The Chicago Police Department says Samantha Mack shot her partner, Fred, during the confusion of a bungled pursuit. Mack says it was their quarry, a violent pedophile named Marco Trovic, who fired the deadly round in that darkened room. But Mack was knocked out and can't really say what happened.
When no evidence of Trovic is found on the scene and the bullet is shown to have come from Mack's own gun, the Department labels Fred's death as a case of friendly fire.Back at the station, it seems no one believes Mack's account. Not Internal Affairs investigator Alex O'Conner, and not even Mack's lover, whose best attempts at support leave her as cold as the wind whipping across Lake Michigan.
With the Department looking to quiet the bad press, Mack can't count on anyone to help her track down Trovic. Even if she can somehow find him in the dark recesses of Chicago's underworld, can she prove that Trovic was the shooter? With her back to the wall and her career at stake, now it's time for Mack to take matters into her own hands to clear her name—and avenge her partner's death.
Theresa Schwegel Officer Down is the winner of the 2006 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Theresa Schwegel is a Loyola University graduate and the recipient of an MFA in screenwriting at Chapman University. Her debut novel, Officer Down, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was short-listed for the Anthony Award. In 2008, she received the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation. She lives in Chicago.
Read an Excerpt
By Theresa Schwegel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Theresa Schwegel
All rights reserved.
Normally, I avoid domestic disputes, but this girl is standing in the middle of my hallway, and she's hitting herself in the head. With her own shoes. I could turn around, take the elevator back down to the lobby, and notify the doorman. But Omar knows I'm a cop. He'd send me right back up here.
She's my next-door neighbor, unit 1612. Her name is Katie or Kathy or something cute that doesn't quite fit, especially now. She's a small girl with a lot of blond hair and a mouth even worse than mine. She lived here by herself when I moved in two years ago. The first time her late-night partying kept me up, I tried to be reasonable: I slipped a friendly note under her door. The next few times, I made official complaints to the Association. The last time, about a year ago, I invited my co-workers over. They busted her snorting coke with a couple suits from the Board of Trade. Since then, she never says hello.
"You'll be fucking sorry when I'm fucking dead, you fucking asshole," she yells, the profanities accentuated with a swift heel to her head. A forearm full of gold bracelets clinks, echoing her swing. I figure she's high, but when she sees me she pauses, her arms midair, and her eyes are clear with conviction. I try to think of something to say. "Excuse me" doesn't seem appropriate. I feel like I'm in her way.
She takes a step back, politely allowing me to pass, like this is an everyday thing. I stand there like an idiot. How can she be so serious when she looks so ridiculous? When I don't take the opportunity to make a break for my place, she turns her attention, her yelling, and her shoes to the door.
"Did you hear what I said, you son of a bitch? Do you even care if I die?"
The door couldn't care less.
I've heard her arguing with this guy through my adjoining living room wall for a few weeks now. Senseless, hurtful arguing. Arguing about arguing. One night after a double shift I thought I could sleep for a week and I didn't sleep at all because I could hear them. What did you just say? Say it again. I dare you. I felt like a kid back home with my parents in the next room. And just like when I was a kid, I tried not to listen. I closed my eyes and tried to think about other things. I told myself it wasn't my problem to solve. Back then it became my problem. Now, it's right in the middle of my hallway.
"You think you can find someone better than me?" the girl asks. "Besides your mother?" Ouch.
When the girl gets no response, she starts assaulting the door with her shoes. I'm comforted it stands between them.
I look both ways. There's no one else around, though I'm sure they're all listening from inside their condos. Granted, that's where most of them solve their own crises.
By now, the humor of the scene is wearing thin, even when one of her French-manicured fingernails pops off. It just adds insult to insult.
The girl keeps at it, and part of me wants to join her and yell at the guy too. I'm sure he's guilty of something. I work with men. My best friends are men. I know how they operate. The guys who play games can go play them at a bowling alley as far as I'm concerned.
On the other hand, this girl hasn't exactly worn a halo since we've been neighbors. It might not be my best move, but I decide to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I get behind her and grab her arms to stop her from whacking me in the head. Surprisingly, she doesn't resist me. Maybe she wanted me to stop her. The shoes slip out of her hands and into mine. Maybe she's tired. Maybe she's ready to talk.
Or maybe she wants me to hold her shoes so she can bang her head directly against the door.
