Buried Deeds — Part 8 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

After dinner and chores, Meghan and her family settle in for the evening. John watches his one hour of television in the living room while Meghan and Rick discreetly monitor his shows from the kitchen. Rick reads the Washington Post, and Meghan opens the browser on her tablet to research the flask’s hallmarks.

She’s met with “Bailey’s Border Collies,” a nearby breeder’s website.

“Oh, subtle, guys, real subtle. Who’s idea was this?”

Rick’s lips twitch. “Come on, Megs, they’re great dogs. And they’re small.”

“Have you seen them in action? They never stop moving.”

“John would have a blast with one, throwing Frisbees and running all over the yard.”

Meghan sets down her tablet. “Yard? What yard? Ours is barely big enough for your grill. We live in a townhouse, remember?”

Rick pulls his chair next to Meghan’s and types an address into the browser. “What if we bought a single-family house?”

“Are you serious? In this area? Have you seen the prices?”

“They won’t get any lower. We talk about this and never do it. John’ll be married with his own kids before we know it. We grew up with our own houses with dogs and yards. Shouldn’t he have the same? Besides, we can afford it.”

He shows Meghan the screen, which now features a home for sale with a local realtor. “This one’s just a few blocks away. He wouldn’t have to change schools, and his friends would still be close. And it’s got a fenced yard. Why don’t we take a look?”

Meghan stares at the web page for a few moments and then watches the slide show. It’s a four-bedroom home, fifteen years old, and nicely decorated. Then she looks at the asking price.

“Five hundred thousand?” she whispers. “Are you serious?”

“We can afford it. We’re not in grad school anymore, and this isn’t Wisconsin. Houses cost this much out here. We’ve been good about saving and paying off this one. Between the sale of this place and dipping into savings, we could put down forty percent on a house like that. And as of today, it won’t take long to rebuild our savings.”

“As of today? What do you mean—Oh, my God. You got the promotion.”

Rick’s smile lights the room. “You’re looking at the new Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Mid-Atlantic region. We can do this, Megs.”

Meghan leans over and kisses him. “You deserve it. You’ve done so much for the company.”

“So we can start looking for a new house?”

Meghan nods.

“I knew you’d say yes. I already called the listing agent. We’ve got an appointment to look at this one tomorrow after dinner.”

***

After Rick’s news, it’s hard for Meghan to concentrate on her research. But her curiosity about the mysterious “J Kent” won’t wait. She pulls out the flask and looks at the hallmarks on its base. The piece is sterling with the crowned leopard showing its London origins. This type of stamped “S” was used in 1773. The initials, however, could belong to several silversmiths, and Meghan can’t be sure who made the piece. But that’s not important. Now she knows “J Kent” was buried no earlier than 1773.

She turns to a genealogy site for a search on “J Kent.” Too many results. Irene said he was an adult male with no obvious signs of hard labor. Say he was at least twenty and no older than fifty, she thinks. If he was any older, Irene would have seen it on the bones and said something in the field.

The dates narrow the possibilities, but “J” could represent too many names—John, Joseph, James—all common in Virginia. She searches for online histories of the county and finds one. Browsing through the pages, Meghan finds many references to Evelyn’s Walker ancestors, but none to any Kents. That trail is a dead end.

Expand the search, she thinks and looks for histories of adjoining counties. This time, an entry in a book published in 1894 catches her eye.

Our discussion of local lore and legends would not be complete without mention of a mysterious event during the tumultuous years of the American Revolution. Josiah Kent, a true patriot, had but recently moved to the county when “the shot heard round the world” was fired on the North Bridge at Concord.

A merchant by trade who traveled frequently to London on his schooner, Hunter’s Delight, Kent obtained a letter of marque from the Continental Congress and turned to privateering, successfully raiding a number of British merchant ships in the Caribbean until 1779. In May of that year, he returned to Virginia with a cargo of liberated fine goods and plans to restock his vessel for another run.

While returning from an overland business trip to Fredericksburg, Mr. Kent disappeared. Local authorities determined that he was last seen near Oak Grove. It is believed he fell the unfortunate victim of highwaymen while returning to his home. It is rumored that his spirit haunts the woods between Oak Grove and his abode at Fair Weather plantation.

