and Chess.

She calls to the crew, “I don’t care what you have to do. Keep those damn dogs away from here!”

“I’m on it,” Kyle says. He whistles and sprints down the hill, clapping for the dogs. They run to him and drop their ever-ready tennis balls, chasing happily as Kyle hurls them toward the house and away from the site.

If he hadn’t already earned one, Meghan would award Kyle an A for this effort alone.

Dr. Colin McVay introduces himself as he reaches the cellar.

“Evelyn shouldn’t be far behind,” he says with a smile and nod toward the dogs. “But show me what you’ve found.”

“The bricks in this corner didn’t match the others. I figured the foundation wasn’t stable and the owners reinforced the earth. But when my students pulled the bricks, they found this oval stain. And when they cleaned up the loose dirt, a few bone flecks came up. I’ve cleared just enough to show it’s a human skull.”

McVay nods. “There’s no chance it’s recent, is there?”

“No,” Meghan says. “If you look at the soil we haven’t removed, you see how uniform it is. There aren’t layers of different colored soils. This cellar was filled in all at once when the old house was taken down. If it’s a Euroamerican or African-American burial, it has to be from 1870s or earlier.”

“So it could be Indian?”

“Maybe. I won’t know unless we excavate it. This isn’t a development project with state or federal funds or permits. Evelyn won’t build anything on this archaeological site. I’ll have to double-check the laws, but I think she could just leave it in place.”

“Knowing Evelyn, she won’t do that. But she won’t be happy with this.”

“What won’t I be happy with?”

Meghan stands to see Evelyn at the cellar’s edge. She recaps her findings, watching Evelyn’s posture stiffen as she speaks.

“Well, of course it’s an Indian,” Evelyn says. “And he can be buried somewhere else after you dig him up. I don’t want people walking on him once this is a place for guests to visit. Or anyone thinking it’s tied to those old legends. Let’s get him out of here.”

“I’ll need a state permit, first,” Meghan says. “We’ll have to put the application together and do a public notice. I doubt we can do anything before February.”

“Nonsense. Douglas will get it through in no time. When he gets home, I’ll have him call you to get the ball rolling. It’s as good as done.”

Meghan has no doubt Douglas Browne’s contacts can speed the process. But not before the holidays and winter break end. As she wraps up her talk with Evelyn and Dr. McVay, the students finish their test units and cover the site to shelter it until their return.

Extra care is taken to protect the burial feature. Thick plastic is laid down, and an insulating layer of soil is placed over it. A tripled sheet of plastic covers the soil and is firmly weighted with stones. If the mood to do their own digging strikes, Maisy and Chess will be held at bay. Jackson Carter will keep watch on the site and let Meghan know if there are any problems. Heavy snow or rain is her major concern.

On the way back to campus, Meghan reminds the crew to say nothing about the burial to friends or family.

The late afternoon shadows fall across Wyndham Thicket Farm. All is quiet as the old plantation buildings await Meghan’s return.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 6, which will be uploaded on Tuesday, 8 January 2013. With the upcoming holidays, I’ll be less stressed if I’m not trying to deliver two installments of a short story. My posts on Christmas and New Years will be short and sweet. Meghan and I thank you for your patience!

New to the Meghan Bode Mysteries? You can catch up with her first complete story and the previous installments of Buried Deeds with this link.

51 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 5 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

  1. This is fascinating, but I actually don’t mind waiting until 8th January as I’m posting tomorrow and then not until 9th January. Great minds think alike! Ha!

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    • Thanks, Anne. 🙂 I think we could all use a breather from the blogosphere for a bit. I’ll still post on my normal days, but they’ll be a lot shorter and more seasonal. 😉

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  2. Ooh, this is fun!
    And it’s a great way to keep me coming back. Even if I haven’t time for anything else, I’ll come here for the next installment.

    I actually thank you for taking a break. Just like you, I’ve got too many things to do at this season, but I look forward to January.

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    • Thanks, Carol. 🙂 There seems to be an emerging theme that we need a break for the holidays, and I agree completely. Some recharging time for the new year sounds wonderful to me. Enjoy your break if you take one!

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  3. Great twist to keep anticipation growing. I can’t wait to see if Meghan figures out anything about that old corpse. Have a great Holiday, Jacqueline.

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    • Thanks, Char. 🙂 I’ll do some short, simple posts, but nothing that anyone needs to worry about missing or catching up with. (Not that anyone would…. 😉 Just kidding!)

      Enjoy your holidays, too!

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  4. I’m still waiting for the dogs to help with some of the digging. 🙂 Looking forward to seeing what happens next – especially with Sloma. Hope you have a great holiday season!

