This arti­cle is part 4 of 7 in the series The Cincinnati Favor

The let­ter was type­writ­ten on a plain sheet of paper, with no par­tic­u­lar iden­ti­fy­ing marks, and read:

Mr. Tate:
I would like to discuss with you a painting project.  I have been advised by some of your previous clients of your skills with the type of project I have in mind and would like to meet with you to discuss your fee and to provide more particulars about the project.
If you would make a reservation for a room at the Cincinnatian Hotel for the 21st, I will meet you there to discuss more fully this commission.
Walter Wenger

I knew imme­di­ate­ly that the phrase “paint­ing project” was a pseu­do­nym for “wet work.” I was also quite sure that Mr. Wenger was not the real name of the indi­vid­ual who had sent the let­ter as it is not com­mon for those seek­ing my ser­vices to reveal them­selves so read­i­ly, and I have nev­er under­tak­en to find out the true iden­ti­ty of my employ­ers as long as they pay their bill in a time­ly manner.

I should add here that receiv­ing a pos­si­ble com­mis­sion by mail is the method that I have cho­sen to use almost since I first entered this busi­ness.  USPS mail is still a very secure method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pared to email, cell phones, or even land­line phones, all of which can be eas­i­ly com­pro­mised.  But first class mail is still con­sid­ered to be an innocu­ous form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and is not typ­i­cal­ly exam­ined on a rou­tine basis.

I require that any sub­se­quent con­tact be in per­son, not only so that I can assess the per­son with whom I am deal­ing, but so that I can con­trol the cir­cum­stances of our meet­ing and assure con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions and arrangements.

Of course, there is always the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the per­son I’m speak­ing with is wired, so I employ a lit­tle-known device, devel­oped by the British MI‑6, that alerts me to record­ing devices of all sorts, includ­ing those long-range lis­ten­ing devices.

I called my neigh­bor to let him know that I would be gone for a few days on busi­ness and told him to keep an eye on the house when­ev­er he was near­by deal­ing with the chores here that he nor­mal­ly attends to.

The twen­ty-first was two days away and I decid­ed to head on up to Cincinnati and give myself time to recon­noi­ter the meet­ing place.  I pulled up infor­ma­tion about the Cincinnatian and dis­cov­ered that it is locat­ed in the down­town area of Cincinnati. The infor­ma­tion includ­ed the phone num­ber and I called and reserved a room for the twen­ti­eth and twen­ty-first.  It is com­mon for me to go to planned meet­ing areas well ahead of any sched­uled meet­ing time so that I can acquaint myself with the sur­round­ings and arrange things that may affect the safe­ty of both my con­tact and myself.

Fortunately, there were no big events going on in the area at the time, so I had no trou­ble book­ing the room.

On the morn­ing of the twen­ti­eth I packed a few neces­si­ties into an overnight bag, locked the house, tossed the bag into the trunk of my two-year-old Lexus, and head­ed toward town to con­nect with I‑64, which would con­nect with I‑75 for the fair­ly short trip north.  I count­ed on about a two-hour drive.

Tooling up I‑75 just below the post­ed speed lim­it of sev­en­ty miles per hour, I had plen­ty of time to let my mind wan­der and to visu­al­ize all kinds of sce­nar­ios about where this assign­ment might take me, as I lis­tened to some great clas­si­cal music being broad­cast from region­al FM stations.

Crossing the Ohio River and enter­ing into the out­skirts of Cincinnati, I took the Fifth Street exit 1C off I‑75, merged into Fifth Street traf­fic, and made a left turn onto Vine Street and an easy dri­ve to the hotel.

Parking the car in the near­by des­ig­nat­ed park­ing lot, I removed the overnight bag from the trunk and, wheel­ing it behind me, head­ed toward the hotel entrance.

The Cincinnatian is housed in a his­toric build­ing in the heart of the Cincinnati com­mer­cial dis­trict, sur­round­ed by numer­ous busi­ness­es, pro­fes­sion­al offices, and restau­rants.  The hotel has been ren­o­vat­ed into mod­ern suites and pro­vides all the com­fort­able ameni­ties one could ask for, includ­ing a bar and a great in-house restaurant.

Normally, I find that hotel restau­rants are not much more than mediocre, but this one has a rep­u­ta­tion for quite good food, so I deter­mined that I would sam­ple at least one meal there and scour the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood for some local­ly run places to eat.

Watching where the locals go to eat is always a good way to find the best food with a local fla­vor, an eager staff, and a friend­ly atmos­phere — although speak­ing of atmos­phere, I always insist on an ambi­ence that is rel­a­tive­ly qui­et, with­out rau­cous crowds or over­ly-loud back­ground music.  Of course, lis­ten­ing to a live jazz band is nice, too, as long as I’m not seat­ed too close.

And ask­ing the hotel staff about restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions is a help as long as they aren’t set on try­ing to keep you eat­ing in-house.

Approaching the front desk, I iden­ti­fied myself and not­ed that I had booked a room for that day and the next.

The desk clerk, a love­ly young lady (as most desk clerks tend to be these days) quick­ly found my reser­va­tion and polite­ly informed me that my room would nor­mal­ly not be ready until 3:00 p.m., but that since it was the mid­dle of the week and the hotel was not ful­ly booked, they could have the room ready for me by about 1:00 p.m.  It was now only 11 o’clock, so I asked her to let me go ahead and reg­is­ter and if she could find some­place secure for my bag until the room was ready, I would sim­ply tour the neigh­bor­hood and get a bite of lunch until then.

With all arrange­ments made, I exit­ed the hotel lob­by and began a leisure­ly walk around the hotel area, quite sure that I could read­i­ly find some­place for a light lunch.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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