Detective Sloane Pearson is new to the Sex Crimes Division but no stranger to being treated like an incompetent blonde by her hardened male co-workers. She's also no stranger to hard-to-crack cases, and her latest is as tough as they come: A rapist is on the prowl, dragging women to deserted building sites or vacant apartment buildings peppered all over downtown Chicago, and forcing them to fight---knowing, of course, that he'll win.
When a real estate agent Sloane knows is attacked by the violent predator, Sloane finds herself taking a case that threatens her secret plans to leave her long-time lover. Her personal bond with the victim and a would-be relationship with a man she interviews along the way lead Sloane down a dangerous path---one that poisons the investigation as well as her personal life.
Sloane's balancing act topples when her father falls ill. Between coping with his weak heart and following the few weak leads she has, her case begins to go the way that many rape cases go: The victims fall away, one by one, suddenly unsure of what they saw or unwilling to relive the horrifying moments again and again.
When Sloane helps a hungry young Sun-Times reporter declare the case serial, she loses support: Her bosses demand she get a suspect or move on. Sloane stays on the case, though---no matter how much it strains her personal relationships. Even her partner claims she's in too deep: He doesn't believe there's an arrest on the planet worth a cop's life. Sloane disagrees: Someone's got to take up the fight.
From the worst slums of Chicago's west side to the glittering Loop skyscrapers, Sloane finds no shortage of suspects. As she loses everything she'd called home, she can only hope to find the rapist before she also becomes a victim
Starred Review. Recently transferred from homicide to sex crimes, Chicago police detective Sloane Pearson pursues a serial rapist in Edgar-winner Schwegel's gritty fourth crime novel. Called in to interview the second in a series of victims who were beaten, raped and nearly strangled to death, Pearson knows the only way she'll have a case is if the traumatized woman will talk. But without a crime scene or detailed description of the attacker, Pearson's leads dry up fast. As she retraces the victims' steps, she uncovers a common thread that winds from the dilapidated blocks where the rapes occurred to one of the city's glitzy property development companies. Introduced in 2006's Probable Cause, Pearson, the odd woman out in her new squad, shoulders the burden of a troublesome case even when her boss insists she quit. Despite a minimal body count, Schwegel ratchets up the tension, leaving readers breathless through to the last page. Author tour. (July)
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July 06, 2009
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Excerpt from Last Known Address by Theresa Schwegel
SLOANE PEARSON DOUBLE-PARKS THE unmarked on Damen Avenue, buttons up her slicker, and skips between fat drops to the three-flat's doorstep. Plastic flags on the OPEN HOUSE sign spring yellow and wild against the gloom. She rings the buzzer but doesn't wait to go inside.
She counts each step up the long, straight flight. Fifteen to the first landing: three more than the stairs at Eddie's, though these aren't as steep. She's winded when she reaches the top floor, more so when she sees Scott Zwick leaning against the penthouse doorframe, casual, like they've already met.
"Hi. Miss Pearson? Thanks for coming." Zwick offers his hand, a shake she can find little agenda behind, even though she knows that's the point.
"I was in the neighborhood," she says, playing it just as cool. She leaves out the part about being in the neighborhood because a concerned parent reported a registered sex offender parked outside Peabody Elementary.
Zwick wipes his feet on the welcome mat and she follows suit, her heavy black boots making her feel bigger than she is; clunky. Especially compared to this guy, smooth as they come: at once dressed up and down in frayed boutique-pocket jeans, a silk-screen designer shirt with stripes so faint they're a suggestion, and the softest leather shoes-- probably Italian, if Italian's in this season.
"Miserable out there, isn't it?" he says, not so it's a question, so she doesn't answer. It's unlikely they'd have the same definition of the word, anyway; he probably doesn't have too much that makes him feel bad. An unlucky weekend in Vegas, maybe. A head cold. The Bears draft picks.
"Come on in," Zwick says like it's his place. "Check it out."
When Sloane steps inside, she catches the fresh scent of cut grass, heady from the rain. At first she thinks it must be a Realtor's staging trick, but when Zwick leads the way, she realizes it's his cologne.
