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