By Sandra Brown
Published by Warner Books
October 2002; 0-446-52704-1; 496 pages
Nice place you've got here."
"I like it." Ignoring the snide and trite remark, Wick dumped the pot of boiled shrimp into a colander that had never seen the inside of a Williams-Sonoma store. It was white plastic, stained brown. He didn't remember how he'd come by it, but he figured it had been left behind by a previous occupant of the rental house, which his friend obviously found lacking.
After the hot water had drained through, he set the colander in the center of the table, grabbed a roll of paper towels, and offered his guest another beer. He uncapped two bottles of Red Stripe, straddled the chair across the table from Oren Wesley, and said, "Dig in."
Oren conscientiously ripped a paper towel from the roll and spread it over his lap. Wick was on his third shrimp before Oren got around to selecting one. They peeled and ate in silence, sharing a bowl of cocktail sauce for dipping. Oren was careful not to get his white French cuffs in the horseradish-laced red stuff. Wick slurped carelessly and licked his fingers, fully aware that his sloppy table manners annoyed his fastidious friend.
They dropped the shrimp shells onto the newspaper that Wick had spread over the table, not to protect its hopelessly scarred surface but to keep cleanup to a minimum. The ceiling fan fluttered the corners of this makeshift tablecloth and stirred the spicy aroma of the shrimp boil into the sultry coastal air.
After a time, Oren remarked, "Pretty good."
Wick shrugged. "A no-brainer."
"Buy it fresh off the boat soon as it docks. The skipper gives me a discount."
"Decent of him."
"Not at all. We made a deal."
"What's your end of it?"
"To stay away from his sister."
Wick noshed into another plump shrimp and tossed the shell onto the growing heap. He grinned across at Oren, knowing that his friend was trying to decide whether or not he was telling the truth. He was a bullshit artist of renown, and even his best friend couldn't always distinguish his truth from his fiction.
He tore a paper towel from the roll and wiped his hands and mouth. "Is that all you can think of to talk about, Oren? The price of shrimp? You drove all the way down here for that?"
Oren avoided looking at him as he belched silently behind his fist. "Let me help you clean up."
"Leave it. Bring your beer."
A dirty table wasn't going to make much difference to the condition of Wick's house-which barely qualified as such. It was a three-room shack that looked like it would succumb to any Gulf breeze above five knots. It was shelter from the elements-barely. The roof leaked when it rained. The air conditioner was a window unit that was so insufficient Wick rarely bothered turning it on. He rented the place by the week, paid in advance. So far he'd written the slum lord sixty-one checks.
The screen door squeaked on its corroded hinges as they moved through it onto the rear deck. Nothing fancy--the plank surface was rough, wide enough only to accommodate two metal lawn chairs of vintage fifties style. Salt air had eaten through numerous coats of paint, the last being a sickly pea green. Wick took the glider. Oren looked dubiously at the rusty seat of the stationary chair.
"It won't bite," Wick said. "Might stain your suit britches, but I promise that the view'll be worth a drycleaning bill."
Oren sat down gingerly, and in a few minutes Wick's promise was fulfilled. The western horizon became striated with vivid color ranging from bloodred to brilliant orange. Purple thunderheads on the horizon looked like rolling hills rimmed with gold.
"Something, isn't it?" Wick said. "Now tell me who's crazy."
"I never thought you were crazy, Wick."
"Just a little nutty for shucking it all and moving down here."
"Not even nutty. Irresponsible, maybe." Wick's easy smile congealed.
Noticing, Oren said, "Go ahead and get pissed. I don't care. You need to hear it."
"Well, fine. Thank you. Now I've heard it. How're Grace and the girls?"
"Steph made cheerleader. Laura started her periods."
"Congratulations or condolences?"
Oren smiled. "I'll accept either. Grace said to give you a kiss from her." Looking at Wick's stubble, he added, "I'll pass if you don't mind."
"I'd rather you did. But give her a kiss from me."
"Happy to oblige."
For several minutes they sipped their beers and watched the colors of the sunset deepen. Neither broke the silence, yet each was mindful of it, mindful of all that was going unsaid.
Eventually Oren spoke. "Wick. . ."
"How do you know until you've heard me out?"
"Why would you want to ruin a perfectly beautiful sunset? To say nothing of a good Jamaican beer."
Wick's lunge from the glider caused it to rock crazily and noisily before it resettled. Standing at the edge of the weathered deck, tanned toes curling over the edge of it, he tilted back his beer and finished it in one long swallow, then tossed the empty bottle into the fifty-gallon oil drum that served as his garbage can. The clatter spooked a couple of gulls who'd been scavenging on the hard-packed sand. Wick envied their ability to take flight.
