Excerpt from Death By Shock


“Watch what you’re doing!” Shaneika snapped.

“Move then,” I hissed back.

 Shaneika and I were stuck like two peas in a pod falling over each other in a muddy trench. 

Since Comanche had retired from horse racing and was now standing at stud, Shaneika had extra time and decided to try her hand at archaeology.  As an enthusiastic amateur historian, archaeology was the next logical step for her.  She joined the Daniel Boone Archaeological Society and assisted at digs.  Shaneika decided her involvement meant that I was involved as well.  The Society needed volunteers to dig an area to the west of Fort Boonesborough where freestanding cabins had stood, so Shaneika signed me up.

 How could I refuse?  As my attorney, Shaneika had saved my tush many times.  Now I was pushing her tush out of the way.  “You broke the string,” I complained, glaring at the snapped filament lying limp on the ground.  The university’s archaeologists had carefully plotted out a grid of squares for us to excavate, and now one entire strand was on the ground. 

“I’ll put it back.  No need to get your panties in a wad.”  Shaneika climbed out of our little ditch and pulled the string taut again.  “There!  Good as new, Miss Fussbucket.”

I complained, “I don’t understand why we are doing this.”

“My ancestor, John Todd, came to Kentucky in 1775.  His brothers, Levi and Robert Todd, followed.”

“I know that, Shaneika.  You crow about it often enough.”

“I thought you were descended from Levi Todd,” Heather said, putting dirt which needed to be sifted through a screen into a bucket.

“And John Todd didn’t even come to Boonesborough.  He went to Logan’s Station,” I reminded Shaneika.

“Todd came through here.  He just didn’t stay here.  I bring him up because of his connection to Daniel Boone.  Did you know that John Todd was appointed by the one and only ‘give me liberty or give me death’ Patrick Henry in 1778 as Lt. Commander of Illinois, and that he represented Kentucky in the General Assembly of Virginia in 1778?  He introduced bills to emancipate slaves and set aside land for educational purposes.”

“That’s rich coming from a family of slave owners,” I said. 

Shaneika pursed her lips in irritation.  She was proud of her heritage and connection to her namesake Mary Todd Lincoln and thus to Abraham Lincoln.

Shaneika, her cousin Heather, and I were at Fort Boonesborough trying to locate the fort’s original garbage pit which meant their former outhouse location.  Since Hunter was still away and I was trying to wean myself off pain medication, I thought it sounded like a fun adventure.   Oh, how stupid can one person be?

It had drizzled the night before, and all the trenches the archaeologists had dug were muddy.  It was chilly, the porta potty wasn’t installed until late in the morning, and the food truck failed to arrive.  I was wet, hungry, and aggravated.

Heather Warfield cackled.  “You two fight like an old married couple.”

I glanced over at Heather, who was thirty-nine and single, financially independent, lived with two rescue cats, and worked in an animal shelter.  She was Rubenesque with ivory skin, long brown hair clipped up into a pony tail, large dark expressive eyes that were nearsighted, and a small mouth.  Heather’s vocabulary spoke of an extensive education, as she had graduated with degrees in political science and economics.  So why was Heather working at an animal shelter and not in her fields of expertise? Was it because she was shy and unassuming?  I didn’t inquire as that would be uncouth, but that wouldn’t stop me from asking Shaneika when we were alone.  Yep, I’m a nosey cuss.

It was also evident Heather was a huge UK basketball fan from her UK sweatshirt and UK decals on her sunglasses and watch band.  She was also a relative of Shaneika’s.  They were distant cousins.

The Warfields and the Todds were part of the first wave of European pioneers who lived in the Bluegrass and thus accumulated a fortune through land acquisition and hemp crops.  Dr. Elisha Warfield dabbled in horse racing and bred the stallion, Lexington, or Big Lex as the locals called him.  You see pictures all over the area of Big Lex, who is colored blue.  It gives the tourists pause.  Why is the horse portrayed as blue?  Folklore has it that the ghost of a “blue” Big Lex can be seen grazing in pastures.  The apparition acquired its hue from all the bluegrass he has consumed.  Kentucky bluegrass has a bluish tint when allowed to grow to full height, which is why the area around Lexington is called the Bluegrass.  Quaint story, huh!

Of course, the Warfields and the Todds intermarried with the other pioneer families as did most of the first European families in this area, so Heather and Shaneika have common ancestors.  I studied both of them as I carefully trowelled away thin layers of dirt in our pit.

One of the cousins was pale as a Junco’s white underbelly, and the other cousin had light copper-colored skin.  Heather was shy and introverted while Shaneika was a lioness and, for my money, the best criminal lawyer in the state of Kentucky.  Love, hate, devotion, cruelty, racism, classism, slavery, elitism, heartbreak, repression, and struggle had been bound together in a sacred dance throughout Kentucky history, culminating in Shaneika and Heather, polar opposites, but related by blood and history.  They were two women who had come to terms with the sins and accomplishments of their ancestors, embracing their shared past. 

That’s why we were at Fort Boonesborough sifting through mud with a trowel and a paint brush.  Shaneika knew her European ancestors’ line of descent, but there were gaps with her African heritage.  Shaneika wanted to close those gaps and pass the information on to her son, Lincoln.

In Shaneika’s office is a letter from Abraham Lincoln to George Rogers Clark Todd (Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother), a Confederate officer’s sword, daguerreotypes of black women washing at Camp Nelson (a Union military post during the Civil War and now a military cemetery), and other various Civil War artifacts which she claims are family heirlooms.  Though Shaneika won’t tell me how exactly she is descended from the Todd family, I know I will drag it out of her one day.  At the moment, however, moisture from the muck I knelt in was seeping through my jeans causing me to complain, “I’m going back to the van and change.  My pants are getting soaked.”

