A very short story about a literary agent who risks all to sign a world class author.
By D.J. Lutz, copyright February 2011
The private dining tables at Sumo’s Teppanyaki Grill had the usual full complement of flying objects: knives, spatulas, the occasional shrimp, and a show always culminating with a flaming volcano made from stacked onion rings, the perfect spot for a murder. At least, that was the hope of the hitman who was, in this case…a woman who went by the singular name, Gloria. Renowned author Victor Dupone would be the guest of honor tonight, the human object of a bidding war between two literary agents, each planning on flanking Victor at the table. Money talks and loyalty walks in the publishing business, and one of the agents, Alex Krause, had paid some good money to make sure he would be the only agent walking at the end of dinner. A six book, multimillion dollar contract was on the menu.
The ruse was a simple one. Alex would introduce Victor to his old friend from college, Gloria, who by coincidence would be found in the bar having a drink. Knowing that Victor Dupone could not pass up an evening sitting next to a beautiful woman, Gloria made sure she was invited to accompany him to dinner. “On the house, pretty lady. One of our gentlemen friends here will expense the tab for all of us…” Gloria commented on how nice it was to be with such a powerful man, stroking the ego as only she could. Gloria was having fun; Alex started to get worried that she had forgotten who the target actually was.
Sitting on the other side of Victor was Reece Pipkin. This man had recently sold three books to Random House , one of which was optioned for a movie. Victor was showing favor to Reece, for obvious reasons, and this had really started worrying Alex, hence the contracted killer. Alex knew that once Reece was dead, suspicion might point his way, so anticipating a lie detector test, he did not want to know anything about the actual killing. “No, sir, I did not know the chef would stab my dear friend in the heart trying to flip a grilled shrimp into his hat…” He paid Gloria to get the job done, but could care less who actually killed the man or even how it happened, as long as it did indeed happen. Safer that way, he assumed.
Sumo’s had the best sushi in town, including the exotic fugu, or puffer fish. You had to sign a waiver just to order it. This particular Japanese grill had never experienced a problem with the deadly yet colorless and odorless toxin, mainly due to Sumo’s highly trained itamae slicing the raw fish. Yet accidents can happen, and that was a key part of Gloria’s plan of attack. She had practically double dog dared each agent to eat a slice. Victor unknowingly went along with her plan, saying that he certainly would not want an agent that was not willing to take risks. Gloria knew the sushi would be fine. That is why she spiked her tea pot with a timed release capsule of a weakened yet still fatal version of the toxin.
Gloria quickly poured herself a cup of tea before the capsule had disintegrated. Anyone that might suspect the tea as a cause of death would quickly dismiss the idea, since she would clearly still be alive. It was almost a reverse red herring, she thought. Reaching over to Reece, she poured him a cup without asking. The two agents were groveling for Victor’s favor and since she had his ear, and his wandering eye, Gloria knew Reece would not object. He took a swig, which would be enough to kill him abruptly in about fifteen minutes. Just in time for the volcano, she hoped.
The chef had already mixed the sauces, spun the egg – “It’s an egg roll, hahaha” and cooked the vegetable fried rice. It was now time for the volcano. Gloria looked over at Reece, who by this time was rubbing his gut, wondering if he had put too much wasabi on that last tuna roll. The chef had carefully stacked the onion rings to form the volcano wall and had poured more than enough oil inside. Pulling the trigger on a long stemmed butane lighter, the chef stood back as a gush of flame shot upward. Everyone was momentarily blinded except Reece, who had collapsed to the floor. Victor recoiled away, hoping not to get puked on. Gloria herself jumped, grabbing Alex and twisting him in front of her, as if for protection.
Later, as the ambulance left the parking lot for the sad drive to the city morgue, Alex shook Victor’s hand, saying that he would stop by his office in the morning to discuss a publishing contract. Gloria smiled, knowing that Alex would be dead about the time he got home. No one had noticed that, as the volcano erupted and Reece tumbled, she pricked Alex’s skin when she grabbed him for protection. In the excitement, Alex did not even feel the slight sting of the small auto-injector filled with more toxin.
Alex drove off the lot, smug with victory. Turning to Victor, Gloria said “Oh, I didn’t know you were that Victor Dupone. You know, if you are looking for a new agent, let me give you my card…”