Buried Deeds — Part 7 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

“Is that what I think it is?” Irene asks.

“A flask,” Meghan replies. “And I think it’s real silver, not plated. Let me switch with you.”

After Irene crawls away from the skeleton, Meghan takes her place, wedging herself between the cellar wall and the burial pit. She has to resist the urge to lift the flask for a closer look.

“There’s a loupe in the toolbox. Can you hand it to me?”

She brushes more dirt away and, when Irene returns, peers through the magnifier.

“It’s definitely silver. I can see the hallmarks on the base. They’re English. We should be able to get the maker and year.”

Irene whistles. “This is no slave, Meghan. Who is he?”

“I have no clue. All those old stories that Evelyn hates so much talk about slaves or mistresses. Not wealthy white men. He is white, isn’t he?”

“We can’t be sure until I do some metrics in the lab. And even then, we’re dealing with probabilities, not certainties.”

Meghan nods. “I know. But I also know slaves didn’t have silver flasks. And there weren’t many free blacks around here before the Civil War.”

She checks her watch. “Come on, let’s get this wrapped up today. I want to look up those hallmarks tonight.”

The two women pick up their pace. Not so fast that the work becomes sloppy. But twenty years of experience helps. By three o’clock, they’ve documented the excavation and are packing up the bones and artifacts.

Meghan forces herself to bag the buttons and buckles first. Up close, she sees they’re also silver. Whoever this man was, he had money. How did he end up in a cellar? she wonders. She’s just ready to lift the flask when Irene inhales sharply.

“Oh, wow. Look at this.”

“What have you got?” Meghan asks.

“Only the cause of death.”

“What? Let me see.”

Irene has lifted the skull from the ground. The hole just above the right ear is now visible.

“No exit wound,” Irene says. “The ball should still be in the skull.”

“Ball? You think it’s from a musket and not a rifle?”

“Yeah, the bone fractures are more in line with a musket ball than a rifle bullet.”

Meghan stands and stares into the nearby woods, thinking. Her dream project, excavating a colonial plantation with nearly unlimited private funding, is turning into a nightmare. Are the legends true? One of Evelyn’s revered ancestors is really a murderer? This can’t end well, she thinks.

A flash of light in the trees pulls her from her thoughts. She blinks, and sees another glint. The setting sun must be reflecting off something metal or glass in the trees.

“What about the flask?”

Irene’s question pulls Meghan back to the cellar. She kneels down again and removes the finely etched container. She grabs her ever-ready water bottle and rinses the dirt away.

“How lucky can we get?” she asks.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s engraved. ‘J Kent.’”

“Who are the Kents?”

“Heck if I know. But now I’ve got a name to go with the body. And when I check those hallmarks, I’ll have a date. Guess who’s doing some historic research tonight.”

Irene laughs. “What did we do before the Internet?”

“A lot of driving to dusty courthouses and the Library of Virginia. And I’ll probably end up there again. But at least I can get a head start from home.”

“Let me know what you find. Maybe we can solve a mystery no one even knew existed.”

As they and the students load the trucks for the drive back to campus, Meghan takes a last look at the site. Another flash of reflected light catches her attention.

What’s causing that? she wonders before climbing into the driver’s seat.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 8 next Tuesday.

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.

55 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 7 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • Ah, thanks, Wanderlust, for the kind words. 🙂 Meghan must be wondering what happened to the good old days, when her projects didn’t involve mysterious deaths!

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    • There’s a Kent County here in Maryland, undoubtedly named after yours! And I think many families of the name moved to the Mid-Atlantic and New England in Colonial times. 🙂 We’ll see what Meghan finds in her research. 😉

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  1. Oooh! How fun! I think it’s wonderful that the Internet hasn’t totally squashed the need for Meghan to return to the dusty old courthouses and libraries. ; ) They are much more exciting settings, anyway. Can’t wait to hear more, JM.

