Buried Deeds — Part 9 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

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.”

“You do?”

“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.”

“But why?”

“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.

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.

53 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 9 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

  1. You’ve got me wondering about Sloma’s motivations if he was the one taking pictures. I like how mystery after mystery keeps cropping up. On a side note, why does everyone hate reporters so much? I know, I know, they can be obnoxious but I never was. 🙂

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    • Meghan’s wondering, too. 😉 Why on earth would anyone spy on her work? Reporters do have it rough sometimes. They make a great foil or scapegoat in stories, though, don’t they?

      My own experience with local reporters, which is limited to them covering some archaeological projects, is that they can get the details wrong. Many archaeologists I know have been as helpful as possible, even providing written “crib sheets” with correct spellings and dates. And then they still show up wrong in the article. I can see why they sometimes roll their eyes when the press shows up. 😉 I’m sure you always got the facts straight! 🙂

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  2. When I woke up this morning, I thought, “Yay, another Meghan Bode installment to read later.” Really, I did. 🙂 I look forward to these snippets, because not only do I learn about archaeology, but you throw in some history as well, not to mention a great mystery. Hopefully this series isn’t taking too much time away from your novel writing, but it’s certainly enjoyable for us. 🙂

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    • Well, the novel writing is on hold as I work on the revisions to the WIPs. So these mysteries are a nice way to keep doing something new at the same time. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that Meghan’s taken some plot twists that I wasn’t expecting when she first suggested the story. 😉 But I trust her to tie them all together at then end. Right, Meghan?

      I know she sneaked up on me with this second story, but I think we’ll need a little more of a break before a third one. If she has a third one. Which I hope she does, since I still like the idea of e-publishing a collection of three short mysteries. 🙂

      And thank you for the kind words. They really help silence that self-doubt for a while. 🙂

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  3. I thought the mystery was going to be mostly about what happened in the past – but it’s actually moved into the present and this just makes it more interesting! You’re definitely keeping me tuning in to your blog on Tuesdays.

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    • With the first mystery having been entirely of a (recent) historic nature, I wanted to bring this one into the present, too. Meghan has been rather vague on the details of how and why, but we’re getting there. I’m hoping tomorrow will be a good brainstorming session. 😉

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  4. I like the reporter (even though he’s a cad!) It’s good to have fully fleshed minor characters and I’d like to see more of him in the story 😉

    The only thing that stuck out for me in this excerpt were the words “to kick out” when Meghan walked to the door. For some reason they seemed out of character for her (I guess because the word ‘kick’ has specific connotations). Hope you don’t mind getting feedback like this – otherwise just tell me to shut up 😀

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    • I don’t mind constructive comments at all. Actually, I welcome them. 🙂 That’s a good point about “kicking out” the reporter. Meghan may swear a bit and think mean thoughts at times, but she doesn’t usually express them in a physical or violent sense. Good catch! 🙂

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  5. Like Weebles – I knew he was up to something…there was an undercurrent ( well done!)
    Meghan gets a gold star for diplomacy and smarts with this encounter. (Curious about the old property/estate lines and the recent land boundaries with the neighbors….and how those family histories impact things….)
    Great job!

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    • In Maryland at least, and probably much of Virginia, the old plantations are nowhere close to what they used to be in size. They’ve been subdivided for centuries, really, even back into the 1600s and 1700s. That continued into the 1800s, especially after the Civil War. Then with suburbanization in the 1900s and 2000s…. Well, doing chain-of-title research is usually a massive headache for a genealogist or archaeologist. People working for title companies have it easy—they usually don’t have to search for “clean” titles beyond 50 years or so. 🙂 Those of us doing historic research often have to take them back as far as possible. I’ve managed to get some back to the original patents, but that’s often impossible. Somewhere the wills/deeds usually go unrecorded or got lost.

      Frank Sloma, if it is him, must have some reason for this interest, right? 😉

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      • The old documents – if they survive – are such stories…and all that script writing…not to mention nonstandard spelling. Microfilm has made access easier…to find…on the eyes? There’s something about holding the old paper, anyway…that’s becoming more rare in order to protect them. Sigh
        Land’s history is fascinating – can be a character in it’s own right?

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        • Land as a character in its own right—that is such a great way to think of it. Have you read any of James Michener’s novels? He really incorporated so much of that in many of his stories. And, of course, it’s often land (and its resources) that drives humans and their behaviors, whether we realize it or not.