He and Oren had a history that dated back many years, to even before Wick had joined the Fort Worth Police Department. Oren was older by several years, and Wick conceded that he was definitely the wiser. He had a stable temperament, which often had defused Wick's more volatile one. Oren's approach was methodical. Wick's was impulsive. Oren was devoted to his wife and children. Wick was a bachelor who Oren claimed had the sexual proclivities of an alley cat.
In spite of these differences, and possibly because of them, Wick Threadgill and Oren Wesley had made excellent partners. They had been one of the few biracial partnerships on the FWPD. Together they had shared dangerous situations, countless laughs, a few triumphs, several disappointments-and a heartache from which neither would ever fully recover.
When Oren had called last night after months of separation, Wick was glad to hear from him. He had hoped that Oren was coming to talk over old times, better times. That hope was dashed the moment Oren arrived and got out of his car. It was a polished pair of wing tips, not flipflops or sneakers, that had made deep impressions in the Galveston sand. Oren wasn't dressed for fishing or beachcombing, not even for kicking back here on the deck with an Astros game on the radio and cold beer in the fridge.
He had arrived dressed for business. Buttoned down and belted up, bureaucracy personified. Even as they shook hands Wick had recognized his friend's game face and knew with certainty and disappointment that this was not a social visit.
He was equally certain that whatever it was that Oren had come to say, he didn't want to hear it.
"You weren't fired, Wick."
"No, I'm taking an 'indefinite leave of absence.'"
"That was your choice."
"You needed time to cool off and get it together."
"Why didn't the suits just fire me? Make it easier on everybody?"
"They're smarter than you are."
Wick came around. "Is that right?"
"They know, everybody who knows you knows, that you were born for this kinda work."
"This kinda work?" He snorted. "Shoveling shit, you mean? If I cleaned out stables for a living, I wouldn't have to do as much of it as I did in the FWPD."
"Most of that shit you brought on yourself."
Wick snapped the rubber band he habitually wore around his wrist. He disliked being reminded of that time and of the case that had caused him to criticize his superiors vociferously about the inefficiency of the justice system in general and the FWPD in particular. "They let that gangbanger cop a plea."
"Because they couldn't get him for murder, Wick. They knew it and the DA knew it. He's in for six."
"He'll be out in less than two. And he'll do it again. Somebody else will die. You can count on it. And all because our department and the DA's office went limp-dick when it came to a violation of the little shit's rights."
"Because you used brute force when you arrested him." Lowering his voice, Oren added, "But your problem with the department wasn't about that case and you know it."
"Oren," Wick said threateningly.
"The mistake that-"
"Fuck this," Wick muttered. He crossed the deck in two long strides. The screen door slapped shut behind him.
Oren followed him back into the kitchen. "I didn't come to rehash all that."
"Could've fooled me."
"Will you stop stomping around for a minute and let me talk to you? You'll want to see this."
"Wrong. What I want is another beer." He removed one from the refrigerator and pried off the top with a bottle opener. He left the metal cap where it landed on the wavy linoleum floor.
Oren retrieved a folder he'd brought with him and extended it to Wick, who ignored it. But his retreat out the back door was halted when his bare foot came down hard on the sharp teeth of the bottle cap. Cursing, he kicked the offender across the floor and dropped down into one of the chrome-legged dining chairs. The shrimp shells were beginning to stink.
He propped his foot on his opposite knee and appraised the damage. There was a deep impression of the bottle cap on the ball of his foot, but it hadn't broken the skin.
Showing no sympathy whatsoever, Oren sat down across from him. "Officially I'm not here. Understood? This is a complex situation. It has to be handled delicately."
"Something wrong with your hearing, Oren?"
"I know you'll be as intrigued as I am."
"Don't forget to pick up your jacket on your way out." Oren removed several eight-by-ten black-and-white photographs from the folder. He held one up so that Wick couldn't avoid looking at it. After a moment, he showed him another.
Wick stared at the photo, then met Oren's eyes above it. "Did they get any shots of her with her clothes on?"
"You know Thigpen. He took these for grins."
Wick snorted acknowledgment of the mentioned detective.
"In Thigpen's defense, our stakeout house gives us a clear view into her bedroom."
"Still no excuse for these. Unless she's an exhibitionist and knew she was being watched."
"She isn't and she doesn't."
"What's her story?"