“Boo hoo,” Shaneika said, sneering as she plucked a pottery shard from the dirt caked on her trowel.  “If you change, you’ll get those pants filthy as well.”  She motioned to the field photographer to photograph the find and then she cataloged it.

I grumbled, “This is crazy.  We’re not finding anything but broken clay pipe stems and animal bone fragments.”

“Let’s hope they’re animals and not my ancestors,” Heather teased.  She and Shaneika grinned at each other.  “You know the settlers at Jamestown, Virginia resorted to cannibalism.”

“Lovely,” I replied. 

Shaneika said, “Did you know my ancestor John Todd commanded a group of 182 frontiersmen against the British and Shawnee in retaliation for an attack on Bryan Station?”

“Here we go again about John Todd,” I murmured.

“What was that?” Shaneika asked.

I said in a louder voice, “We all know about the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, which is considered the last battle of the Revolutionary War even though the war was officially over.”  I put another clay pipe stem into a bag and marked it on my grid paper.  The information marked on the paper would later be put into a computer.

“I bring it up because Daniel Boone accompanied John Todd and wanted to wait for reinforcements before engaging the enemy.”

Heather looked at Shaneika.  “I’m not familiar with this story.  Just bits and pieces.  What happened then?”

“Some hothead named Hugh McGary accused the men of being cowards and got them riled up, so they attacked.  Daniel Boone was remembered to have said, ‘We are all slaughtered men now.’”

I said, “A bunch of testosterone driven men who got themselves and their kinfolk dead in my opinion.  Of course, Hugh McGary survived.  He just had everyone else killed.” 

Shaneika ignored me and continued regaling us with the Battle of Blue Licks.  “Boone was right.  It was a trap and they should have waited for reinforcements which were a day away.  Not only was John Todd killed, but several members of the Boone family as well, including Daniel Boone’s son, Israel.  Daniel Boone caught a riderless horse and tried to give it to his son.  The story goes that Israel was hesitant to leave his father and in those few seconds was shot to death.  Boone then jumped on the horse and rode to safety.  Boone had to come back days later to reclaim his son’s body and take him to Boone’s Station to be buried.  There’s a stone memorial to Israel Boone still standing.  In a battle that lasted less than ten minutes, seventy-two frontiersmen were dead and eleven captured by the Shawnee and the British force.”

“Israel’s not buried here at Fort Boonesborough?” Heather asked, looking up from her digging.

“I thought Israel was buried at the battle site,” I said.

Shaneika said, “No, he’s buried at Boone’s Station.  There’s nothing there anymore, but a stone memorial and a historical marker.  John Todd is buried in a common grave at the battle site.  There is a memorial to all the men who died.”

“I find Daniel Boone a controversial figure,” Heather said.  “Wasn’t he adopted by the Shawnee at one point and rumored to have had a Shawnee wife?”

“Some historians believe that he was adopted by the great Shawnee chief, Blackfish, himself.  As for a Shawnee wife, who knows?  Probably.”

I looked at Heather.  “I thought you knew all this.”

Heather replied, “I know very little about the frontiersmen’s period, except for my family.  I like to concentrate on history from 1860 through the Reconstruction period.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Well then you might not know that Daniel Boone was not the only one playing around.  There is speculation that Edward Boone, Daniel’s brother, got Rebecca Boone pregnant while Daniel was on a two year long hunt. Of course, I don’t blame Rebecca.  She thought Daniel was dead.  It’s just that Edward Boone was married to her sister Martha, and they were both pregnant around the same time.”

“Yikes,” Heather said, laughing.  “Messy.  I wonder what those family get-togethers were like.  What did Daniel Boone say when he got back and found a wee babe in the crib?”

“Not much.  It seemed Daniel Boone accepted some of the responsibility since he was away for so long and recognized the child as his own.  In fact, Jemima was considered his favorite child.”

Heather asked, “Is this the scandal that caused Boone to have a falling out with Boonesborough?”

“No, that was due to the aftermath of the Great Siege of Boonesborough.  That story had to do with the need for salt from Blue Licks. Boone was considered a Tory and was later court-martialed for treason, but he was acquitted.  The trial left Boone so bitter, he moved to his son’s small community named Boone’s Station near Athens.  The Battle of Blue Licks happened four years later than the Great Siege.”

 “Sounds like Blue Licks was not a lucky place for the Boones,” Heather commented.

 “I believe I was speaking about my illustrious ancestor, John Todd when I was so rudely interrupted,” Shaneika complained, bumping me with her elbow.

“Sorry,” I said, looking sheepish.  “I do have a tendency to go on.”

Looking smug at my apology, Shaneika continued, “As I was saying, seventy-two frontiersmen were killed at the Battle of Blue Licks including John Todd.  He was thirty-two years old.”

“My gosh, that is young,” I said.  “And he was a colonel?”

Shaneika said, “Life expectancy was short, so they got on with the business of living.  Daniel Boone’s daughter, Susannah, was fourteen when she married.  Many think she had the first white baby in Kentucky.”

“You said ‘white baby.’  I guess that means something,” I alleged.

“The first non-indigenous baby to be born in Kentucky is thought to have been Frederick, a baby born to Dolly, a slave, and her master Richard Callaway in 1775.”

“That doesn’t sound like a pleasant story,” Heather said, looking at Shaneika in dismay.  “Do you think they loved each other?”

Shaneika snorted, “For God’s sake, get real, Heather.  You know what that relationship was about.”

I didn’t comment because sex between slave owners and slaves was a touchy subject.  I didn’t like the thought of those poor women’s plight or any woman in sexual jeopardy.  As a female, it made me uncomfortable.  Made me want to take a gun and shoot some man.

