Buried Deeds — Part 15 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

Meghan swears under her breath when she finally finds an open spot in a parking garage near Douglas Browne’s law office in northwest DC. There’s no time to grab a cup of coffee before meeting with him. At least she’ll have only a short walk to the Metro station for her afternoon research at the National Archives.

She wears dress pants and a good blouse, but the outfit is no match for the receptionist’s designer suit and stiletto heels. The firm must pay the support staff well—or provide a clothing allowance. Douglas comes downstairs within only a few minutes.

“Thanks for coming, Meghan. I appreciate it,” he says as they take the elevator to his top-floor corner office.

“How’s Evelyn feeling?” she asks.

“Devastated. She takes her family history so seriously. You’d think her father killed Josiah Kent, not her great-great-whatever grandfather. Can I pour you a drink?”

Do lawyers have whiskey at ten in the morning? Meghan wonders. “Um, a glass of water would be nice, thank you. I take it you’re not into genealogy,” she says as Douglas offers her a seat in a masculine, but comfortable, leather chair. She has a clear view of the Washington Monument standing tall to the southeast.

Douglas pulls a pitcher of water from a small refrigerator hidden behind a panel in a bookshelf that takes up an entire wall and is filled with legal volumes. Meghan’s relieved when he pours a glass for himself.

“Not really. But Evelyn loves reading the book her grandmother put together in the 1930s. She’s the one who did all the Walker research so she could get her daughters into the DAR.”

“Oh,” Meghan says. She thinks of groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution as elitist, even though she qualifies for membership.

“But there’s no evidence that Abraham killed Kent,” she continues. “It could have been anyone in the house.”

“You know that’s not what people will think. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what happened between Josiah Kent and Abraham Walker in 1779. Maybe Abraham had a good reason to kill him. But it matters to Evelyn. People joking about her ancestors is bad enough. Saying one of them was a murderer is more than she can bear.”

“It sounds like you haven’t convinced her to keep the work going.”

“Not yet. But I’m taking the “genie’s out of the bottle” approach. Since we can’t undo what you found, we should keep going forward. You know, show people we’re still the same people and not afraid of the truth. And frankly, it’s good publicity.”

“I hope it works. But I don’t know what to do now. Evelyn doesn’t want me in the field. Do I put everything on hold and wait for you to say come back?”

“No. I want you to go through the old records. Maybe you can find some dirt on Kent. Or something good about Abraham Walker. Anything that would make Evelyn feel better. Just don’t say anything to her about it. I don’t want to get her hopes up.”

Douglas stares out the window for a few moments, tapping his fingers on his glass before turning back to Meghan.

“I think she did it.”

“Did what?”

“Set the fire.”

What?

“You didn’t hear me say this. Evelyn told the police she was in her office before Jackson discovered the fire. But I had walked past it a few times that evening, and she wasn’t there. I assumed she was in her sitting room. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“Maybe that’s what she meant,” Meghan says, grasping for another option. “She was so upset Wednesday morning, maybe she just misspoke.”

“Possibly. But that’s why I don’t want you to say anything about the research to her. I don’t want to upset her even more.”

Meghan leans back in her chair, trying to absorb the idea of Evelyn setting the fire. “Do you honestly believe she would do something like that?”

“Despite her size, she’s a strong woman with strong emotions. Sometimes people like that snap when their world changes.”

“I suppose so. And on top of Josiah Kent’s skeleton, you’ve got Frank Sloma and the newspaper lawsuit to deal with.”

Douglas shifts in his chair. “Not exactly. We won’t take the Suburban Daily to court.”

“Oh, I thought Jackson said you would.”

“Evelyn still wants to, but after talking with some of my colleagues, it’s best if we don’t. Lawsuits usually aren’t good publicity. This one might have people thinking we’re trying to hide something. ”

“Irene said something like that, too.”

“Who?”

“Irene Kristoff, the physical anthropologist who’s working with me. Even before the fire, I was worried that Evelyn might drop the project because of Kent. Irene said trying to cover up a story just gets people more interested. She also said I should appeal to Evelyn’s business side.”

“She’s right. That’s what I’m doing. And while I do that, when can you start with the old records?”

“Today. I need to look at the agricultural census schedules at the Archives for another project. I can go over the Revolutionary War service records and pension applications while I’m there. Sometimes good info is hidden in those. We’re not looking at houses until Sunday, so I’ll go to Richmond tomorrow and see what I can find on the Kent family.”

“Good. Keep me posted. Use my work email and phone so Evelyn doesn’t catch wind of this.”

