Buried Deeds — Part 11 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

Meghan and her crew pull into the drive at Wyndham Thicket Farm early Monday morning. The gate is closed, but Jackson Carter is waiting and opens it for her. Meghan rolls down the truck window and leans out.

“Why the locked gate, Mr. Carter?”

“Too many curious people. They want to see where “the body” was found. They started driving up to the house Saturday morning, bothering the guests—and the Brownes. Some of them walked into the fields without so much as asking for permission. Can you imagine what they would say if we did the same in their yard? Miss Evelyn’s been beside herself all weekend, even though we locked up and called in all the staff to make sure no one’s coming in from other properties. You shouldn’t run into anyone, but let me know if you do.”

“Oh, no,” Meghan says, now glad that she locked her lab and office this morning. “But this should all blow over soon. The next story will come along to distract everyone before you know it.”

When she reaches the parking lot, she emails the Anthropology department to warn everyone about potential “visitors” and to remind them not to let anyone into the archaeology lab. There’s no law giving anyone “the right” to see Josiah Kent’s skeleton.

The air is frosty, and the soil crunches underfoot as she and the crew carry field supplies to the site. As they unpack their gear and remove the protective plastic sheeting from the open units, a voice calls out from behind them. “Small world, Dr. Bode.”

Meghan straightens and turns to face the newcomer, a solidly built man with black hair and brown eyes. “Detective Sandberg? How nice to see you. I thought a regular officer would be here.”

The two met several months before, when Sandberg consulted with Meghan after a jogger’s dog found a bone in a county park. The bone turned out to be human, and Meghan was brought in to excavate the skeleton. She identified the victim through historic newspaper accounts, solving a murder no one had even known had happened.

Tom Sandberg shoves his hands into his coat pockets. “So did I. But a uniform isn’t good enough for some people.”

“I think I understand. Can I do anything to help?”

“Tell me what you saw on Tuesday.”

Meghan recounts how she saw two flashes of light from the woods while in the cellar and then one when they were loading the trucks.

“Where were you standing?”

She shows Sandberg the spot, and he climbs into the cellar with her.

“And where did you see the flashes?”

Meghan points and tries to describe the relative height and position, but the tree branches all look alike.

“Let’s try another way,” Sandberg says. “Got any duct tape?”

They walk back to the parking lot where Meghan grabs a roll from her truck and Sandberg pulls a flashlight and binoculars from his car. Returning to the site, he takes one of Meghan’s shovels and attaches the flashlight to the end of the handle at a right angle and flips the switch. The beam is bright and intense, and Meghan can see it even in the morning light.

Sandberg heads to the tree line and raises the flashlight. After a few minutes of Meghan calling out “a few steps to your right—too far” and “a few inches higher—not that much,” he has an idea where to look in the woods.

While Sandberg searches for evidence, Meghan continues her work in the house cellar. She’s relieved that none of the other floor bricks are out of place—as far as she can tell. More than a third of the area remains to be excavated. Please, no more skeletons, she thinks. One is one too many.

Other than Josiah Kent’s skeleton, the artifacts in the cellar are what she expects from a house that was occupied for nearly one hundred and fifty years. Nails are most common, followed by broken dishes and glasses. She’s also found a few household items such as scissors, thimbles, and furniture handles. Evelyn will like the bits of expensive porcelain and wine glasses. But as Meghan suspected, there are far more “middling” ceramics in the assemblage. Tin-glazed earthenware likely held the everyday meals in the 1700s, not Chinese porcelain.

tin-glazed earthenware and porcelain

She stands to pass a bucket of soil to one of her students for screening. As she does, she hears her name called from the woods. Turning, she sees a flash of light in the trees. As best as she can tell, it’s coming from the same position as Tuesday. Assuming Sandberg is watching, she waves and gives a thumbs up.

A few minutes later, Sandberg rejoins her. “So that was the right spot?”

“I think so. I really didn’t give it much thought before.”

