It was the first time a Founding Member had broken a rule. No matter which rule. The fact was, a Founding Member had broken a rule, witnessed by the other Founding Members. We had carefully and thoughtfully hammered out the rules, set them in stone, as it were. And the consequences of breaking them. They were the foundation of The Club, what set it apart, what demanded our unwavering loyalty. We had memorized those rules and sworn an oath to uphold them.

How ironic then, that I was the culprit.

I finished the excellent Pinot Noir Anton had poured. The meal, of course, had been top drawer — prime rib done to perfection, crisp vegetables, baked potato, salad, dessert, special blend coffee. Anton was discreet, not a hint he was aware that this was my last meal. The six other Founding Members had given him instructions. He had followed them to the letter.

From my booth tucked in the rear of the dining room, I sat back and gazed around me. No other tables were occupied. The six huddled at the bar, speaking in hushed tones, pointedly ignoring me. I understood. They were here to see that the Club’s procedures went smoothly. And of course to insure that I was undisturbed in my final hours.

So I had time to reflect while waiting for my assassin. Forgive me. The Club would never use that word. Dispatcher is proper. Expeditor is acceptable. For those overly squeamish members, Consultant will suffice. The Founding Members were right to call me to task. I accept that. I helped make the rules. I broke one. Still, I wondered whom they had chosen. Naturally, I had had no input into their deliberations.

As the waiter cleared the table, Anton poured the reserved cognac for me, leaving me to my thoughts with a slight bow. Was that a glimmer of empathy in those normally emotionless eyes?

My life was in order. My will signed and sealed, leaving everything to Helen. She would never know the truth. The Club would see to it that my death was a tragic random act, unexplained. The Club would comfort and protect Helen, mourn with her, and after an appropriate period of widowhood, would find her a new mate from among its ranks, perhaps the Founding Member with whom she had been having an affair these past months.

How strange then to see her standing in the entrance. This would not do. Something had not gone according to schedule. I looked to the others at the bar to correct this lapse in procedure, but they were finishing their drinks and leaving through the side exit, without even acknowledging Helen.

My wife approached my table, smiling. I tried to think of something that would keep her from learning too much, but I could think of nothing except how lovely she was. This morning I had kissed her goodbye as she slept. Last night our lovemaking had been passionate bordering on frantic. I had forgiven her little indiscretion, and refused to confront her with my knowledge. I’ll miss her.

As always, she was discreet as she bent to brush her lips briefly against mine. She sat across from me and reached for my brandy snifter. Once more I tried to focus on getting her to leave without raising suspicion. It would not do to have her here when my dispatcher arrived.

Helen raised the snifter in a silent toast. She sipped the cognac. The dining room was empty, not even Anton in sight. Helen lifted the flap on her shoulder bag as she leaned toward me. Glimpse of gun and silencer.

“It’s time, shall we go? I promise, my love, it will be quick and painless.”

R.F. Marazas won first place in the Dahlonega Literary Festival 2007 Novel Contest, for his novel Dimensions In Ego, and has published short fiction in five Anthologies and in on-line venues.

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