Edgar award winner Theresa Schwegel returns with The Good Boy, her most dramatic and emotional novel to date, a family epic that combines the hard-boiled grit of her acclaimed police thrillers with an intimate portrait of a young boy trying to follow his heart in an often heartless city.
For Officer Pete Murphy, K9 duty is as much a punishment as a promotion. When a shaky arrest reignites a recent scandal and triggers a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, all eyes are on Pete as the department braces for another media firestorm.
Meanwhile, Pete's eleven-year-old son Joel feels invisible. His parents hardly notice him—unless they're arguing about his "behavioral problems"—and his older sister, McKenna, has lately disappeared into the strange and frightening world of teenagerdom. About the only friend Joel has left is Butchie, his father's furry "partner."
When Joel and Butchie follow McKenna to a neighborhood bully's party, illegal activity kicks the dog's police training into overdrive, and soon the duo are on the run, navigating the streets of Chicago as they try to stay one step ahead of the bad guys—bad guys who may have a very personal interest in getting some payback on Officer Pete Murphy.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||696 KB|
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
The Good Boy
By Theresa Schwegel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Theresa Schwegel
All rights reserved.
"Is that dog friendly?" asks the kid who's spent the past half hour working his way around to the question. In that time, he quit the monkey bars in Addams Park's broken-down jungle gym, did a few laps on the paved path between Ashland Avenue and the CHA low-rises, acted like he was interested in a nearby transformer bank, and finally got up the nerve to come over and ask.
In that half hour, Pete Murphy threw a tennis ball to his partner Butch about a hundred times, getting him some exercise after a long shift, and maybe showing off a little.
"He's friendly," Pete says. "You want to throw the ball?"
The kid shrugs and looks down at the grass, which is about like the condition of his pants: anemic-looking, worn away in places. He's got light-black skin and black hair wrestled into tight, dirty braids. He probably has a nice smile and it probably doesn't get used too often.
"Here," Pete says, retrieving the slobbered ball from Butch and tossing it in the kid's general direction, since he won't want to get too friendly himself, Pete's uniform and all. The kid catches the ball, easy, turns it around in his hands.
"What's his name?" he asks, a drawl you don't pick up in the city.
"What's your name?" Pete asks right back.
The kid looks over his shoulder, watches a couple of old-timers wander toward the abandoned oak-tree trunk inexplicably set in the middle of a double block of nothing taller than weeds. It's a park fixture more popular than the playground, since most of the folks who hang out here mean something different when they talk about getting swung.
Pete figures the men must see him which means they aren't up to anything or else they're already high, and anyway he's off the clock, so to each his own. He says to the kid, "I'm Officer Murphy. And this is Butch."
"Butch," the kid says.
Butch cocks his head, attention on the ball.
"My name's Ralla," the kid says, tough lip. He squares his shoulders and winds up, a few years too young for an arm, and throws the ball. It pops up, short, and Butch catches it before it hits the ground — his skill erasing any worry the kid might have had about his own.
"Damn!" Ralla says. "He's badass!"
Butch returns and leaves the ball exactly halfway between Pete and Ralla, his version of diplomacy. Ralla hangs back, waiting for the okay.
"Units in Eleven and all units citywide," the dispatcher announces from the radio clipped to Pete's shirt. He turns down the squelch and tilts an ear to listen to the rest: "Anonymous 911 caller states there will be a shooting at Madison and Hamlin. Caller claims the offenders are Four Corner Hustlers. No further description or details."
Butch looks over at Pete like he wants to know if they're going back to work. They could; they're only a bowshot from Eleven. But they're also on target for a good three days off and anyway, Pete's not going to be the guy to bite into that gang beef. Been there, not doing that.
He nods toward the ball, tells Ralla, "Go ahead."
Ralla's next throw sends the ball over Butch's head, but the dog's still quick enough to catch it before it bounces.
"Damn," he says again, extra as.
"So, Ralla," Pete says, "you live here, in the Vill?" Not the best of what's left of Chicago's public housing but not the worst, either.
The kid checks Pete sideways like a pitcher would a man on first. He eyes the radio. "Do you?" Turning the question around, same game as Pete's.
"We do not live here, no. But our office is close by, and Butch is always hounding me to stop."
Ralla looks skeptical, like he doesn't get the play on words. Or else he got it all right, but what he's also got is hood smarts. That means he knows the closest police station is two miles away with a good twenty city blocks and as many parks in between. Nicer parks. Parks people use to enjoy sunny days. Not parks where people use.
