Leslie McHugh is married to an undercover cop. She thinks she knows what it's like to share her life with a man who spends his days living a lie, who keeps secrets for a living, who trusts no one, not even her. She can see the pressure, the fear, the pent-up rage, and, worst of all, the distance growing between them that Craig promised he'd never allow. But what does she really know? Lonely, tired, and starting to drink too much, she knows that their marriage is on the rocks because her husband lives a second life she knows almost nothing about.
When a thousand dollars disappears from their bank account, she wants answers, but before she can even ask the questions, their seventeen-year-old daughter, a real cop's kid already on a collision course with trouble, turns up at the center of Craig's investigation into a snitch's violent death. Leslie's had enough; she's determined to get to the truth and protect her family---no matter what the cost.
Again and again, Edgar Award winner Theresa Schwegel shows a remarkable ability to get inside a cop's world---both at the precinct house and at home---making Person of Interest some of the most compelling crime fiction in bookstores today.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Theresa Schwegel was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. A Loyola University graduate, she received an MFA in screenwriting at Chapman University. Her first novel, Officer Down, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was shortlisted for the Anthony Award. She now lives in Los Angeles, California.
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
Person of Interest
By Theresa Schwegel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Theresa Schwegel
All rights reserved.
Springtime hasn't always depressed Leslie McHugh. When she was a girl, she looked forward to the days when the sun would try to stay in the sky just a little longer, signaling everything below to get up and get going: to sprout and bud and bloom. She could even feel herself open up, a blossom, roused by the season's potential. A flower.
And then she started working at Sauganash Flowers and Gifts for ten bucks an hour.
Today she sits at the front counter, flipping through an American Floral Distributors product catalogue, waiting on six o'clock. Behind her, a giant poster of a fresh rose–covered wedding cake fades with each passing year, and there's not much to look forward to. Business has been dead since Easter, so Raylene took the afternoon off, let Leslie close up shop. She sits, her enthusiasm as stagnant as the humid air. She hopes the phone doesn't ring, because if it isn't a customer it's Raylene, calling to make sure she didn't cut out early. Either way, she's stuck.
At twenty to six she ditches the catalogue and gets up to treat the leftover flowers. One by one, she takes the buckets from the cooler: the six varieties of roses, the daffodils and the hyacinths, the tulips. She transfers each bunch into its own new bucket filled with fresh Chrysal solution and, once immersed, draws a sharp knife across the stems of those that look a little peaked.
Afterward, she returns the buckets to the cooler, so that the happy daffodils and the showy purple hyacinths may sit like trumpets and bells, on display at eye level to announce to the customers another glorious day. That's what their positioning is supposed to do, anyway. Leslie, being the one in charge of keeping them alive, finds the whole scene contrived, and very sad. Each flower holds on for dear life here, being treated and temperature-controlled like a corpse until it's bundled or bouqueted and sold to someone who thinks a spray of pastels will brighten up their little corner of the world.
When she's through with the cold-stored flowers, she uses a mister to keep the warm-climate plants hydrated: the zinnias, the completely out-of-season sunflowers. Raylene buys those in the lightest yellow, so customers think of summer instead of fall.
Leslie takes the dirty buckets to the back and cleans them out with bleach and water, the familiar solution no less abrasive to her poor corroded nostrils, her roughened skin. The bleach still stings her thorn-pricked fingers, and she's never away from this place long enough to get the chemical smell from her hands.
At five to six, the front bell rings. Great, she thinks: just in the nick of time, some husband forgot his anniversary, or some woman wants to browse.
When she trudges up front, she wishes she'd have closed up early, because it's not just someone. It's Niko Stavrakos, her daughter's newest boyfriend.
Leslie feels like she should check her hair. "Niko, is that you?"
"Mrs. McHugh," he says on his approach, arms out. "Yassas." He addresses her formally, but his kisses to both cheeks are as familiar as those from any one of her cousins. He's twenty, too old for Ivy, she thinks; too polite, in any case.
Leslie hasn't seen him in a few weeks and he seems taller; plus, he's grown his sideburns, shaved them to clean rectangles that cut his jaw. He'd introduced himself to Ivy at the Heartland Café three months ago, and Ivy said he was "nice." He's more than nice.