“It makes the most sense. I was standing in a hunting blind. There’s a good view of your excavations from there. And with the binoculars, you were clear as day. Anyone with a decent zoom lens could have taken that photo.”

“I don’t suppose they dropped a business card or anything helpful like that, did they?”

Sandberg laughs. “I should be so lucky. There was nothing. Any ideas why someone would spy on your work?”

“Are you kidding? This isn’t some temple in South America where a king’s buried with a ton of gold. And don’t tell Evelyn I said this, but nobody really famous or important lived here. The Walkers may have been local gentry, but they weren’t George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. No one other than family, local historians, and historic archaeologists like me would be interested in this.”

“What do you think of Mrs. Browne’s idea that it was Frank Sloma?”

“I suppose it could be. At first I thought he was just someone who likes to stir up trouble. But now, I think there’s more to it.”

“What changed your mind?”

“I did a search for him online, and I didn’t find anything. Not a single hit.”

“I’m not surprised. I can access more resources than you, and he’s not there, either.”

“Oh,” Meghan says, unsure what to think.

“And he and his wife, if that’s who she really is, didn’t come down here this weekend. Do you remember him saying anything about himself?”

“Just that he was an accountant somewhere around DC and had a couple of kids. Funny, for all his talking, not much of it was about him.”

“Some people are good at that. I’ll bet we never hear from Frank Sloma again.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean he doesn’t exist. It was a cover.”

Meghan can’t choke back a laugh. “Are you saying he’s a spy?”

Sandberg smiles. “Like the CIA? No. Think business.”

“But this is a B&B, not a Fortune 500 company. Who would spy on this place?”

“Not the place. The owners. Don’t ever let them hear you say nobody important lived here. I may not be a big-city detective, but I know Douglas Browne’s a senior partner in a politically connected DC law firm. Men like him make enemies every day.”

“Point taken. But why would Frank Sloma, whoever he is, want a story in the paper? He must have known the Brownes would assume it was him. Why bring that attention to himself?”

“I’m still working on that one. But I’m sure he had his reasons.”

Sandberg checks his watch. “Time for me to go. I’ve got more serious cases to deal with.” He grimaces. “Don’t tell the Brownes or my chief I said that. Good to see you again, Dr. Bode. Let me know if you see anything else strange out here.”

Meghan returns to her excavations. While she works on a test unit, she wonders about Frank Sloma, corporate spy. The idea seems absurd—except for the fact that he apparently doesn’t exist. Is someone out to get Douglas Browne in some way? A client he unsuccessfully defended? Someone he sent to prison?

Concentrate on the archaeology, she tells herself. Whatever’s going on with Sloma and the Brownes doesn’t involve you.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 12 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.

54 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 11 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

  1. I love your style of writing. You give just the right amount of description–enough so the reader knows where he/she is or what a character looks like, but not so much that the reader is weighted down. This is a hard technique to conquer (hope to get there myself someday…), and I think you do it beautifully.

    And I’m glad to see Detective Sandberg back! That means something sinister is likely on its way…

    Great installment, JM!

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    • I suspect my betas could tell you my style varies from story to story. Neither of the two novels is written like this—or like the other. That’s something else an agent might consider a “strike” against me. Writers are supposed to be consistent so they keep a consistent fan base. They might tell me to stick with one style until I build an audience—and then use an alias for something different. But I have to go with what feels right for each story as it comes.

      I was wondering what readers would think of bringing back Sandberg. 😉 I’ve explained to Meghan we need a good reason for it!

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    • Thanks, Margarita! I’m in a similar place as I was with the last one—how do I neatly wrap this up?! But Meghan didn’t steer me wrong last time, so I trust her to lay a good course here, too. 😉

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  2. Dum, dum, dum! (suspenseful music as the plot thickens). Great start to my morning. Glad to see Sandberg back. I hope he figures out the mystery of Frank Sloma (or slimey).

