Buried Deeds — Part 12 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

“I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything about the project without permission from the landowners. You’ll have to talk with them first.”

Meghan hangs up the phone. It’s three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, and she’s fielded calls from twelve reporters hoping for a story on the findings at Wyndham Thicket Farm.

“It won’t get you anywhere, but you can talk to them,” she mutters, returning to her Internet research on Josiah Kent.

“The story will die down at some point,” Irene Kristoff says, taking measurements of Kent’s long bones. “How was your weekend?”

“Ugh. Cleaning our house and looking at others. I can’t believe Rick and I are really doing this.”

“Come on, cleaning must take you ten minutes. Your house is always spotless.”

“Ha, fooled you. It only looks that way when company’s coming.”

“Did you see any you like?”

“A couple places, but they need a lot of work. We’ve got time. It’s not like our house will sell right away. The first showing was this morning. What can you say about Josiah Kent so far?”

“He was tall for the day, just over six foot. Looks to be in his forties. No obvious signs of disease or heavy wear and tear on the bones. Cause of death is a no-brainer.”

“Musket ball to the brain will do it every time.”

“Maybe not every, but most. This one did the deed. Finding anything on the ‘net?”

“A few genealogies. Most of them quote the county history legend about him disappearing at the hands of highwaymen. Apparently he left three teenage children and a widow and was a real Patriot.”

“And Abraham Walker wasn’t.”

“We don’t know that,” Meghan says with a groan. “Maybe it was a younger brother. Or a servant. Maybe Kent stopped at the house and committed suicide while he was there.”

Irene looks up from the skeleton and over her glasses at Meghan. “Suicide? Seriously? He found a way to shoot himself from twenty or thirty feet away and then buried himself in the cellar?”

“Fine, it was murder,” Meghan says, jabbing at another link in her browser. “But we don’t know it was Abraham Walker.”

“And now you’ve got a spy on your tail. Your projects are really getting interesting these days.”

“In all the wrong ways. This was supposed to be my dream project. A colonial plantation with great funding for real excavations and research. A great chance to compare the written history with the archaeological data. And now this,” she says, pointing at the skeleton.

“You’re always saying that archaeology contradicts history. Seems to me this is just supporting evidence.”

“I wouldn’t mind if the money was coming from someone other than a proud descendant. I’m afraid she’ll pull the funding and stop the project.”

Irene walks around the lab to stretch her back. “Talk her out of it. Once a story’s out, trying to cover it up only gets people more interested. You can make it clear that anyone in the house could have done it. I mean, unless you find a diary where the murderer confesses, we’ll never really know.”

“Worth a try I suppose.”

“People love this stuff, Meghan. Evelyn might not be happy right now, but it’s great publicity for her B&B. Appeal to her business side if you have to. Any idea who the spy is?”

“Not a clue. Maybe someone who doesn’t like Douglas Browne.”

“That must narrow it down,” Irene says, returning to her analysis.

What a job, Meghan thinks. On a good day, someone cracks nasty jokes about you. A bad day means you make an enemy who might try to kill you. No thanks.

Her Web searches are fruitless. What little she finds about Josiah Kent is all the same. One family researcher copying another, who copied from someone else, who copied the disappearance and haunting from the county history. No one has uploaded any information from original sources such as deeds or tax lists. She’ll need to go to the Library of Virginia to do the research.

Maybe Saturday, she thinks, if we don’t look at houses then. Why does everything happen at once?

Her office phone rings, and Irene laughs. “Reporter number thirteen?”

“Not this time,” Meghan says. “They can leave a message.”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 13 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.

52 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 12 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • From what I read about my fellow bloggers’ daily lives, Meghan may not have it too bad. 😉 I’ll expand on this in my reply to Carrie’s comment below, but it’s really hard for me to write so many obstacles in a story!

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    • I have a really hard time writing this way, actually. I’m one of those readers who will start thinking, “Oh, come on—how much can really happen to this character in one story?” Maybe that means my novels won’t find much of an audience with modern readers who are really into more and more action and more and more obstacles. But I hope there are still some readers who like to catch their breath after an action scene. 😉

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      • Yes, the writing books really recommend making so many bad things happen to your characters that you feel bad for doing so. But I agree, a respite can be nice. Then again, I’m currently ‘addicted’ to the series ‘Prison Break’ and those writers really know what they’re doing. Just when you think one thing is over and you can relax, something new comes along. I’m always on the edge of my seat!

