Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Brief Career as a Private Dick

I worked as a private detective for about two years, when I was in my mid-20's. I don't mention it often because, when you tell folks you were a P.I. the reaction is always one of excited interest, and the truth is it was just about the dullest job ever. It's no fun to watch that light in a listener's eyes go out and shift over to glazed when you reveal the truth.

I didn't have a license; I worked under the license of my boss, a very attractive young woman who got the money to open the security/investigations company from her wealthy husband. I was one of only six or seven people that worked for her. Truth to tell, we were a pretty shoddy little operation. But we all liked each other and had fun, even though the job was mostly Dullsville.

My entire time with the company, I only ever had ONE incident where my life was in danger. And it had more to do with my own stupidity than it did the actual job.

We had been hired by a trucking company to follow one of their drivers who they suspected of "stealing company time". That is, they thought the fella might have been using his work time to attend to personal matters and otherwise screw around when he should've been working and making deliveries. This prospect apparently pissed them off enough to spend money on someone to follow the poor schlub around for a week.

So there I was, tailing this truck driver all over Southeast Michigan, noting all his stops, how long he took, when he parked at a rest stop to take a piss, when he ate lunch, etc. Intensely boring.

It's kind of hard to tail a semi-truck, because they're usually going ten miles an hour slower than everyone else. And eventually, the driver is going to notice that car behind him that doesn't seem to want to pass. Fortunately, I had a copy of his itinerary and knew what all his stops were supposed to be. So about halfway through the day I got the bright idea to skip my life ahead a little and catch up to the driver at his next stop.

That next stop was in the River Rouge area of Detroit.

River Rouge, if you don't know, was a pretty miserable downtrodden place, full of burnt-out houses, empty lots, and petty crime. But me, I was Mr. Oblivious. I had a gun between my seat and the driver's side door that the boss insisted I carry around with me, and maybe the knowledge that the revolver was so handy gave me an over-inflated sense of my own safety.

 This is what I did: I pulled off on a side street in a particularly dodgy industrial area to take a look at my map.

No sooner had I done that when my passenger door opens up and this guy with a knife jumps in the car.

He was clearly on some sort of drug, I don't know what, but his eyes bulged and he was sweating like mad and smelled like week-old diapers. He waved his knife in my face and said, "Drive!"

"What?" I said, very smooth-like.

"Drive, motherfucker," he repeated. He pressed the knife up against my throat for emphasis. So I drove.

"Anywhere in particular?"

"Shut the fuck up. Turn right here."

I turned.

He said, "Left up at that light."

"Where are we going?"

"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

"Look," I said, "I just want to know where I'm taking you."

He spazzed out then, taking the knife away from my throat long enough to plunge it over and over again into my dashboard. Plastic split and that foam stuff went all over and his spittle sprayed the window.

And yeah, I was scared. Of course I was. But I was doing my best to stay frosty and not show him the fear. My fingers were tight on the steering wheel, preventing them from trembling.

I thought about the gun between my seat and the door. I could grab it. He wouldn't even notice my left hand creeping down for it. Also, I'm left-handed, so it would be a simple matter to grip the revolver, swing it around in his face.

But I didn't do it. I don't know why.

So this went on for about fifteen minutes, with the weirdo giving me seemingly random directions, not saying where we were going, and me doing what he said, driving.

But finally, and I don't know why I did this either, but I snapped. I couldn't take it anymore. The dude said, "Go straight," and removed the knife from my neck again. At that moment, I slammed on the brakes. His body jerked forward and he hit his head against the window and plunked back down in the seat. He still held the knife, but I turned to him, screamed, "Get the fuck out of my fucking car right now, you stupid useless fuck! Get out before I fucking kill you!"

He looked at me for a long moment, gripping his knife. Then he teared up, said, "Asshole," and opened the door on his side. He climbed out and walked away. Just like that.

I drove about three miles away, parked, and smoked about eight cigarettes in a row, hands trembling to beat the band. I pulled the revolver out, looked at it, and wondered why I didn't grab it in the first place. I still can't answer that question.

But I'm glad, in retrospect, that I didn't. If I'd grabbed the gun, someone would be dead today. Probably the druggie weirdo. Because of me. Well... I suppose it would've been his own fault, but still... pulling the trigger on someone? Actually KILLING someone?

I know I write stories about people who place little value on life or death. But that doesn't mean that's me. Granted, I tend to think of life and death as inevitable, but shit, man. I don't wanna kill anyone. I'd hate to be responsible for snuffing out a life. Wouldn't you?

Anyway. That's the only interesting thing that ever happened to me on that job.


  1. Holy shit, Heath. That's all I can say.

  2. Don't leave us hanging here, was the trucker dicking off or not?!??!

  3. Loved the climax of the carjacker in tears, what a loaded moment.

  4. What a dreadful experience. However, you have lifted my impression of Americans, I am relieved he did not turn you into a killer

  5. Wow, that was a close call in lots of ways.

  6. Well, that's a fucking awesome story right there. Was that guy stealing "company time" after all?

  7. Cool story Heath. I read about a 12 year old girl a while back, forced into some pedos car and she got pissed, calling him a loser and punching him in the back of the head. He stopped the car and let her out. Turned out he had raped and murdered another child. And this girl was able to identify him to the police. Just shows that anger rather than fear can be the best response

  8. Thanks for the kind words, ya'll. Kimmy and Ben, yeah, the guy was stealing company time. Later that week I noted him pulling off at a rest stop and napping for about two hours. What a villain, eh?

  9. I'd have been annoyed to work for a corporation that wants to fire truck drivers for napping and make sure they are well rested to drive.

  10. Good tale told well. I am glad the cards fell your direction, so you can write about crime from home instead of a cell. I was talking to a crisis response pro and she said the best thing to do often is to ask random questions, anything to break their train of thought, you did that with well time anger burst of your own.

    Did you have a Magnum PI mustache? and Were you driving a ferrari?

    1. Josh, this story would've been better if I DID have the 'stache and Ferrari.