Blacky woke up and the room was still spinning around. He passed his hand lightly over his forehead, which was dripping sweat, and his headache throbbed so unbearably that the pain seemed audible, as if heavy machinery were operating under his bed.
"I'm never going to drink again," he said, his throat barely producing a sound.
"Probably a good idea, Mr. Olivieri," came a low voice. Blacky grabbed his gun from the bedside table and sat up in bed, holding it pointed at the woman sitting primly in the far corner of his hotel room, pocketbook perched on one shapely knee.
"Who are you?" he demanded, trying to act as if he hadn't picked up the telephone receiver by mistake. At least his voice was starting to work.
She ignored the telephone pointed at her. "I want to hire you, Mr. Olivieri–"
"Oliver," he corrected. "Blacky Oliver." He hung up the telephone and rubbed his eyes very gently. Moving so quickly had made his headache even worse, and he was starting to feel nauseous.
"I moved your gun to the bureau over there," she explained, "in case you should be startled to find me here. And I took the liberty of making a glass of a mixture that does wonders for hangovers. An old family recipe. It's there on the table."
He looked suspiciously at the tall glass of red liquid. "How do I know–"
"If I meant you harm, I could have killed you in your sleep."
He examined this assertion, found it logical, and drank the warm mixture as quickly as he could. Like most home hangover cures, it was thoroughly vile, and immediately he had to run to the bathroom and spend quite some time throwing up.
When he came back into the bedroom, he looked and felt much more like himself. He went to the bed-side table to turn on the lamp, but the woman held up a hand.
"Please leave it off," she said quickly. "My eyes are very sensitive."
He threw last night's crumpled, smoke-filled clothes onto the floor and sat in the other easy chair, running his fingernails through his thick chest hair.
The curtains were drawn, only about three inches of daylight visible, and that was right next to his prospective client, so she was mostly in shadow. She was dressed in a business suit, black or dark blue, with a white blouse and a single strand of pearls. She wore sheer nylons, black pumps and large dark glasses. There was a light blue beret on the table next to her. Because of the way she held her purse in front of her, perched on one knee, one leg crossed over the other, he was unable to assess the size of her breasts.
"Mr. Oliver," she said again, "I want to hire you. Someone in my family is missing."
"I'm not a licensed private detective, and I don't advertise. How did you find me?"
"I have a friend, a rather elderly gentleman, who lives at 10 Gramercy Park–"
Blacky cut her off. "I assume they told you how I work?"
She gestured at the bureau, where two plain manila envelopes lay side by side. "Ten thousand for you. Ten thousand for expenses. Another ten thousand when you succeed."
"Who do you want me to find?" he asked as he stood and went to the bureau.
"Her name is SarahBeth Wasserman. Her address and other information are in one of the envelopes."
He opened the two envelopes and looked inside. He put them down and turned. "What is your name?" he asked, but she was gone.
He counted the money, shrugged and started to get dressed.