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        • Right now, I don’t know what comments my betas will have on the current draft of Crossroads. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they say I have to throw more obstacles in the characters’ paths. (No suggestions for more revisions/reworking would surprise me, actually.) If they do, I’m not sure what I would do—the book might not be “commercial” enough for today’s market. And I’m not sure I could do the revisions that would make it commercial, especially if it would become a different story than I wanted to tell.

          Most experts would probably say suck it up and write a book that most people today want to read. Only a few might say stick with my vision and be happy with whatever niche audience I find. It’ll all depend on what these betas say. 😉

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          • The good thing about fiction is that there’s not just one type of book people want to read. I’m sure you’ll find a niche. Maybe you’ll even find a large niche. That would be nice. 🙂

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    • I was typing my reply to Carrie above when your comment came in. And I was saying I hope there are still readers who want to catch their breath after an action scene. As a reader, I have a hard time with books where the action never stops, even thrillers. I need some breaks. And when a novel isn’t a thriller, I can’t handle stories that make Job’s life look like a cake walk. To me, there’s only so much that can realistically happen to a character over the course of a story. But I know that puts me out of step with “the market.”

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    • History is written by people. And people have agendas, even when they’re writing “the facts.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a respected scholar of the time who witnessed the events or a family historian recording a story about his great-great-great grandfather. The writer is coming from a particular background, has an intended audience to satisfy, and his life could depend on how he portrays his sponsor. (Think a usurper king who wants you to write about the war that led to him taking the throne. Will you say his predecessor was a great guy loved by his subjects, even if it was true?)

      A family history might tell how great-great-great grandfather and his families were teetotalers. And then an archaeologist excavates the privies and finds them full of liquor bottles from the time. Archaeologist William Rathje has made a career of studying modern garbage disposal here in the US. What we claim to do (or even believe we do) is often contradicted by the physical evidence we leave behind.

      Most people still think the Egyptian pyramids were built by an army of slaves. But the archaeological investigations clearly show a free population who lived in good housing, ate good food, and had access to the best medical care of the day. The work may have been required as a form of paying your taxes, but you lived as comfortably (or better) than you did at home.

      So when someone says we don’t need archaeology because we have historical records, my colleagues and I will often explain in more detail than you wanted why this isn’t so. 😉

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      • Fascinating. The relics tell the real story that history, perception, politics, or social norms skewed over time. I never thought about it that way. It is like CSI, but without the TV show. I like the idea of using a dig to put together the pieces of a puzzle. When we were in Salzburg they were doing a dig next to the church. I was dying to help! Not that I am qualified, but I wanted to give it a go!

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        • There are lots of volunteer opportunities in archaeology. You can probably find some at historic sites in your area where you can spend an afternoon, or you can pay to help on sites all over the world with a group like Earthwatch. No experience or equipment required. 🙂

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  1. Sounds a bit like my life — everything happening at once! 🙂 I like the banter about the suicide comment because Meghan let off some steam. We can see that the pressure is getting to her. I like how the events are unfolding, although poor Meghan is about to tear out her hair!

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    • As I said to Anne and Carrie above, it’s really hard for me to write in all these obstacles. I feel like I’m the only one thinking “how much can realistically happen to this person in one story?” I’m already convinced all three beta readers will say I need to do more of this in Crossroads, and I’m not sure how to do it. I know—no one said this would be easy! I’m wondering if I should’ve been born 40 years earlier. My novel writing style might have been more in synch with the broader public’s reading expectations. 🙂

      Meghan is frustrated, and I’m glad it came through in what I wrote. And there’s more to come. Why can’t I get her to offer some ideas like this for the novels?! 😛

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    • What would we do without caller id? When I see those 800 numbers or “unavailables,” I just ignore the phone. Funny how they never leave a message. 😉 They must figure most people won’t bother to complain to the FCC and so they get away with it.