That makes this park a pretty questionable choice for a game of fetch.
"I was only asking," Pete says, "'cause we come here a lot, and I've never seen you before. And I like a guy who can throw the ball."
"You looking for somebody?" Ralla coming straight in now, the same way Pete's son Joel would if he thought he was being sugared.
"No," Pete says, quitting the ripe smile.
"You looking for trouble, then?"
"No, kid," Pete says. "I'm looking to get lost." It's a truth he'd never tell his son.
"Everybody lost around here," Ralla says. He looks over his shoulder at the low-rises. "I know where I'ma go, though. I'm just staying by my uncle's right now."
"Your uncle lives here?"
"In the Abbotts." Ralla throws the ball again and then rolls up his throwing arm's dirty sleeve and that's when Pete sees what look like cigarette burns: hot, pink scars polka-dotted from the inside of his wrist to the crook of his elbow.
No way there's a happy ending there and Pete knows better than to ask, any question from him too official. Then again, the kid is the one who presented the evidence, so: "Your uncle. Is that your mom's brother?"
"My mom's boyfriend's dad."
"Well, family's family," Pete says, realizing the abandoned trunk isn't the only strange tree in this hood. "Do you get along pretty well with your uncle?"
"Yeah. Only met him once, though. He stays by his grandma's."
"So you live with your uncle who isn't your uncle who doesn't live there."
"Yeah," Ralla says, like it's perfectly reasonable.
Pete decides to drop it, the line of questioning gone crooked.
Butch brings the ball back to Ralla and he throws it low and fast, a worm burner. The dog goes full-throttle to get on top of it, nose in the dirt. His return is a wide, proud canter, the ball held high.
Ralla says, "I used to have a dog."
"Oh yeah? What kind?"
"Loyal dogs." As far as general observations go, Pete might as well have said four-legged, but: "What was his name?"
Tyson was the name of one of the torn-up dogs Pete found when he was in tac a few years back and the team busted a dog-fighting ring in Stoney Island, at a day care of all places. Tyson and five other pits named George, which was supposed to be funny. None of the dogs looked like it had ever won a fight. Neither did the guy running the ring, once Pete and company were through with him.
"I guess you had to leave Tyson behind, when you came here?"
"Nah. My dad had to get rid of him."
"That's too bad," Pete says, wondering who got rid of Dad.
Ralla throws the ball again. This time when Butch fetches it he turns, drops it at his own feet, and waits — the start to a little game Joel calls Butchie Ball. Curious, Ralla approaches. Butch waits until the kid's just close enough before he snaps up the ball, spins around and darts off, putting another ten feet between them.
Ralla plays along twice more before he says, "Hey! You the one supposed to fetch!" Then he follows Butch again anyway.
Watching them chase back and forth, Ralla's spirit transformed, Pete is thankful for the dog. Has to be. He's a hell of a work dog, sure, but he's also a facilitator. He starts conversations. He eases tension. He gets people on the level.
Well, most people. The cops who think Pete was merited the K9 job can't seem to rise above the 'dog and pony show' jokes.
"All available units in Eleven," the dispatcher says. "Intelligence confirms the 911 call that a faction of Four Corner Hustlers called the BFMs, Boy-Frank-Mary, will retaliate against other Hustlers in the area of Madison and Hamlin. Caller states there are four BFMs, all young black males, sixteen to eighteen years of age, riding in a maroon Dodge Caravan. Retaliation is for the shooting of Cashual Betts, IR number 1968696 shot on 07 July this year in disputed drug territory. All units be aware: they are armed and extremely aggressive —"
Pete turns the radio down two more clicks. Seems like territory is always the issue with these kids. Strapped and dead-serious, pushing one another off corners like a city-block-size ghetto-rules game of Risk.
After a while Ralla gives up and returns to Pete's side while Butch settles on a thin patch of dry grass, ball between his paws, face to the sun.
"Butch is the only one who wins that game," Pete says.
"I know a game," Ralla says, angling his chin toward Pete. "You got five dollars?" Not quite a demand, but maybe an early try at a grown man's scam.
"What do you need five dollars for?"
"School," Pete says, having already wondered why Ralla isn't there right now, a Thursday past 9:00 A.M. "Where do you go to school?"
"Ralla," he says. "Same as my name."