"What are you doing here?" Leslie asked him.
"I need to buy some flowers."
"Don't tell me you and Ivy are fighting. I was going to ask her why you haven't been around —"
"It's nothing like that. I'm a busy guy."
"If the flowers are for Ivy, I can tell you she will not be impressed."
Niko scratches at one of his sideburns, tolerant, but like he's already had this conversation. "They're for my mother. She hasn't been feeling well; you know the Greek-mother thing, right? She has too much to do to be sick."
Leslie isn't exactly thrilled to be lumped into the Greek-mother category: visions of her own mother, busy and frumpy, ruin any possibility of feeling attractive.
Maybe Niko senses her annoyance because he says, "Ivy suggested I come see you."
"That's a surprise. She doesn't exactly respect her mother the way you seem to respect yours."
"Ivy's young," he says, picking up one of the cheap plush chicks left over from Easter off the front display, turning it around in his hands. "Anyway, my mother is pretending she's not sick, and I thought I would bring her a little something to keep her going." He tosses the chick back on the display and smiles at her like his mother has nothing to do with it.
How thoughtful, Leslie thinks, careful not to let his smile lead. He watches her mouth as she says, "Let me show you what we have available," and she wonders what he's watching when he follows behind, over to the cooler.
She slides open the door, says, "These Casteras are nice, I just clipped them," and takes a bunch of the slender, beautiful brick-red-tipped roses from their bucket.
"They're nice. But what about these?" He points to the bucket of Madame DelBards, the bright, velvety bestsellers.
Leslie puts all but one of the Casteras back in the bucket, keeping it to convince him otherwise; isn't it just like a man to believe the bigger and brighter, the better.
"The Casteras are very fragile," she says, "but they're worth the price."
"You mean they're expensive, and they'll die?"
"Sometimes the beauty of the thing lies in the moment."
"I don't know, these big ones look nice." He turns the bucket of Madame DelBards around on the shelf, checking them out.
"They do last longer, but you could buy them at the grocery store. The Casteras are unique." She twirls the single rose between her fingers.
"But they die."
"Everything dies, Niko."
"Geez," he says, his hands up, surrendering. "What was I thinking? I'm going to buy my mother roses so they'll die? She'll take it as a bad omen. She'll freak out."
"She shouldn't. I can't imagine anyone getting too worked up over a flower."
He considers the Casteras, and reconsiders. "I better get the ones that last the longest. So they'll be alive until she feels better."
"Fair enough." Leslie selects a dozen of the freshest roses and takes them to the counter, all the while feeling Niko's eyes fastened on her. He doesn't make conversation and she doesn't know what to say; there's something between them, but she doesn't know what.
"You talked to Ivy today?" she asks, the best she can come up with.
"No, not today."
Leslie hasn't, either. She pretends wrapping up the roses takes all her attention.
As she's tying the bow around the box, Niko says, "I'll bet you never get flowers, with this job and all."
"This job, yes, that's one reason." She doesn't say that another would be because these days, Craig is about as romantic as a carp. He blames his job, though he's been a cop for more than twenty years and never this much of a jerk. She hands Niko the box, says, "Ivy's father works a lot."
"Well, it would be silly for him to waste money on flowers when they aren't as pretty as you."
She can't look at him but she says, "Niko," her tone dismissive, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," he says. "You know us Greek men. We can never resist beauty."
"You know us Greek women," she shoots back. "We can always resist your charm."
She still doesn't look at him. Silly boy.
After Niko leaves, Leslie closes up shop, and she doesn't make much of his visit until she goes out to her car. There, stuck between the windshield and the wiper, is a single Madame DelBard rose.CHAPTER 2
It's been said that the Chinese take gambling so seriously that a man would bet his life's earnings on the number of seeds in an un-peeled navel orange. Craig McHugh can't remember where he heard that, but after playing Pai Gow with Mr. Moy and company for a month and a half, he's pretty sure it's true.