Oren grinned. "You're dying to know, aren't you?" When Wick had surrendered his badge a little more than a year earlier, he had turned his back not only on his police career, but on the whole criminal justice system. To him it was like a cumbersome vehicle stuck in the mud. It spun its big wheels and made a lot of aggressive noise- freedom, justice, and the American way-but it got nowhere.
Law enforcement personnel had been robbed of their motivation by bureaucrats and politicians who quaked at the thought of public disapproval. Consequently the whole concept of justice was mired in futility.
And if you were the poor dumb schmuck who believed in it, who got behind it, put your shoulder to it, and pushed with all your might to set the gears in motion, to catch the bad guys and see them punished for their crimes, all you got in return was mud slung in your face.
But, in spite of himself, Wick's natural curiosity kicked in. Oren hadn't shown him these pictures for prurient purposes. Oren wasn't a Neanderthal like Thigpen and had better things to do with his time than to gawk at photographs of half-naked women. Besides, Grace would throttle him if he did.
No, Oren had a reason for driving all the way from Fort Worth to Galveston and, in spite of himself, Wick wanted to know what it was. He was intrigued, just as Oren-damn him-had guessed he would be.
He reached for the remainder of the photographs and shuffled through them quickly, then more slowly, studying each one. The woman had been photographed in the driver's seat of a late-model Jeep wagon; walking across what appeared to be a large parking lot; inside her kitchen and her bedroom, blissfully unaware that her privacy was being invaded by binoculars and telephoto lenses in the hands of a slob like Thigpen.
Most of the bedroom shots were grainy and slightly out of focus. But clear enough. "What's her alleged crime? Interstate transportation of stolen Victoria's Secret merchandise?"
"Uh-huh," Oren said, shaking his head. "That's all you get until you agree to go back with me."
Wick tossed the photographs in Oren's general direction. "Then you made the drive for nothing." He tugged again at the rubber band on his wrist, painfully popping it against his skin.
"You'll want to be in on this one, Wick."
"Not a chance in hell."
"I'm not asking for a long-term commitment, or a return to the department. Just this one case."
"I need your help."
"Is that your final answer?"
Wick picked up his fresh beer, took a large swallow, then belched loudly.
Despite the smelly shrimp shells, Oren leaned forward across the table. "It's a murder case. Made the news."
"I don't watch the news or read the papers."
"Must not. Because if you had, you'd have sped straight to Fort Worth and saved me this trip."
Wick couldn't stop himself from asking "Why's that?"
"Popular doctor gets popped in the parking lot of Tarrant General."
"Catchy, Oren. Are you quoting the headline?"
"Nope. I'm giving you the sum total of what we know about this homicide. The crime is five days old and that's all we've got."
"Not my problem."
"The perp did the killing within yards of a potential eyewitness but wasn't seen. Wasn't heard. As silent as vapor. Invisible. And he didn't leave a trace, Wick." Oren lowered his voice to a whisper. "Not a fucking trace."
Wick searched his former partner's dark eyes. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. "Lozada?"
Settling back in his chair, Oren smiled complacently.
© 2002 Sandra Brown Management, Ltd.
As a surgeon, Dr. Rennie Newton is the consummate professional. When she's summoned to jury duty, she brings to the courtroom the same level of competence and composure that she displays in the operating room. It is this commitment to precision that compels her to deliver a not guilty verdict in the murder case against notorious contract killer Ricky Lozada. It will be the most regrettable decision of her life because Rennie's trial with Lozada doesn't end with his acquittal.
Her carefully structured life begins to crumble when a rival colleague is brutally slain. Lozada's menacing shadow looms over the murder, but it's Rennie the investigators focus on as the prime suspect. The privacy she has cultivated and protected at all costs is violated by the police as well as Lozada. And when he begins an earnest courtship, insinuating himself into every aspect of her life, it becomes terrifyingly clear that he is obsessed with having her.
Wick Threadgill is a detective on indefinite leave from the Fort Worth PD, who has his own personal agenda for the contract killer. Temperamental, bitter, and driven by loyalty and love, Wick is determined to destroy Lozada as determined as Lozada is to possess Rennie Newton.
In order to defeat Lozadaand save their livesRennie and Wick form an uneasy alliance. Mistrustful of each other, they know only one thing with absolute certaintylike one of Lozada's prize scorpions, when this killer strikes, they won't see it coming.
The Crush will take you on a tortuous path through a twisted sociopath's eerie obsession, a haunted man's fragile hopes for redemption, and a woman's heart as she struggles to face her greatest fearto open herself to love.(back to top)