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    • Slimey! He does come across that way, doesn’t he? I glad the response to Sandberg’s return is good so far. Not that he’s happy to be doing this kind of legwork. 😉

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  3. Ah, a politically connected DC law firm. View from a convenient duck blind – great for camera shots. Big business…and that re-zoning briefly mentioned…floor bricks not moved (as far as she can tell)…porcelain bits?
    Intriguing details scattered everywhere.
    Great fun!

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    • As long as Meghan helps me pull them all together in a good way, I’ll be happy. I’m learning that she enjoys holding back on that part of the story until the very end. I think she likes to see me nervous. And she’s also using it as a bargaining chip against the characters from the novels…. There’s some squabbling going on with them that I can feel bubbling away somewhere at the quantum level!

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  4. Ooooh! Now I’m wondering even more about Frank Sloma. Huh.

    You do such a nice job with the serial aspect of this story. That’s very tough to manage, and you do a great job with it, JM.

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    • Thanks, Anne. 🙂 It’s really all Meghan. She came up with the ideas and brought me along for the ride. But I don’t like the way she and the characters from the novels are fighting right now. I really feel like I’m caught in the middle. I don’t want the situation to turn ugly. 😉 If I could just get some tranquilizers into their drinks…. 😉

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      • The ugliness is what creates tension, which is what keeps readers coming back, which is what I always try to avoid in my writing… which is exactly the wrong thing to do. ; ) Keep ’em riled up. We’ll keep coming back for more.

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        • Oooh, it’s one of those “cross commenting events!” I was just leaving a message on your post when I got the notification for this one. 🙂 If that ugliness will get Meghan working on the next episode, they can have at it all they want. 😉

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  5. I’m glad to see Sandberg back too! I didn’t think he would figure into this story. The re-introduction was nicely done. Another great installment. I can’t wait to see how you & Meghan pull all these pieces together! I love the story and every time you leave me wanting more! 🙂

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    • Can you do me a favor and send some helpful thoughts Meghan’s way? I’d really like to get started on the next episode…. 😉 I just have to take a deep breath and trust her. She did great with the first story, and I’m sure she’s just yanking my chain a bit like she did last time! I should track down Sandberg and talk with him in the meantime. 😉

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    • To be honest, neither did I. 🙂 I thought he was something else, but Meghan said otherwise in this installment. I’m trying to get her to give me more details today, but she seems to be off doing something else…. I honestly think she’s doing it to keep my other characters away from the blog!

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  6. First off, I love this line of description: The air is frosty, and the soil crunches underfoot as she and the crew carry field supplies to the site. It’s simple and straightforward, but it transports us instantly to the feel of the scene. Super!

    Second, Sandberg is a great addition to this mystery. I already “dig” his character! (No pun intended.) He’s got a strong back-and-forth rapport with Meghan, and it’s interesting to see his practical detective techniques in play, as opposed to Meghan’s more precise scientific ones. I also like his down-to-earth manner, especially all the tiny details you add to the character (grimaces, checks his watch, shoves his hands in his pockets); they really flesh him out.

    What a neat little chapter! I can’t wait for next installment, now. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Mayumi. 🙂 I’m giving Meghan a bit of a hard time right now, but she’s normally a great character to work with. She makes me push my boundaries, and I think that’s making me a better writer. I knew when we started the story that Sandberg would make a duty-related appearance, but I wasn’t sure what the event would be. Now, I do. 🙂 There are at least a few more episodes to this story, but heck if I know just how many!

      Meghan—it’s time to work on the next one! Get yourself back here, please! 😀

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  7. All kinds of mysteries going on here. Sloma is sounding stranger by the minute and I’m still wondering about the skeleton. I like the frosty air, crunching underfoot description too – we’ve had a lot of that lately!

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    • Ah, yes. Even with the appearance of Sandberg and the suggestion that Sloma’s a corporate spy, we can’t forget Meghan’s real work! As I write this, we’re getting a mushy mix of snow and rain, which is supposed to turn to all snow overnight. Yuck! We’ll see if the forecasters are right about temps reaching the mid-40s tomorrow! We seem to go from one extreme to another this winter. I am so ready for spring!