In her defense, I know sometimes there's no reasoning with a woman in love. My dad ran around with every woman from here to Gary, Indiana, and my mom always accepted his lame excuses. No matter what he did, she'd always take him back. I guess the good times must have been good enough for my mom. Of course I haven't discounted the possibility that she stayed with my dad just to make him miserable. I'm the first to admit she might have been a little nuts. To her credit, though, I never saw her yell at a door.
"You better let me in, Jerry, or I'll do it!" the girl in the hallway yells, and to this, she gets a response. The door opens, and Jerry, a surprisingly calm-looking individual, tosses a bottle of pills at her. He catches her off guard, and the bottle ricochets off her rib cage like a poorly lobbed whiffle ball. It doesn't make a sound when it hits the carpet.
"Do it, then," he says. "You're crazy." Then he acknowledges me with a neighborly nod and closes the door as quietly as he opened it. The lock clicks. She looks over at me like she wants to confirm we just witnessed an atrocity, then snatches her shoes from my hands.
I pick up the pills. They're alprazolam, a generic anti-anxiety drug. When the girl resumes her raucous battle of footwear versus door, I think Jerry might be on to something.
At this point I decide I'm going to stick with my first instinct and find an acceptable way out. When we get a domestic violence call, the guys usually want me to deal with the woman, like we have some allegiance. It generally doesn't work. In fact, I tend to make women more hysterical, and that's about the last thing this girl needs.
I know I should keep my mouth shut, go home, and get ready for my date. I don't.
"Maybe you should take a break. This whole hysterical thing isn't getting you anywhere." I shake the bottle of pills like a maraca.
She tucks the shoes under her arm and takes the bottle from me. "Asshole," she mutters as she reads the label. "These won't kill me."
"He knows you're not going to kill yourself," I tell her. "You want him to respond to you? You put those shoes on your feet and walk away."
"This is my place. If I kill myself, he'll have to move out." She's clearly not listening, but at least she's talking herself out of it. "He can't afford the rent." She smacks the door a few more times before she runs out of steam and slumps to the carpet.
"Do you have somewhere else you can go?" I hope she says yes.
"Why should I have to leave? He's the one who left the goddamned tickets in his pants pocket. He expects me to be psychic. I spend all day at the Laundromat while he's God knows where, and when he comes back he acts like I deliberately ruined his big plans ..."
Wait a minute. "You're threatening suicide over a load of laundry?"
Her answering glare is as close to a fuck you as you can get without saying it.
I am really no good at this. If I ask about the tickets, I'm acting like a cop. Actually if I ask her anything she'll be defensive. What I really want to do is tell her to take one of those pills so I can get on my way. I can see my door from here, and I can hear my phone ringing. I'll bet it's Mason, wondering where I am. He's not going to believe this.
I stand there and stare at the wall, waiting patiently for her to make the next move. I notice a subtle leafy pattern in the wallpaper. Did they remodel? This is the longest I've ever spent in this hallway.
"Do you have a cigarette?" the girl asks me, though she's not really asking. She knows I smoke. She also knows I'm a cop. And she thinks I owe her.
I hand her my pack of Camels and a lighter.
"I can go get Omar," I offer.
She hands me one of my smokes like she didn't hear me. Great. Two years of successfully avoiding each other, and now she wants to bond.
"Have you ever been in love?" she asks me as she reaches up to light my cigarette.
I make the first drag of my smoke a long one. I'm deciding if honesty will be helpful or the beginning of a conversation that'll have me stuck here all night.
"Yes," I finally answer. I sit down next to her. I knew I'd feel guilty for busting her someday. If I can make sure she's not going to off herself right here, though, I'll be on my way after this cigarette with a clear conscience. She looks so vulnerable, sitting cross-legged in her pink socks. I wonder if they're supposed to be that color. Maybe she screwed them up in the wash, too.
"Are you in love now?" she asks.
"Yeah." It feels good to admit it.
"Does he lock you out of your own damn condo?"
"No. But I don't do his laundry."
"Does he make you think you're crazy? Like everything's your fault?"
"No." There's something so childlike about the way she looks up at me, anticipating the rest of my answer. I give it some thought. "You know, you should think about why you two fell in love in the first place. Was it the way you folded his T-shirts? Or how you cook spaghetti?" I've smelled things burning over there, so I say, "I doubt it. You probably devoted every free minute you had to each other. But now you live together, and everything is reversed. Instead of anticipating what could happen next, you expect things to happen. Instead of making an effort to be together, you resent the time you spend on the couch. And love gets lost in the details. In the bills. The dishes. You take that stuff away, and you still love each other ..." I'm even impressing myself with this theory, and I think I can get through to her, but then I smell something else burning, and I notice she's using my lighter to singe her arm hair.