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    • Even Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org don’t have all the old records digitized and online—yet. 😉 Lots of genealogists still remember when those dark, musty courthouse basements filled with fading ledger books of deeds, marriage certificates, and the like were required stops if you wanted to trace your family history. Virginia has most of its records microfilmed, so Meghan might get lucky and only have to go there. 😉

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  2. A flask. I didn’t see that coming. Now I’m trying to figure out the flash in the forest. My guess is binoculars that someone is using to spy on her from a hiding spot. This is so exciting!

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    • I didn’t think anyone would guess a flask. 😉 There were so many artifacts I could have used. Your thought of a gun last week was a good one, as was Gene’s idea of someone in the army. 😉 We still don’t know much about J Kent, do we?

      I suspect events will soon lead Meghan to figure out what those flashes were. 😉

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    • Well, I do have an unfair advantage, knowing about all kinds of interesting finds on archaeological sites. 😉 The old “write what we know” put into practice. I’d be in trouble if you didn’t have to wait for the next installment—this is the way Meghan presents them!

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  3. Great twist! And I can’t wait to find out what’s causing that reflected light.

    Just a technical question–when you’re excavating finds from a site, do you have to photograph its position before removing it?

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    • Excellent question! And the answer is — wait for it — it depends. Seriously! On straightforward sites with common artifacts, we usually don’t. We’re excavating by either natural stratigraphy or standard 10-cm levels. Artifacts from those levels are bagged together and kept separate from those from other proveniences. In the lab, we’ll use the artifacts to look for cultural, temporal, and functional differences between the proveniences.

      But if we find something unusual, or we’re working on a rare site type or one with burials, we will photograph (or video) the artifacts in situ. So photography was part of the documentation that Meghan and Irene did before they bagged up the artifacts and bones.

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  4. I figured it was a gun too, but a flask makes it more fun. I’m looking forward to finding out more about this character and the flashes of light.

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    • I tried to stay away from likely guesses. 😉 There are clues in past scenes, but I did try to bury them. We’ll have to see what Meghan’s research reveals….

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  5. Love the flask. Didn’t guess that one. How interesting that it’s buried with him though…so I’m curious…he was drinking at the time of the murder? Or not, because then I figured the body had to be dragged to that spot, so the flask went with him…was it evidence and that’s why it was buried too? Wow, so many questions! And then the flash. Hmm. Is it that creep spying on Meghan???

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    • It’s interesting to see how other writers’ minds react to these scenes—coming up with possible plot ideas, thoughts on what the clues mean…. 🙂 It might be fun some time to have a group of us each take the same prompt and props and write a short story with them. We could post them at the same time and see what we all came up with. Something to think about when we’re all less busy. 😉

      All I can say right now is that Meghan will figure out what the flashes were. 🙂

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      • That would be fun. I’m not very adept with writing short stories (they always want to get bigger and longer), but I would certainly give it a shot. 🙂 Right, when I’m less busy, haha.

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  6. I’m really enjoying the methodical reveal of this mystery, JM. There’s a build of tension, but it’s not rushed at all, as you sometimes see in standard thriller/mysteries. It feels academic: science detectives, I suppose. 🙂

    About the structure of these posts: How do you decide where to start and stop with your narratives? Each one has a good cliff-hanger and develops enough of the plot, though it doesn’t quite feel like it could be a full-fledged chapter on its own. Do you have different structure plans for when you collect these?

    Also: Is it pronounced bo-DAY, or boad? I want to be accurate when I talk about her adventures to friends. 🙂

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    • As long as it’s not too academic—I know how that can put an audience to sleep. 😉 But if I can keep the story and characters interesting, then I think Meghan could find an audience.

      These stories are truly done “on the fly.” I have a general idea of the plot when I start, but that’s it. Each week, I work on the next installment. Some writers (especially outliners) might roll their eyes when I say the characters have A LOT of influence in what I say and how I say it. That’s honestly how it feels, though. I joke about Meghan enjoying the old radio serials or 1950s “pulp fiction” magazines that featured serialized stories, but maybe she does. I read a very few such things before I was 10 (and they were “old” then!). Maybe they’ve had a subconscious impact.

