Authors: T. J. O'Connor
Tags: #paranormal, #humorous, #police, #soft-boiled, #mystery, #mystery fiction, #novel, #mystery novel, #tucker, #washington, #washington dc, #washington d.c.
Dying for the Past
2014 by Tj O'Connor
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2014
E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-4206-9
Book design by Donna Burch-Brown
Cover design by Lisa Novak
Cover illustration: Jesse Reisch/Deborah Wolfe LTD
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
For Jean and Lindsay
Always sisters, always daughters, always my girls
I love you both.
Many thanks go to those who helped me start writing over the years. Irene and Oscar, my grandparents, who gave endless support and encouragement; Ms. Sergio, my English teacher from Germantown High School, who told me I could write; and countless friends and colleagues who always nudged me forward when real life got in the way. Mostly, there are the steadfast few who have both helped out in many more ways than they know: my readers and editorsâJean, Nic, Natalia, and Gina; Toby, Maggie, and Mosby, who are constant companions in this lonely world inside my den; and, of course, Wally, who has been motivated by my first book to sharpen his whip to help make my stories better.
It goes without saying that none of this would be happening without Kimberley Cameron, my patient and always supportive agent, and my new friends at Midnight Ink for giving Tuck and his pals a place to tell their stories.
Yet, no acknowledgment would be finished without thanking my family for their encouragement and support in twisting arms, passing along posts, and rallying coworkers and friends to the pages of my world. Tuck and Angel thank you. Bear grumbles and waves. And Hercule wags, moans, and tosses you his ball.
Thank you to all.
Dying is not for
the faint of heart.
Unfortunately, dying is also not reserved for the very old, the very ill, or the very deserving either. Sometimes, dying is unfair and ill timed. It is stressful and confusing. Almost always, it's irritating. Just when things are greatâyou're a hotshot homicide detective married to a brilliant, beautiful professorâthen, wham, someone shoots you in the heart. I'm not being figurative here, I mean right in the heart. One minute you're alive and on this earth, and the next minute you're dead, and, well, still on this earth.
And to be clear, being among the living and being one of them are two separate things.
I'm Tuck. Formally, Detective Oliver Tucker. And I know about
death and dying. Not only am I a damn fine homicide cop, but I'm also dead. Yes,
I'm just not gone. Or, to be more politically correct, I'm “living-challenged.”
Sometimes, being dead is not so bad. Like poofing in and out of places on a whim without bothering with doors and stairs. And you never have to pee or get the flu againâbig pluses. Then there are times, though, when dead is depressing and sad. It's the things you missâthe taste of good wine, the adrenaline rush of chasing a suspect, or the feeling when you're in the middle of the dance floor with the most beautiful woman in the room. Those moments hurt.
A woman with shoulder-length auburn hair and sparkling green eyes stood in the middle of the mansion's ballroom. Her
long, silky gown was icing poured hot over sultry curves. All eyes fixed on her when she embraced a tall, distinguished-looking older man before a dance. He wore a tuxâokay, yeah, he was striking, with gray hair and a strong, muscular build, brilliant, rich, blah, blah, blah. Big deal. The two could have been on a wedding cake but instead were the center of attention at Angel's big band-themed charity gala, leading a turn around the floor to Glenn Miller's
When they took their first step, I turned away.
She was my Angel. My wife. And while AndrÃ© Cartier was a father
figure, uncle, and one of her closest companionsânot a lover or suitorâan icy, sharp knife stabbed me.
Even the dead get jealousâand more often.
Angel was the queen of the evening. Around her, most of them watching, were two hundred of the area's most notable residents; read that “wealthy and powerful.” Everyone was here to drink expensive champagne, eat, dance, and drop big checks into Angel's charity.
Drink. Dance. Eat. Write checks. Tough life, huh?
The dance floor was alive with starlight and magic cast by the glitter ball overhead as I watched her. I considered sauntering over and whispering some cute tidbit in her earâjust to make her laugh and her eyes rollâbut a big, two-hundred-and-sixty pound
dinner jacket slumped against the bar and ordered a double-bour
bon. Detective Bear Braddock was over six feet tall and filled his jacket like too many potatoes in a sackâexcept this sack was hard and strong and packed a Glock 40-caliber and a gold detective shield.
Bear took a long sip of his drink and watched the crowd. He peered over at two deputies costumed as 1930s coppers standing nearby. One was a short, wiry, bald white guy in his early thirties, and the other was a tall, lean, strong black man just a little older. These would be Detectives Mike Spence and Calvin Clemensâmy nemeses on the sheriff's department in my breathing days. Tonight, they were babysitting the guests and the swell of donations filling the crystal donation bowl.
With money come problems.
Bear gave Spence an exaggerated nod and took a long pull
on his bourbon. Spence refused to acknowledge him and turned
They are palsâreally.
I leaned close to Bear and whispered, “Tie's crooked, pal.”
He spilled his drink trying to straighten it. “Dammit.”