Jerry's right, this girl is crazy. I take away the lighter and she starts to giggle. I can't tell if she's laughing at me or at the fact that she's burned off a lengthy trail of hair. Childlike is right.
"Good luck." I give up. I get up.
"Can I ask a serious question?" she asks before I can take a step past her.
I wait for it.
"How do you do it? How do you make it work?"
Just then, her door opens about six inches and hangs there. Looks like Jerry has had a change of heart.
The girl jumps up, leaving her shoes and her pills, forgetting all about me and how I make things work. The funny thing is, she wouldn't believe me if I told her. She'd think I was crazy.
The door closes behind them as I approach my place, feeling smart, and also regretting the fact that I've never given anyone the power to lock me out.CHAPTER 2
"This is your personal 911. Leave a message."
Sounds cheesy, right? Not coming from Mason Imes. I wait for the beep.
"It's Sam," I say, "and it's ten after ten. Detective, where are you? I'm hungry. Hurry up. Call me."
I hang up and check myself in the hall mirror again. I've been ready to go for too long, and I'm second-guessing my outfit. Do I really expect a forgiving black dress and knee-high boots to hide the fact that I haven't worked out in a month? Keeping up with the cop lifestyle has been hard lately. There's no such thing as a diet when you're on duty. The caffeine, the nicotine, the fast food, the alcohol; sometimes I feel like I belong in detox with the junkies. I try to combat my intake with exercise, but since the weather has been bad, I've nixed my lakefront running routine. I was up to six miles when the cold hit. Tomorrow, I keep saying. Tomorrow I'll bundle up and get back to it.
I adjust the underwire in my bra. I'm counting on my cleavage to serve as a distraction from my ass, but that doesn't help the rest of my sub-par appearance. My hair looks like it's been pulled back all day (it has) and my makeup looks like a second coat rather than a fresh one (it is). Good thing we're going to Iggy's; at times like these, I live for bad lighting.
Mason is the one who planned dinner; he knows Iggy's is one of my favorite late-night places. It's lowkey, unadvertised, and out of the way, and it's been around for too long to be trendy. The regulars are anonymous, and cool enough to know so. The lights are candles, the booths in the front windows depend on Milwaukee Avenue's streetlights, and the bar is barely lit by blue neon bubbles overhead. It's a speakeasy of sorts, at least for people like Mason and me, where the only one watching is the waiter — and that's just to make sure your plate is empty and your drink is full. I've never had a better steak after 10 P.M. I think most people come for Iggy's martinis, poured in at least thirty different candied variations; I don't experiment because I drink whiskey and I don't like dessert.
Mason knows this too, so I'm sure he has promises planned for dessert: whispers that will lead to a nightcap and a long night somewhere nearby, where I'll wake up tomorrow and hail a cab back to my boring life, daydreaming through other people's problems.
At this point, though, I'm starting to feel reluctant. Maybe that episode in the hallway put a damper on the whole dating thing. I don't know if I really want to go out anymore. If I had any food in the fridge I would have already eaten it straight from its carton, put on my pajamas, and settled into bed.
Mason must be held up at work. He knows I hate waiting.
I'm about to make myself a drink when the phone finally rings. I hesitate to answer. I could have a night alone, a break from what Mason is trying to make too serious, but that also means passing up that steak. My stomach growls. I answer.
It's not Mason. It's my boss, Sergeant MacInerny, Twenty-third District, Chicago PD.
"Samantha Mack, Sarge here. Can you come in? William Wade's out with the flu."
Fuck. I can't say no. I mean, I could, but I can't. Wade is a hypochondriac, but he always covers for me and he never asks questions.
"Smack?" Sarge asks, with enough punch in his voice to sound like a command.
"Yeah. I'm on my way," I say and hang up. My night of passion over before it started, without so much as a protest. I put down the bottle of Jameson and head back to the bedroom to change.
The ride north is quick — not many people out on a Tuesday night this time of year. Once winter gets ahold of the lake, it clings as long as it can, offering only a few flirtatious days of warmth. Come April, people get fed up waiting for spring: they ignore the elements, put away their full- length wools and wear windbreakers, and hope it doesn't snow one last time.
I actually like nights like these, when the air is clear and the city lights seem to heat the sky. I take the Inner Drive all the way up to Addison even though there are at least a dozen stoplights. The buildings on Lake Shore are beautifully coexistent, I think, like people. I take my time before I have to deal with the ugly things.
