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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

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


DTT Cover 800 jan 2016 copyTitle:  DYING TO TELL
Genre:  Mystery
Author:  Tj O’Connor
Website:  www.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
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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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