Upbeat

“I’ve been in the business a while, and I’ve learned a thing or two. At least, I hope I have. Shit, now I’m unsure. With a large grain of salt, then: the smaller the case, the more interesting it is.

Any schmuck can solve a five-ring homicide; the cases that separate the men from the boys are the missing dogs, the stolen heirlooms: those require skill and imagination.

Speaking of men from the boys, us women occupy an interesting niche in the industry, if you can call it that with a straight face. Once the objects of drooling perverts who hid behind the badge, and all too often of the more legitimate practitioners, we still have to fight for our place in the game. On the other hand, the hard-cases who persist consistently underestimate us, and that gives us an edge.

I guess the bottom line is this: a bullet doesn’t care if you have tits. And the trigger doesn’t care if you’re a hard boiled, pot-bellied, worn out gumshoe, or a career woman who happens to climb the family tree, and ends up a dedicated PI: It’s all about the pressure.

Another thing I’ve learned is that people are intrinsically weird. All of us. You just don’t notice until the circumstances colour everything.

Take a photo of a random guy. He looks normal enough, let’s say like your local constable. He smiles at the camera with a strong, confident expression. Chin up, nose a little crooked after a resisted arrest or drug bust gone wrong. Maybe he’s had a few too many late nights, or not enough coffee today, and his eyes are ringed with shadows. Perfectly normal.

Now you learn that he’s a murderer, or worse, a pederast. Suddenly, the dark eyes are a symptom of nights sitting up late, pondering obscene photos of children, or stalking victims. That confident look is now a cocky smirk, a sneering “fuck you” to authority and morality. His nose was probably broken in his last jail stint, when he discovered what they do to child molesters on the inside.

The problem is, he’s neither of those things, not yet: but if that’s what we do to a photograph, what do we do with his habits, his real peculiarities?

Not that it mattered at that moment, as I twisted on my telephoto lens with a satisfying click, removed the cap and checked the camera settings: these photos wouldn’t offer much room for interpretation.

There’s a special satisfaction that comes from catching a cheating spouse. Not your own, obviously, but it’s a guilty pleasure in every sense to snap someone else’s.

About as simple as a case can get: you follow the morons, who never seem to realise the meaning of “surreptitious,” to their liaison, wait until they leave, then scout out the motel – it’s always a motel – for a good vantage point. Nine times out of ten, they’ll have a weekly appointment, and you just pop back, same time, same place, to collect some suitable material for the divorce attorney.

That day, though, was a little different. I can’t lip-read, for the record, even through a steadied 400mm lens, but I’m pretty sure the girl said “Go away” with a slightly more direct phrase, and I know he replied with his fist. My camera made a less-than-pleasing sound as it dropped it from my already-moving hands, and I could feel that old rage building inside me as I raced across the parking lot toward the room.

I don’t know how I opened the door. I didn’t care at the time, and don’t much care now. Some things set me off, and that meaty fist impacting clumsily on her face for daring to deny him – to defy him, even – ranked near the top of my immediate list. A tiny part of my mind, I’ll admit, was wondering whether the client would cover the damage to my camera, but my body was totally committed.

I later discovered that I’d wrenched an ankle, sprinting in my semi-practical heels, and skinned a few knuckles pretty well inside the room. But he left the motel in an ambulance with the police in tow, and the girl was still alive, so I figured it for a win.

I took the girl for a coffee, a few days later, sort of an apology for the whole dirty photos thing. She was cute, if you ignored the bruising, and the haunted look that now suffused her face.

She told me a familiar story: girl meets guy, they flirt, one thing leads to another, which always seems to mean sex. Three or four meetings later follow the same pattern, until girl notices guy’s wedding ring, sloppily placed in a bedside drawer. Girl expresses displeasure, guy expresses displeasure, and nobody wins.

Except, in this case, there were two winners. The wife would get her settlement, and the girl would be wiser to the next adulterous fuck who approached her.

As for me, I was down a $3,000 lens, but up on karma, which has to be paid back at some stage, right? I’ll even take a cheque if that will hurry things along.

Problem with a case like that, it makes the papers, or their websites, at least. Nobody wants to hire a PI who has their photo all over the net, even with today’s flickering attention spans. And that’s why I’m here, talking to you.

I was talking earlier, about how it’s the small cases that matter. You learn to be thorough, to assess situations and people as openly as possible, and weave solutions from the most tenuous of threads. It may not seem as glamorous as the work I’ve been involved in, but I’m certain that I’m the right person for the position. I’m also honest to a fault, or I would have simply told you I wanted a change.”

I walked out of the office, chunky new badge in hand, somehow less weighty than the plastic licence I’d left at home. I hoped this case wouldn’t take too long: I didn’t think a security patrol would hold much appeal, despite the lies I’d foisted on the HR drone inside.

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