Chapter reveal: Dying to Tell, by Tj O’Connor

DTT Cover 800 jan 2016 copyTitle:  DYING TO TELL

Genre:  Mystery

Author:  Tj O’Connor

Websitewww.tjoconnor.com

Publisher:  Midnight Ink

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

In Dying to Tell, the latest mystery by award-winning novelist Tj O’Connor, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire—is back for the case of a lifetime, or, rather, the afterlifetime. 

A former police detective who now solves mysteries from beyond, Tuck doesn’t appreciate just how perilous the past can be till his wife, Angel, is nearly killed and reclusive banker William Mendelson is found dead in a hidden vault.  Tuck knows there’s more to Mendelson’s murder than decades-old skullduggery. As murderers, thieves, and spies descend on small-town Winchester, Tuck joins up with Angel, old detective partners, and a long-dead grandfather still on an army mission from 1942. With the case unfolding around him, Tuck must confront haunting family secrets and the growing distance between his death and Angel’s life.  The outcome could be a killer of its own, but Tuck is set on solving this case. Dead set.  After all, some things never die…

 CHAPTER ONE

Dying is as perilous as secrets and lies. Depending, of course, on

who is keeping the secrets and who is telling the lies. Trust me, I’m

in the secrets and lies business—I’m a homicide cop. Well, I was.

Secrets and lies can lead to big problems—like murder—although

it’s not in the secrets or the lies themselves. It’s that someone always

wants to tell. The urge is like an addict needing a fix. You need to

tell—you cannot help it—you have to tell. Sometimes it’s out of

guilt. Sometimes it’s for revenge. Sometimes it’s just spite. No matter,

in the end, someone is always dying to tell.

And then bad things happen.

An auburn-haired beauty with green eyes—eyes that could hypnotize

vampires—walked down the outdoor Old Town Winchester

mall through a dusting of blowing December snow. She stopped

momentarily to adjust her long wool overcoat over her athletic legs

and curvaceous, bumpy body—a good bumpy. She looked around

the mall, twice back from where she’d come, and turned down the

sidewalk to the annex behind the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

2

County. When she caught sight of me, her smile—one that normally

could charm snakes—looked more like that of a cobra ready to strike.

I ran to catch up.

No, not because I’m obsessed with vampires or snake charmers.

And no, I wasn’t stalking this classy university professor on her way to

some mysterious early morning appointment. She was my wife, but

she was on her way to a mysterious appointment—and I didn’t know

where or why. So, being the former detective I was, I followed her.

“Angel, where you going?”

“To the bank.” She reached the employee entrance door and stopped.

“Why are you following me?”

Silly question. “Because you’re going to the bank at seven in the

morning. It’s closed.”

She checked her watch. “And it’s almost seven thirty.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of banker’s hours? Who do you think is

here this early?”

She rolled her eyes—a signal that my wit or charm had disarmed

her. “I’ll explain later at home.”

“I’ll wait. We can get pancakes.”

“You hate pancakes. What’s wrong with you lately? Are you spying

on me?”

I did hate pancakes, but watching her eat steak and eggs—my

favorite breakfast—was much more painful. “Spying, no. Me?”

“I didn’t think the dead could be so frustrating.”

Oh, did I mention I’m dead? No? I’m Tuck, formerly Detective

Oliver Tucker of the Frederick County Sheriff ’s office. Now I’m just

Tuck to my friends—those living and dead. I was a hotshot homicide

detective before I went investigating noises in my house late

one night. Those noises led someone to put a bullet in my heart.

3

That was nearly two years ago. And it’s taken me that long to come to

terms with it. Sort of. It helped to catch the bastard who shot me and

put an end to his killing spree. And it helps to have my wife, Angel,

and Hercule, my black Lab, around, too. Dead and gone are two totally

different things. I’m dead, but as Angel and Hercule will tell

you—well, maybe not Hercule, he’s a dog—I’m just not gone.

“Angel, listen, I …”

The steel security door at the employee entrance door burst open

and banged against the brick annex wall. A masked gunman—a tall,

strong-looking figure dressed in dark clothes and the traditional bank

robber’s balaclava—ran from the annex, turned, and fired a shot from

a small revolver. He slipped on the sidewalk, freshly adorned with an

inch of snow, and crashed to the ground. He cursed, jumped to his

feet, and locked eyes on Angel.

“Run, Angel. Run!” I yelled.

Too late.

The gunman scrambled the three yards to us and grabbed Angel

by the arm. “Come here!” He spun her around, pulled her to him

like a shield, and faced the annex doorway.

A bank security guard emerged through the door, gun first.

“Freeze! Let her go!”

The gunman fired two shots in rapid succession. One hit the security

guard and the other slammed safely into the wall two feet beside

him. The guard grunted, staggered back, and went down, striking

his head on a stone flower planter beside the entrance.

“Angel, stay calm,” I said. “I’ll get you out of this.”

“Tuck, help me!”

I dove for the gunman and took two vicious swings trying to free

her. Both blows struck him in the face and neither caused him to

4

flinch. I struck again—lashed a kick to his knee, a jab to the rib cage.

Two more body blows.

Nothing.

“Angel, fight. You have to fight. I can’t help.”

Angel was not a timid or slight woman and she erupted like a

wildcat, taking the gunman by surprise. She twisted and fought

against his grip and nearly broke free.

“Dammit, lady, stop!” He jammed the revolved to her cheek. “Or

else.”

