the heat of the moment
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Heat Wave by Martin Green.


Hotchkins stared in horror. This couldn’t be, but it was. His wife Ida lay inert on the living room floor. She must have hit her head on the fireplace after he shoved her. He bent down and tried to find her pulse. Nothing. She was dead. And he had killed her. He knew he should be feeling regret, but his first thought was of self-preservation. Ida was a large woman. What could he do with her body? There was the back yard, but in this heat it was unthinkable that he go digging out there. The heat. That was really the cause of all this.

The retirement community where Hotchkins lived was just outside of California’s capital, Sacramento and in the summer, when a high pressure layer clamped onto the Sacramento Valley like a lid, all of the heat was trapped inside. The last week had been especially bad, with temperatures up to 110 and no cooling at night. As everyone said, it was like being in a furnace. What made it even worse was that something was wrong with Hotchkins’ thermostat and although the air conditioner came on it only brought the temperature down a few degrees.

He’d come in from running some errands, getting things that Ida could have if she wasn’t so busy going off to meetings with the “girls.” In the car driving back he’d stopped at a light and the heat made everything in front of him go wavy. He felt dizzy and disoriented. Then he heard the horn of the driver behind him and came out of it. He drove very slowly and carefully back home. He was hot and sweaty, mad at having that idiot driver honk at him, and still feeling a little dizzy. He’d wanted to tell all of this to Ida but she’d immediately got at him for not putting his breakfast dishes away and for leaving his computer room in a mess. Hotchkins usually let his wife’s nagging roll off his back, but this time he must have snapped and, he supposed, that was when he’d shoved her.

Hotchkins now examined his wife’s body more closely. There was surprisingly little blood. He could mop that up easily. maybe he could bring the body somewhere that night. He might not have to go to jail for murder after all. The doorbell rang.

Hotchkins’ first impulse was to stay quiet and maybe whoever it was would go away. But a loud voice said, “Come on, Henry, I know you’re in there, saw your car drive up. Let me in.” It was Sam Andrews, his next door neighbor and golfing partner. Sam was a big bluff guy who drove through life like a Mack truck and Hotchkins knew he wouldn’t leave. “Just a minute,” he called out. He dragged Ida’s body into the nearest place he could think of, the hall bathroom. Then he grabbed a towel from the bathroom and cleaned up the blood. He thought it looked all right. He was sweaty from his exertions but he couldn’t help that. He went to the door.

“Whatcha up to?” said Andrews, coming in without being asked.

“Nothing. I was in the bathroom.”

“Hot as hell out there, right?”

“Yeah. Like a furnace”

“Pretty hot in here, too. Where’s your thermostat?”

“In the hall. Why?”

“Ida told me it’d been acting up. I told her I’d take a look at it.”

“I just got some new batteries I was going to put in.”

“Maybe that’s it. Let’s take a look.”

Andrews expertly took the cover off the thermostat, something Hotchkins always had trouble doing. “Hmm. Don’t think it’s the batteries. You had it set for automatic, not manual. Here, let me change that. Okay.” He lowered the thermostat setting a few degrees and the air conditioner promptly came on. “That’s better.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“Where’s Ida?”

“Ida? She’s, uh, out at a meeting; the knitting club, I think.”

“Hey, can I use your bathroom? Want to rinse my hands.” He started toward the hall bathroom.

“Wait,” called Hotchkins.

“What’s the matter?”

“The bathroom’s a mess. Towels all over. I was just going to straighten it out. Use the one off the bedroom.”

Andrews gave him a skeptical look as if to say, “What’s going on here?” but he went to the other bathroom. When he came out he said, “Hey, did you hear, the heat wave’s supposed to break tomorrow. Maybe we can get in some golf.”

The last thing Hotchkins wanted to think about right now was playing golf. “Yeah, sure. That’d be good.”

“Sure you’re okay. You seem to be funny.”

“I’m fine. Just have to straighten out the place before Ida gets back. You know how she is.”

“Yeah, I know. Okay, I’ll give you a call.”

“Good. And thanks for fixing the thermostat.”

After Andrews left, finally, Hotchkins went to the minibar they had and poured himself a drink, then sank down into a living room chair. The house seemed unnaturally quiet. It was as if all life had temporarily come to a halt. Hotchkins expected that at any minute the police would come crashing through the front door and arrest him for murder. He felt drained, but he had to do something. He went to the hall bathroom. It was empty. He couldn’t believe it. He looked behind the shower curtain. Nothing there. He began to feel dizzy again. Was he going crazy?

“Henry? Where are you?”

Ida’s voice. But she was dead. He was going crazy. But there she was, in the middle of the living room, as large as life. “It feels cooler in here. I bet Sam came over and fixed things.”

“Uh, yeah. He did. It was the thermostat.”

“I knew it. I wish you were handy like that. And isn’t it a little early to be having a drink?”

It was the same old Ida. No, she wasn’t dead. That whole scene in the living room had been some kind of hallucination. It must have been brought on by the heat. He wouldn’t be going to jail. His legs suddenly gave way and he plopped down in the chair again.

“What’s the matter?” said Ida. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Maybe I thought I had.”

“What? Don’t be silly. I have to make some calls to my telephone tree now. Don’t forget to clean up your computer room.” She swept out of the room.

Hotchkins got up and poured himself another drink. Sam had said the heat wave would be over tomorrow. That was good. Things would get back to normal. But what about his hallucination that he’d killed his wife. Didn’t that reveal something deep down in his psyche? And what if they had another heat wave? He didn’t want to think about that now.



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