The prospect sat in the hot tub, fat and doughy. Looking like he would leave an oil slick as he melted in the steaming water. The Fixer crossed the redwood deck, dropped a robe, climbed down three steps and sat across from the sweating mound of flesh.
The prospect’s mouth flapped up and down. No words. A three-hundred-pound manatee gurgling as the whirlpool teased bubbles around his hairy C-cup breasts.
“I asked if you’re Martin.”
The fat man scanned the pool area. Two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon at an airport conference hotel. The Fixer knew the place would be empty. Perfect for sensitive conversations.
Martin brought his hands to his face. Two pink hams rubbing water out of his eyes. “Graham? You’re Graham?”
The Fixer nodded.
A slow smile crossed the fat man’s face. “You’re not what I expected.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
Yellow teeth peeked out between Martin’s fleshy lips. “I like your tattoo. A dagger through the heart. Nice for your line of work. What I don’t like is meeting in a jacuzzi.” He leaned his arms across the back of the tub. A porcine crucifix. “What’s the deal?”
“Bathing suits and hot water. Great for making sure no one’s wearing a wire.”
“I get it. Brings whole new meaning to the term ‘wet work.’”
“You have a job for me, Mr. Martin?”
The prospect craned his fat head, scanning the pool area again, assuring himself no one was within earshot. “My wife.”
“What about your wife, Mr. Martin?”
He fidgeted. “What? I gotta say it? That how this works?”
The Fixer stared at him. Steel-blue eyes shut down any resistance the obese man may have considered.
“I want her gone, okay?” He swiped a hand through thinning brown hair. “I need her gone.”
“Tell me why, Mr. Martin.”
“What? You got standards?” Martin regretted the challenge the moment it left his lips. “Sorry. That was rude. You’re a professional. I respect that. It’s just you gotta understand.” He made a failed attempt at humble. “It’s not like I do this every day, you know what I’m saying?”
“Tell me why, Mr. Martin. Why do you want your wife gone?”
The size of the man made his subservience all the more pitiful. This was The Fixer’s favorite part. When the prospect realized who held the power.
“She’s become a liability, let’s just say. Spends my money like a sailor on shore leave. She’s drunk every day by three. She used to be gorgeous, but I gotta face it. She’s really let herself go. My business, I need a looker on my arm.”
“Why not divorce her, Mr. Martin?”
The prospect narrowed his eyes, considering another stab at defiance. The Fixer’s steadiness stopped it. The smell of chlorine mixed with his sweat to produce an odor of sanitized panic. “It’s complicated. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Which means there’s money involved. Money a judge might think she deserves but you don’t want her to have.”
“It’s not just the money. It’s a whole thing. Like I said, complicated.”
“Which means there’s another woman. Someone who doesn’t want to wait through a messy divorce.”
Martin found a sliver of backbone somewhere in his lipid insulation. “Listen. I don’t gotta explain myself to you. You gonna do this thing or not?”
The Fixer’s hand toyed with the bubbles. “No, Mr. Martin. I’m not. I do have standards. And you don’t meet them.” Rising and grabbing the rail, The Fixer climbed the stairs and reached for a robe.
“What the f*** is this?” Martin attempted to stand, but slipped, sending a chemically treated tsunami over The Fixer’s feet.
“Relax, Mr. Martin.” Robe tied tight. “I have colleagues whose criteria aren’t as high as mine. Consider this a first interview. The good news is you made it to the next round. Be here tomorrow. Same time. Same tub. My colleague will meet you. Name’s Cain. I think the two of you will make perfect partners.”
“What is this? You got the rep, Graham. Who the f***’s Cain? I need you. Not some dumb f*** associate of yours.”
The Fixer looked down at the floating flesh flailing in the spa. “One more word, Mr. Martin, and Cain takes another job. Are we clear?”
Martin sank back onto the hot-tub bench. “Tell that Cain of yours I want to do business.”
The Fixer smiled and headed toward the locker room. A quick shower and change before heading home. Special attention to scrubbing off the heart-and-dagger tattoo. A long walk to the far end of the hotel’s parking lot. The Fixer pulled out a prepaid cell phone, fitted a small voice digitizer over the mouthpiece, and punched in a number. An answer on the second ring.
“West Grove Station, Officer Jenkins speaking.”
“Detective Llaird, please.”
Officer Jenkins reacted to the synthesized voice. “Who is this?”
“Put me through to Detective Llaird. I won’t ask again, Officer.”
A brief pause followed by a click signaled Officer Jenkins had weighed her options well.
“Detective Llaird, listen carefully.” The Fixer knew the digitizer sometimes garbled sounds. “Have a plainclothes meet a man at the airport Hilton tomorrow afternoon at two. His name’s Martin. He’ll be the fattest guy your man’s ever seen and he’ll be waiting in the hot tub.”
“Who the hell is this?” The digitizer attracted that question a lot.
“Listen to me, Detective, and save a life. Ignore me and you’ll have a homicide on your hands. Martin’s looking for somebody. Wants his wife dead and is ready to pay to make it happen. Tomorrow. Two o’clock. Hot tub at the airport Hilton. He’ll be expecting a shooter named Cain.”
Llaird offered a variation on the theme. “What the f*** is this?”
“This, Detective, is a guaranteed heads-up. I’ve done my job. Now you do yours.” The Fixer clicked off. Digitizer removed and returned to pocket. Prepaid’s battery ejected. Crossing the parking lot back to the hotel, The Fixer passed several cars with windows open to the July heat. Cell phone mechanism placed under the tire of a six-year-old Ford. Cell phone battery tossed into the open dumpster behind the coffee shop. Never breaking stride, The Fixer moved through the lobby and out the main entrance, nodding to the nearest bellman past the revolving door.
“Cab, please. Airport.”
The bellman whistled the first car in the taxi line forward. The Fixer stepped to the open door and handed the bellman a five before settling into the backseat. Two doormen and three bellhops watched the cab pull away.
“That,” breathed the twenty-year-old bellhop, “is one gorgeous woman.”