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The Crush


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

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." "Local shrimp?" "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

"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

"Steph made cheerleader. Laura started her periods."
"Congratulations or condolences?" "For which?" "Both."

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

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. . ." "Not interested." "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

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

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." "Under duress." "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

"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

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." "Still no." "I need your help."
"Sorry." "Is that your final answer?"

Wick picked up his fresh beer, took a large swallow, then belched

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

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

"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

Excerpted from THE CRUSH © Copyright 2002 by Sandra Brown
Management, Ltd. Reprinted with permission by Warner Books. All
rights reserved.


The Crush
by by Sandra Brown

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446613053
  • ISBN-13: 9780446613057