A few minutes later, Meghan has pinpointed the location of Kent’s former plantation. Lying midway between it and Oak Grove is Wyndham Thicket Farm.

Meghan pushes aside her tablet and rubs her face. An image of Frank Sloma taunting Evelyn at the manor fills her mind’s eye and triggers a memory of Evelyn’s words. “Yesterday at high tea I heard him telling that horrible story of Abraham Walker being a secret Tory.

Crap, she thinks. What the hell do I tell Evelyn?

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 9 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.

49 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 8 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

  1. Border collies! We used to own a border collie. Great breed, very active and intelligent. Perfect for Meghan. 🙂 I like that development of her personal life. I thought that was a nice step away from the mystery, and you did a great job transitioning back to the mystery so that it flowed smoothly. I didn’t feel jolted around or confused at all.

    The plot is thickening!

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    • Very active and intelligent—that’s exactly what Meghan’s afraid of. Because everyone knows who REALLY takes care of the pets in the house! 🙂

      I couldn’t say anything before since I didn’t want to give away the story line, but I thought it was so funny when you mentioned the pirate hijacking your NaNoWriMo story. I knew from the beginning of this story that a privateer would be featured. What were the odds that we’d both incorporate that similar element?

      An unexpected skeleton in the excavation, a son who wants a dog, and now a husband who wants a dog and a new house. Meghan’s life is getting hectic! 🙂

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      • Yet another coincidence! This is so weird, but neat at the same time. 🙂

        True, Meghan would definitely have her hands full with a border collie — and with the family in on it she doesn’t have a prayer, does she.

        Actually, I forgot to mention my husband has done the same thing that Meghan’s husband did. Often, I’ll go to sit at my computer only to find a rescue dog site open. Or worse, he’s changed my desktop picture to a photo of a dog “that needs a home”.

        If they want a dog bad enough, they’ll stop at nothing!!

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        • It sounds like I’ve got a believable story line going! 😉 I have these visions of Rick and John being like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” leaving not-so-subtle hints everywhere for Meghan to find. You’re absolutely right—she’s got no chance against that united front. 🙂

          I think she’ll put her foot down about care and training, though. She won’t stand for even a small version of Maisy and Chess!

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  2. I like learning more about Meghan’s private life. Maybe she’ll have to bring her new Border Collie to work with her sometime (they are getting one, that’s pretty clear). In a future story, of course. See, I’m already looking ahead to more Meghan Bode Mysteries and this one’s not even done yet. A privateer? Now I haven’t heard of that before–must be a lapse in my history education. Very interesting.

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    • Privateering—state-sanctioned piracy with a long history. 🙂 Queen Elizabeth I used it to keep her coffers filled and to harry the Spanish with great success. Both the Continental Congress and some of the individual colonies authorized it during the American Revolution.

      I’m glad this glimpse of Meghan’s home life is resonating with readers. It sounds like John and Rick have their real-world counterparts, too, based on Kate’s comment above. Bringing the dog to work? Hmm, I wonder if a Border Collie could be trained to help in the field…. 😉

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  3. Bless her, I know she doesn’t want a boisterous dog (or dogs) but border collies are so sweet. And they really do herd things! I want to know more about Mr. Kent. So someone perhaps attacked him en route from Oak Grove to Fair Weather? Oh! Will his ghost be in a future chapter? Please?????

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    • I suspect Meghan knows she’s lost this battle. 😉 But the boys will have to wait until they move into that new house. And obedience training will be required of all family members.

      And I foresee that we’ll learn more about the unfortunate Mr. Kent. Could his spirit make a return to help right a wrong? That might be a fun twist. Was it the wind? Or was it the ghost of Josiah Kent…. Hmm. Let me check with Meghan on that. 😉

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  4. Woo-whooo! What a surprise! Privateers – such a great addition! Lots of interesting adventures/details/history available with that. Smugglers!
    (During one grad.art history research course we were handed objects and told to figure out their story, origin, and what they were worth – those little craftman’s markings who knew all that stuff? Love all the details you provide)
    Another fun post! (RC asked staff relay she’s breathless from the suspense!)

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    • Perhaps a gift of a virtual greenie and mousie will help RC with her breathing? I don’t want to keep her from the duties of the realm!