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    • Glass holds up very well. The original item is usually broken (that’s why it was thrown away), but the fragments don’t deteriorate easily. Pottery that’s been fired at very high temperatures is also durable. If it was fired at lower temperatures (like many early varieties), it will break down more easily. Some metals hold up better than others. Iron rusts easily and will degrade if soil conditions aren’t good for its preservation. Silver and gold often just need a light cleaning to look as good as new, even after thousands of years in the ground.

      In general, the more acidic the soils, the poorer the preservation of archaeological materials. But under ideal conditions, like peat bogs, even fabric and leather can hold up through time. The bog bodies from northern Europe are great examples of that. Deserts and arctic areas can also be great places for archaeological preservation—like mummies and mammoths.

      (I don’t think I’d be brave enough to try a mammoth steak, though. Fifteen thousand years or more is a long time on the shelf!)

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  8. JM, once I get moved I’m going to click that link and catch up. Love your writing, however. Very clean and holds your attention. Always enjoy stopping by even if I’m running behind in the race.

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    • If my views this week are any indication, a lot of bloggers are busy with real life. 😉 Don’t worry about keeping up with Meghan—the stories will stick around on that page. I just hope you’ll soon find yourself settled into a new home and catching up with your life!

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  9. I love the little history snippets in the story, to give people more of an idea about things, like earthenware vs porcelain. So Frank Sloma IS an alias! Hmmm. But what’s his deal, see?

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    • We’ll just have to wait and see what Meghan and Sandberg uncover. 😉 Seriously, I have to wait, too. Meghan’s still being coy. She’s really enjoying the feedback from readers and wants to savor it as long as possible. 😉

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  10. I’m late stopping by this week, I hope Meghan didn’t think I’d forgotten her! There’s a lot going on now, I’m on the edge of my seat again.

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    • I’ve reminded Meghan we need a good reason to bring back Sandberg. I’m told there is one. 😉 And I’ve now been wondering how many people would be willing to try a mammoth steak….

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  11. What a funny mistake I made on first read-through! When I got to the end of this sentence: “Meghan points and tries to describe the relative height and position, but the tree branches all look alike.” I scrolled too far and missed the very NEXT sentence in which they mention duct tape. In my ignorance I continued on, noting that Meghan has “reached in for a roll.” I wondered why on earth you chose that moment in the story to introduce food! Seriously!
    On the second reading, I saw my obvious mistake and haven’t stopped chuckling since!

    Ok now to the real comments:
    I love recurring characters and you introduced the Detective perfectly; just enough info to remind book 1 readers where and how they “know” him, but not so much that new readers are left wondering if jumping in late might cause comprehension problems! These are the character management issues that make or break single books within sets, and you jumped the hurdle nicely. 🙂
    The plot thickens! I knew from the start you’d drop a bombshell about Sloma…you introduced him with an air of mystery and obnoxiousness: well laid groundwork for his potential as a bad guy…or red herring!

    I’m LOVING every word of this story, my friend!
    Bring on the next installment!

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    • That is so funny! Fieldwork can burn the calories, so maybe Meghan was a bit hungry at the moment. 😉 Amazing what missing one line can do to the story, isn’t it? 🙂

      I’m trusting that Meghan has brought Sandberg into this story for a good reason. Because not only is it important to reintroduce characters in a way that doesn’t require readers to go back to an earlier story, there has to be a good reason for bringing them back. When Meghan started telling me this story, I knew Sandberg would reappear, but I wasn’t sure how. Now that’s been settled . 😉 But his ultimate role is still taking shape in my mind—a little too slowly for my liking! Meghan pulled a bit of this with the first story, too, so I should be used to it. Of course, most writers don’t let the audience see a story in development like this…. And with my introverted nature, I never expected to give you and other readers such a “behind the scenes” view of my writing style!

      I just hope Meghan is reading these comments and won’t let you all down by taking out her frustrations with my other characters on you!

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