      It wouldn’t be good for that phone call to be a Chekov’s rifle, would it…. 😉

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  2. Over 6 foot? He really was tall for the time period – Pilgrim men were around 5’4”-5’7″?
    There stuff going on in here. LOve the comment where Meghan gets annoyed by the “records” which are often family history copied by another branch copied by another branch over and over…little actual documentation or original sources…..leaves a lot open.
    Will be interesting to see where the story goes next!

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    • I think Josiah Kent would have been an imposing figure in his day. I wonder what he did to warrant a musket ball to the head?

      I’ve looked at far too many family trees online that are like this. The same stories and information being copied endlessly with no source citations. Mine include primary records wherever possible! What really gets me is when people blindly copy information that’s clearly impossible. Some family trees have one of my 5Great grandmothers buried before she died. And they give a wrong year of death because she was still getting licenses for the ordinary for several years after that! Don’t just copy—do the research!

      Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😉

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  3. That really is true about genealogies and other local history type stuff—it ends up being one person copying another, and so on and so on and so on, until all of those “facts” become “truth.” And I like Irene, she’s sassy!

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    • I gave my genealogy rant to philosopher mouse above. 😉

      Irene is fun. She and Meghan are good friends and banter a lot. If Meghan gives me another story, I bet Irene’s in it. 🙂

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    • That was my favorite part of the scene, so I’m glad to see readers are also enjoying it! And I think I’d have a great time going out for drinks with Meghan and Irene…. 🙂

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  4. I love the dialogue and the part about archaeology contradicting history is really interesting. I’m sure there’s a lot that we believe to be true that’s not true at all.

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    • I won’t say that archaeologists always make the right interpretations, especially as we go further back in time. But when we can combine the “buried deeds” with written records, both history and archaeology benefit. Now, to make the novels work as well as this short story…. 😉

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  5. Any coincidence that it’s part 12 and twelve reporters? 😉

    I like seeing Meghan juggling the different aspects of her life. It’s been shown in previous parts, but the quick conversation here really brings that aspect to the fore. It’s what I enjoy most about a lot of great characters, though: their reality. Meghan may see herself as just a working professional trying to do a job, but, mysteries notwithstanding, I am really digging how much of a person she is.

    Your supporting characters have good personalities, too. They complement (or counter) Meghan’s own temperament well, like friends and colleagues would tend to do. I think the easiness of the dialogue has a lot to do with that.

    Looking forward to deeper developments!

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    • Actually, it was fewer reporters and morning when I first drafted this episode. Then I revised it to afternoon and more calls. 😉

      Meghan has fleshed out from her early days as a nameless poetic archaeologist, hasn’t she? She really sneaked up on me. But I find it difficult to write all these obstacles and distractions for her, even though I know that’s what we’re supposed to do to our characters. I have a really hard time with it in the novels. And I keep waiting for someone to say she’s too nice or her marriage is too good….. We’ll see. 😉

      We’ll see what Meghan has in store for me tomorrow, when I can hopefully start next Tuesday’s post!

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      • Personally, I don’t mind reading characters who have a happy personal and professional life, when external obstacles create conflict. If Meghan’s home life was cracked, I might feel like my focus was divided too much (will she split up with her husband? Or, will she be able to solve the case?). I don’t have an issue with the outside mysteries affecting her personal/professional life (I’d think that would be normal), but it’s almost cliche at this point to have a heroine who’s struggling in all avenues of her life. I *like* that she’s balanced and mature enough to handle family, her job, the stress of a new house (and dog?) while still working through a mystery. It makes her more genuine, to me. And, it allows her group of support characters to rally around her, when needed. Because you wouldn’t rally around a jerk or an absentee parent; that dynamic isn’t realistic. And I think you want the mystery to be at the forefront, not any domestic or career struggles she’s got.

        I say keep doing what you’re doing. We follow these stories because we relate to Meghan and her cast, and we admire her. It’s fun to see wrenches thrown into her works, but she’s a likeable amateur detective, not Harry Callahan. The stories are just as much about *her* as they are about the mysteries she digs up. 🙂

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  6. Funny bit about Meghan hoping it’s suicide. I found I couldn’t remember who Douglas Browne was at first. That’s the challenge of a serialized story, I guess. You have people like me–okay maybe it’s only me–with poor memories who can’t track the various characters over the course of the series. Yet, you don’t want to hit readers over the head either with repeating information about them every time. Interesting challenge, no?