      I really hope Meghan will give me at least one more “short” story so I can put together a collection of them. Although this one is getting longer than I thought it would be…. The girl does like the attention, I think. 😉 She told me about the privateer at the very beginning, and I thought it was such a fun idea. So many story possibilities with a character like that!

      On a more serious note, I’ve just heard about the lockdown on the campus in Houston. May the situation please be resolved as peaceably and soon as possible.

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      • Been watching news for hours – niece goes there. Info still vague as area is locked down. 2 shot but not seriously. One hit in leg in library and crawled outside. Apparently their security plan worked. One gunman in police custody – I think they picked up another one. (All local schools also on lockdown and slowly releasing kids to parent as they arrive – bad traffic around all schools) New conference soon, but it’s over and no deaths. What’s with all the young shooting others? They learned it somewhere. Do they not understand consequences? Need to find that connection fast. (sorry probably more than you wanted to know)
        Gotta love that Meghan – love mysteries with history connections

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    • That is high praise coming from a writer as talented as you! 🙂 Meghan needs to finish the details of this one first, but I hope she has another story waiting in the wings. 😉

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  5. I love this insight into Meghan’s relationship… it fills out her character so nicely. And the border collies are such a nice touch after her feelings about the dogs at the old plantation.

    You also do nice work of writing historical passages about people of the past. So believable!

    I loved this latest installment. ; )

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    • Thanks, Anne! 🙂 Poor Meghan is outnumbered on the dog front, isn’t she? I’d bet a number of readers can sympathize with her, having been in a similar position with their kids. 😉 And Rick was so sneaky with the promotion reveal—how did he get through dinner without saying anything?

      I think having read so many county histories from the 1800s and early 1900s has influenced my writing of “historical” passages. They really did write in a very different style. 😉

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  6. I liked the glimpse into Meghan’s personal life, here. It’s long enough to personalize her a bit more as a mother and wife as well as an archaeologist, but not so long that we lose sight of the overarching plot. I also like the insertion of the historical account of J. Kent. It’s a neat way of incorporating such straight exposition without it necessarily “telling” in the way we try to balance with our showing. I could absolutely see those paragraphs in a historical journal.

    The first scene as a whole reads well. You’ve got a good ear for dialogue. Though, the “discretely monitor[ing]” sentence sounds a teeny bit clunky, to me. It’s quick and short, which is good, because you don’t want to get bogged down in unnecessary transition. But it kind of just dropped me into the scene. Once I was past that sentence, it reads pretty smoothly, especially the parental whispering back and forth about finances and whatnot. But, maybe you could try a slight shift of focus in those first two sentences? Something more like:

    ***After dinner and chores, the family settles in for the evening. John is already in the living room for his precious one hour of television, while, in the kitchen, Rick opens the Washington Post, and Meghan decides to do a bit of research (being sure to keep a discreet ear open to John’s choices of program, of course).
    Opening the browser on her tablet, Meghan is about to do a search on the silver flask’s hallmarks…when she’s met with “Bailey’s Border Collies,” a nearby breeder’s website.***

    I feel a bit of a jerk giving you a critique (especially about something so minor), because you didn’t ask for that. And, I’m not as in-tune with these characters, this situation, or Meghan’s voice as you are. And I certainly don’t want this to sound like, “You should write like me!” …But, I want to be a thoughtful and conscientious reader, and it was something I noticed.

    I’m enjoying the slow build of mystery with Kent, and I’m curious to see how the flip side of Meghan’s personal life developments affect what happens next!

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    • Hey, Mayumi, constructive criticism and suggestions are always welcome. We need them to grow and improve as writers. There’s plenty of work needed to expand and polish these stories before they’re ready for publication. And I can see how the “discretely monitoring” could pull you out of the story, and you make an excellent suggestion for revision. 🙂 So please don’t ever feel bad about offering ideas or impressions on any fiction I post. You’re helping me!

      When I read novels, I enjoy creative ways to “tell” information when showing doesn’t work. Overheard news stories on the radio, reading something in a newspaper or book, or similar techniques are fine in my book, so to speak. Some readers might not like them, but of course, nothing can appeal to everyone, right? I use some of these in my two novel WIPs, and I hope most readers won’t even notice them. 😉

      The fact that I’m writing these short mysteries is a complete surprise to me. That I’m doing it “live” on the blog is a total shock. 😉 I think my Muse is laughing over her mojito with every post!

