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An easy label for Christopher Hitchens? Careful, it could be a fighting word

But, for all his enduring friendships, part of The Hitch's legacy will always rest on a few broken ones, especially his falling-outs with Gore Vidal over Sept. 11 conspiracy theories and with former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal. In 1999, Hitchens issued a sworn statement saying that Blumenthal had called Monica Lewinsky "a stalker." The comment led to Republican calls for a perjury investigation of Blumenthal, and though he was never charged, the ensuing hubbub ended their chumminess.

Much of Washington's establishment left considered him a betrayer. "There was this terrible chill; there were people who weren't talking to him because of it," recalls Bardach. "It pained him tremendously. He's a very loyal person. Some people, at the time, hazarded that it was going to be in his obituary. It's a tremendous testament to him that he came back from the Sidney thing because it had fractured his universe of friends in the Washington left."

Later, he received a letter from Lewinsky, saying, in Hitchens's rough paraphrasing, "Thank you for pointing out what my boyfriend was like."

'A loophole in everything'

At La Tomate, waiters usher Hitchens to the covered patio, where he immediately lights a cigarette and orders another Scotch. A passing professor leans over the railing to say Hitchens's books are on his syllabus, and the author smiles warmly.

"It was absolutely revolting what the Clintons tried to do to Monica Lewinsky," Hitchens says, picking up where he had left off. "They tried to make it seem like she was a nut bag. That was the beginning of my strain with the left."

But that doesn't mean that he's now a creature of the right, he says. "I like to keep it ambiguous. I don't have any ideological leanings anymore."

Much of his freed-up energy is now directed toward debating religion -- Hitchens and fellow skeptics Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris have become known as the Four Horsemen. Hitchens's next book, he says, will be about the Ten Commandments.

"There's a loophole in everything," Hitchens says. "You can always fool God. Many is the Muslim who says, 'We can't have wine. Would you like a glass of Balvenie [Scotch]?' I think religion is theology with the questions left out."

Somehow he continues, without a hint of slurring: "My propositions are very simple. We are a primate species. We're half a chromosome away from being chimpanzees."

Hitchens beckons the waiter for wine and recoils when asked whether he wants a glass or a bottle. "Wine by the glass is a false economy," he says.

Between the first bottle of pinot noir and the second, Hitchens excuses himself from the table. When he returns, an attractive young woman calls out to him from a neighboring table.

"What do you think of Mark Lane?" she asks, referring to the author, lawyer and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist.

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