Moy shuffles the cards, fifty-two plus a joker. This is nothing like a friendly game with the boys, where the cards give you something to think about between sips of Heineken. Where winning an argument over the Cubs' outfielders or beating a guy to the punchline of a joke you already read in Playboy is equally satisfying. Craig stretches his neck to relieve his tension headache, and also to get a subtle look around the room.
Only three men are pressing their luck tonight: Craig, Fish Eye, and Dandelion. Craig hoped for some bigger players, some guys with better connections, but Dandelion said Moy wiped out a whole table that morning with a string of flushes. The fact that Dandelion turned up again, resilient against his own loss, is an obvious indication as to where he acquired the nickname, his round yellow face notwithstanding.
Fish Eye traps a Viceroy between stained incisors and lights up, the only other thing to do here aside from setting cards. He takes a long drag; his right eye swims around in its socket. Craig's never sure where the guy is really looking. Maybe nowhere particular. Maybe everywhere at once.
The den sits at the back of Chu's China Delight, behind the kitchen. From the outside, it's dressed up like a walk-in meat locker; a heavy steel door guards the small, smoky room and its rickety card tables, its precious dice. Plenty of meat in this place, Craig thinks. Fresh, stupid meat.
The locker's cooling system serves to circulate air since there are no windows in the room. No decoration, either; only cards, players and endless minutes between hands. Minutes when someone might get tired of losing. Or of the house rules. Or of being quiet. Craig's spent enough time and money here to know there are plenty of bones to pick with Moy; it can't be much longer before the seams of this carefully set scene spread and fray and he gets a glimpse backstage — back to where Chinatown does its real business with the Fuxi gang. That is the reason Craig is here, waiting on Moy to deal another hand.
Moy pauses like he's listening to the cards. Apparently they tell him to reshuffle.
Outside the Pai Gow den, boxes of wooden chopsticks, soy sauce packets and almond cookies sit stacked against the unpainted wall adjacent to the service door, waiting to be sorted and shelved after the three p.m. delivery. The service door leads to the alley that runs parallel to Argyle Street. The only white men who use this door besides Craig wear uniforms with logos like Halsted Packing House or Chicago Meat and Produce Market, Inc. Craig doesn't wear a uniform, but he'd say he does business just the same.
Moy is still shuffling.
Craig hears the business of the kitchen in the next room: the chopping of bok choy, the sizzle of egg foo young dropped in hot peanut oil. Craig would never get takeout from this place. He's seen the cooks at work: their eyes on the televised horse races; cigarettes hanging from their drying lips, ashes fluttering into the wok as they stir-fry pork for kung pao. If it is really pork, soaking in plastic buckets of purple-red marinade beneath fluorescent lights softened by the kitchen's general layer of grime.
The customers don't seem concerned with quality as they come in, hurried, to order by number from inaccurately glamorized photographs of combination plates. The front of the place is a well-designed stage. "Number sixteen, no MSG," they may say, and they'll receive an obedient bow, though the latter request won't make it back to the kitchen. The customers won't know any better; they'll love the sticky white rice packed into wire-handled cartons stamped with the Chinese character that represents wealth, fortune, and luck, though it could just as easily signify rat piss. They'll rave about the chow mein noodles, unaware they came prepackaged, as ethnic as a Ritz cracker. And they'll actually believe the cooks are Chinese.
Knowing all this doesn't make Craig feel any better. He's just glad the only thing on his plate at this place is the game and, if he's lucky, another name, another link in the Fuxi chain.
In the den's thick air, Fish Eye's cigarette smoke mingles with the oily smell that sticks to Craig's clothes, his hair, his skin — like he's been glazed with it. It stays with him long after he's lost his allowance for the night, another unappetizing reminder of the job. He'll probably never eat another egg roll.
Finally, Moy deals the cards, seven hands for only four players, four cards to the dungeon, as are the rules. Moy places every card on the table like it's deciding a fate. Then he rattles three dice in a cup and tips them out onto the table to determine the order of play.
Craig thinks the whole ritual is time suckage, as if the motions affect who gets what cards, but win or lose, he can't complain. Not to these men. The odds have to tip in his favor eventually, don't they?
