Dying to Know by TJ O'Connor is the debut of the Gumshoe Ghost series about a homicide detective who must help his wife, now widow, solve his murder (January 8, 2014).
When Dr. Angela Tucker hears a bump in the night, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker is in no mood to investigate. But he does. And before he knows what’s happening, Tuck is shot dead with his own spare service pistol.
Returning as a ghost to the scene of the crime, Tuck has no idea who shot him and he sure doesn't know why his old partner has hidden a file in his office. Slowly harnessing his ghostly abilities, Tuck is able to communicate with Angela, a historian, and together they try to piece together the truth. Was Tuck killed by a supposedly retired mobster or was the intruder looking for information related to Angela's history research?
Dying is overrated. Murder, on the other hand, is not.
Trust me, after fifteen years as a detective, I know a lot about both. Like death and murder are always complicated, but not always related. You can have death without murder, but not the other way around. That’s what I used to think anyway. I changed my mind after an episode of my recurring nightmare. I’d been having it for years and it always turned out the same. While chasing a bad guy in the dark, he turned and shot me. I was about to die when something always pulled me from the nightmare.
This time, it was Hercule’s hot breath.
My four-year-old black Lab was standing beside my bed. Alternating between low growls and a tongue-lashing. Both Demanded my attention. When my eyes first opened, he lapped at my face and nudged me with his big, wet nose. I forced my eyes open wider and at the same time realized that Angel was not snuggled beside me in bed. She was standing across the room and listening at our bedroom door.
“Angel, did you hear something again?” She always heard things late at night and always felt compelled to share them with me. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, Tuck. Herc can hear it, too. Wake up, will you? What kind of detective are you?”
“Just get up. Please?”
Hercule froze, nose down, staring at me as we both heard creaking floorboards in the downstairs hall. I rolled sideways and sat on the side of the bed. Hercule crept away and crouched near the door. For the third time, something interrupted Angel’s sleep. The first two times were just our old house’s creaks and groans, and both failed to wake Hercule out of a stone-cold sleep. Now, after summoning me, he was poised for homeland defense.
I got to my feet and gathered my clothes littered in a strategic path across the room. I nearly toppled over slipping on my jeans and a black tee shirt, and did manage to trip over my running shoes.
Angel motioned for Herc to return to the bed. To me she whispered, “Hurry up.”
“Look, if I’m going to get killed tonight, I don’t want to be naked.” I grabbed my 40-caliber Glock from the nightstand and checked the chamber. Then, I retrieved a .38 revolver from our walk-in closet and handed it to Angel. “Just in case.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
“Keep Herc close, babe. If it’s your imagination, stay awake and lose those pjs. If it’s trouble, give me fifteen minutes—then lose them.”
Even in the dark, I could see her eyes roll. “Just be careful.”
At the door, I listened but heard nothing. I winked at Angel and Hercule on the bed and whispered, “I love you—you too, Angel.”
Hercule wagged his tail.
In the hallway, I waited for my eyes to adjust a little more to the darkness. I shifted them to use my peripheral vision, looking for any telltale movement. Still nothing. From the top of the stairs, I could just make out the foyer below and did not see or hear anything. There were no wispy shadows, no running feet, and no creaking floorboards. Yawning, I eased down the stairs with my Glock out in front of me. At the bottom landing, I stopped.
Darkness and the grandfather clock greeted me—it chimed two. The downstairs was quiet and I checked the front door. It was still locked and there were no signs of splintered wood, broken glass, or other forced entry. The only sound I heard was my own breathing. The only curious sighting was the half-dressed, frumpy guy in the hall mirror who looked tired and irritated.
Maybe Angel would be losing those pjs sooner rather than later.
I started with the kitchen and worked my way around the first floor, searching room by room—all five of them—ending in my den. Nothing. The most dangerous thing I found was Hercule’s squeaky frog that scared the crap out of me when I stepped on it. I felt foolish and decided to head back to bed.
It hit me when I reached to turn off my desk lamp.
The light shouldn’t have been on. I looked around. My briefcase wasn’t in its ritual place on my credenza. It was on my chair and the contents strewn over my desk. Everything was dumped out—my gold detective’s badge and I.D., several files, a notepad, tape recorder, and my .380 backup piece.
