Secret Identities

I never thought I'd meet another hitman on the job who wasn't trying to kill me. It was at La Pergola in Rome. The slim patch of Kevlar right over his heart, almost invisible under his jacket, only caught my eye because I wore mine in the same spot. Like a chameleon, he sank into the restaurant's background. If not for a perfectly coincidental flash of silver, I might not have seen the knife fastened inside his left sleeve. It was sloppy, but not so much that a civilian would notice. During the meal, I stole glances, but tore myself away to slink past the kitchens for the hit. One of the sous chefs was long overdue on their debt payments. There was a brief struggle, but not a difficult one. I was lucky he was a smoker.

Before too many leering eyes could gather, I sank into the foot traffic outside. Rome had less surveillance than most major cities, but it was still a hassle to avoid the cameras. I made a short stop at the Tiber, and dropped my knife in the river. My prints would become unrecognizable within a week. If the knife was ever found, it couldn't be traced back to me.

I found the man again at a bar by my hotel, after I'd washed off the blood. He was at a corner table, writing something in a notebook next to a burger and fries. Against my better judgement, I paid the bartender to make him something. It took a few seconds before I realized he'd taken up the seat beside me. I lied when he asked what I did for a living, and instead lead the conversation away from me. He said his name was Wilbur, and he rambled on about the intricacies of Mediterranean food until the bar closed. Once he paid his tab, I suggested a rest in my hotel room. He stared at me a moment, downed a shot, and then nodded. He was gone when I woke up the next morning.

Most of my fellow Michelin Inspectors jot down meal notes in their phones. It's a little more conspicuous for me to use pen and paper, but the weight of a notebook in my jacket is a personal comfort. The pen, I keep clipped inside my left sleeve for more hidden access than a pants pocket. Each year I compile my notes as a keepsake of every restaurant I visited. There were a few renewals I'd squeezed in before the Guide's annual star meeting, and I'd saved La Pergola, the only three-star restaurant in Rome, for last. There was a thirty-minute delay in the tasting menu that would have lost the restaurant their third star in any other circumstance; however, I was informed a sous chef had passed away in the middle of the meal. The turbot in the fourth course more than made up for the inconvenience.

After the Mediterranean food, my palate was craving something greasy, and I walked to a bar where I could write up my report. A good looking man in a well-tailored suit came in midway through. As I was debating whether or not I really should recommend the loss of a star, the bartender slid me a drink I hadn't ordered. He motioned toward the man, and I considered the implications of accepting the drink. It had been months since I'd had any real company other than my notes, and another three weeks on the road made my feet decide before my brain. He was a drab conversationalist, but the drink and his looks made me stay. I touched his shoulder. I laughed at every uninspired joke. I did anything that might speed things up.

It took until the bar closed for him to finally invite me up to his room. I ordered one last shot, hoping to blur through any remaining conversation. I left his room before dawn, to avoid the most boring man I'd met all year.