The three of us returned to our work, reflecting quietly on the hardships women endured in pioneer life—hardships women have always endured.

“A pipe bowl this time.  Did these men do nothing but smoke?  And where did they get the tobacco?  I haven’t read any accounts of tobacco being grown at Fort Boonesborough,” I sputtered, sticking the bowl stem in another bag.

Shaneika said, “The women smoked as well.  I think when they ran out of tobacco, they smoked other plants.  Besides sex and eating, what pleasures did these people have?  There was no TV.  No restaurants.  No spas.  No sports.  No movies.  No theater.  No concerts.  Not even the simple pleasures of bathing.  The women and children couldn’t even go outside the fort for a walk.  I read somewhere that a woman recounted for a historian that as a child, her mother wouldn’t let her leave the fort for over two years because it was too dangerous.  Two years!”

“If you put it that way, I guess smoking was one of the few enjoyments they had to counteract the endless work and stress,” I said, reaching back and feeling the back of my pants.  “Oh, the moisture is soaking through to my panties now.  Ugh.”

“You sure it’s not you losing control?” Shaneika teased.

“I’m not there yet, but give me a few years.  As one gets older, all the orifices loosen.  Just you wait.  Your turn will come.”

Heather asked, “If you don’t like to excavate, Josiah, why did you come?”

“Josiah is detoxing from pain medication while Hunter is away,” Shaneika shot back.

“Is Hunter your gentleman friend, Josiah?” Heather asked, grinning at me.  “How serious is your relationship?  Come on.  Spill it.”

“Gee, thanks, Shaneika.  I don’t think the people over in the next county heard you imply that I am a drug addict,” I hissed back, resisting the urge to thump Shaneika on her newly shaved head or pull out one of her large hoop earrings, this being her current look.  She was the only woman I knew who changed hairstyles like some women change purses.

“Are you really addicted to drugs?” Heather asked, her large eyes widening.

Wiggling her eyebrows, Shaneika added, “Pain medication.”

I replied, “Let’s say I’m trying to improve my health and leave it at that.”  Taking a breather, I looked around.  “Boy, I’d really like a drink right now.”

“True junkie talk.  One drug substituting for another.”

“You know, Shaneika, I’m gonna punch your self-righteous snout right in your nose.”

Shaneika turned and stared at me.  “That makes no sense, Josiah.  A snout is a nose.”

“You know what I mean.”

“You better not be having a stroke, because I’m not gonna drag your white fanny out of this pit.”



“Make me.”

“Girls!  Ladies!  Behave!” Heather insisted.  “Decorum at all times when in public.”

Shaneika and I both turned to Heather and yelled, “SHUT UP!”

Heather’s face turned crimson.

Ashamed that we had hurt Heather’s feelings, I said, “Don’t worry, Heather.  No one is looking at us.  Everyone is staring at the twins.”  I was referring to the two fabulous women occupying the pit on the other side of the site.  They were the Dane twins, both identical with pale skin, startlingly light blue eyes, athletic figures, and ebony hair with a shock of gray at their widow peaks.  I couldn’t tell if the gray shock was natural or artificial.  As I stated before, they were identical.  I could never tell them apart.

    “What’s their story again?” Shaneika asked.

I replied, “I know them well enough to say hello and that’s it.  I met them once through Lady Elsmere at one of her parties.  I doubt they would remember me.”

    Heather eagerly glanced about to see if anyone was listening to our conversation.  Seeing that everyone seemed intent upon their work, she spoke in a stage whisper, “The Dane twins are from Baltimore, and their father was an industrialist who worked for the Navy.  Apparently, he supplied them with some type of screw they needed and made a fortune.  Of course, that was years back.  These girls are from his second marriage late in life.”

    “They are hardly girls,” Shaneika commented, looking at them from the corner of her eye.  “More like late thirties or early forties.”

    “They are thirty-five,” Heather said.

    I said, “Hmm.  They look older.”       

“They partied very hard when young, and tragedy has followed them throughout their lives,” Heather explained.  “Haven’t you heard of the Dane curse?”

    “It’s a novel by Dashiell Hammett.”

    “No, Josiah, this is for real,” Heather insisted.

    “Like how?” I asked, suddenly interested.  Talk of curses always fascinated me.

    “Both wives of Mr. Dane died from accidents.  The first Mrs. Dane died in a skiing accident.  She collided with a tree.”

    “Holy moly, that’s harsh,” Shaneika said.

    “The second Mrs. Dane died in a car accident when her chauffeur drove off a cliff.  There were rumors the two were involved, and the ‘accident’ was really a murder/suicide when she refused to leave old man Dane.”

    “Wow,” I said.

    “Double wow,” Shaneika said, putting down her trowel and staring at the Dane women.

    I slapped her foot.  “You’re ogling.”

    Shaneika countered, “I’m not ogling.  I’m studying them.”

    “You’re gawking.”

    “They might need a sharp lawyer for their legal team.  I’m going over there and hand them my card.”  Shaneika stared at my astonished face.  “Well, you never know.  Josiah, since you know them, you must introduce me to them.”

    “Like I told you, I’ve met them once for a brief introduction.  I hardly call that knowing them.  Not only can I not tell them apart, I don’t remember their names.”

    “It’s Magda and Maja,” Heather offered, “but the story doesn’t end with the second Mrs. Dane’s death.”

    “There’s more?” I asked.

    “Quite a bit, I’m afraid,” Heather said.  “Before old man Dane died, he discovered one of his adult children from his first marriage was embezzling from the family firm, and he disinherited him. Ultimately the embezzler died from a drug overdose.  Apparent suicide.”

    “How many children did Mr. Dane have in all?” Shaneika asked.