"Ralla from Ralla." Pete guesses North Carolina but wherever it is, the bus ride might as well be to Mars, as far as it must seem from here. "Is that where you're going when you get out of here? Home?"
"I guess you don't want to play my game," Ralla says, toeing the dirt.
"I'm sorry," Pete says, "I don't have five dollars." Truth is, he doesn't want to see the kid try to swindle.
As if on cue to bridge the silence, Butch gets up and comes over and drops the ball in front of Ralla's feet. Ralla picks it up, turns it over, fingers the faded brand name.
Pete says, "You look like you're about my son's age. His name's Joel. He's real good at history. Memorizing names and places and such. You like history?"
Ralla looks down at the ball, and Pete gets the idea he probably can't read let alone understand that history, around a place like this, is too often destined to be repeated in the police blotter.
"I hope you get to go home soon," Pete says.
"Hope don't help." He throws the ball as hard as he can.
This time Butch doesn't fetch because he's fixed on pack of older boys who've appeared, creeping into the park from the public housing.
"Butch, fuss," Pete says and the dog obeys, heeling to his owner's left.
"That's Dontay," Ralla says. "My mom's boyfriend." And then he goes to fetch the ball himself.
From this distance, Pete can't see the boys well enough to tell any of them apart, all of them black-skinned and dressed in blues; even if he had them in a lineup, he guesses they'd still look like cards from the same deck.
He'll bet they've picked him out already, though — his own blues — because the five of them simultaneously shift course and head north toward the blind alley that cuts in at Roosevelt, their collective strut scattered.
"You good with Dontay?" Pete asks when Ralla returns with the ball, waving it in front of Butch, a tease to play.
"How come he won't do nothing?" Ralla asks, ignoring Pete's question.
The dog's hocks shake — instinct urging him to get up on his feet — but not because he wants to fetch. Dontay and company have flipped his work switch.
And now Pete's, too.
"Butch wants to know your answer," he says. "About Dontay."
Ralla steps back and looks Pete in the eye and it is not rehearsed when he says, "We good." But the way he stands there, arm held close to his side, wounds guarded, makes Pete realize the response is as learned as Butch's sit, stay, and heel.
Pete reaches out and takes Ralla's hand — still clutching the ball, wet and slimy — and turns his arm open, to the cigarette burns. "Is Dontay the one who gave you these?"
Ralla pulls his hand away. "I thought you wasn't looking for trouble." He looks out across the field as the boys approach a dark green midnineties Impala that's either parked or broken down in the alley. He tosses the ball to Butch and it rolls past his feet, the dog's attention still fixed on Dontay's gang. He says, "I don't want to play no more, either," and starts back toward the Abbotts.
"Ralla," Pete says, wallet from his pocket. Maybe he'll only make himself feel better, but five bucks and some fetch is all the kid wanted, not twenty questions and a forced confession. "Before you go. What about your game?"
Ralla stops, turns, considers the wallet. "You said you didn't have no money."
"I said I didn't have five dollars." He takes out a ten. "I have this."
"Yo, Rall!" one of the boys calls from outside the Impala, its doors open now, the driver climbing inside. The boy who called out raises his hand, a salute of sorts — which is, when Ralla repeats the gesture, the worst sort: a flash of three fingers, thumb curled over his index finger — a gangbanger's goodbye.
Of course. The New Breeds run the Abbotts. And that one getting into the backseat of the Impala — presumably Dontay — must be balls over brains, throwing up signs in front of a uniform. Pete wasn't looking for trouble but there it is, right there, and any cop worth his star would go over and show him and his boys how difficult it is to represent while handcuffed.
Except doing so would only put a ding on Dontay's rap sheet, and a dent in both their afternoon plans. It's clear Dontay isn't afraid to mark his territory; that makes Pete the one who would spend a long time after that worrying about Ralla's other arm.
Pete feels the familiar weight of Job-impotence as he watches the Impala, blue smoke curling from its tailpipe as it idles at the curb, a taunt. If he wants to do anything for Ralla at all, he can't do anything at all. Without any hope, and without real help, cash is the only thing of value he can offer.
So he tucks the money in his shirt pocket and says, "What's the game."
"Okay. The game is, that if you give me your last name, and I could hold your hand, then I bet that I can spell your first name. And when I do, I win, and you give me ten dollars."
"Ten dollars now? What happened to five?"
"You got ten dollars. You said."
"What if you don't guess right, though? What do I get?"