***

Meghan grabs an early lunch and takes the Metro to the National Archives. She soon finds the information she needs for another research project in the nineteenth-century agricultural schedules. So she turns to the Revolutionary War Pension Applications. Of course, murdered Josiah Kent couldn’t apply, but his widow might have.

The search is a dead end. None of the Kent applications match Josiah. As an afterthought, she looks for Isaac and Abraham Walker in the index. The Abraham Walkers don’t fit Evelyn’s fourth great-grandfather, so she continues up the alphabet to Isaac—and finds two Isaac Walkers from Virginia who could be Abraham’s father.

She retrieves the roll of microfilm with the full records and scrolls to the Isaacs, hoping for enough details to figure out which is the right one. Some pension files contain a wealth of genealogical data, but most don’t. It’s not her lucky day. She learns only that one Isaac received a pension while the other was denied because he didn’t provide sufficient proof of his service. And both men were from the same county.

Meghan reads the entries again.

Two Isaac Walkers from the same county? she thinks. Which one is Abraham’s father?

Meghan takes a deep breath. Genealogy may be a popular hobby, but her experience shows a lot of people get it wrong. Poorly researched family trees dominate the big websites. Some for her own ancestors make her cringe. Men fathering children years after they died. Others said to have died in one year, even though records show they lived another ten.

How good a researcher was Evelyn’s grandmother? she wonders.

A glimmer of hope rises in her mind. She has a date tomorrow with probate records in Richmond.

The sun has begun its downward descent as she leaves the Archives, but the late January day is mild. Even when she arrives at the Metro stop by Douglas’s office, there’s still good light for the walk to her car.

For a few moments she slows her steps and considers stopping in to tell him her ideas. But he had said he was in meetings all afternoon. Besides, she could be wrong. Maybe she shouldn’t get his hopes up.

As she nears Douglas’s building, the door opens, and a man steps out, heading in the same direction as Meghan’s garage.

She stops in her tracks. There’s no mistaking the face she sees before the man turns away. It’s Frank Sloma.

Meghan holds back, not wanting Sloma to see her. Luckily, he turns down another block, and she can return to her car without incident. Once there, she stares at the dingy wall of the structure, shifting her cell phone from one hand to the other while she thinks.

An advertising agency shares Douglas’s building, but how likely is it that Sloma works for them or is one of their clients? This can’t be a coincidence. Detective Tom Sandberg’s words about Douglas come back to her.

He could have hired Frank Sloma to get people thinking about the old stories and spice up your work.

Maybe that’s why Douglas wouldn’t pursue a lawsuit against the Suburban Daily. Maybe he did hire Frank Sloma to generate talk and publicity for the B&B. If so, how Evelyn would feel if she knew about it? But, more importantly, there’s still an active police investigation. She calls Sandberg’s office, leaving a message explaining what she saw before driving home.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 16 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.

43 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 15 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • Part of me really feels like I’m pouring it on too thick. But all the advice I see for “modern” stories says we need to build tension, more tension, and then more tension. I guess we’ll see what everyone thinks when I finish. 🙂

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  1. Haha, this is wonderful. I had to laugh when I came to the section about DAR. My mother has been on a kick to get us all registered through the Colonial Dames of America and the DAR, and because she can’t do most of the legwork research has fallen to me. When I discovered the hoops we have to go through to “prove” we’re eligible I complained to my mother about how snobby these groups are.

    And that’s how I always envisioned Evelyn from your wonderfully descriptive narrative and the scenes where she interacted with other characters. She’s a genuine snob. Great job, JM. 🙂

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    • Somehow I don’t think Evelyn realizes how she comes across. 😉 Maybe Douglas is right and she “snapped” because her world view has taken a beating with the discovery of Kent…? Or is he just trying to put Meghan off track?

      I have several ancestors who are documented Revolutionary War soldiers, but I’ve never had any interest in the Colonial societies for myself. It’s probably no surprise that this introvert isn’t much of a joiner. 😉 For me, it’s simply interesting to know who my ancestors were and where they came from and then imagine what life must have been like for them.

      This story is a major experiment for me in adding tension. Can I translate that into a novel-length story one of these days?

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      • J, you do a fine job threading tension in your stories. One of the big differences I have seen between your short stories and your 2 novels is POV. You use multiple POV in your novels, but you have stuck to just Meghan’s POV for the most part (did you ever give us a bit of Sandberg’s POV? I’m blanking.)