    Looking smug, Heather replied, “Five.  One died in infancy.”

    “Another whammy,” Shaneika commented.

    “How do you know all of this, Heather?” I asked, bagging more animal bones before marking their location on a grid survey.  I motioned for a volunteer to carry the bones away for analysis.

    “I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  The Dane family has been written about ad nauseam.”

    “I never heard of the family before meeting the twins,” I said.  “I don’t know how I could have missed all this drama.  It’s right up my alley.”

    “I’m not finished,” Heather said.

    Shaneika exclaimed. “There’s more?”

    “Yeah, a real cliffhanger.”

    “Ugh, Heather, enough with the references to cliffs, please,” I complained.

    “Sorry, Josiah.  I forget you fell off a cliff yourself.”

    I remarked, “My stomach is turning.”

    “You gotta hear this though.  It turned out that old man Dane disinherited all of his children, except for Magda, the older of the twins.”

    Shaneika asked, “He did this why?”

    “Magda has a real knack for business, and he felt she would preserve the family business and fortune.  He was right.  The Dane brand has expanded under her leadership—tech companies, facial recognition software, robotic firms—stuff to do with national security.”

    “Even though Magda expanded the company, it would still piss me off if I were Maja,” Shaneika offered.

    I asked, “What about the other Dane offspring?”

    “The older sister from the first marriage keeps out of the limelight.  She has a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard.”

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“Margot, I think,” Heather replied, staring at the twins.

    Shaneika said, “Magda controls her siblings because she holds the family purse strings.  That’s what I would do to make them behave and keep them at arms length.”

    “And Maja?” I asked, amused that Heather seemed to be a crime buff. 

    “She lives in the guest house on the family estate in Baltimore, where the family firm is still located.  I think they live on an island in the bay.”

    Shaneika asked, “Why not inside the family home?”

    “Magda lives there with her husband, Gavin McCloud.”

I clucked, “Imagine having your own island in Chesapeake Bay.”

    Shaneika turned to me.  “Sounds similar to the Lee case you were involved in a few months back.  By the way, is Hunter still working on that case?” 

    “He called the other night and said that Rudy Lee’s partner in crime, Lettie Lemore pleaded guilty to illegal drug distribution and evidence tampering in a plea deal.  The DA dropped the charge for conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Johnny Stompanato, but she still refused to talk about Lee.  We might never know how Lee really died.”

    “What are you two talking about?” Heather asked.

    “An acquaintance of Josiah’s who died a month or so ago.  That’s all.”

    Heather looked confused.  “You must tell me, Jo.  I didn’t read about it in the paper.”

    “There was a little article about the man’s death in the paper.  The reporter has since quit Lexington and relocated to Las Vegas.”

“Was it murder?”

“Don’t know.  Death was ruled inconclusive.”

Heather said, “I don’t know how you do it, Josiah.  You keep your cool so.  I would just fall apart seeing a dead body.  I really would.  And the confrontations you have had with murderers.  I would freeze.  I know I would.  You know I keep up with you in the papers.  You’ve got a reputation for solving murders. I confess I’m quite a fan.”  She leaned over in a conspiratorial fashion.  “What are the details of your friend’s death?  Leave nothing out.”

“He wasn’t my friend, but I’ll tell you about it another time, Heather.  I see the food truck has arrived.  I’m going to get something.”

I needed to eat.  I was getting the shakes from weaning myself off so much pain medication.  Food helped with the withdrawal—mainly booze and chocolate, the important food groups.

Just breathe, Josiah, I told myself.  Just breatheYou’ll be all right.



 I grudgingly got up off my knees.  In fact, Shaneika had to pull me up.  As soon as I was steady on my feet, I said, “Well, come on, girls. I’m buying.  My treat.”

    Shaneika threw down her trowel and stepped out of the trench.  “Sounds good to me.  I could do with a cup of coffee.”  She extended her hand to Heather.  “Come on, Cousin Heather.  Let’s take a break.”

    Heather and Shaneika followed me to the truck where we got in line behind four other volunteers.  As soon as it was my turn to order, one of the Dane twins stepped in front of me and proceeded to place her order.  Flabbergasted, I turned to face Shaneika and Heather with my mouth open. 

    Shaneika was the first to speak up.  “Excuse me, but this lady was in front of you.”  When the twin ignored her, Shaneika spoke up more forcefully, “Hey, white girl.  I’m talkin’ to you.  You need to get to the back of the line.”

    The Dane twin twisted around slowly and disdainfully looked the three of us up and down.  “Would you be addressing me?”

    “You cut in front of us.  There is a line,” I said, keeping my voice low and evenly modulated as I didn’t want to cause a scene.  I pointed to the line behind me.

    “So I did,” the woman replied, as she turned away from me and paid the food truck server.  Giving me a smirk, the Dane twin took a bite of her barbeque sandwich before walking away.

    “Well, of all the nerve,” Heather sputtered.  The three of us watched the twin sashay toward a picnic table.

    “May I help you?” the irritated server asked, totally unaware of what had taken place.  His only concern was to keep the line moving.

    “Sorry,” I replied.  “I would like three barbeque sandwiches, three fries, two waters, and one large coffee, please.”  As I paid for the food, Shaneika helped carry it over to a table far away from the Dane woman.  Heather followed with the condiments.  The three of us huddled together, but I couldn’t enjoy my sandwich.  I was too angry. 

    I must have been wearing my emotions on my sleeve because Heather said, “Anger is bad for the digestive system.  Let it go.”

    “I hate bullies,” I replied.

    “So do I,” Shaneika said, seething.

    Heather smiled sweetly, “Cuz, you are an officer of the court.  You can’t do anything about this.  Both of you, let it go.  The Dane woman’s not worth any trouble.”