          I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve spent in front of microfilm readers. Even with more records coming on-line and the ability to view them at home on my computer, my eyes aren’t any happier straining to decipher the faded handwriting. I curse those old record-keepers who tried to extend their limited ink supplies by watering them down!

          The handwriting is somewhat similar to ours back to the 1700s. But in the 1600s (and a few oldsters writing into the 1700s)? Wow. You can see the Gothic influences in the letters. The writing looks like it belongs in Middle English!

          Spelling. Oh boy, I won’t even get into that. When I think of how many ways my maternal grandfather spelled the family name when they came to the US, my head reels! 🙂

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          • I’ve read all his books – seems like Thomas Hardy’s themes dealt with environment’s indifference to mankind?( and how it still affected characters and their behavior )
            My grandmother (geneologist and research librarian) would say anything after 1700 wasn’t old. I used to love to see “old” letters and documents – window to another world – one that shaped ours…and all that creative spelling.

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  6. Fun! And really, reporters aren’t the evil people you might read about in blog posts. ; ) (Sorry, I had to stick up for my profession.)

    Can’t wait to hear what will happen now that the story is out…. you’re doing a great job of throwing problems in Meghan’s way… it’s a great exercise in keeping the tension high.

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    • Ah, as I mentioned to Sheila above, reporters do make good foils and scapegoats, though, don’t they? To be fair, they can also be the heroes, bringing wrongdoers to the light of day and justice. 🙂 One of my cousins is a retired journalism teacher, and I hope she wouldn’t be miffed at this character!

      Maybe my writing is beginning to mature with Meghan? I hope so. Then maybe I can get more of that tension into the existing WIPs and have an easier time putting it into the later ones!

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    • I had someone ask me about the pronunciation, so I thought I should slip it into the story. The name is originally Dutch, and I honestly don’t know if they would pronounce it as one or two syllables. But names and spellings get shifted around when people move to new countries, and no matter what the name originally sounded like, the Bodes in this story use two syllables.

      As a first-generation American on my mother’s side, I’ve experienced a lot of this myself.

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  7. JM, the pacing and dialogue are wonderful. I stayed interested, wanted to know more and the dialogue sounded authentic , as if these were REAL people. I might have missed the beginning of this series, but with or without a description, I’ve got a picture of Meghan in my mind just from the way in which she presents herself to others and her manner of speaking. Have you given your readers that — a physical description? I WANT to know so know that your writing is doing exactly what pulls a reader in — caring about the characters, caring about what happens to them and wanting to know more!

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    • As I recall, I mentioned in the first story that she’s blonde, has brown eyes, and is of what she considers average looks, with stylish glasses. 🙂 But I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in this story. If I do publish three stories as a a single volume, some description near the beginning might suffice for all three.

      I tend not to give descriptions beyond the basics in my WIPs because I want readers to feel free to develop their own idea of what the characters look like. That also ties into why I wouldn’t want “famous” actors portraying them in movies and why I don’t say they look like certain actors.

      Thank you so much, Brigitte, for the kind words! As I told Carrie above, such encouragement really helps beat back that nasty self-doubt. I think Meghan has the benefit of me drafting two novels before her story. The writing may be showing more maturity than the previous drafts of the novels do. If that’s the case, I might just be on the right track. 😉

      I hope the story will keep your interest through the end!

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  8. Awesome! I love how you turned up the tension with the pesky reporter. After reading all of these comments, JM, I can’t imagine why you should be feeling any doubt about these stories. They are interesting, well-written, and truly unpredictable. You have found an audience that wants more. 🙂

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    • Aw, thanks, Kate. 🙂 I’m afraid self-doubt is an integral part of my psyche—always has been, and I suspect it always will be. As I noted to Anne above, I’m hoping the added layers of tension in this story show that I’m growing as a writer. This has been a weak point in my earlier writing. I hope I’m working it into the WIPs and will find it easier to do in future stories. I’ll try not to disappoint Meghan or you and other readers with the rest of the story. 🙂

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  9. Ha! I knew that awful Frank Sloma would worm his way back into this story. Loved how you twisted this plot into a different tension with the media.

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    • Now Meghan has to figure out why there’s such interest in her work from people other than Evelyn…. 😉 I was hoping to brainstorm the next episode with her tomorrow, but I feel a cold coming on today. Tomorrow could be a bit rough. 😦

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      • Yeah, I’m interested in that too…but relax and take care of yourself. Meghan’s story can wait until you’re in tip top shape again and don’t feel icky. Get better.

