What’s it like to be a private detective in Forest Park? Well, since I’m a private detective, you’re asking the right person.
There are many misconceptions about private detective work. No, I don’t carry a gun, and I’ve never been struck in the back of the head after entering a dark room. I work on several assignments at a time and never spend a two-hour movie or 300-page novel solving one case.
My clients are mostly lawyers and insurance companies — not gorgeous blondes with suspicions about their rich husbands. Most of the claims and lawsuits I investigate arise from car accidents. So I’m continually searching for witnesses and sometimes the drivers themselves.
Finding hard-to-find people is a big part of the job. Contrary to the opinion of everyone I’ve met at a cocktail party, there is no magic software or website that enables me to find the people I’m looking for. If there were, I’d be out of business. No, the people I’m seeking are often hiding from the law, immigration, or at least creditors. They live outside the system of listed telephones, valid driver’s licenses and authentic Social Security numbers.
So I spend a great deal of time visiting possible addresses, knocking on the doors of strangers. I get addresses that don’t exist, boarded-up houses and people who move every two weeks, whether they need to or not. Mostly, the people I’m looking for, like me, are not home. When they are home, I sometimes get lied to. Or they may mislead me. Other times, I don’t get the complete truth.
During this door-knocking, I never run across a sultry female who has a fixation for short guys with briefcases. My dad, who started the business, once stumbled on an apartment full of chorus girls. He said it gave him the incentive to knock on doors for the next 40 years.
I don’t carry a badge but do have a flimsy State ID that no one has ever asked to see. I do very little divorce work and, though the money’s good, no surveillance. I was physically attacked once, but it never got past the shoving, shirt-tearing phase.
I don’t hide behind a newspaper but spend a good deal of time reading and re-reading them. Just as I slaughter time at shopping malls, coffee shops and driving ranges waiting for the people I’m chasing to come home.
If the mechanics of this job sound mundane, I at least have good stories to tell when I get home. The cases themselves can be interesting, in particular the ones involving medical malpractice and environmental pollution. And I meet some very unusual people.
My family has become rather blasé listening to these adventures. For example, one evening I went to a South Side two-flat to find someone and could see family members through the apartment windows. However, no amount of ringing and pounding would get them to answer the door. A neighbor heard the racket. He came over and flicked a light switch to get their attention, because the family was deaf. My wife’s eyes were glazing over.
“Diane,” I repeated through cupped hands, “the family was deaf!”
Space doesn’t permit me to tell any more quirky stories. But I would like to add that some of my toughest assignments have been in Forest Park. I’ve met some close-mouthed individuals, with “No Solicitors” stickers on the door. If you do see me outside the door, don’t worry. I’m not a solicitor. I’m a private detective.