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    • I’m hoping I’ll figure that out over the break. 😉 Anything I post over that time will be short and simple or easily skipped. I’m all for lessening the stress of the season. You enjoy your holidays, too, and we’ll all touch base again in 2013. 🙂

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  5. Keep those dogs away. You have such a great way of pacing the story – nice details. concern for proper care of body – that’s important. And as always regulations and Compliance issues – and the shadows draw across….
    Enjoy your holiday -( it’s just too rushed here, too. Must slow down a bit, too…photos/illustrations are suitable and good I think?)
    Merry, joy, and peace (and rest!)

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    • Thanks, Mouse. 🙂 I can’t say all my peers share my and Meghan’s opinions, but I think most do. We should be respectful when we encounter someone’s “final” resting place. Wouldn’t we hope for the same?

      I hope we can all find some peace and rest, and merriness and joy—especially for the little ones—during this holiday season. Let’s all take some time to let those dear to us know how much we love them.

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  6. Interesting about the regulations governing remains so old. I keep rattling my husband’s chain about archeologists being grave robbers (he’s an amateur one), but you’re proving me wrong with this one, JM! Have a wonderful holiday break! xoxoM

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    • Each state has its own laws dealing with unmarked graves and their discovery, and then there are federal laws pertaining to Native American burials as well. It can get complex, which is why Meghan’s probably using this break to find out exactly what she needs to do in Virginia. Of course, this is fiction, so we can take some liberties if need be. 😉 The less-than-respectful or scientific methods of some of my predecessors still hang over us today. But we’ve come a long way. Indiana Jones would be drummed out of the field in today’s world. 🙂

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  7. This is so clever. I love the way Meghan picks up the fact that the bricks that are out of alignment. It’s small clues like this that give us an insight into her personality and how she sees the world – the makings of a great (archaeological) detective 😉

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    • I think archaeologists do share some traits with detectives. Both need an eye for detail and clues that might escape the casual observer. And the ability to assemble those clues to reconstruct what happened, even if it presents an uncomfortable or painful truth. 😉

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  8. I love how this is developing, JM. You’re doing a wonderful job with this story.

    The holidays are a great chance for everyone to sit back and catch their breath. I’ll be doing a little bit of blogging, but not much.

    I’ll be wating eagerly for part 6…!

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    • Thanks, Kate. 🙂 Your encouragement means a lot to me. And I thought it was too much to expect many of my readers to take some time on two holidays to read my blog. So while I will post something, it won’t be anything “big” and can be easily missed or skimmed. 😉

      I hope your holidays will be merry and calm. After that Thanksgiving series of events, you deserve a break!

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  9. Love it! I really like how you didn’t use the dogs in the most expected way (i.e. having them accidentally dig up human remains), but rather more as a way to add a bit of plot tension in that moment, and also a bit of lightness. I’ll have to re-read the previous posts when this picks up again in January to get back in the flow of it–that’s a treat I look forward to.

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    • Thanks, Jagoda. 🙂 It would have been too much like the opening of Meghan’s last story to have the dogs dig up something—or someone. 😉 Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them….

      I hope the break in the story won’t cause readers to lose interest. Maybe I should have started this story after New Year’s. But that’s not the way it worked out. I think most readers will be preoccupied during these next two weeks, and I don’t want to add to that. So the break should be good for all.

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  10. You’re revealing these characters so well with a good mix of narrative and dialogue. I feel like I know them better with each instalment but not at the expense of the slowing down the overall plot. This is def a job well done, JM!
    Enjoy your holidays!

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    • You enjoy the holidays, too! 🙂 I’m hoping that the new year will give me another round of “oomph” to get my novels finished and on their way to readers in some format! And Meghan was glad to get to one of the “good parts” before the holidays. With the break, we’re hoping to see if you and others have really been paying attention. 😉

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  11. I’m finally catching up on all the blogs, I’m just glad I don’t have too much longer to wait until the next installment. I want to know who’s buried there! Love this story, JM. Happy New Year to you and yours!!

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    • Thanks, Mme W. 🙂 I knew people were getting busy with the holidays and wanted to give everyone a break and one less thing to think about. Meghan has two ways in mind to go with the story and we need to choose just one!

      Happy New Year to you, too! May 2013 be a far better year for us all. 🙂

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  12. Pingback: Things I learned during the holidays – and an award | Peggy Isaacs

    • She’s not the kind of person Meghan normally hangs out with. 😉 But a dream project with nearly unlimited funding? Meghan finds a way to work with her. 🙂 (Of course, it helps that Meghan really is a nice person!)

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