“Tuck,” she cried out, “help me! Tuck …”

Rage boiled over and the explosion started inside me everywhere.

A second later, my fingers tingled and my body burned from

the inside. Seconds were all I had. I lunged forward and struck the

gunman in the throat with the heel of my hand. He staggered back,

relaxing his grip around Angel. I struck two more vicious punches

to his face and followed with a kick to his midsection.

“What the f—” He released her and turned in a circle, his eyes

darting around.

I struck two kidney punches and a sharp kick to the inside of one

leg. He umphed and crumpled sideways down onto one knee. I

crushed him with a two-fisted hammer punch to the back of his neck.

“Run, Angel—go!”

She was only four or five strides from the gunman when he lifted

his revolver and took aim.

A gunshot split the air from behind us, searing a lightning bolt

through me on its way to the bank robber. It struck him in the upper

arm and spun him sideways. A second shot followed but missed him

by mere inches. The gunman was stunned but regained his footing—

his injury wasn’t stopping him. He staggered back, lifted his

5

revolver, and pulled off a shot before he ran around the rear of the

bank annex and disappeared.

“Angel?” I spun around. “Are you all right?”

Apparently, she was fine.

A tall, square-jawed, distinguished man in a heavy wool overcoat

stood beside her now. He had one arm around her, speaking slowly to

her—consoling her—and his other arm hung to his side, a black, compact

.45 semiautomatic handgun in his grasp. He looked like a younger

Clooney, but perhaps better looking. I instantly distrusted him.

“I’m fine, Mr. Thorne, really.” Angel slipped from his arm and went

to the security guard lying on the snowy ground beside the annex

door. She moved over him, checked his wounds, and tried to wake

him. “Call an ambulance. He’s been shot and is unconscious.”

Thorne—a man I’d never seen before—pulled a cell phone from

his overcoat pocket. “Right, and the police. Is Conti all right?”

“I’m not sure.” She investigated a small, thin hole over the guard’s

left breast through his blue suit coat. From inside the coat, she pulled

out a paperback book and held it up. “Agatha Christie saved his

life—Murder on the Orient Express. The bullet hit this and didn’t go

through.”

I put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her—or perhaps, to

comfort me. The rage had passed, and with it, the last of my connection

to the physical world. “Are you okay, babe? I …”

“I’m fine. Go see if anyone else is hurt inside.” She caught Thorne

eyeing her. “There may be more employees inside, right?”

“Not at this hour, no. Let’s wait on the police.”

No, I wasn’t waiting.

6

A voice beckoned me into the bank and I followed. It wasn’t a

voice—not really—it was more like someone telegraphing words

into my head: “It isn’t over, kid, follow me.”

The bank annex was dark. The faint morning light was barely

enough to cast more than a dull haze through the lobby windows. I

went through the grand lobby, down a long, dark corridor into the

executive wing. At the end of the corridor were three offices. I stopped

at the suite of William H. Mendelson, Chairman of the Board, First

Bank and Trust of Frederick County—or so said the brass plaque

below the oversized portrait of a silver-haired titan.

The voice from nowhere whispered, “Hurry up, kid. Inside.”

I followed the voice into the pitch-black office and through a

second doorway in the corner of the room—a closet, I thought—

but it was the entrance to a stairwell leading down into more darkness.

Two floors below, in a sub-basement, the stairwell opened to a

wide landing at a heavy steel security gate that looked like a prison

cell door. Beyond the gate was a small anteroom lit by a dim fluorescent

light overhead. The gate was unlocked and open and the anteroom

beyond was empty except for a small metal work table and

two battleship-gray chairs. In the rear of the room was a monstrous,

turn-of-the-century steel vault door—the nineteenth century. To my

surprise, the door was cracked open, and a sliver of eerie light from

inside the vault etched the anteroom wall.

“Inside, Oliver.” The voice was all around me now. “Go inside.”

Oliver? “Who the hell are you?”

“Just go. Quit stalling.”

I turned and found a strange man—a fellow wraith—leaning

against the anteroom wall watching me—not in a casual way, but

trying to appear casual. He had one hand in a pocket of his leather

7

bomber jacket and he tipped a baseball cap that had a big “W” on it

off his brow with the other.

“Trust me, kid. This isn’t the way it looks.” He threw a chin toward

the vault. “Go on in. I’ve done my part. Now it’s your turn.”

Inside I found the Chairman of the First Bank and Trust of Frederick

County.

William H. Mendelson always reminded me of Lionel Barrymore’s

Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He was a starchy, arrogant

old banker who made rare appearances around town. When he

did, he never spoke, didn’t wave, and never, ever smiled. And to

those who knew him, he was never William or Bill—God, never

Billy, either. He was Mr. Mendelson—or more often, the Chairman.

Like he was Frank Sinatra or something, right?

William sat behind a square steel counting table in the middle of

the vault, facing the door. He was dressed in the same blue doublebreasted

suit he must have worn yesterday—from the smell, he’d

been here a while. A dark blood stain ruined his starched white shirt

and expensive silk tie—the result of a small-caliber bullet hole in his

heart. Both hands rested on the tabletop like he was waiting for a

sandwich—or pancakes—and they were stuck to the blackish gooey

remains of his life.

And hanging in the vault air was the heavy, pungent odor of

smoke.

The bomber-jacketed man—strangely familiar—said, “Remember,

kid, it’s not what you think.”

“Hello, William,” I said, looking at the murdered chairman. “I’m

Tuck and I’ll be investigating your murder. Perhaps you can tell

me—what should I think?”

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