Making Arrangements is narrated by the legless Emil Lime. From the vantage point of his wheelchair, he tells the story of a very exciting week in the lives of the denizens of the St Augustine Hotel, all of whom are horse players, the most ardent being Harry Watkins, the 59 year-old retired private eye who now does nightshift as the hotel detective, and his long-time friend, taxi-driver Basil Turner.
The small half-mile bullring track where the horses run is called Granville Downs, whose owner (and the designated villain in Emil´s story) is Carson Noma, who has, laughably and long since, "warned Basil and Harry off the heath". Basil was once a trainer of race horses, who had, on occasion, used dope to ensure that one of his horses might win, and Harry has sometimes supported his betting habit by touting.
The story begins when Brucie, who is new at the hooker business, and who is accused, correctly, of not being a true professional, is dropped out of the hotel´s second floor window. Ernie, the night clerk, sees her dangling naked from her waist on down from the marquee over the St Augustine´s entrance. He is panicked, afraid the police might arrive and cause trouble, but the situation is saved by Harry and Basil, and by Veg Crawford, an assistant starter at Granville Downs. The four of them huddle around Brucie to hide her nakedness and get her upstairs to the room where she has been servicing (not very well) Sid Noma, Carson´s 27 year-old son, whose demands were beyond her. She is not a pro but what she calls a "fem sool" named Darlene Henderson, who has lost her children to a monster husband and is trying secretly to become a working girl to pay for a divorce and get custody of her kids. Thus begins, quietly, the love story between her and Veg, a story that comes to its conclusion during the novel´s denouement
The Brucie-Darlene and Sid Noma problem resolved, Basil announces the news that will take up his and Harry´s full time for the next week. The first item is that Ivan Mulkov (an owner of apartments, corner groceries and a funeral home) claimed Shifty Sands out of the eighth race on Saturday, and being a real bargain hunter has told Basil that if he can get his trainer´s license back he can train the horse. The second item is that a Middle-Easterner named Mittani is bringing in a horse named Constantinople to challenge Carson Noma´s fine chestnut gelding Transcanada in the inaugural running of the Aurora Borealis Maturity for four-year-old fillies and geldings, a new handicap Noma has created in order to showcase his horse. The Mulkov-Shifty Sands story is part of the undercard to the main event, which is to get a lot of money together and put it down on Constantinople, a horse they think can win against Transcanada.
If God is in the details (served up by Emil Lime from his wheelchair), the serious fun is in the complexities that follow. Basil does not get his license renewed. But during an unsuccessful hunt for Mittani, thought to be staying in a downtown rooming house, to try to get some inside information on Constantinople, Basil finds a note under the wiper on his taxi´s windshield that is obviously a kidnap note, but it makes no demand except that Harvey Benton should "be released from his place of incarceration." It is signed by John Morgan, president of ARQ, a large corporate corporate conglomerate, whose disappearance is making headlines. They try to sell the note to a sportswriter on a local paper, but the reporter calls the cops and Harry and Basil are nearly killed while escaping. They go to Emil´s apartment to hide out, decide to get rid of the note (Emil leaves it in the cop car outside a bookmaker´s while the cops are inside placing their bets). Later, when Basil and Harry and Emil go out to Cleo´s farm to pick up Shifty Sands, Harry and Cleo (admirers of each other and occasional lovers) disappear for a little
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