I get to the station and nobody's in front. I figure I missed roll and head for the locker room. On my way I notice a box of Dunkin' Donuts in the break room so I stop and scarf down two chocolate-iced rings. They're approaching stale, and I hate sweets, but there's nothing worse than starting a shift on an empty stomach.
The coffeepot is empty, so I get a Coke from the vending machine and take it with me. Some dinner.
In the locker room, the guys are all suspended in various stages of undress, listening to Officer Flagherty tell some new dick joke. Flagherty's naked, hairy belly hangs over his belt in a jovial way, just like his bearded chin hangs over his neck. He stops mid-sentence when he sees me, but not because he thinks I'll be offended by his humor. Paul Flanigan, a rookie with dimples cute enough to keep him from a promotion, hides his lower half behind his locker door even though he's in his boxers. He's not used to me. Everyone else is only mildly annoyed because I interrupted the joke. So I say,
"Wade's tummy hurts. Who am I on with?"
They all look around like I just announced the apocalypse.
"Anybody?" I ask.
After everyone's avoided my gaze, Flagherty finally says, "Wade was scheduled with Fred."
"You're joking," I say.
"I was, Smack," he says, "but that wasn't the punch line."
One of the guys stifles a laugh.
"Ha-ha," I say. When he called, the Sarge failed to mention that I'd be spending the night with my ex.
* * *
"Hey, stranger," Fred says. He's waiting for me outside his squad even though it's so cold the wind could tear your face off. His own face has weathered a few winters, though his expressions suggest otherwise. If it weren't for the crescent-shaped scar that frames one of his true blues, you'd think he worked a crosswalk in the suburbs.
"Just like old times, eh?" Fred asks, and the scar, like cold wax, resists moving with his smile.
"Not quite," I say and get in. Valiant effort, but I don't want to reminisce. I strap myself into the passenger seat and straighten my hat.
"What's with Wade?" Fred asks as he gets in the car.
"Going around, I think. Deb's been feeling bad." Deb. Deborah. Debbie. Yuck.
"If you're gonna try to make conversation, you might want to leave her out of it," I say, and stare ahead. My breath gets short, reminding me I need a cigarette. I pull out my pack of Camels and light one. I know Fred wants to protest, but he doesn't. We ride up Lake Shore Drive from Addison in what I hope he would call an uncomfortable silence.
Excerpted from Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel. Copyright © 2005 Theresa Schwegel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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RecipeIn this powerful debut, police officer Samantha Mack is in trouble: Knocked unconscious during an impromptu sting, she woke up in the hospital to the news that her partner had been shot and killed. With her gun. She remembers firing her gun at the perp until it was empty, but there's no evidence that anyone else was even at the scene, alive or dead.
The department wants to call it accidental and sweep it under the rug, but Sam wants the truth. The only two men who can help are Homicide Detective Mason Imes, also her married lover, and Alex O’Connor, from Internal Affairs. But can Sam trust either of them? And will she be able to clear her name before whoever killed Fred comes back for her?
OFFICER DOWN is a rollercoaster of a crime novel, where up is down and friends might be enemies, and where you have to look out for yourself, because no one else will.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Officer Down features police woman Samantha ¿Smack¿ Mack and is set in Chicago. Samantha is involved with Mason Imes, a married fellow police officer. Despite the fact that Mason continues to live with his wife, in the beginning of the book, Samantha deludes herself that Mason will leave his wife and run away with her. Although she has this one character flaw, Samantha is otherwise a good cop and the story begins with her reluctantly substituting for a sick cop which forces her to work a shift with her old partner, Fred. On that shift, Fred is killed with Samantha¿s gun. During the remainder of the book, Samantha works to solve Fred¿s murder even though many in the department are saying that Fred was killed by friendly fire, i.e., that Samantha accidentally killed him. To complicate matters, an internal affairs officer is also investigating the murder. The plot certainly contains many twists and turns and Samantha is an interesting character. The book includes some fairly intense scenes of violence. This is the first in a new series. Office Down won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel of 2005.
I found this book very good. Especially for a first time author. SHe will only get better with time.
I liked this book. The cop stuff was gritty and true, but the character's forceful personality almost got in the way of the plot. I get that she's mouthy and independent and all that, but if she's this supposedly perceptive cop, how could she fail to do a couple of key things? I'll read the next book in the series, of course, and hopefully questions are answered.
I could not put this book down. The main character, Samantha Mack, stayed in my thoughts when I couldn't read the book. What was going to happen to her in the next chapter? Who will happen to her? Will she figure it out? Some days I wanted to leave work just so I could finish reading it. When does the next book come out?