On the drive to Wyndham Thicket Farm, Meghan expects her phone to ring, with Evelyn or Douglas canceling her trip. But no calls interrupt her ride. She’s about to turn onto the farm lane when an oncoming truck drives in first. Jackson Carter waves back to her as they head up to the visitor’s lot and park.
“Afternoon, Dr. Bode. I didn’t know you’d be here today.”
“I’ve got good news on the Josiah Kent front for Evelyn.”
“Is she expecting you? I tried calling the house all morning, but no one answered.”
“No, but Douglas said to come out after lunch. Maybe they were out riding.”
Meghan and Jackson walk to the house, but no one answers their calls.
“That’s odd,” Meghan says. “Douglas knows I’d be here.”
“I’ll check the stables. See if any of the horses are out. Why don’t you see if they’re at the site?”
Jackson heads north from the house while Meghan goes south.
Beyond the site, Meghan thinks. Wyndham Manor is on the south line of the original Wyndham Thicket, somewhere past the site. Evelyn’s Abraham was living down there when Josiah Kent was murdered, not here.
Yelps interrupt her thoughts. “Oh, crap. Not you two.”
Maisy and Chess run toward her. But no tennis balls drop from their mouths. Instead, the two whine at her feet, then run back toward the site before coming back to her, whimpering.
A cold breeze rises as clouds cover the sun. Meghan shivers, but not from the drop in temperature. She picks up her pace as best she can in a plowed field with two Irish Setters underfoot.
The dogs’ ears prick, and they yelp again, running ahead of Meghan. What’s the matter with them? she wonders.
Another breeze carries sound with it, a faint “how could you” that trails off.
When she passes a treeline, she finally sees the site ahead of her. And the source of the dogs’ distress.
Two figures stand facing one another across the open cellar of the old manor house. Douglas holds his left arm close to his side. Maisy approaches Evelyn, cowering in submissive posture, but Evelyn swings a shovel in her direction. The swing is wide of the mark, but Maisy yelps and runs back to Meghan, with Chess close behind.
Oh, dear God, Meghan thinks. I shouldn’t get into the middle of this.
She tries to back up and leave, but it’s too late.
“Evelyn,” Douglas shouts. “Meghan’s here with good news. Listen to her.”
“How can there be good news?” Evelyn cries. “It’s bad enough you hired that awful Frank Sloma to spread those terrible stories. And then they turn out to be true. My ancestor was a Tory. He killed Josiah Kent.”
Evelyn glances at Meghan, but raises her shovel and looks back to Douglas. “I’m sorry, Meghan, I can’t do this anymore. I know Douglas told you to keep working, but I don’t want to hear any more about Abraham. It’s too shameful. I’m covering it all back up where it belongs.”
“But, Evelyn,” Meghan says, cautiously moving closer, “Douglas is right. This isn’t your Abraham. Your grandmother got it wrong.”
“How dare you insult her.”
“I’m not insulting her. She wasn’t a professional, was she?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“What I said. Was she a professional historian or genealogist?”
“No. But she knew what she was doing.”
Meghan eases forward a few steps and stops, reaching down to stroke Maisy’s shoulders. The dog whimpers and presses close.
“So do I, Evelyn. I spent Saturday going through deeds and wills. It wasn’t easy. The ink was faded in a lot of them, and the Walkers kept using the same names in every generation. All sorts of cousins and second cousins sharing the same names. A genealogist’s nightmare, even for a professional. But the evidence was there. Your Abraham didn’t kill Josiah Kent.”
Evelyn lowers the shovel and faces Meghan. “What did you say?”
“Your Abraham didn’t kill Josiah Kent. Your Abraham wasn’t a Tory.”
“Not my Abraham….”
“See, Evelyn? I told you Meghan had good news. Now Kent doesn’t matter.” Douglas takes a few steps toward his wife.
Evelyn raises the shovel. “Stay back. I haven’t forgiven you.”
Douglas stops in his tracks. Maisy stays by Meghan, but Chess bolts toward the house.
“Tell me what you found,” Evelyn says.
Meghan explains how two Isaac Walkers were cousins, each with a son named Abraham. One lived on Wyndham Thicket and the other on Wyndham Manor.
“I’ve never heard of Wyndham Manor,” Evelyn says.
“That’s because your third great-grandfather Isaac combined it and a couple of other properties into Wyndham Thicket when he inherited this plantation. Wyndham Manor is now the south part of Wyndham Thicket. But he didn’t inherit this land from his father, Abraham. It came from his second cousin once-removed, Abraham.”
“His what?” Douglas asks.
This is hardly the place for a genealogy lesson, but Meghan takes on her class lecture voice. “The two Abrahams were second cousins. Their fathers were first cousins. Once-removed means you’ve added a generation. Your first cousins’ children are your first cousins once-removed. Your children and your cousins’ children are second cousins. Add another generation, you add the once-removed again. Abraham of Wyndham Thicket had no surviving children. So he left the plantation to his second cousin’s son Isaac, who lived on the next plantation. Evelyn’s third great-grandfather.”