        Maybe that’s something to think about? Who knows, it may not impact anything at all. But what I do know is that you’re a great writer, and I’ve seen plenty of different writing examples from you to be able to say that with confidence. 🙂

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        • Thanks, Kate. 🙂 Sandberg did share POV in the first story, which I think worked since he had a larger role. With most characters here being possible suspects, it seemed better to stick with just Meghan.

          I enjoy multiple POVs in novels as a reader because the perspectives of two or more characters let me see the story from different angles. But as a writer, I still need to do a better job of presenting them in ways that won’t distract too many readers. I read some successful novelists who shift POV within scenes, but I know that bothers a lot of folks. I think I’ve got that mostly cleaned up in Death Out of Time. Summer at the Crossroads is another story….

          Maybe Meghan’s stories are a sign that I’m getting past my “million words of garbage,” and future stories, short and long, won’t need as many rounds of revisions. Fingers crossed on that!

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  2. More great stuff! I’m wondering, have you ever had a dig held up because of a major snag? Not murder, obviously (though wouldn’t that cause a stir?…) but something else that held up the process? I suspect as with anything, politics and egos come into play.

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    • Nothing as exciting as an unexpected body or skeleton for me, although one colleague did find something like that on a survey once. If there’s a delay or stop-work situation, it’s usually because the funding isn’t coming in on schedule. Or sometimes, more features and materials are found than anticipated, and we need to do contract modifications. And in other countries you can run into permit delays and bureaucratic hoops that slow things down. One of my professors had his truck “taken hostage” because while he had the only real permits he needed from the Mexican government, some local officials decided he needed their “permission,” too. A “ransom” settled the matter. 😉

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  3. Holy Sh*t!
    There are more surprises in this installment than in most fully written novels!! Where to begin….
    From the start, I thought the good esquire might not be so good! There is no such thing as coincidence and he and Sloma are in this thing up to their eyeballs.
    I also like the change of venue. Taking Meghan out of the field and into an office adds a nice air of mystery…Your description of her shock and indecision upon seeingj Sloma was perfect. I could “see” it so clearly…right down to the last cell phone juggle. Although you cast no suspicions toward the detective this week, I’m not 100% sure Meghan should trust him, either!
    JM, these characters have great appeal. Although you didn’t intend it, Meghan et.al might be the characters who make you famous!

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    • Meghan doesn’t spend much time in a lawyer’s office anywhere—let alone a big firm in DC! That’s definitely taking her out of her comfort zone. She was far more at home at the Archives, scrolling through microfilm and looking at agricultural schedules, all the while wishing the ones she needs will someday be online. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of my personal interest sneaking in there…. 😉

      She’s also not someone the Brownes would normally spend time with, either. Maybe they don’t realize how her archaeological skills might also make her a good detective…. 😉

      I don’t know about famous, but it seems I’m getting a stronger positive reaction to Meghan than to the characters in my novels. You’re right—that’s not what I expected!

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  4. Douglas does seem pretty sneaky! I wondered about Evelyn setting the fire, but it could be anybody so that makes it fun. I think it’s true that this sort of thing would be great publicity for a B&B. They could even start saying it’s haunted.

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    • Haunted would be perfect. After all, the old county history suggested Kent haunted the woods where he was thought to have disappeared. Maybe having his skeleton found would bring him to Wyndham Thicket! Maybe Douglas will suggest that to Evelyn?

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      • Sounds exciting! I love the thought of hauntings even though I’m not so sure I’d really want to be near one. It is funny how many haunted B&B’s there are around here!

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  5. Wonderful story and it has picked up my interest even more.
    One tiny type-o in this one, the first I have seen…
    “Evelyn still want to, but after talking – should be “wants to”
    Scott

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    • Got the typo fixed. 🙂 I was rushed when putting this installment together. Hopefully Meghan will start dictating the next one a bit sooner! Despite feeling at times like I want to pull my hair out, this has been an education and enlightening experiment.

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  6. Another intriguing installment JM. I love the descriptive narrative. This one for example, “…masculine, but comfortable, leather chair” I could ‘see’ it!

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    • Thanks, Dianne. 🙂 I had no idea this story would run as long as it has. We’re winding down, but it currently clocks in at 15,000 words! It’s already approaching the “expanded” length I planned on for the compilation volume. Hmm…. Sneaky Meghan! 🙂

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    • I just said to Dianne above that we’ve reached 15,000 words for this story. Meghan has surprised me at every turn, so I hesitate to guess how many more words there are to wrap up. Maybe 5,000? She’s already turned this into a novella!