Bear wiped his hand on his tux pants and flashed a frown around the room. Yeah, sometimes the big oaf heard me and sometimes he didn't. He knew I was hereâback, I meanâbut wouldn't admit it. He's stubborn and tough, and, like Hercule, my big black Lab, loyal and trustworthy. He's also afraid of what he can't see. That includes me.
The band lowered their instruments as the bandleader switched on an old phonograph. Cab Calloway scatted away as guests tried to find the sassy rhythm to
Minnie the Moocher
. Most failed miserably.
I caught Angel's eye and she looked straight at me. Bear fumbled with his drink and she caught me laughing. She shook her finger at me and headed for him.
Passing me, she whispered, “You're underdressed.”
She was right. This was a black-tie affair and I was in blue jeans and sneakers, blue oxford without a tie, and my favorite old blue blazer. But, for a forty-year-old, hundred-ninety-pound dead guy, I still looked good. It's not that I don't have a tux back home, it just fits someone more, well, alive.
As you can imagine, the dead need not worry about evening wear. I could be in dirty underwear and holey socksâevery mother's worry when you leave the houseâand no one would care. So I had that going for me.
Angel never reached Bear before the room went fuzzy. The music slowed like the phonograph was dropping Quaaludes. Cab Calloway droned in pitchy, lethargic groans. The crystal dance ball erupted with lightning strikes around the room. The air shimmered and the room shook, and for a time, I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
Then, as easy as it began, it was over.
Minnie the Moocher
played on again. No one seemed to notice, but I knew things weren't right. Something more than champagne was being uncorked.
Across the room, standing alongside the dance floor, was an uninvited guest. He was a stout, striking man in a black pinstripe double-breasted suit. He wore shiny, buffed wingtips and a gray felt fedora. The only thing missing was a big cigar hanging out of his mouth and a violin case. Then, he swept his hand across his jacket and revealed a heavy semi-automatic in a shoulder holster. Did someone invite Al Capone?
He looked at me and winked. Winked?
The mobster started across the dance floor, angling toward the table where Angel sat with several guests I didn't recognize.
A few more bars of
A plump, middle-aged man sitting across from Angel was having an animated conversation with a youngâvery youngâplatinum blond to his right. They could have been father and daughter, but his chopping hands and her accusing finger suggested more. The man wore round, wire-rimmed glasses and a carnation. Even with the big white tie against his all-black tux he was frumpy and out of place compared to the dinner jackets and suave tuxedos
around the room. While she stabbed the air at him, he looked away
at the dance floor and fumed.
The girl spun around in her chair and whispered something to the handsome young man sitting at her other side. A second later, she was floating across the floor, her partner leading in
a too-cozy clutch. Neither looked at Mr. Carnation when he grabbed
his champagne glass, jumped to his feet, and swooped Angel up for the light fantastic.
That's my girlâthe belle of the ball and an eyeful of oh-my-God.
An assault of fire spread through me.
Did I mention spirits get jealous?
The song playingâsomething Benny Goodman, I thinkâcarried Angel and Mr. Carnation to the center of the floor.
They made it halfway before things got weird.
Mr. Carnation slowed to a stop and spun Angel around, trying to catch the eye of his wayward blond laughing on the young man's arm. The blond pulled away from her partner and approached Mr. Carnation. He glided toward her with Angel still attachedâthe three met in the center of the dance floor as the room fixed on them in an awkward
Mr. Carnation hailed a passing waiter for a refill of champagne. After downing the glass in a single gulp he lifted Angel's hand for a melodramatic kiss.
His glass shattered and spasms jerked his body all the way to the floor. His right arm thrust out and pointed at the crowd; his left still held the broken glass stem. His body twitched a few more times and stilled.
The blond stood staring down at him. Her hands flew to her face as she gasped for breathâa slow, wailing cry erupted.
For a long moment, the couples dancing slowed but didn't stop. The young man knelt down at the body and waved for the lights.
The crystal dance ball's glitter hid the details, but I didn't need to see.
I'd seen death beforeâand murder too often. Not just my own, but dozens.
This one was unmistakable. It wasn't the way Mr. Carnation collapsed in a jerky, melodramatic spiral to the hardwood. It also wasn't the way his dull, lifeless face caught the dance ball light. It was much simpler.
It was the blood pooling around his body and the bullet hole through his torso.
Someone murdered Mr. Carnationâshot him in front of two hundred witnesses. A killer jitterbugged in and gunned him down to Benny Goodman.
The guests erupted.
Bear rushed in and pulled Angel away. Spence and Clemens tried
to push the crowd back. The lights snapped offâjust for a secondâ
flickered off-on-offâand flashed on. Voices hushed as eyes fell on the dead man.
Not me, though; I watched the crowd, looking for the killer and any telltale sign of the smoking gun. But what I saw, or didn't see, unnerved me more.
The gangster in the black pinstripes was gone â¦ vanishedâ
. He arrived just in time for a killing and left before the body hit the floor. No sign of his spats and black tie remained. He didn't leave his fedora or heater behind either. He was as dead and gone as Mr. Carnation.
The question was, however, would he stay that way?