    “Do you know which one she is, Heather?”

    “No, I have trouble telling them apart.”

    “I think it was Maja.  She parts her hair on the left,” I replied.

    Shaneika spoke up, “You couldn’t remember their names, but you remember which twin parted her hair in a particular way?”

    “Once Heather reminded me of their names, I remembered.”

    Heather offered, “They might not be consistent with how they style their hair.  They may switch it up to fool people.”

    I said, “True.  Didn’t think of that.”

    Changing the subject, Shaneika suggested, “Why don’t we go kayaking on the river tomorrow evening?  I hear the other volunteers are getting a group together.  Kentucky is so pretty in the spring.  The redbuds and dogwoods are blooming now.”

    “No thanks, Shaneika,” Heather said.  “You know I’m not a fan of water.  Besides, it’s still too cold.  I had to wear a coat this morning.”

    “You’ll have a life jacket on, Heather.  Even if you fall in, you’ll bob back up.  You can kayak with me.  I’ll keep you safe.”

    “Again, no thanks, Shaneika.  Water sports are not my thing.  I get nervous just looking at water.”

    “You big baby.”  Shaneika looked at me.

    “I’m out, too.  Getting in and out of a kayak has me flummoxed.  It’s all I can do to get up on a horse, and that is with steps and stable hands to help me.” 

    “Too bad, but I think I’ll join the others tomorrow.”  Shaneika looked up at the darkening sky.  “That is if I get up early enough. I feel tired today.  I may sleep in.”

“Hello ladies.  Taking a break, I see.”

The three of us looked up to see Dr. Reese smiling at us.  She was the archaeologist in charge of the dig.  Unlike me, she had dressed appropriately for the dig.  Dr. Reese was wearing some sort of plastic overalls over her clothes, boots, a neck scarf, and gloves.  Her chestnut hair was piled up into a bun, although loose strands danced about her tanned oval face.  I approximated Dr. Reese to be about forty.

“Hello, Dr. Reese.  Would you like to join us?” I asked, when to my surprise Heather kicked me under the table.

“No, thank you.  Just came to get some coffee.  Everybody doing okay?”

“Sure,” I said. 

Shaneika asked, “Has anyone found any artifacts specific to African Americans?”

Dr. Reese shook her head.  “Nothing with any names on it.  Sorry, Shaneika.  I know that is your focus.”

“Were there many slaves at Boonesborough?” I asked, rubbing my sore shin and giving Heather a dirty look. 

“More than you would think.  Boonesborough even had free black men taking their chances as early as 1775.  In fact, a free black man by the name of Richard Hines built a cabin not too far from here.  Unfortunately, he built it near a known river crossing for the Shawnee and was killed in 1779.  The river bend on his property is still referred to as Hines Bend.  Another free man, who came early, was John Sidebottom.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and is credited with saving future president, James Monroe, at the Battle of Trenton.” 

I said, “I’m not too keen on my colonial history.  Isn’t that the battle when George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night and captured a contingent of Hessians?”

Dr. Reese said, “Yes.  Have you seen the painting of it by Emanuel Leutze?  I can never look at that painting without getting chills.”

Dr. Reese laid her hand on Shaneika’s shoulder.  “I’m afraid there is very little written about the women in this period, especially black women.  One reason is that most people couldn’t read or write.  Even those who could didn’t write in their diaries about their wives or daughters unless they married, had children, or died.  The few good bio details we have of most pioneer women were written down if they had been stolen by Native Americans—a prime example being Jenny Wiley.  Rebecca Boone is the only pioneer woman in Kentucky that we have solid biographical information on.  For other women, we must glean information from wills, petitions, family bibles, and stories handed down in families.  We’re not sure about how many black women were at Fort Boonesborough.  We know only a few of their names, but we know there were black women here in the beginning.”

“Is there a list of Monk Estill’s children?” Shaneika asked. “I’m wondering if there is a connection between his descendants and the Todd family.”

“You can find what information we have on him in the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.  He did have three wives and thirty children.”

“I’ve heard that name before, but don’t know much about him,” I said.

Dr. Reese seemed happy to oblige.  “Monk was James Estill’s slave and extremely vital to the survival of Boonesborough.  You might call him a Renaissance man.  Not that he was a formal scholar, but a man of many talents.  He made rugs and blankets out of elk and bison hides, planted apple orchards, and most important of all, mined saltpeter and guano for gunpowder.  Without gunpowder, the settlers would not have survived.  He was also known for his strength and bravery.  He once carried a wounded man twenty-five miles to safety.  When James Estill was killed by the Shawnee in 1782, his son Wallace, freed Monk and provided for him until his death in 1835.”

I asked, “What did Monk do after he was set free?”

“He became a Baptist minister,” Dr. Reese replied.  

Unexpectantly, Heather said tersely, “It looks like it’s going to rain, Dr. Reese.”

I shot Heather another look and noticed Shaneika seemed tense.

Dr. Reese looked at the sky.  “It does look threatening, doesn’t it, Heather?  One should be careful of storms lest one is carried away by the tempest.”

I thought that an odd thing to say, but then I think people are strange.

Heather looked away while Shaneika looked uncomfortable.

“Well, I’d better get back.”  Dr. Reese waved goodbye and hurried back to the site.

    “What was that about, Heather?  Why did you kick me?” I asked.

“Did I?  I’m so sorry.  It was an accident.”

“It hurt.”

“I’m sorry, Josiah.  Very sorry.”

“You got something against Dr. Reese?”

Shaneika intervened, saying, “Look, the rain is coming.”

“Naw, it will hold off until this evening,” I said, right before a big raindrop splashed into my eye.