Craig's dealt his cards last: a pair of aces, the joker, a jack; the rest slop. He could set three of a kind with the aces, or split them. It's a toss-up; worst case, he'll wind up with a push, which means he doesn't win or lose, save for the house's ten percent. He takes an impatient breath.
Mr. Moy's thin lips stretch horizontally across his face, his smile all lines like a stick figure. "It ('s a) good thing (there's) no bluff (ing) in Pai Gow," he says, Craig mentally fixing Moy's broken English as he speaks. "You ('re a) terrible bluff (er), Mickey."
"Yeah," Craig says, unnecessarily rearranging his hand, playing the role of the malleable whiteface, the unlucky Irishman known as Mickey. That his badge and his gun are in the glove compartment of the unmarked, GIS-monitored car down the street is concealed quite well, he thinks. And that he's here, running his own game on the Kuang Tian tong, Moy's upfront "community" organization that will be his link to the Fuxi Spiders gang, is the real bluff. When he nails the Fuxis for handling the bad China White — the heroin cut with fentanyl — that's been killing junkies from here to 187th Street, Moy won't be so certain about his bets.
Craig splits his aces.
Mr. Moy shows his cards: low hand is an ace-jack; the high hand, three deuces. The house wins. Again.
And now Craig has to wait some more while Moy goes counterclockwise around the table, comparing his hand to Dandelion's, then to Fish Eye's, and finally to Craig's, all as precisely as he calculates how much more each man owes. Gives Craig plenty of time to figure out he's down a little over two grand.
Moy snatches Craig's cards and begins the whole ritual again, his face listless, despite the fact that he just raked in another couple hundred bucks.
Craig pushes back from the table, his irritation an inevitable tell. He can't help it; he feels like he forked over some sensibility with that last twenty dollars. "Mr. Moy," he says, "I want to know something: how come the house always gets lucky?"
Moy's expression doesn't change. Like he isn't even listening.
Craig catches the back of the chair as he stands up to keep it from tipping back and clattering to the floor. "I'm just saying, maybe it's fate. But tonight? The cards are playing like your command of English. Convenient."
Moy looks up at him, through him. A dare.
Craig didn't plan to be the one to pick a fight; he promised he'd keep cool, let the others' losses get the best of them. But damn this game: there's no strategy. No skill. It isn't fate, and it isn't fair.
And it doesn't matter. It's work.
Craig sits. Moy has no idea what they've both got to lose.
Moy resumes shuffling, and eventually deals. When he gets to Craig he pauses, a card pressed between his fingers like he's second-guessing Mickey's seat at the table. Craig thinks this is the start of something, and he's right, but it's not because of Craig; the next thing he knows, three men dressed in black from hair to heel bust in on the den like a SWAT team.
Maybe he should've, but Craig didn't order the SWAT team.
Excerpted from Person of Interest by Theresa Schwegel. Copyright © 2007 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Chicago police detective Craig McHugh is undercover investigating a deadly Chinese-American gang the Fuxi Spiders, who peddle illegal drugs. Craig knows he needs to get in closer with members if he is to get the proof that they sell heroine including a lethal bad batch. To do so he plays card with Moy and other Fuxi Spiders, who take gambling as a sacred pastime, losing his entire official allotment and some of his own money in the game.-------------- While he is away from his family, they have issues. The police found his brooding teenage daughter Ivy at a party where ecstasy was being used. His wife Leslie assumes he is having some sort of early middle age affair and feels entitled to one too so she chooses her daughter¿s boyfriend. However, his professional and personal lives converge forcing a good cop to take drastic measures to keep his loved ones alive from vindictive thugs.--------------- This exciting thriller will be on the short list for police procedural of the year as the action, some quite graphic, never slows down for even a paragraph. Besides a strong undercover subplot and a close look at the underbelly of the Windy City, the key that makes this a strong tale is a deep look at a cop whose keeps him away from his family leading to a dysfunctional relationship. Readers will seek Theresa Schwegel¿s previous Chicago PD tales as they come highly recommended (see PROBABLE CAUSE and OFFICER DOWN)----------- Harriet Klausner