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  7. This is very interesting, I’m enjoying the details about her search for an identity for the skeleton.
    If Meghan gets a dog, I’m sure she’ll make sure the dog learns to behave better than Maisy and Chess do!

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    • Oh, yes! Meghan will make sure Rick and John go to school with her and the dog. And I’m sure she’s having them read your blog, too, to see how bipeds and dogs should work together! Now, how does she break the news to Evelyn…. 😉

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  8. The plot thickens… And buying a house too.

    You got some interesting constructive criticism in the comments above, although the “new Senior Vice President of Marketing” kind of stood out to me as a shade obvious, dramatic license accepted of course. Good job though, you are keeping us coming back for more 🙂

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    • Thanks, Elliot. 🙂 Once these drafts are done, I’d still like to turn them into novellas by expanding the stories and polishing the structure and dialogue. Short stories are tough in some ways because there isn’t much time to set the scene or provide a lot of details.

      Meghan might surprise me like she did with this story, but I think I’ll need a break from writing live on the blog like this. It’s such a quick turnaround with so little time for editing. I don’t think I could be a regular columnist for a magazine or newspaper!

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  9. I’ve heard that border collies will actually run right through a closed door. Maybe Irish setters aren’t so bad in comparison! 🙂 I love how the mystery is unraveling and love the history involved. With the privateer and flask details, I can already get a sense of this character/ghost.

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  10. JM – great installment! I agree with many of the commenters – giving us a glimpse of Meghan’s personal life was a nice break from the action, yet you brought us right back into the thick of the mystery. So well written! I am really enjoying watching this story unfold.

    In your response to Elliot you said, “Once these drafts are done, I’d still like to turn them into novellas by expanding the stories and polishing the structure and dialogue.” I’m very interested in seeing your process of editing, polishing, and “finalizing” these drafts, even though they dont read like “drafts” to me at all. Great job!! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Arlene! 🙂 I have to consider these drafts because I don’t have much time to go through each installment as carefully as I would my novels. But I’ve also hoped that readers haven’t been going through them and thinking, “Oh, that dialogue needs work” or “This isn’t tying together very well.” I think, immodestly(!), that they are good for the level of editing and polishing they’ve received.

      Outliners would never attempt anything like this, writing each installment each week without more than a basic idea of the story in their head. I hope it shows that pantsing doesn’t necessarily mean “lower quality” work or require dozens and dozens of rewrites.

      This story is actually fleshing out more than I thought it might and may not need much expansion for the published version. When I get to the stage of finalizing them, I’ll do some posts about that process. 🙂

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      • You are definitely showing there is no right or wrong approach and pantsing certainly does not = “lower quality” at all! As a reader, it’s not often that we get to experience being so close to your creative process. You write, barely edit, we read, you get feedback. Thanks for that! 🙂

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  11. Goodness! In the few months you’ve been writing the Bode Mystery books, you’re writing has gotten better and better. Really, JM, the story seems to flow so effortlessly, with you knowing just when to switch gears…how much to reveal and when…
    I’m very impressed!
    I love that we’ve seen Meghan in her home environment and learned some facts about her husband and family; yet you didn’t veer too much off course. As a reader, I could identify with the emotions Meghan felt as she tried to subdue her excitement over househunting and settle back into researching J. Hunt: While she was doing that, I was trying to reconcile my desire to know more about the Bode family while being equally interested in learning more about the “buried deeds.”
    Quite simply, this is brillaint writing and I’m going right now to the next installment!

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    • Thank you, so very much! 🙂 It’s really encouraging to hear that you see growth in my writing here on the blog. If there wasn’t any, that wouldn’t be a good sign for my long-term writing prospects. All of my characters have come to me from out of the blue, but none more so than Meghan. I never knew when she first appeared as my nameless “poetic archaeologist” that she would get her own series of stories. Or that she’d have me writing them every week on the blog for a while. 😉

      I hope this means that the polishing of my novels will result in enjoyable stories, too! 🙂

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