Evelyn’s grip on the shovel loosens. “My Abraham didn’t live in this house?”
“No. He had his own house on Wyndham Manor. He didn’t kill Josiah Kent and bury him in this cellar.”
“A different Abraham did it.”
“Most likely. Yes.”
Evelyn drops the shovel as Chess reappears. Meghan draws a deep breath, and her heart rate slows. Behind Chess are Jackson Carter and Tom Sandberg.
“That’s … that’s …” Evelyn says.
“Wonderful?” Douglas suggests.
Evelyn turns to him, her eyes bright. Meghan considers rushing in to grab the shovel, but there’s no need.
“Yes, wonderful!” Evelyn says and runs to Douglas, who holds her with his right arm. “My family reputation isn’t ruined.”
“So why not keep going with the dig? Maybe turn it into a mystery walk? Those are popular.”
“Or a ghost tour,” Evelyn adds. “Meghan, didn’t you say Kent haunted the woods where he disappeared?”
“Um, that’s what the old county history said.”
“Perfect. We could say he’s come here to haunt the site now that his body’s been disturbed.”
“I like it,” Douglas says.
Meghan stands agape. In the span of a few seconds, the enraged and wronged wife has disappeared. She watches as Maisy moves toward Evelyn, hesitantly at first, and then with bounding joy as her owner bends down to welcome her.
A dog I can understand. But how do people turn their emotions on and off like that? she wonders.
“Is everything all right?” Sandberg asks as he and Jackson reach the site. “You were both upset when I left this morning. I just came back to check when I ran into Mr. Carter here.”
“Everything’s fine, Detective,” Douglas says. “It’s all worked out fine.”
“I see,” Sandberg says with a look to Meghan, who raises her hands and drops them.
“It’s more than fine,” Evelyn says. “It’s perfect. How soon can you start work on finding Wyndham Manor, Meghan?”
Evelyn pulls away from Douglas, pushing at Maisy who now rubs against her leg and licks her hand. “My Isaac didn’t grow up here. We need to find where he did. And where my Abraham did. And as far back as we can get them. We’ll finish here, of course. It’s still the best spot for a museum. But we have to find Wyndham Manor.”
Meghan is speechless.
“Don’t worry about the cost,” Douglas says. “Making Evelyn happy is the important thing.”
“Bring back your crew as soon as you can,” Evelyn adds, taking Douglas by the arm. “Maybe you’ll find the murder weapon. That would be so exciting.”
“Is there anything else, Detective?” Douglas asks. “If not, would you all excuse us while we go back to the house and start planning a ghost tour?”
Sandberg shakes his head.
“Douglas?” Meghan asks. “What about your arm? Shouldn’t you have it looked at?”
“What, this? No, it’s just a bruise. I’ll be fine.”
Meghan, Jackson, and Sandberg watch as Evelyn and Douglas walk back to the house, arm in arm. Maisy and Chess scamper away with them.
When the Brownes are out of earshot, Meghan turns to Sandberg.
“What the hell was that?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
Once again Meghan explains her library findings and then describes the scene she encountered several minutes earlier.
“So that’s it?” she asks as she finishes. “No criminal charges? Not even for the fire?”
“Douglas Browne knows all the right people. Setting the fire, hiring so-called Frank Sloma to stir up interest—no way the DA bothers with it. It’s their property and no attempted insurance fraud. At most, the Brownes make a generous contribution to the Firemen’s Fund.”
“Who’s Frank Sloma when he’s at home?” Jackson asks.
“If Douglas told the truth this morning, one of his colleagues. Makes sense, given that Dr. Bode saw him coming out of the law office last week. I bet he’s back here next weekend, telling the first round of Josiah Kent ghost stories to the guests.”
“And who set the fire?”
“I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. Douglas told Dr. Bode that Evelyn did. If she was going to bury the site again today, maybe she did try to burn it before. But he might’ve been diverting attention from himself, or even Sloma.
“If one of them ever slips up and tells you, Dr. Bode, would you let me know? Just out of idle curiosity. But now, I’ve got some real cases to deal with.”
Jackson walks with Sandberg toward the parking lot while Meghan stays back a few moments, sketching out her crew’s return to the site.
The sky is fully clouded as she takes a last look at the cellar. When the fire damage is cleared away, she’ll focus on wrapping up this feature before moving on to others. As she’s about to leave, an unexpectedly warm breeze turns into a stronger gust. A tattered plastic bag swirls around her feet before dipping toward the cellar floor where Kent’s skeleton was buried. The bag catches an updraft and rises out of the cellar, skittering across the field.
We could say he’s come here to haunt the site now that his body’s been disturbed.
Meghan pulls her jacket close and hurries to catch up with Sandberg and Jackson.
And so concludes Meghan’s second mystery. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this initial draft of the story. I’m hoping Meghan will tell me about another adventure soon that I can share with you, perhaps as part of an independent e-published volume….