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    • It is a challenge, especially since some readers might not get to each episode each week. If I do put several stories together in a collection, I’ll have to revise them since they’ll be read more as a whole, or at least with less time between sections.

      Meghan really doesn’t want to lose this project, and suicide would have made Kent’s skeleton easier for Evelyn to accept. But, no such luck. 😉

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    • She hasn’t been real clear about that. Luckily, she’s given more details about the remaining big events, so I feel like I have a better handle on the ending. 😉 In “real” life, she’d probably find nothing. When I was actively doing research on my family history, it seemed like every question I answered led to three new ones. The “brick wall” ancestors can make you want to tear out your hair—or invent a time machine so you could go back and spy on them!

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      • LOL. Don’t you love when the path is unclear? (I mean part of me does, but the other part worries that it will remain hazy). 🙂 Interesting. It’s funny how much of current stuff is so findable, but anything back 100 years or more gets very murky. 🙂

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        • I’m really trying to get Meghan to wrap up this story ahead of time. She’s kept me on my toes for some time now, and I’d like a breather. 😉

          I often wonder how much of our “Information Age” information will survive as long as some of our old-fashioned written records have. A massive solar flare, a major cyber attack,…. How much digitally stored material might be lost forever as a result?

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    • I still need to find the balance in my novels. I have too many breathers there for the modern market. It’s difficult for me to throw all these events at Meghan in a short story, so you can probably guess the novels aren’t yet ready for prime time.

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  7. I love the fleshing out of characters and details, JM. Meghan is becoming a real, living, breathing entity and we can all identify with her worries. And you remind me why I’m a reader, and not a writer, of fiction: my books would be about 2 sentences long before “the end” came up! xoxoM

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    • Maybe Meghan will be the character that leads to a “successfully published” novel in the sense of finding an audience of several thousand readers or more. Or what I’ve learned from her will lead me to a character who’s stories have what it takes to hold a modern reader’s interest. Even if not, I’ll always enjoy writing some novels, even if they only find an audience of one. 🙂

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  8. You wrote: ” there’s only so much that can realistically happen to a character over the course of a story. But I know that puts me out of step with “the market.” ”

    You’re in step with me! 😉 Maybe I’m that odd reader who doesn’t think everybody lives the complicated, dramatic lives depicted on tv and in NYT bestsellers? Don’t most of us live relatively steady lives with minimal upheaval? (I’m not being facetious, I’m serious!)

    I’ve enjoyed this story SO much because I relate to Meghan’s normalcy. You’ve written her internal and external dialogue in a way that’s true to her.

    Today’s instalment was perfection for this stage of the story: I LOVE how you recapped its key details through the prism of her irritation/frustration/fear.

    Brilliant all around!

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    • This may be a terrible thing for a writer to say, but I don’t care for as many books written since the 1990s as I do for those written earlier. And it seems to be even harder for me to find something I like written in the 21st century. I think a lot of it has to do with what “the market” wants today—simple plots with more tension, more drama, more trials and tribulations, all to keep the reader’s adrenaline at maximal levels and appeal to shortened attention spans.

      The current “market” for writing reflects popular TV shows and movies. Even news, which should be factual presentations of events, has to be over-the-top 24/7 heated “discussions” that often dissolve into diatribes. Even the Weather Channel is like that. Now we have to name winter snowstorms and turn them into life-and-death dramas like they did with hurricanes?

      It’s nearly impossible for a book that doesn’t meet this modern “need” for tension and drama, even romances and cozy mysteries, to get traditional representation and publication. But what does that do for readers like you and me, who would enjoy some stories that take an easier pace and have a plot that’s simply entertaining? To me, this is where the indie e-market could really fill a niche.

      Meghan may very well end up there, with compilations of short stories. I think some readers would enjoy something like that. And I hope the novels, as I envision them, can find their niche, too. 🙂

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