Ralla sticks his hands in his pockets like he's got something to give. Turns out all he can find is a cross-toothed smile as says, "Don't worry. I'ma guess right."
Pete's pretty sure his first name was Officer when he introduced himself, so he's kind of interested to know how Ralla plans to pull off the trick. Butch's growl is low in his throat when the Impala pulls out of the alley and Pete tries not to feel like a complete mark as he says, "Last name's Murphy."
"Murphy," Ralla says, as if it's a clue. "Okay, Officer Murphy: lemme hold your hand."
He takes Pete's hand between his flat, grimy palms, then asks, "Ready?"
"Okay, lemme see ..." He closes his eyes, lashes fluttering. "Murphy ... Murphy ..."
Pete closes his eyes, too, and as they stand there, he hears the dispatcher on his radio, a whisper about the BFMs that reminds him about the savagery of this world — the gangbangers and backstabbers, the people who play the game and the people who get pawned.
He bends his fingers around the edges of Ralla's slight hand and tries to tune out the noise. He thinks of Joel; he can't remember the last time he held his son's hand. Or McKenna's, either — and she's at the coming-of-age now where she probably wouldn't want to anymore.
Or maybe she wouldn't want to because she's old enough to realize Pete's missed more than a ball game, or dinner again. Could be that she knows more than she lets on about Pete's job change, or about why they moved.
Or maybe she senses that Butch isn't the one with his tail between his legs.
"Your first name ..." Ralla says, "is spelled ... y-o-r ... f-ir-s-t n-a-m-e!" Ralla lets go of Pete's hand and he says, "Your first name! Get it?"
"I got it." And also the fact that Ralla missed the u.
Pete thinks about renegotiating the deal, about telling the kid he can't spell and so he can't have the cash; he could offer to buy lunch instead, take him across the way to Captain Hook's.
But what's a plate of fried shrimp going to do? Pete needs to see his own kids. Try to make that world right.
"I got another one," Ralla says. "You want to play again?"
"No thanks," Pete says, handing him the ten. "We've got to go."
"Aw, you mad 'cause I fooled you? That there was legit!"
"I'm not mad. I can't afford to play anymore."
"But wait —" he says, pinching the bill by its corners, showing it off, "this time you could win."
"Yeah," Pete says, same as no, "I don't see that happening."
"But you could! This time, you get to guess. Don't you want your money back?"
Pete's sure it's a variation on the scam and it does make him mad, a kid this age working on him like some street-worn bum, but the thing is, he is a kid, and even if the game isn't fair, it looks like Ralla's been on the losing end for a while now.
Excerpted from The Good Boy by Theresa Schwegel. Copyright © 2013 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
No characters in this book. Instead, the author has crafted real people who come alive with all of their idiosyncrasies and good intentions that are in conflict with realities. Domestic turmoil is rampant. K-9 Police Officer Pete Murphy and his son Joel embark on separate odysseys that keep the suspense high. And Butch, the canine partner, gets in his licks, too. Well worth the read!
I do not get it.
This newest novel from Theresa Schewegel is at its heart a tale about a boy and his dog, either (or both) of which could be the eponymous Good Boy. The boy is 11-year-old Joel Murphy; the dog is his father Pete’s K-9 partner, Butchie (more formally Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry Butch O’Hare, and from time to time variations of any part of that “full title”), a hundred-pound shepherd mix. I opened this book expecting something along the lines of the author’s earlier books, specifically a crime thriller/police procedural, and must admit that at first I was disappointed to find that this book is not that at all (although Joel’s father is a cop, and there is no shortage of suspense to be found here). And the early portions of the book, told from Joel’s p.o.v., were a bit difficult to follow and somewhat off-putting. I hasten to add at this point that in the end, the novel is thoroughly satisfying. Joel is a very bright young boy with an incredible memory, also a boy who “sees things differently - - a high-spirited version of the overlooked and ordinary.” One night he takes it upon himself to protect his teenage sister, McKenna (“Mike”), as she heads out for a party in a dangerous part of town, at the home of someone equally dangerous, where known gang-bangers and criminals are likely to be present. And that is exactly what transpires; a gun is discharged and someone is shot soon after he shows up, with Butchie, his best friend in the world, at his side. It’s a toss-up as to who is protecting whom. The remainder of the book follows the path each member of the Murphy family takes in the aftermath of this event, the all-important message being that “home is being together, no matter where they are,” and whatever it takes to accomplish that. Initial reservations aside, the novel is very enjoyable, and recommended.