TOO PRETTY FOR A HITMAN
1. In the beginning was Elvis.
She rubbed his shoulder and sang to him as she often did when he got drunk and angry. She’d sing Elvis and Jerry Lee, his eyelids would flutter and close, and soon he’d be snoring away. And sometimes she’d take a ballpoint and draw pictures on his back where he couldn’t see them. Her minister had said drawing on her husband was wrong and sinful—do not cut your bodies for the dead or put marks on yourselves—so she’d tried to stop, but by then it was an obsession. Once she’d drawn a likeness of herself with the words “I only love Rennie” underneath, thinking it would keep him faithful, but it didn’t.
Now Rennie sang louder, then even louder to drown him out. She sang “Don’t Be Cruel,” then “It Had to Be You,” his favorite even if it wasn’t Elvis, but he didn’t stop his hollering and he didn’t fall asleep. He rolled over in the mud, his voice so high and hoarse he sounded like a mule. With his mouth foaming and his skin turned to lead, it even seemed he might die. And if he died, who would they hold responsible?
The answer tore at her mind—
The wife. It’s always the wife.
She grabbed up his pistol and ran back to the cabin where she pulled out drawers and dumped them out on the floor until she found the Hot Springs phonebook, dialing a dozen wrong numbers before she got the hospital. Wound up and out of breath, all she could say was her husband was shot. The woman asked for the street address, but as there was no street address, the question didn’t register.
“His name is Mancini! Mooch Mancini! And he’s shot!”
“Ma’am, I really need your—”
“I told him I’d throw his gun in the pond. I told him that!”
“Ma’am, your address—”
Rennie slammed the phone down and stared at the handset. “They’ll fix him up,” she said finally.
Brave words that came out oddly, as if someone else had said them. As if an angel had said a fluffy white ambulance would float down to the mountain, collect her husband and deliver him to heaven where Jesus would sew his hair back on and all would be fine again.
Such beautiful hair! Jesus would say.
Shivering at the thought, Rennie went into the bedroom and changed into a pink cotton turtleneck and blue jeans, found a mentholated cigarette, looked for matches but there weren’t any, then dried her hair with Mooch’s towel. She went through his yesterday clothes and found a five-dollar bill folded in the back pocket with a telephone number on it, then returned to the kitchen where she leaned over the sink and watched Mooch out the window, shirtless and writhing in the mud of the old logging road. His chinos were a mess and she wondered if they were ruined. And she wondered about those matches. She decided to buy a case—Diamond brand, four cents a box. Stupid to run out as wasn’t much to do in the cabin other than clean and smoke and watch cartoons on television, and their second-hand Zenith was full of static when it rained. So Rennie watched Mooch and played with his revolver. She unloaded and sucked on the empty brass of the bullets before reloading them, learning nothing she didn’t already know. Finally the rain petered away and the sun came out. She poured herself a lemonade and cut a slice of Mooch’s birthday cake that never got its twenty candles. Then she went out to his lawn chair and moved it to the cabin’s sunny side and sat with her back to him. Fat drops fell from the roof and popped the rusted cover of the water pump.
Pop-pop-pop—as Mooch would pop the kitchen table with his high school ring when he wanted to annoy her. She counted pops to a hundred, then scraped off the strawberry icing with a fork and ate it as she watched clouds rolling over a mountain peak like some storybook castle.
Now Mooch started up again, braying and cursing behind her.
“They’re coming,” she yelled, “so you can stop your yelling.”
After a while he gave up. Or was he dead? Even if he was, she’d done what she had to do. That’s all anyone could ask, right? That she called the hospital?
The air was cool and sharp, and with Mooch maybe dead she found it pleasant sitting there in the slanting sun, at least until she heard the distant siren, its moaning fading in and out as it came up the switchbacks. When it finally reached the cabin, she saw it was cloud-white—except for red splatters of mud—and when the medic jumped out he could’ve been Jesus except for his crew cut and the cowlick above his forehead. He ran to her and she held up the platter.
“You want some cake?”