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Tombstone Dodge
About the Author: Vincent H. O'Neil is the Malice Award-winning author of the Frank Cole mystery series from St. Martin's Press, the theater-themed mystery Death Troupe, and the Interlands horror series. Writing as Henry V. O'Neil, he has also published the military science fiction Sim War series with HarperCollins. His website is

I did this particular job because my wife asked me to. I’d do anything for her, no matter how dangerous it might be.

Ninety percent of what I do is fool people. Make them think I’m someone they can trust when I truly don’t have their best interests at heart. Fake names and false addresses roll off my tongue like the alphabet, and I have never been found out. When each of these jobs is done, the most important part is that nothing links back to me. To the real me.

With a skill set like that, I was hired as soon as I applied for the temporary position of night security man for the U Lock It Up self-storage company. Harvey, the sixty-year-old I would be replacing for the two weeks of his annual vacation, took me through my duties.

“Got two of these locations.” Harvey walked me down a row as he talked. Long, one-story cinderblock buildings were to either side of us, segmented into storage units. Each of them had a metal roll-up door like a car garage, but the whole setup reminded me of those above-the-ground cemeteries you see in so many horror movies. Ranks of stone facades with silent gates, no activity, and limited vision. Downright claustrophobic. “I call this site Tombstone and the other one Dodge. You gotta entertain yourself while you’re walking your shift, so I imagine I’m Wyatt Earp, patrolling the streets of the towns I protect.”

“Ever have to shoot it out like he did?” I smiled to make it clear I was joking. I liked Harvey as soon as I met him, and knew he’d been doing this job for ten years.

“That would be hard—no guns allowed. All we carry is an emergency radio.” He wore a brimmed hat and a light blue uniform with no patches or badges. “Ya see, this is a no-frills operation. No alarm system, no security cameras, and only one guard for two properties. People rent units by the month, pay in cash, and no questions are asked.”

“So, what exactly am I supposed to be doing?”

“You are the uniformed presence that prevents break-ins. Period. You walk an hour at each site, all night long. Gate’s electric, renters enter and leave using an access badge, and the place is available twenty-four seven.”

“Ever any trouble?”

“We’re so low-end that no self-respecting thief would hit us. Now, many of our renters are on the ragged edge, so you may encounter some weird stuff from time to time. But as long as they’re not breaking into anything, I suggest you pretend you didn’t see any of that.” He’d stopped, giving me a deep stare from behind his glasses. “But if you do come across a break-in, the advice is almost the same. Pretend you didn’t see it, hit the emergency button on the radio, and get outta there. The call goes right to the cops, but in this part of town they don’t come fast. Remember you’re alone out here.”

“You do this all night, every night?”

“Right now, I do. Normally there’s a weekend guard, Dave, young man like yourself. Good guard, reliable, been here three years. Someone pushed him off a subway platform, tore up his knee. Normally he walks the entire two weeks I’m gone, but this time it’ll be you.”

Of course, I already knew about Dave and Harvey and the business’s absentee owners. My wife has sources of information all over the city, and one of them belongs to a burglary crew led by a tall redhead nicknamed Rooster Mike. Rooster Mike had been tipped off that one U Lock It Up storage unit contained treasures belonging to our city’s biggest organized crime family, the Dantonio’s. Rooster Mike allegedly knew which one to hit, and had arranged Dave’s injury so that a rookie guard would be on watch when Harvey was gone. My wife’s contact in Rooster’s crew feared the replacement guard might do something unpredictable, and had asked her to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

By getting the job, I’d already accomplished half my assignment. My dear wife’s contact didn’t know which night the robbery would occur, or even which site—Dodge or Tombstone—contained the target. It really didn’t make a difference to me, because the second half of my assignment was even simpler—don’t interfere. If everything went smoothly, I wouldn’t have to do anything but report a break-in that had occurred while I was patrolling the other site.

This story appears in our JUL 2020 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Great story! Loved it and hope others do too.
By Mickey Cherry

Thank you for the awesome story!
By Sarah Riggs

Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the story!
By Vincent H. O'Neil

I like confident, kick-ass characters!
By Susan R

Great twist, great storytelling!
By R.V. Reyes

I truly liked this story. Felt a little bit like the "godfather" to me:) It was well written, so why didn't it grab me by the throat? I wanted more about those hidden boxes, but great job, author. I have a new vision on storage sites. Best wishes. Frances
By Frances Dunn

Great story!!! Grabbed me from the start and my curiosity did not stop until the end. Cleverly written!!! Kudos to you!
By Tina Jude

Thank you all for taking the time to comment--it's so nice to hear from mystery readers and get feedback like this. The Kindle and Nook versions of my first murder mystery MURDER IN EXILE and my theater-themed mystery DEATH TROUPE are currently FREE on Amazon and B&N. Thanks again.
By Vincent H. O'Neil

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