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  10. Really nice job, using the reporter to sum up the mystery so far, and its ramifications for those involved. I like the subtle tension regarding Evelyn, too; her presence is well felt even though she’s nowhere nearby! 🙂

    I’d thought these “episodes” were written out beforehand, because they’re so succinct. But – reading through some other comments – I see you write week to week? That’s really impressive! I’m guessing you already have the story plotted (I’d think you’d have to do, it being a mystery, but I could be wrong), but write each episode before Tuesday? Wow! 😀

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    • Thanks, Mayumi. 🙂 I had a rough outline in my head when I started this story, which is more than I had with her first. I knew who Meghan would find and what he was. I also know roughly why people are interested. But it’s a very rough idea; there’s no formal outline. You can imagine that I fear writing myself into a corner! But I also hope I’m showing that pantsing doesn’t necessarily mean sloppy and unorganized writing that requires massive rewrites. Letting our creative sides run free can work. 🙂

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      • No wonder you steer clear of weekly challenges. You’ve got enough on your plate already! 😀 Looking forward to the next installment even more, now!

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    • Why is WordPress suddenly telling me that I’ve commented on my own posts?! Do they think I’m doing it in my sleep?! Sorry, Kourtney, but I just replied to two other comments, and the orange notification thingy lit up to tell me I commented on those comments. Well DUH! 😛

      A cold is settling in on me, so I hope Meghan and I can continue to weave these threads together before next Tuesday. 😉 This story’s a bit longer than I expected for the blog. She may be feeding me the full version. 😉

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  11. JM, first let me know I hope you are feeling better and beating that cold!

    Second, let me say when I got to the end of this segment I thought “No!” I don’t want it to end. I want more. 🙂 Another great installment! Just when I thought there was enough for Meghan (and us) to digest — how would she tell Evelyn and what would Evelyn think, etc — you throw in another obstacle. Nicely done. Keep it up … but after you get well!

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    • Thanks, Arlene. 🙂 I’m beginning to think the cold might be a sinus infection. The symptoms aren’t behaving like those for a cold normally do.

      I’m hoping to have the next installment done for next Tuesday, but if it doesn’t happen, Meghan will have to wait a week. 😉 When this story is done, I think we will need a bit of a break before we tackle a third.

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  12. I enjoyed this scene with the reporter–very intriguing. Is someone out to discredit the Brownes? If so, why? Revenge for a murdered ancestor? Ooooh…such fun to think about.

    On another note–did you happen to see the news about the Easter Island heads…um…now humongous statues? I’m guessing you’re in the loop–this is big news in the archaeology world, no? I’m curious to know what you think about that.

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    • Someone must be after something…. Why spy on Meghan’s work otherwise…? We’ll see if Meghan can get me the details tomorrow. 😉 Being under the weather takes a toll on the writing, I’m afraid.

      I did see that this has made the news. To be honest, though, it’s hard to keep up with archaeological developments outside one’s own area—if you want a life outside your career. Given the “publish or perish” dilemma, there are so many articles and books to keep up with. I didn’t know that statues had been found with “complete” bodies, but I’ve never actually looked at the statues as “just heads.” When you look at close-up photos, you can see there are torsos and arms. They’re just at a reduced scale. But events like this show us that there’s often more to the world than we thought we knew. 😉

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  13. I’m definitely going to have to go back and start at the beginning. Wonderful writing, however, JM. Been absent for a while but once I get moved I’ll start catching up. You’ve obviously been busy as well. Good stuff.

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    • Thanks, Susie! And I know how moving goes. Funny, the number of times my husband and I have done it, you’d think we enjoy all that mess and upheaval. 😉 Does this mean you’ve found a new place, or are you going into temporary quarters?

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      • JM, well yes, no and maybe would be the way to answer that. Have a house in our sights. Can we move in before we have to move out? Who knows. Will we get the house. Not sure. There’s a definite maybe from me. Hah.

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  14. On the one hand it makes me wonder why the family would be too bothered if it was generations ago, but on the other hand, the politics of it, the family politics as well, I can sort of see.

    Interesting having a tell tale around 🙂

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    • In this part of the country, there are a lot of folks who still take great pride in their family history. Even if they’re no longer living on the old plantations, they still feel that tie to their roots. In some areas, you might think the Civil War happened last year the way people talk about it. Colonial Dames, Daughters (and Sons) of the American Revolution, and other such groups have large memberships in the Mid-Atlantic states. 😉 To learn “disparaging” facts about a beloved ancestor can raise strong feelings even in the 21st century. Meghan’s doing her best to tiptoe around Evelyn….

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