Today's Reading

"Good afternoon. Do you have a reservation?" he says, his polite smile conveying a soupçon of suspicion.

"I'm meeting Mr. Burt Sklar," I say. "I believe he's dining with Mr. Sunderland."

"Ah. Mr. Sunderland, of course!"

It is Sun Sunderland's name, not Sklar's, which sparks deference in the maître d'. He inclines his head in the direction of "the Sunderland table," as it's known. It's the best table in the house—a banquette against the wall. Anyone sitting at it can see and be seen from a decorous distance. Four times a week, at lunch, it's occupied by Mr. Sunderland and at least one of an array of prominent guests who comprise the media, financial, political, and artistic elite of New York, the country, and the world. But on Fridays, Sunderland always dines with his best friend and business partner, Burt Sklar. It is their ritual. I know this because it is well known and often commented on.

The maître d' leads me through the restaurant. I recognize a few famous faces which stand out in the crowd like the fresh pepper grinds on the chef's famous white truffle risotto. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a table of three lunching ladies I used to know quite well. Once upon a time, I would have detoured to air kiss them all. Not today. Today it's eyes straight ahead, one foot in front of the other in a grim gangplank demeanor. Nothing can distract me from this plunge into the depths.

As we approach the table, I see that Sunderland and Sklar are deep in conversation. Sunderland is a stocky man who looks ponderously prosperous in his dark suit, gray Charvet tie, and starched white shirt with knotted gold cuff links. He has a full head of silvering hair and tired brown eyes. He's a solid man who exudes Mount Rushmore gravitas.

Burt Sklar, by contrast, is gym-fit and spray-tanned. Strands of his black hair are carefully combed over a shiny pate. He's dressed all in black—black suit, black shirt, black tie. Contrary to Sunderland's rocklike presence, Sklar is all motion, using his hands to hammer in a verbal point. He reminds me of a bat. I overhear him repeating his mantra, the words he prefaces every sentence with in order to reassure people of his veracity: "Candidly...? Honestly...? Truthfully...?"

I'm careful to stay behind the maître d' so the two men won't see me coming. My heart's beating fast. I glance down at my bag to make sure all is in order. It's open in a fashionably casual way, like a pricey tote. The gun is nestled in the side pocket where it will be easy to grab.

I've rehearsed this moment in my mind and in front of my warped closet mirror too many times to count. I know exactly what I want to do. Whether or not I'll be able to do it right there on the spot is the question. Let's face it, no one ever really knows how they will perform until the curtain goes up for the live show.

I hear the maître d' say, "Mr. Sklar, your guest is here."

Sklar looks up, clearly irritated at having been interrupted mid-spiel.

"What?" he asks, puzzled.

"Your guest is here," the maître d' repeats.

Sunderland turns to Sklar. "You invited someone?"

"Hell, no," Sklar says.

Sklar furrows his brow and leans to one side, trying to get a look at me, the uninvited guest. He can't see my face because I'm using the maître d' as a shield until I'm ready. I draw the gun from my purse. Sunderland sees me before Sklar does. His eyes widen as he gasps: "Lois! No! We killed you!"

I'm so startled by Sunderland's outburst, I lose my concentration as I pull the trigger. The noise is deafening. Chaos erupts in the room. People are screaming, scrambling, diving for cover. I drop the gun, turn around, and start walking. If I'm caught, so be it. If not, I've come prepared. Amazingly enough, no one stops me. Out on the street, I hail a cab and head for Penn Station, where I board an Acela train back to Washington, D.C.

So it begins...
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