No, the Walther wasn’t there—the holster was empty.
“Angel …” I bolted to the stairs and looked up. Floorboards groaned above me. A door opened in the darkness beyond the landing. Movement—a shadow. Somewhere above, Angel called, “Tuck.”
There was a flash at the top of the stairs … a shot.
I lunged for the third stair. A figure stepped out of the darkness twelve feet above me.
The next morning, I realized how much in common I had with my heroes. They were, of course, some of the greatest detectives in history. I’m speaking of Doyle’s Holmes, Christie’s Poirot, and Bigger’s Charlie Chan. I could add Scooby and Shaggy, but they’re cartoons and don’t count. The others are fictional characters, too, but they’re legends nonetheless. I’m not saying I’m a legend. I’m saying they’re all dead.
So am I.
Being dead is not intuitive, mind you. In fact, it’s downright confusing. Disappointing even. There were no trumpets, billowy clouds, or bright beacons of light—not yet anyway. On the bright side, there was no horny guy with bad breath and fire everywhere either.
No, the revelation of my fate began with me sitting at my desk, dazed and confused. I felt as though I’d touched a bare electric cord while taking a bath. Images swirled around me. My eyes didn’t focus at first, and my body felt edgy and uncontrolled. It took a long time to realize where and who I was. The pictures on the den wall were at first empty frames. The books and knickknacks were foreign and without a story. Nothing seemed familiar.
Until I saw the evidence in the hallway.
A body. My body.
The lightning hit me again and I exploded in a kaleidoscope of memories. My life hadn’t passed before me last night after charging for the chairs. It waited until now—just now—and the rush of forty years poured over me. All of them, every memory, left me aching and afraid.
My house was alive with murmurs and police radios, rushing feet, and crime scene technicians taking photographs. They vacuumed the carpets for evidence and dusted fingerprint powder everywhere. Their meticulous search for clues left nothing untouched.
All the proof I needed was on the foyer carpet just outside my den.
My body lay crumpled where it fell just after two this morning. I’d never made the third step before the bullet struck my chest and ended my life. It was gone before I hit the floor. I didn’t recall any trauma, any pain, or any fear.
Just a flash.
When I opened my eyes, it was over. I watched my body being processed for gunshot residue, fibers, and time of death. A crime lab technician bagged my hands to protect evidence. Someone else kept snapping photographs and took measurements. I’d performed those procedures dozens of times over the years. Watching, they now took on a new meaning. So did homicide. It had been my job and an important one, and I tried never to let it get personal.
Now it was personal. Very personal.
My body and I shared the same forty-year-old exterior—five-eleven and about one hundred ninety-five pounds with short brown hair and three day’s growth of beard. My body was barefoot, wearing a blood-stained tee shirt and jeans. Luckily, spirit-me had enough class to have on a blue blazer and my running shoes—my customary detective attire. Even my gold detective’s badge was clipped in its customary place on my belt.
Not that wardrobe matters to the dead, but I’d hate to spend eternity half-naked.
I looked at my body and saw the crime scene technician signal someone in the living room across the hall. A petite, dark-haired woman wearing a sweatshirt and jeans emerged. She stood in the doorway looking down at my body.
Helen Sutter was the captain of the sheriff department’s detective squad and my boss. She knelt down beside my body and the hum of commotion from a half-dozen cops quieted. A few tears touched her cheek and she wiped them away. She cussed a few times, bit her lip, and waved at one of the technicians.
“Carl, no mistakes. I want everything by the numbers. Do it all three times. The one who screws up my evidence dies a slow death.”
Carl shrugged. “There is no evidence.”
“Don’t give me that shit. There’s always evidence. Find it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Carl looked back at my body and threw his chin at two other deputies nearby. Feet started moving again, orders spat, cameras chattered.
Captain Sutter lifted her radio and stood up. “Spence—Sutter. Give me an update.”
The radio chirped and sputtered. “Ah, yeah, Captain … nothing. Not a damn thing. We’ve talked to everyone on both sides of the street for two blocks …”
“Then make it four blocks. And cover the side streets—then you can damn well do it again.”
The radio chirped again but no voice followed.
“Braddock,” Captain Sutter bellowed. “Braddock.”
