I’ve pretty much despised Woody Allen since he took up with a woman to whom he was at least tangentially related. But, he was right about one thing. Murder is, well, murderously easy to arrange …
Being a writer, I’d hoped to get more than a customized killing—a story, too, something freshly ingenious and twisted. If that sounds harsh, remember I had to think about supporting myself and the children, hopefully with my writing. It seemed at first that no diabolical game plan would unfold. But patience and perseverance paid off. It took a few phone calls and an exchange of cash. Then, an accident on a mountain road. The death I’d both feared and fantasized was a reality. My children’s future was secure, if fatherless.
When I became a widow, I cried. I did. When the call came saying the job was done, when the deputies came to the door with the news, I sobbed. The children and I cried and cried the day we spread Fix’s ashes over a sullen gray wake behind the Harbor Queen paddlewheeler on Morro Bay. It was hard to know, really, what part was Fix and what part his Nissan truck. I know I saw a bit of gray upholstery turning slowly in the sluggish water, before a tossed daisy covered it. There just wasn’t much left of Fix or the truck, so I guess High Mountain Mortuary and Cremation scooped up whatever they could from the highway, cremated it, and put it in the box marked Hitt, Fix.
You may say that any woman who would marry a man named Fix Hitt is asking for trouble. But Fix—Phillips Courtenay Hitt III—could indeed fix just about anything, animal, vegetable, or mineral. Mechanical or emotional. During the time we were together, it was Fix who could get me out of my chair when I was held there by mental peregrinations down the blue highways of regret and dread. It was Fix who was the hero in the story of our family, at least for a long time. The kids and I knew he wouldn’t let anyone or anything hurt us. But he couldn’t fix Fix.
My husband, our protector, was himself at the dead end of the sorry streets in my nightmares. I could stand by him, or I could save myself and the kids. It seemed that simple. If he lived, he was going to lose everything we had.
“I was sure he’d had another heart attack,” sniffled my mother-in-law, Marjorie, into a clean hanky. “But the autopsy didn’t show that.”
The autopsy didn’t show anything amiss, thank God, I thought. And thanks to skillful work by the nameless contact who tampered with Fix’s brakes, or doctored his club soda with sleeping pills. I don’t know the details. I don’t want to. I just know what while Fix was losing a couple of mortgage payments at a blackjack table in Harrah’s, someone was fixing him.
We couldn’t take the gambling any more. I was sick of trying to budget for unspecified losses, financial and otherwise. If we’d had a marriage portrait, you could have painted my heart on my chest in scarlet and carmine, then watched it fade year after year, until it was washed-out pink, with a black, black hole right through the middle. On the other side of the hole, pulsing like a quark, a tiny, lethal blackjack table. Blackjack, the simple game that steals husbands, homes, retirements, and children’s college funds in return for … I don’t know. I don’t play.
The only gamble I ever took, I won.
“Are you all right for money?” Marjorie asked, putting her hanky in her apron pocket and getting ready to prepare a big meal no one would be able to eat.
“I think we’ll be fine,” I replied, looking over various papers and insurance policies. I knew we’d be fine. Fix had always said we’d be better off with him gone, and much as I’d hated for him to say that, it was true.
I hadn’t paid much attention to our finances. I was aware of how they were supposed to work, but then we started getting notices about unpaid insurance, or Fix would defer car or house maintenance ‘until next month’. These events followed more and more frequent trips to Mountain High, a tacky gambling mecca set down in some of the most glorious scenery in our state. About five hundred miles from us by freeway and winding road, Mountain High is a place where high-rise cement boxes line an emerald-green lake, rimmed by what’s left of a once-vast, dark, forest. Under a high, thin-blue sky, the hotels and casinos emanate a florescent glow day and night.