Until Dead

Until Dead

Donnell Ann Bell

May 2022 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-176-0

A Cold Case Suspense

Our PriceUS$17.95
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This killer won't stop …until she's dead

When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope's own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope's former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.

As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA's aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.

FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments knowing he's being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn't know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades' old cold case.

Author Bio:
DONNELL ANN BELL is an award-winning author of four romantic suspense novels, all of which have been e-book bestsellers. Until Dead is the second in a suspense series. Donnell and her husband are recent transplants to New Mexico. Visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.

"I was riveted ." — Kylie Brant, #1 Amazon Bestselling Author

"This outstanding follow-on to Donnell Ann Bell's Black Pearl [is] highly recommended!" — Barbara Nickless, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts Bestselling Author

"Black Pearl [is] a procedural full of twists. Briskly paced and worthy of its Colorado Book Award nomination." — M.E. Browning, 2021 Colorado Book Award Winner & Agatha Award-nominated author

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Denver, Colorado, 2017


Mark Rafferty had many fantasies in life. Discovering an elderly woman chain-smoking against his car wasn’t one of them.

Friday night, with his wife visiting her aunt in D.C., his plans were simple. Stop for a microbrew at his favorite spot and play poker with the guys till two in the morning.

His gaze fell to the collection of cigarette butts at the gray-haired lady’s feet. Not this.

He glanced right then left, recognizing yet another problem. They were standing in the firm’s private underground parking garage. A confused annoyance took hold. "May I help you, ma’am? Mind telling me who you are and why you’ve taken up residence against my car?”

She took a long drag. "Had to. You wouldn’t return my calls.”

"There’s a guard at the gate. How’d you get in?”

"Some guard.” She rolled her eyes and blew a whiff of smoke toward the concrete structure’s ceiling. Her actions clouded the city-ordinance no-smoking sign. "‘Pardon me, young man.’” She altered her gravelly voice to a quivering picture of sweetness. "‘I’m meeting my very handsome grandson, Mark Rafferty. Could you help me?’ That booth operator was such a dear. Even gave me your parking space number.”

So much for security. "What’s your name?”

She pinned him with a look. "Doris. Doris Caruthers.” The rough edge to her voice returned.

As if that should mean something to him. "And?”

"You wouldn’t talk to me. I kept getting your paralegal.”

Ah. Now they were getting somewhere. Molly screened his calls. She was an expert at vetting potential clients. If she hadn’t turned this woman over to Mark, Molly had her reasons.

"Please, Ms. Caruthers.” He looked at his watch. "I have an important meeting. I’m sorry my assistant didn’t patch you through. If you call on Monday, I promise to listen to whatever it is you have to say.”

"It’s a matter of life and death.”

"So you say. We’ll talk on Monday.”

"It’s about your wife.”

And just like that, thoughts of tact stalled in his head. A scammer had probably paid this woman to approach him. The manipulator was out of luck. He grabbed his cell out of his trouser pocket. "You have fifteen seconds to get out of here before I call the police.”

"I knew her mother.”

"So do a lot of people, lady. You just used up five seconds.”

"Her birth mother.”

Mark moved his thumb over the phone. Another clue the joker hadn’t done his homework. Theresa was one of those rare adoptees who couldn’t care less about locating the people who’d given her up.

He thumbed 9-1-1 into his phone and prepared to push send.

"I met Adelaide Bailey through the system,” the woman rushed on. "I was her prison guard. Nowadays they call the younger set correction officers. But that’s just it, Addie didn’t need no correcting. I need you to prove her suicide was a murder.”

This woman exuded tragedy, and Mark hesitated. Still her approach was beyond suspicious. Curious that Molly had never mentioned her calls. Probably thought Caruthers’s story was better suited for the police than a law firm.

More than a few had tried to get to Theresa through Mark. He hardened his heart. "Sorry, Ms. Caruthers, if that’s your real name. Even if I believed you, this doesn’t appear to be a legal matter.”

"But I have proof—documentation.”

Her desperation was almost convincing. "Documents can be forged.”

"Won’t you at least look at them?”

"No.” Pressing the remote to his Avalon, Mark slipped past her. "If you’re the real deal, call me on Monday. I’ll give you ten minutes off the clock.” He turned to give her a final warning about aligning herself with unscrupulous people, but the woman was gone.

