When I tell people I’m a private investigator, the first thing they usually say is “How sexy!” But that is not actually the case. I have no guns or martinis or venetian blinds in my office. Or even women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them. By the time they get to me, they already know they’ve been betrayed. They just want to know where the assets are hidden so they can take their revenge.
These days the bread and butter of the P.I. industry is due diligence. In L.A. that means working for the studios to make sure a reality-show contestant doesn’t owe child support or that a celebrity’s prospective nanny isn’t a convicted extortionist. The work can be like the city itself: lonely and disjointed. Almost everything is done online, so it’s rare to come face-to-face with a subject. When it happens, it can be weird because by then you think you know them from your research, and suddenly you’re interviewing them in their living room and you realize they have an enormous porcelain frog collection. It makes you wonder if the things people collect reveal their criminal predilections. Like, maybe people who collect paperweights tend to be forgers. And the rooster people are necrophiliacs.
The weirdest encounter I ever had was with this guy who was an alleged pedophile. The client sent me to the man’s house to get a confession. I planned the encounter out a thousand times in my mind. But when I got there, he was with his mother, who’s old and frail and senile, and they wanted me to eat a sandwich with them. We ended up at the dining room table, and every time I began to tell him why I was there, the old lady would reach over and start caressing my arm, saying how much she loved me. I couldn’t go through with it. I remember being unhinged all the way home. But I also remember having this inexplicable sense of relief at the realization that no matter how much you follow a person or go through their garbage, you can never really know what’s in their heart.