The next morning, Meghan is in her lab when Jackson Carter stops by. He looks at the skeleton laid out on a table and bows his head. Meghan recognizes the prayer and stands by quietly.
“Miss Evelyn called last night,” he says. “She wants to know when the, pardon the expression, Indian can go to a museum.”
“You’d better sit down, Mr. Carter, while I show you what we found.”
Meghan takes a tray from the drying rack and sets it on another table. The silver flask, buttons, and buckles from the grave gleam in the morning light. “He’s from the eighteenth century. And if the flask is his, he’s Josiah Kent, a merchant-turned-privateer who was thought to have been murdered by highwaymen in 1779. His body was never found.”
Jackson whistles and slumps in his chair. “Miss Evelyn won’t like this one bit, Dr. Bode. You’re saying those stories about Abraham Walker are true. He was a Tory.”
“I’m not saying that at all. Anyone in the house could have killed him. Maybe friends or relatives were staying with the Walkers and one of them did it.”
“You think a house guest managed to sneak a dead body into the cellar and bury it with no one noticing?”
“Would it have been any easier for Abraham Walker? Family and servants didn’t see anything?”
“Isn’t it more likely the family knew he did it and kept it quiet?”
“Probably,” Meghan admits. “But Abraham is Evelyn’s fourth great-grandfather. Maybe it was one of his younger brothers. We can’t be sure.”
“Still, it’ll be too close to home for her. She won’t like this.”
“Someone won’t like something? That sounds like a promising story,” says a voice from the doorway.
Meghan turns and rises from her chair. “Who are you?”
“Aaron Faulkner, Virginia Suburban Daily. We’re doing a story on the body you found at the Wyndham Thicket B&B.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, come now—Ms. Bode, isn’t it?”
“That’s Dr. BO-duh,” Jackson corrects. “Where did you hear this?”
“And you must be Jackson Carter, the land manager. My sources are confidential.”
“Your sources are mistaken,” Meghan says, walking to the door to kick out the reporter. “There’s no story here.”
Faulkner is only of average height and build, but he doesn’t move except to reach into his pocket and show the contents to Meghan. “You’re telling me this isn’t you at Wyndham Thicket yesterday? Digging up a skeleton with another professor?”
Meghan’s cheeks flush as she looks at the photo in Faulkner’s hand. “It was you in the woods. The sun was reflecting off your camera lens. That’s what I saw.”
“You were at the farm yesterday?” Jackson asks, joining Meghan by the door. “That’s trespassing, Mr. Faulkner, and I’ll call the police.”
“Not me, Jackson. Someone sent me the photo last night.”
“That’s Mr. Carter to you. I’ll still report this. No one had permission to be on the farm yesterday except Dr. Bode and her crew. It’s still trespassing, and that photo is evidence. I’ll thank you to give it to me.” Jackson holds out his left hand while pulling out his cell phone with his right.
“Sure, take it. I can always print another copy from the file.”
Jackson takes the photo and leaves the room to make his call.
Faulkner turns to address Meghan. “Burial excavation permits in Virginia carry a public notice requirement. How did you get that waived?”
Meghan doesn’t answer immediately. No local reporter would know such an obscure fact offhand. Faulkner’s source must know something of the law. She deflects the question. “I can’t discuss details of a project without permission from a landowner or funding agency, and I don’t have it. You should direct your questions to the Brownes.”
“Sure, sure, I understand. Your comments would have fleshed out the story, but I don’t need them. A body buried in the old Walker cellar. The Brownes should be grateful. Think of the free publicity they’ll get.”
“I think it’s best if you leave now, Mr. Faulkner.”
“No problem, Dr. Bode. If you want to read the article, it’ll be in Friday’s paper.”
Crap, Meghan thinks. How much worse can this get?
Jackson returns to the lab. “I passed Faulkner in the hall and gave him fair warning. The Brownes will sue the paper if anything’s published. I called Mr. Browne, not the police. His law firm will file the report and contact the Daily.”
Meghan paces through the room. “Someone was in the woods yesterday, spying on us and taking photos. Who? My crew knows not to tell anyone. Evelyn and Douglas sure as hell didn’t. And why would anybody care? Why would anyone think there’s a story in any of this?”
“I don’t know why, but I think I know who.”
“Who’s been staying at the B&B nearly every weekend and entertaining the other guests with all the old stories Miss Evelyn hates?”
“Oh, damn. Frank Sloma.”
“That’s the first thought that crossed Mr. Browne’s mind, too.”
“That I don’t know. But I’m sure the Brownes will figure it out.”
I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 10 next Tuesday.