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  7. Poor Evelyn – no matter which way the story goes (and there’s so many possible branches right now)
    Meghan has really stepped out. She’s a winner…is she already rushing you to finish because she’s ready to be off on another dig/story? (Smallhousebig garden may be right)

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    • So far, she hasn’t dropped any hints about what the next story might be. But that’s how she was when I wrote the first one, too. One of the reasons I was planning a break was the fact that I had no idea what the second story would be. But within a few days of finishing the first, there was the idea for this one. She may do the same thing again. This time, though, I do need a break. We’ll write out the third one before taking it public. Sorry, Meghan! (Maybe that will encourage her to give me more than one scene per week?)

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    • The fire on the site notwithstanding, I’m showing how we really do things here in the States and realistic finds. Maybe we don’t find many bodies buried in cellars, but it’s within the realm of possibility. 🙂 I’m trying to make the real archaeology entertaining in a fictional format. (Unlike Hollywood, which fictionalizes the archaeology in addition to everything else)

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  8. Great conversation in Douglas’s office! I especially like the boys’ club/masculine amenities, and the observations Meghan makes about everything. For instance, the comment about the whisky. And, the Washington Monument is a nice, subtle display of power and influence, all too common with lawyers. Phallic touch, and all. 😉 I giggled for a second at that one.

    I enjoy Meghan’s inner critic during her research at the National Archives, too. It breaks up what could be a bit of necessary dryness with a glimpse into how her mind works. Keep those little breaks – they really make her more than just someone flipping through microfiche.

    Is she close enough to Douglas to bring up the line about the house? I know you want to keep the reader aware of that subplot, but I’ve always gotten a sense of professional distance between Meghan and Douglas. In dialogue, the line just came a little out of nowhere. Maybe that’s just me, though.

    The plot is still thickening! 😀

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    • You know, I hadn’t even thought of the phallic jokes about the Monument. 🙂 I was going for one of the iconic DC images. And Meghan’s inner critic about genealogy is a real comment on the real world. There’s a lot of sloppy “research” out there. Some folks claim one of my 5G grandmothers died in one year, but I’ve gone through court records than show she obtained a license for the family “ordinary” the following year. Do the research, people, don’t just copy what someone else wrote!

      You’re right that Meghan and Douglas aren’t close. What I was going for was Meghan “thinking aloud” about her schedule. She’s so busy with life coming at her from so many directions, I think she needed to orient herself. It’s something I do sometimes, and it probably leaves people wondering why I mentioned something, too. 😉

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  9. JM, you continue to amaze me with all of this story’s twist and turns. Every episode is rich with descriptions and your dialogue is so realistic! I can’t wait to see how you tie up all of the loose ends, but at the same time, I don’t want it to end 🙂 Great job!!!!

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    • Thanks so much, Arlene. 🙂 I think the pieces are falling into place, especially after next Tuesday’s episode. I think I need to revisit the dialogue in my novels and see if I can upgrade it. While I don’t think the dialogue is bad in them, I think it could be improved.

      Even though she hasn’t revealed it to me yet, I suspect Meghan has another story waiting in the wings. 😉

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  10. Hmmmmm…… I bet someone got the genealogy wrong. At least, that’s always been my experience in researching family trees! I don’t trust Evelyn either, but I’m not sure whether she’d get crazy enough to set the fire. But then again, people ARE strange when it comes to change, and stuff that could sully their family history. I could blame Frank Sloma for the fire but I don’t think it’s him either.

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    • We’ll learn more on Tuesday. 🙂 I’m glad to see people aren’t yet sure about “who done what.” And Meghan may have another wrinkle or two up her sleeve. She’s hit 15,000 words, and I wonder if she’s aiming for 20,000…. I guess I’ll know when I get there!

      Some folks are fanatical about their family history. And people who aren’t can find it hard to understand that mentality. Someone might read this story and think Evelyn’s “too unrealistic” a character. In reality, she’s not.

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  11. Just catching up on this and the previous two parts. Like the mystery, well several questions moving along really.

    Good job with this, it’s having a good run on the blog 🙂

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    • I think it’s soon coming to an end, although I don’t dare predict how many more installments there might be. Meghan might take offense at that. 😉 I hope she has another story for me because I really would like to put together a compilation of three novellas with her. But honestly, I could use a break from the forced schedule on the blog. 🙂

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      • Yeah, there is a danger with the blog isn’t there? Committing to a schedule is fine, often fun, and good experience, but it can also become a bit of a grind or slog.

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