    “That does it,” Shaneika said, grabbing her food.  “Let’s retire to my RV.”

    I dumped my Styrofoam container into a garbage bin and hurried to Shaneika’s rented RV.  I spied the archaeologists pulling large tarps over the dig as I rushed to get out of the drizzle.  It seemed they were done for the day.

So was I.



Since I needed to work the farmer’s market in Lexington the next morning, I met up with Shaneika on Thursday at Fort Boonesborough.  The fort is really not that far from my house, the Butterfly, if one drives across the ferry at Valley View.  I parked my newly refurbished VW van next to Shaneika’s sleek RV and popped up a few chairs around a campfire.  We took advantage of the campgrounds adjacent to the fort, to save us driving time the four days we were committed to the project.  That was all the money and time the archaeologists’ grant allowed.  Four days.  The only time I couldn’t help with the dig was when I had to go into town for the market on Saturday.

The rain had stopped, so Heather, Shaneika, and I perched in front of a fire roasting marshmallows when a stunning looking woman approached us.  Oh, what fresh hell is this? I thought as I recognized her as one of the Dane twins.

“Hello,” she said in a melodious voice.  She obviously had elocution lessons in the past.  “May I join you for a moment?”

“Sure,” Heather invited.  “Pull up a chair.”

I inwardly groaned.

“Thank you.”  She sat and looked at us expectantly.

We stared back at her.  Silence fell over our group as we were waiting for each other to speak.

“My name is Josiah,” I said, finally.  “These crazy gals are Heather and Shaneika.”

“I know you, Josiah,” the Dane woman said.  “Well, I don’t know you, but we’ve met before at one of Lady Elsmere’s to-dos.”

“I’m surprised you remembered.  That was a long time ago.”

“It seems like a lifetime,” the Dane woman mused. “I keep up with you in the papers.  You’re quite famous as a sleuth.  It must be fascinating to solve all those murder cases.”

“You get the local paper?”

“I subscribe to papers from all over the country.  A woman in my position needs to know what is going on in the world and who the players are.”

 I was amazed that I was considered a player.  “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember which twin you are.”

The Dane woman laughed.  It was an easy laugh without pretense.

 It made me relax a little and feel kindly toward her. 

“That’s why I’m here.  I saw my sister jump in front of you at the food truck, and I would like to apologize on behalf of my family.  My sister can be a little—” she paused for a moment searching for the right word—“impetuous.”

“Are you going to tell me that she didn’t see the line?”

“Heavens no.  I won’t make excuses, but I would like to apologize.”

I said, “It was a lousy thing to do, especially when it’s hard for me to stand for any period of time.”

The woman sighed.  She was used to getting her way and didn’t like to be challenged.

Star-struck, Heather stuck out her hand.  “Let’s start over.  I’m Heather.  This is my cousin, Shaneika, and you know Josiah.”

The Dane woman smiled and shook hands with Heather.  “Hi, I’m Magda Dane McCloud.”

I gathered a cup and poured bourbon in it, offering it to the Dane twin.  “Here, Magda.  This will put hair on your chest.”

“Thank you,” Magda said, taking the paper cup gratefully.  She gingerly sniffed the bourbon before imbibing.

As Magda took a sip, Baby, my big lumbering dog, woke from his nap and stumbled out of my van, looking for fun and food.  Of course, Baby was with me.  You didn’t think I’d leave him at home, did you?

Magda almost spilled her drink when she saw Baby.  She was startled as are most people when they first lay eyes on him.  You would never believe how many people mistake Baby for a lioness. 

“He’s gentle,” I reassured.

“He’s an English Mastiff?”

“Yes.  His name is Baby.”

“Some baby,” Magda said.  “How many pounds?”

“About two hundred twenty.  Somewhere in that area.”

Magda laughed, “You must be feeding him well.  He’s huge.”

“Yep, Baby is a big boy.”

Hearing me say his name, Baby leaned into me and whimpered.  I gave him a cooled-off roasted marshmallow.  “That’s all.”

He whimpered some more.

“No,” I said.  “Marshmallows are not good for you.”

Magda asked, “May I pet him?”

“Just call his name.  He’ll come right to you.  I should caution you that Baby drools quite a bit.”

Magda called to him. 

Baby turned and saw Magda motioning to him.  Thinking she might offer him a treat, Baby padded over and rested his massive head upon her lap.

“He likes to be scratched behind the ears,” I said.

Magda cautiously petted Baby.  “His fur is so soft,” she said, looking up at me.  “Oh, he is a lovely boy.  I love dogs.  Animals of all sorts.  I wish I had time for them.”

“You shouldn’t have told me that.  I’m going to tell Lady Elsmere, and she’ll hit you up for a large donation to her new animal sanctuary,” I said.  “Are you staying in the campground or in town?”

“My husband and I are four doors down in the silver and red RV.  My sister, Maja, and the rest of the family are staying in a B&B nearby.”

Shaneika and I swiveled to stare at the gleaming RV that took up two spots due to its huge size.  I wondered how it could be driven.  It was as large as a semi truck.

“Magda, I thought you had retired,” Heather said, “or, at least, slacked off a little bit.”

“What made you think that?” Magda asked, still petting Baby.  She avoided eye contact with Heather.

“I haven’t seen much written about you lately in the papers and because you are here.  Isn’t your company located in Baltimore?”

Shaneika added, “Yes, why are you here in Kentucky and at Fort Boonesborough on a dig?”

“You guys caught me.  Dr. Reese and I are in the same college sorority.  She sent out a bulletin asking for volunteers, so I thought to myself —why not?  And you are correct about me wishing to retire.  I want to live in this area, so I’m using this excavation as an excuse to have a look-see.”