Mark slid behind the wheel, shaking his head. He’d been about to say, "Don’t get your hopes up; either talk to the police or, at a minimum, a criminal lawyer.”

He moved his hand toward the keyless ignition when his vision was obscured by a business-size envelope tucked between the wipers and windshield.

Mark sighed. Clearly, Doris Caruthers had no intention of waiting till Monday.

Chapter One

Denver, Colorado, two years later


Jarvis Merrill accepted the news the way he accepted a denied motion handed down from the bench. He leveled his most nonjudgmental stare, when what he wanted to do was skewer the cock-sure millennial to whom he paid top industry wages.

Ordinarily, Dawson was so overconfident in his IT knowledge, he dropped into a chair when he requested a meeting. Tonight, he remained standing as sweat beaded his upper lip.

Jarvis checked his anger before asking the crucial question. "Have they asked for a ransom, Dawson?”

"No, sir.” Dawson’s gaze traveled from Jarvis’s to the skyscrapers illuminating the dark night beyond his sixth-floor window. "It appears to be a data-gathering hack only. Whoever penetrated the law firm’s network was after a specific individual, in my opinion.”

A longtime fan of wrestling, Jarvis pictured his faceless adversary pinning him to the mat in a headlock. His law firm, one he’d established over a forty-year legal career. Jarvis Merrill’s name appeared first on Merrill, Henninger, Kaufman and Associates. A firm he and his partners had held to a staff of twenty as larger legal entities were prone to cyberattacks, not a general practice firm, specializing in civil litigation and family law.

"Find out which files were accessed and what numbskull let this happen. He’s about to find himself out of a job.”

Dawson’s gaze broke free of the window. He ran a hand through his shaggy blond hair. "Uh, Mr. Merrill . . . the attack came from your computer.”

"Are you out of your mind?”

The IT manager folded his arms tightly across his chest. "Ever heard of a restaurant called Best of Vienna?”

"Of course. It’s right next door.”

"And did you click on a link that included a customer satisfaction survey that advertised a free meal?”

Jarvis fought to swallow. He’d done precisely that. In fact, when he discovered the offer in his mailbox, he didn’t just click on it; he’d leapt at the opportunity and never gave it a second thought. "Are you saying a restaurant workerinfected my computer? I’m one of Vienna’s best customers. Why would they?”

"Theywouldn’t, Mr. Merrill. You clicked on a link my ninety-five-year-old grandmother knows not to do. Best of Vienna doesn’t send out surveys. I checked. Someone’s been tracking your movements. Best guess? Someone’s after dirt on somebody.”

Jarvis’s face grew hot. After all the countless reminders and lectures to his partners and staff about fiduciary duty, this fiasco fell on him. He felt gutted at the thought of class action lawsuits, clients leaving, censure by the bar for negligence. "Was the intruder after my clients?”

"No. The IOC. . . .” Dawson shook his head. "The indicator of compromise led to Rafferty’s computer.”

Encountering a second shock in under three minutes, Jarvis was glad he had a strong heart. "Rafferty? You know as well as I do—”

"Yeah, I know. Mark Rafferty’s dead.”

"Two years dead. His files were still tied to the network?”

"Mr. Kaufman directed me to leave them in place so the newly assigned attorneys would know where to look. Mark Rafferty had several open cases at the time of his death.”

Key cases Jarvis had reviewed. His partner’s decision to keep the files on the server made sense. But now? Rafferty, an experienced trial attorney who’d come from a competing law firm had been hired as a non-equity partner. He’d been well on his way to full equity when the air bag deployed in his vehicle in heavy traffic and at a high rate of speed.

The FBI’s criminal investigation unit, as part of its product liability department, paid a visit afterward, demanding access to Mark Rafferty’s computer files.

Jarvis had fought the federal subpoenas and warrants vehemently, winning in court every time.

Jarvis threaded his fingers, the conspiracy theories in his brain exploding like popcorn kernels. "Any chance the Feds are in on this?”

Dawson, who’d been studying his shoes, yanked his head up. His mouth twisted sideways, and he squinted a get-serious look. "To my knowledge the FBI doesn’t engage in phishing expeditions.”

