Private investigator fact from fiction: Magnum P.I. lives in Hawaii and drives a Ferrari. I rent an apartment on the ocean and drive a Subaru Legacy sedan.
In the go-go 80s, there was Magnum, PI, Miami Vice and Remington Steele. These shows had action, panache, flair, sex, fast cars, faster boats and even faster women. Testosterone and estrogen flowed like the Niagara River over the falls. Oh, to be a PI in the 1980’s. For two short years I was one.
All right, let’s separate my fact from my counterparts’ fiction on TV. Thomas Magnum lives in Hawaii on a fabulous estate and drives a Ferrari convertible. I rent an apartment on the ocean in coastal New Hampshire, and I drive a leased company car. A Subaru Legacy sedan, with a pop-up sunroof.
Each week on TV you were treated to an hour of action-packed excitement (actually 44 minutes plus commercial breaks), where guns blaze, and the good guy gets the bad guy and the girl, before the previews for next week’s show. I was lucky if I could get a date. When asked what I did for work, I did say I was a licensed private detective. You think women would be impressed. “Yeah, right. I thought, I heard all the lines,” they would say as they turned and walked away.
>In my PI world, my assignment this week is to find a person, who we will call X. X is an employee of a manufacturing company, who sustained a mysterious back injury allegedly on the job. No one witnessed this accident, but X has filed a workers’ compensation claim.
The employer, my client, is suspicious of X, and thinks X may be filing a fraudulent claim. The employer has learned, through the grapevine, that X has another job. If X is working, X has work capacity and would have no claim for workers’ compensation.
The problem is, no one knows where X may be working. No one has seen X. We have an address, so I need to work a surveillance on X’s last known address. We know the make and model of X’s car. It’s a 1976 AMC Hornet Sport wagon, an oxymoron if there ever was one. We also have the plate number, and of course X’s photo. If X is trying to commit a fraud, X knows that a surveillance is likely.
Now unlike TV, my client has a budget. I have 32 hours of surveillance available to find X, hopefully in flagrante delicto (I always wanted use that in a sentence) at X’s other job.
So it’s time to start the surveillance. Day one arrive in X’s neighborhood at 6 am. X’s car is not to be found. Spend the next eight hours parked near X’s house waiting for X to show up. Exciting, just like on TV.
Day two. Arrive at 5 am. Still X’s car is nowhere to be found. Fortunately, it’s summer, so it’s light out and reasonably cool. Leave at 11 am to return in early evening. Having the same car appear day after day probably would be inadvisable. I think X knows there is a surveillance.
I go to Rick, who is a retired cop who runs a generic, Rent-A-Wreck type car rental agency. I rent a 1977 Plymouth Volare. How generic can you get? It’s no Ferrari, and I don’t expect to be noticed. I will find out later how wrong I am.
I get back around 2 pm and wait around until 6 pm. Well, well look who’s here? X comes out of the building carrying a basket of laundry. X carries the basket over to a tan Chevy Chevette with out of state license plates. Very interesting. X opens the hatch and places the basket inside and then gets behind the wheel. X appears to have no physical discomfort carrying the basket. Hmmm. This is cool. I spend the next two and half hours following X to the laundry where X does X’s laundry. Wow, the excitement. Can you see Magnum following a suspect to the laundromat?
I leave and drop off the Volare for another vehicle, a 1975 Chevy Nova. The Nova has a 305 V8, good for those hi-speed chases. Not.
The next morning I arrive at 4:30 am. The Chevette is parked outside X’s abode. This morning, X comes out at 8 a.m., gets behind the wheel, and is off! X stops off to get coffee and a doughnut. I pull off across the street. X is no hurry and doesn’t appear to be aware that I am following. X travels down the secondary road, crosses into Massachusetts and after a 25-minute drive, gets on route 128, that great circumferential parking lot a 16 mile radius from downtown Boston.
Off at the Wakefield exit. Following X into the small office park. X gets out of the car wearing professional business attire. I park and go into the small building. I see X behind a desk in the office of a real estate office. A sign in the lobby tells me that this company sells building lots in Florida.
I drive back to my apartment and change into my 3-piece navy pinstripe suit. Back in my car to X’s office. X is available. I introduce myself, I represent a group of investors wanting to invest about $500,000 in building lots in Florida. X’s eyes light up like a pinball machine, and he offers to give me as much information as I need on these properties. Finally I look at my watch. I’m late to my next appointment.
“May I have your card?” I ask X.
X gets a card from the rack and hands it to me. I rise, shake hands and I say I’ll be in touch. We part. On the way to the car I look at the card and smile. X’s name appears in raised letters on the business card.
Fast forward three weeks to the labor board hearing. X is appealing the denial of the workers’ compensation claim that X filed. X is sworn under oath. Under direct examination by X’s attorney, X says that the back pain X is experiencing is preventing X from working. The attorney completes his examination.
My client’s attorney walks up to X, hands X a card and asks, “Is this your business card?”
“Just a moment, please,” interrupts X’s lawyer. “May I see this card?”
The lawyer looks at the card and asks the hearing officer for a recess. Fifteen minutes later, the attorney is back and withdraws the appeal. Had X answered the question, X would have committed perjury.
The client is happy and we get a prompt payment. X submits a resignation and signs a release holding the client harmless from any future “back issues.” The mystery is almost solved. X swapped cars with a friend.
When I go back to drop off the Chevy Nova, Rick says, “I got a call from the state police about you.”
“What do you mean, State Police?” I asked.
“One of the women in the neighborhood saw you in a different car each day and thought you might be a child molester. She called the state cops and gave them the license plate of the Volare, which got traced back to me. I knew the Sergeant at the troop and I vouched for you.”
We both had a good laugh. This never happened to Magnum.
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