      I’m still leaning toward three stories, ca. 20,000 words each for an e-published collection. So I’ll need to structure them to fit a novella format. But I want to keep the cliffhangers between scenes/chapters as much as possible. Even in traditional novels, they keep the reader going for “just one more chapter.” We just call them “hooks” in the novels. 😉

      Based on my Midwestern upbringing (and Meghan’s), her name of Dutch origin is pronounced BO-duh. 🙂 My apologies to the Dutch if that’s not the current pronunciation in the Netherlands!

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  7. Musket ball! Engraved silver flask (with marks from silversmith on the bottom?)
    And on top of that – a watcher or powerline issues with a storm coming ?(probably not, but still…it could happen…or that ghost wanting justice – great suspense) Great pacing and details. (now go write some more for Meghan! Is there a market for on-line serial cliff hangers with multiple episodes? – you are pretty good at this)

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    • I’ve never seen anything serialized on the web like these stories. Maybe I’ve stumbled onto something new? I didn’t grow up with the old radio versions, although a few of the old pulp fiction magazines were around the house. They could have made an impression on me. Or, it’s all Meghan. 🙂 Either way, it’s interesting to see the stories develop, even if I’m worrying I won’t figure out the next segment in time!

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  8. so I’m reading along and get to loupe and think gee, i know what a loupe is but others might not and BAM your next phrase explains it for the uninitiated with ONE WORD! This may seem like a small thing but it’s HUGE imo! Jm, you’re a great writer AND an excellent teacher.
    I predict you’ll have great success in the publishing world!! Not only is this story interesting, it’s accessible. Another whole week to wait for the next part?!?? I hate that!!! 😉

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    • Aww, thanks! 🙂 That likely goes back to my eighth grade English teacher. When we learned new vocabulary words, she made us use them in sentences that explained their meaning. She was very old school—we diagrammed sentences and conjugated verbs every week. And it’s amazing how much of what I learned then has stuck with me ever since. 🙂

      Of course, I’m biased, but I really want your predictions to come true! (And I need that week—Meghan never gives me more than one week’s installment at a time—there’s no convincing her to do otherwise!)

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    • Hmm, so you’re a time traveler? Quick—what can you tell me about J Kent? 😉

      Mondays are my heaviest blog reading day. That’s when I have my weekly digests come in (and Sunday’s a non-reading day), so there can be a lot of posts to catch up with. And that’s usually when I’ll leave the fewest and shortest comments.

      I’m glad you could stop by today and hope you had a good day spent the way you wanted!

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      • Mr. Kent was tall, dark, and handsome. He was born a Prince and traded places with his manservant so he could marry the village blacksmith’s daughter. You are welcome for the story idea.

        Did you see my email?

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        • Yes, I did. I’m very glad to know my comment hadn’t come across in the wrong way!

          Hmm, interesting take on Mr. Kent. We’ll see what Meghan finds in her research. Maybe your time-traveling caused some changes…. 😉

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          • I gotta tell you . . . Traded places. In love with the blacksmith daughter. Wants to run for governor of California. Does hot yoga twice a week. Eats tofu and pork rinds. We are on to something!

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    • We’ll learn a bit more history in the next episode, too. 😉 I read a lot of James Michener’s books when I was in high school. I enjoyed the way he took readers into the past to show what had happened. But I seem to be doing the reverse in these stories—bringing the past into the present and showing how we can still learn from it. I don’t think I’ll reach his level of commercial success, but if I can make history interesting today, that’s not a bad accomplishment. 😉

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  9. I’m catching up on the previous installments here that I missed, but I’m liking the little cliff hanger approach. The flask idea was interesting, and the ending of the previous chapter / episode made me think of something else, other than a flask. Oooo what is the light. Guess we’ll find out on tuesday 🙂

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    • Well, maybe not this Tuesday, but soon. 😉 The cliffhangers are really Meghan’s “thing.” She really seems to enjoy them, rather like the old radio series. That’s funny because neither she nor I is old enough to have been around for those. 🙂

      Glad to see you back! I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year and are settling comfortably into 2013.

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