“Because of the horse farms?” I asked.

“It’s so pretty here,” Magda said, “and, yes, because of the horse farms.  I’ve been looking at a few for sale.  I don’t want to race horses or breed them.  I want to open up a nursery for pregnant brood mares.”

“There are several farms which offer that service already,” Shaneika said.

“But mostly for Thoroughbreds.  I want to offer the service to Standardbreds and other breeds as well.”

“Horse owners don’t like to put different breeds of horses in the same pastures,” Heather said.  “Thoroughbreds are notoriously temperamental.”

“I’m aware of that.  I’ll make sure they are separated.”

Shaneika hammered away, “But why volunteer for this little dig besides being a friend of Dr. Reese?  You must have your choice of archaeological digs worldwide.”

“I’m a student of American history and am fascinated with Kentucky.  Its history is so cursed and bloody.  I am ashamed to say the macabre captivates me.  I also wanted to get my sisters and my husband into an area where we could have privacy.  I’m about to announce something rather important, and I wanted them away from the limelight with time to absorb my news and think.”

“Then you are selling the family business,” Heather surmised.

Magda’s eyes widened.  “How did you guess?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Please don’t tell anyone.  I beg you.  The announcement will be made in two weeks, although the deal will go into effect on Monday after I sign some papers.  I wanted my family away from influences that might make this transition more difficult for them.”

“Is the rest of your family here?” Heather asked.

“My other sister is flying in tonight.  Neither sister has any idea about the sale, and I want to keep it that way until I tell them this weekend.”

“If I were you, I would tell your husband immediately.  You’re going to need someone to have your back, especially when money and family are involved,” I cautioned.

“Is your lawyer going to be present?” Shaneika asked.

Magda shook her head.  “I just wanted family present this weekend.”

“Present for what?” a deep voice boomed from behind us.

We looked up to see a tall man standing a few feet beyond us with a darkening sky behind him.  He was handsome, although his beauty was fading.  The skin on his patrician features looked slacked and yellowish.  He was wearing clean khakis with a white shirt which showed off his dyed dark hair and luminous black eyes.  I could tell that in his youth, the man had been arm candy.  Even I would have turned to watch him pass me on the street.

“Magda was just telling us the family is getting together for a reunion,” I said.

Magda shot me a grateful look.

Ignoring the rest of us, the man spoke to Magda sharply, “Darling, we must be going if we are to meet them at the hotel for dinner.  I got word that Margot has arrived.”

Magda turned away from her husband, explaining, “Margot is my older sister.  She flew in from New England.”

“Magda!” Gavin said, tapping the face of his Rolex wristwatch.

Embarrassed at Gavin’s rudeness, Magda rose.  “Everyone, please meet my husband, Gavin McCloud.  Gavin, going left to right is Shaneika, Heather, and Josiah.”

Gavin nodded hello to us while giving me a hard look.  “Have we met before?”

I nodded.  “Lady Elsmere’s party several years ago.  You came in for the Kentucky Derby.”

“And your name again?”

“Josiah Reynolds.”

Gavin made the connection.  “The woman with a man’s name.”  Making the connection, he snapped his fingers.  “You’re the lady detective.”

Before I could respond, he swung over to Shaneika, “And you had a horse running in the Derby.  Lost by a nose.  Gawd, what a race that was.  You must have been pissed.”  Gavin gave a hearty chuckle.  “There was something else.  Oh, I remember now.   You got into an argument at Lady Elsmere’s Derby ball with some other horseman by the name of, hmm, let me think.  Let me think.  It will come to me,” he said, snapping his fingers again.

“Charlie Hoskins,” Heather piped up.

He pointed at Shaneika.  “Yeah, that’s right.  Charlie Hoskins.  His horse was the favorite.  Didn’t he get arrested in the Caribbean for some shady dealing with that horse?”

Shaneika shot Gavin a withering look.

Seeing the ire in Shaneika’s eyes, Magda changed the subject.  “And this furry monster is Josiah’s dog.  I’m sorry.  What’s his name again?”

Before I could answer, Gavin said, “Well, nice to meet you all.”  He gave us all a perfect smile with expensive, capped teeth before imploring Magda, “Baby, we’ve gotta go.  We’re late as it is.”

Hearing his name, Baby went over to Gavin expecting a treat or a pet; whereupon, Gavin pushed him away.  “Can someone control this animal?”

“Come here, Baby,” I said, holding a peanut butter treat in my hand.  Baby gave Gavin a hurt look before trotting over to me.

Magda gave a weak smile.  “Thanks again for the drink, ladies.  Please give Lady Elsmere our regards.  I hope she is doing well.”

“She is,” I replied.  “She’ll be sorry that she missed your visit to Kentucky.”

Watching Gavin stride off, Magda said, “See you all tomorrow.”

“Good evening,” we said to the now retreating couple as Magda walked briskly to catch up with Gavin.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Shaneika said, “Now that was truly odd.”

“Why?” Heather asked, putting another marshmallow on her stick.

“The entire conversation was bizarre.”

“I don’t understand,” Heather said, poking her marshmallow into the fire.

“First of all, how do we know that is really Magda?  Those two twins dress and look alike,” Shaneika argued.

Heather said, “She identified Gavin as her husband, and he identified the woman as his wife.  Of the siblings, only Magda has the old ball and chain tied to her ankle.  The rest never married or are divorced.” 

“But Gavin didn’t identify the woman as his wife.  Just called her darling and baby,” I said.

“But he did,” Heather insisted.

I said, “You’re right.  He called her Magda.”

“My goodness, you two are so suspicious of everyone,” Heather said.  “Josiah, do you really think that wasn’t Magda Dane?”