They round the foyer corner and the penthouse opens up like a gift: high ceilings, lots of light and space, and warm, sleek lines. It's pleasantly, impersonally furnished and maid-clean, like a model or a hotel room. Reminds Sloane of so many of the places she has called home.
"Can you tell me why this place came back on the market?" she asks, since she'd had her eye on the address just before it sold a few months back, its low-low price suggesting a steal. At the time, she'd been too chicken to steal it.
"Fell out of escrow," Zwick says, bringing the lights up a little in the living-slash-dining room.
"Something you should be telling me? Code violations? Damages?"
"Nothing like that. Buyer's loan app was fraudulent." He motions her over to the dining table set for a fiesta of four, where he's got one mango-orange plate moved aside for paperwork. He traps a contact form on a clipboard and hands her a pen. "Formality," he says, same way he said "fraudulent."
Sloane takes the clipboard and fills in the required blanks, feeling Zwick over her shoulder, a casual supervisor. She writes her real name and resists the urge to transpose the last four digits of her phone number, as she has before. Authority. Always gets her.
"Are you working with another Realtor?" Zwick asks. They all ask this question; he manages to make it sound like an afterthought. She wonders if he already knows her answer will be as canned as cream corn.
"I'm not working with anyone." Which is true. But she couldn't strip away the gummy sweetness that coats a lie so she says, "I'm just seeing what's out there. I've been waiting, you know. Watching the market."
"Haven't we all," Zwick says, nothing sweet about it. He smiles, drawing lines at the corners of his eyes: conclusions.
He glances at her contact form long enough to read it twice, check whether she filled out anything more than the required fields. He asks, "Do you currently own a home?"
"No," she says. "I'm staying with a friend. In the West Loop. A loft." She looks down at her stupid boots and feels huge, inelegant. Full of it.
"My ex and I used to live in a loft," he says. "Twenty-four hundred square feet and not a single one of them private. If I learned one thing from that place? Space is nice. Walls are better."
"Walls would be good." She takes a listing flyer from the table. "Space would be good, too." She studies the page like a warrant: no need to comprehend a single word, the facts already so clear. A friend, she said. Admitted. But not to Eddie. Not yet.
"You need a place of your own," Zwick says, and when Sloane looks up at him, those lines around his eyes, those conclusions, fade just enough to be possibilities instead.
She manages a nod and checks the fine print on the listing-- not that she needs to: she'd snagged a copy from the flyer box yesterday and memorized the details before ditching it in the trash outside the station. The place looks exactly like the photos-- better--and the price doesn't look too bad, either.
"Why don't you go ahead," he says, "take a look around? If it's space you want, you don't need my song and dance."
Sloane's had so many sales pitches from eager Realtors these past few weeks she wonders if her bullshit detector has blown a gasket, because Zwick doesn't even register. No song, no dance? The way he cares and doesn't care: she wants to hold it against him. She really wants to hold something against him.
"Thanks," she says, pulling away from his smile. Just seeing what's out there, she had said. Scott Zwick suddenly part of it. Has she lost her mind?
The thrill chases her through the kitchen so she doesn't stop to look, though the room is one of the main reasons she's interested: the island layout with acres of countertop, the four-door, side-by-side Sub-Zero, the dual-fuel, six-top range. She could feed a gourmet army.
Down the hall, the first bedroom is a page from a furniture catalogue, all color-coordinated and strategically cluttered. The corkboard calendar just looks like it should be scheduled with important things to do.
The master bedroom, at the end of the hall, is an advertisement for the best dreams: everything some grade of soft and shade of white. The California King is too big for the room. As it should be, she thinks, its feather pillows perfectly good excuses for naps.
The master bath is just as impressive, though distinctly warmer than the bedroom; makes Sloane break a sweat. The room is sizeable, anchored by a Jacuzzi tub and six-way spray shower; above the tub, a large window frames a perfect picture of the treetops and the clearing sky. It's art, the way the light comes in, and at night she's sure the city skyline burns, distant candles. She imagines herself here, part of the picture: a long soak, the room still, her skin pink and heat-swollen.
Imagines, and wipes sweat beads from her upper lip, knowing her face will soon go splotchy, and that art is never practical, and that the room is too humid to be properly ventilated.