Jarvis sighed. "It was worth a shot. Sit down, Dawson. You’re making me nervous.”

"I’m making you nervous.” The thirtysomething computer nerd slumped into a chair. "When I walked in here, I thought I was out of a job.”

"This is my blunder, not yours. I’ll have to call an emergency meeting with the partners. I was ready to fire somebody over this. I’ll have to take my lumps as well.” Lowering his head, he hesitated. "Back to my original question, did you determine what files he was after?”

"Well, yeah, sort of. I mean, I did, but it didn’t make sense.”

"How so?”

"From what I saw, he wasn’t interested in the client files. He was after Rafferty’s personal files, somebody named Theresa O’Neil.”

Theresa. Jarvis grew light-headed. Mark Rafferty’s wife. If the spousal relationship wasn’t important enough, add former Denver assistant district attorney, and, for the last few years, add Department of Justice to the woman’s credentials.

Why wait two years to go through a dead man’s files to get to Theresa? Or had he been trying, and Jarvis stupidly opened the door?

"Mr. Merrill? You okay?”

Jarvis regrouped, then nodded. "What was in the folder, Dawson?”

He hefted a shoulder. "Nothing.”


"Either the folder was empty, and the hacker went away disappointed. Or he got what he wanted and deleted whatever was in there.”

"How long will you need to make this right?” Jarvis asked.

Dawson’s hands became animated extensions as he leaned forward. "I’ll have to take the network off-line,” he added, using terms like firewall, virus scan,full-disk image, and speaking a language Jarvis would never learn on Rosetta Stone.

He listened for a good thirty seconds, then displayed a palm. "How long, Dawson?”

"One to two days if you approve overtime.”

Jarvis transferred his gaze to the ceiling. He picked up the phone. "Whatever you need. Just do it, and fast.”

"Gotcha.” Dawson’s gaze trekked first to the phone, then back to Jarvis. "You calling the partners?”

"I am. Right after I call Theresa O’Neil and fall on my sword.”

Alone, Jarvis started to tap in the number to the District of Colorado’s U.S. attorney’s office, noted the time, and set down the receiver. He’d never get through after hours, and didn’t have Theresa’s private number. Given today’s debacle, he also suspected he didn’t have time to wait.

Insides churning, Jarvis rose from his desk and wandered through the open door of his private conference room.

Until this moment, he’d never fully appreciated his wife’s photography as he scanned the walls. In truth, he’d always found her hobby annoying, the way Carolyn pressured the firm into little photographic huddles during office celebrations—the December holiday party, the company picnic, the winning verdict of a crucial case . . . Mark Rafferty’s wake.

Jarvis circled the expansive room, inhaling the scent of cherry wood and lemon polish and homed in on those images. The Rafferty residence had been packed two years ago with friends, family, and some highly influential figures that day.

Unlike the more festive events, Carolyn had surreptitiously captured a picture of a mourning Theresa beside her aunt, a U.S. senator from Colorado, and near her, Theresa’s boss, the Colorado U.S. attorney. Next to these two powerhouses, the honey-blond litigator looked war-torn.

In the next photo, however, she appeared as though someone had thrown her a life preserver. Jarvis observed the two individuals who’d accompanied her to her husband’s funeral. On her left stood a formidable-looking black man that somebody later mentioned was a high-ranking cop in the Denver PD. To her right was none other than Harley Bryant, a one-time D.A. investigator who’d gone out on his own and built a thriving PI agency.

In that second, it was as though the fates had tossed Jarvis his own lifeline. Harley Bryant worked for his firm on occasion.

Jarvis returned to his desk, started to log on to his computer to send Harley an email, then opted for his cell phone until Dawson gave the all clear.

Harley answered immediately, and after Jarvis’s unpleasant news, expressed justifiable concern. Theresa O’Neil was not only a colleague but a close personal friend. He did acquiesce enough, however, to contact her and play intermediary.

Five minutes later, Harley called back. "Theresa’s at a function and couldn’t hear very well. She’s in court all day tomorrow, so we’re meeting beforehand at Isabella’s.”

"I’d like to join you. Apologize in person,” Jarvis said.

"That,” Harley replied, "is probably a very bad idea.”

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