My front door banged open and a mountain walked in. He was two hundred sixty pounds of rock and muscle. His hair was short cut and his face scruffy and stained with emotion. Powerful muscles strained against his golf shirt matted with dark stains—blood stains. My blood.
Detective Theodore Braddock—Bear to most—stopped inside the doorway. Bear Braddock was not an emotional man, not by any means. We’d been partners since the police academy twenty years ago. Since then, I’d seen the brute pick up body parts after a horrific traffic accident without a twitch. He could clear out a bar fight and take a beating without losing his temper. Not too long ago, I’d seen him at his own brother’s funeral and he never shed a tear. He wasn’t a cold man, mind you, just hard and tough. Maybe he was really a wussie-boy underneath, but no one—including me—ever saw that side of him. No one ever suggested it was there, either.
Now, he raised his chin and refused to glance at my body. “Yeah, Cap?”
“Give me what you got.”
Captain Sutter took his arm and dragged him into my den, stopping beside the desk where I was still rooted. As she did, Bear sidestepped my body like a child afraid to step on the cracks. “Then give it to me one more time.”
“Yeah, right, again.” Bear went to my brown leather chair in the corner and dropped into it. He leaned forward, burying his face into his meaty hands. “Got the call from Angel at two-oh-five—I know ’cause that’s the time on my cell. She was upstairs, locked in her bedroom. She said Tuck got shot—maybe dead—someone was in the house. Tuck went to see and …”
She was nodding. “And you?”
“I arrived about two-thirtyish. Came straight in and found him— he was already …”
“Got it.” She looked back into the foyer. “You two were supposed to be on surveillance all night, right?”
“Yeah.” Bear cleared his throat. His eyes were red and his face puffy from an onslaught of emotions. “It was going nowhere. Nothing happening at the warehouse so I called it an early night.”
He thought, then said, “Eleven, I guess. Maybe a little after.”
“I went straight home. Tuck said he was going to do some paperwork at the office for a few hours. Angel didn’t expect him home, so he was going to catch up.” Bear’s face angered. “I already went through this, Cap. Give me a break.”
Sutter gave him a moment. “Okay, after you found him and called it in, then what?”
“I searched the place. Outside, too. Nothing. Uniforms arrived five minutes later.”
“Do we have anything to go on?”
In one violent rush, Bear got to his feet and closed in on my filing cabinet. He slammed two brutal blows into its side, denting the metal and sending several framed photographs tumbling to the floor.
“I guess not.” She waited until Bear straightened himself. “Motive, clues? A friggin’ guess here? Come on, Bear, give me something.”
“Motive? Give me a break, Cap. We’ve been chasing the man for a week now. You know that. We pay him a visit and try to connect the dots back to the guard’s murder and wham—Tuck’s in a body bag. What more do you want?”
Helen Sutter might have been small for a cop, but she was feisty. At forty-five, she still had a youthful, pretty face that hid the steel character inside. Small and girlie were deceiving; Helen Sutter would out-shoot, out-drink, out-cuss, and out-smart most of the cops in the county. Now, she drove an iron finger into Bear’s chest and backed him all the way to the dented filing cabinet.
“I want evidence, Bear. Speculation and revenge won’t impress a courtroom. Get me fingerprints, witnesses, or a frigging microscopic fiber. Link this to him and I’ll drag his mobbed-up ass in myself. Just prove it. Only a fool or a desperate man hits a cop.”
Bear straightened himself again and had to look down in order to find her eyes a foot below him. “Yeah, yeah. I got that. But if not him, who?”
“Find out. There’s no forced entry—nothing taken, nothing ransacked. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” She walked to the open den door and looked out at my body. “We rarely get two homicides a year—let alone in a couple weeks. The crime boys have diddly shit. Tuck’s backup piece is gone. It’s probably the murder weapon. Son-of- a-bitch.” Bear moved beside her and, for the first time, looked over at my body. His voice was guttural. “It was either someone who knew the house and how to get in and out …”
“Or it was a professional hit.”
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As an international security consultant and former government agent, TJ O'Connor has conducted security consulting, investigations, and anti-terrorism operations around the world. Today, he provides independent security consulting to government agencies and private businesses. He lives in Winchester, Virginia.