Sloane steps into the dry tub, her boots fixed against the nonslip rubber strips. The emerald green, inch-by-inch tiles that run up the wall sparkle, and the smell of bleach is caustic. The grout between tiles has thinned, the caulk at the fixtures peeled, probably from a wire brush and too much elbow grease. It wouldn't take a crime scene team to call mold a suspect here.
She reaches up, feels along the window: the wood frame is brand-new--no rot-- but fixed so it can't be opened. Sloane's helped install enough of these windows to know they're good for aesthetics, and for security, and for the pocketbook; in a room with regular condensation, they're also good for growing fungus.
She gets out of the tub and switches on the exhaust fan positioned above the toilet on the opposite wall. The motor kicks on and sounds just fine, so she drops the toilet lid and climbs up to check the register. The airflow is weak, so she guesses there's a problem with the vent: miscalculated capacity, maybe, or a faulty roof trap.
Her cell buzzes, so she steps down and looks at the display even though she's certain it's her partner calling about being late, which is why she isn't running on time, either, and why she sends his excuses to voice mail. She can't tell Heavy where she is, anyway; he's not the type of guy you want to enlist to weigh options. Ask him to come in on an arrest and he'll want to work the case all over again, cover his bases. Hell, ask him to pick a lunch spot and you won't eat until four. Sloane knows it's better she tell him about this when all is said and done. If all is said and done.
She looks again at the listing sheet: the ink has smudged on her hand now, and transposed the price. No matter which way it reads, it's a deal. Last week, when it came back on the market, she'd assumed the worst-- a structural issue or some other problem discovered during inspection. The property did look too good on paper. Then yesterday, after a long shift that was only longer because she didn't want to go back to Eddie's, she called Zwick. Told herself she had to come, just to find out what was wrong with it. She had hoped for something else she couldn't fix. She had hoped she wouldn't have to be the deal-breaker.
Her cell buzzes again, Heavy again, another reality check. If he calls twice it means he'll call a third time, and a fourth, so--
"Heavy," she answers.
"Where are you?" he asks, always so polite no matter how he means it.
"I'll be there in ten," she tells him, though it'll take at least twenty to get to the station from here.
"Don't bother," he says. "Meet me at 553 North Leavitt. We've got another one. Sounds a lot like the Meyer-Davis case. Same game, same winner."
Sloane's sweat goes cold. "Aren't you waiting on Meyer-Davis now?"
"She called and cancelled. I guess this is a busy time of year for accountants. She says she can't talk to us again until after the fifteenth."
"We're not doing taxes, Heavy. We can't afford to file an extension."
"We can't afford to lose her, either. Come on, Sloane. It's only a few days."
Sloane figures there's no point in spending those days arguing. "You said 553 North Leavitt, right?"
"I'll see you there."
Sloane hangs up, finds Scott Zwick: he's feet-up on the couch in the front room, no worries, mi casa es su casa, all that. "What do you think?"
"Thank you," she announces, "but I have a situation-- I have to get to work."
Zwick moves toward the door so she can't get by without a handshake, at least. "Before you go I should tell you the sellers are very motivated," he says, a side step in line with hers.
"Now the song and dance?"
"Yeah, okay, you got me. But situations like this? They're all in the timing. I'm not sure I told you this, but the seller's wife is having twins in July. I mean, you can imagine-- they're thinking in terms of trimesters. Tick-tock."
"Tick-tock," Sloane repeats, no heart in it, because starting a family is one thing she can't imagine at all. She moves past him, her boots falling flat across the hardwood and she is again too big, too much for this.
"Please," Zwick says, staying with her, "take my card. If you are interested in this place, I know we can make a good deal. If not . . ." He leaves the statement there for her to pick up.
At the door she says, "I don't need a Realtor."
"I don't want to be your Realtor." Zwick smiles, the lines at his eyes sneaking toward those possibilities again.
Sloane thinks of Claire Meyer-Davis. And the new girl. Their possibilities all risks now. From now on.
"I'm sorry. I can't afford it."
Excerpted from Last Known Address by Theresa Schwegel.
Copyright 2009 by Theresa Schwegel.
Published in July 2009 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.