“I’m sure it was Magda Dane,” I said, laughing.  “She wasn’t the woman who jumped in front of me at the food truck.  Our visitor’s demeanor was completely different.  Besides, she liked Baby and Baby took to her.  Good enough character reference for me.”

Heather looked confused.

I said, “We’re just putting you on, Heather.” 

“It still doesn’t prove that the woman who apologized was Magda Dane.  It only proves the twins have dissimilar personalities,” Shaneika argued.  “And you can’t prove it by DNA since they are identical.”

“Will you stop being a lawyer, cuz?” Heather said, pulling a gooey charred marshmallow off her stick and popping it into her mouth.

“I think what makes Shaneika so suspicious is Magda telling us that she had sold the family business,” I said, putting a hotdog on my stick after giving a raw one to Baby.  “That is very big news.  Why would she tell three complete strangers something so important?  We could call the newspapers and let the cat out of the bag before Monday, which could screw the deal or make the stock market slide.  Telling us that scoop is not something an astute business person would do.”

“I concur,” Shaneika said.  “Magda came over with the intent to tell us about her selling out and not to apologize for her sister.”

Heather grabbed the Graham crackers and chocolate, making herself a S’more.  “Maybe she’s lonely.”

I wanted to roll my eyes at Heather’s naivety, but resisted.  Instead, I patted Heather’s knee. “You’re probably right, honey.”  I yawned.  “Guys, I’ve had too much bourbon and it’s making me sleepy, so I’m turning in.  I’ll be back after the market is over tomorrow and finish out Saturday and Sunday on the dig.”

“Good night,” Heather said.  “Pleasant dreams.”

“See ya tomorrow,” Shaneika said.

I locked up my van and wandered over to Shaneika’s RV where I was staying for the weekend.  Baby followed obediently and immediately jumped into our small bunk bed while I took a quick shower before retiring.

I did have pleasant dreams that night. 

It was the next day that turned into a nightmare.



I got up around six and took Baby for a tinkle walk into the woods away from the campgrounds.  The sun was coming up.  I looked at my watch.  It was getting late, and it would take me an hour to get to the market.  If  I was tardy for the setup time, the market wouldn’t let me sell.  I needed to hurry.

As Baby and I were heading back, Heather rushed out of the woods and ran toward me, waving frantically.  She looked flushed and frightened.  Catching up with me and gasping for air, Heather grabbed my arm and pulled.  “Come, Josiah.  We must get away.”

When someone says to run, I run.  Danger is everywhere.

Heather raced ahead and burst into Shaneika’s RV.  I followed, looking behind, but saw nothing before dashing into the RV.  Now catching my breath, I slumped into a chair and asked, “What was it, Heather?  A bear?”

“Something evil.”

“Evil?  A bear is not evil.  A bear is just a bear.”

Heather swallowed.  “I went into the woods to do some bird watching.”

I noticed the binoculars around Heather’s neck.  “I see.”

“Around dawn, birds are very active.  That’s when I like to watch for them.”


Heather leaned toward me and whispered, “I saw Gavin kissing Maja in the woods, and overhead them plotting to kill Magda.”

I drew back.  “What!”

“I caught Gavin and Maja plotting to kill Magda.”

“Did they see you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Tell me everything you saw and heard.”

“I was looking for Pileated Woodpeckers when I spied Gavin kissing a woman through my binoculars.”

“Then what?”

“I crept closer.”

“Heather, it’s not proper to spy on two people making love.”

“You are lecturing me about protocol after all the naughty things you have done.”

“Point taken.”

“As I was saying, I crept closer and heard Maja say, ‘Let’s do this.  We can make it look like an accident.  No one will suspect.’”

“And did the man say anything?”

“He said something like, ‘Okay, but we have to do it soon.  Before Monday.  I told you she was going ahead with this.  If she does, all is lost.  I’ll have nothing.’”

“Are you sure that’s what they said?”

“I admit they were far away, but you know how sound travels along the Palisades.  I’m sure that’s what they said.  You can whisper and a person can hear plainly what you’ve said a hundred yards away.”

“Okay, Heather.  I believe you.  You saw something that has upset you, but you need to be positive. This is a serious charge.  Are you positive the people who you saw were Gavin and Maja?”

Heather hesitated for a second.  “I think so.  The light was dim filtering through the trees, and they were in the shadows.  But if it wasn’t Maja, why would Gavin and Magda be kissing in the woods at six in the morning when they have a huge motor home parked in the campgrounds?”  Heather grabbed my hand.  “What should I do?  It was alarming to hear such things.”

I nibbled on the side of my lip and resisted looking at my watch.  I could tell Heather was very upset.  “Listen, Heather.  I need to leave, or I’m going to be late for work.  Shaneika will be up soon.  Tell her everything you’ve told me, and let Shaneika handle this.  Until you tell her, keep this RV locked and don’t go outside.  I’m trusting Gavin and Maja didn’t see you, but let’s play it safe, just in case.”

“You don’t believe me.  I can tell.”

“I believe you saw and heard something, and I’ve had enough experience with human nature to know people will do anything if they feel threatened, especially about money.  I’ll be back around two.  Just stay inside the RV until I get back.”

“I’m telling the truth, Josiah.”

“I know you are, honey, and it will be dealt with, but I’ve got to go.  I’ll be back soon.”  I kissed her on her forehead.  “Don’t worry, Heather.  Shaneika and I will take care of this.  We’ll sort this out.”

And so I left. 

How stupid could I have been? 

The nightmare had begun to unfold, but I didn’t realize it.


: Josiah Reynolds Mysteries, Book 15

Publisher: Worker Bee Press
Genre: Mystery
Length: 208 pages
Amazon ISBN: 9798718347241
Lightning Source ISBN: 9781953478030

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