Saturday, April 25, 2009

His First Surveillance

In Washington State, private investigators who are licensed to work for other private investigations agencies are called operatives.

I was training a new operative. We were working his very first surveillance, a domestic. Our client, a woman, was married to a high-powered male attorney. The wife knew her husband had been cheating.

She planned to divorce him. She also planned to sue him for fraud because he took out a loan with her as co-signer before she was aware of the affair. She thought the loan was for a refinance. Instead, she soon discovered the loan was used to start up a new business for the lawyer and his mistress.

If it could be proven the husband and mistress were “co-mingled” before the loan was made…
and it could be proven they were still involved in said affair…
the wife might have evidence to support the claim she had been defrauded in the loan she co-signed. She could use that evidence as leverage on whatever level she chose.
So our job was to catch the husband and his new legal assistant in the act.

There were three cameras and three investigators on surveillance that night -- another investigator and the one I was training. We were stationed on the sidewalk across the street from a highly expensive condo overlooking Seattle’s waterfront.

Our cameras were honed in on an apartment window described to us by our client, the scorned wife. To be sure we were at the right spot, I called my client and asked her to stop by and I.D. the window for us -- which she did. She counted up stories from the bottom, then counted windows in from the right side. We sent her on her way and went about our business.

It wasn’t long before activity happened. My new operative caught it first, two forms in the window. Naked. Going at it.
He, being the new operative, was as thrilled as the man in the window obviously was.

“What a job!” he kept saying as he clicked away with his camera. “You mean we actually get paid for this?”

“You don’t usually get this lucky, this fast,” I said, marveling at the full services the legal assistant provided. Clearly, the two
had no qualms staging their act in full view.

“I love this job!” the operative exclaimed glued to his viewfinder.

I tried to figure out the duo in the window. Maybe they thought their apartment was high enough up not to be seen. And that would be the case were it not for the three us capturing their antics with our close up lenses.
Or maybe, I thought, they were exhibitionists who wanted to be seen.

All in all, it appeared to go well. The lawyer got his, we got ours and our client was happy as could be when I called and told her what we got. Of course, she wanted to see it. So we met her at a nearby location and showed her the video.

She looked closer and closer. Then reached in her bag and took out her glasses. She peered again.

“That’s not him,” she said, “That’s not them.”

I told her we shot the same apartment she pointed to. She insisted it wasn’t her husband. We went back to the scene, counted out the floors, then the windows until we stopped at the window she led us to.

“No, I guess I was wrong. It’s not that apartment. It’s the one below it. Maybe I should’ve brought my glasses when I showed it to you before.”

I look at the apartment below the one we filmed. The lights were off no one was home. I looked at my client and wondered what galaxy she was from.

“We filmed the wrong people?” the new operative exclaimed. “What now?”

In the movies, a slime-ball P.I. would knock at the door and offer the video up for a price. In real life, the P.I. worries about liability, violation of privacy and lawsuits.

“What we do now, is exit stage left,” I said, as we moved from the street to a nearby restaurant to debrief.

A couple rounds of drinks and laughs later, I erased the footage from all the cameras.

A couple months later, we got the evidence the client needed and she got her divorce settlement and then some.

And a couple years later, that new operative is now an old-timer who still works with me. Every surveillance we get brings us back to that first one, which still makes me smile…and cringe… when I think about it.

Some mistakes you never make twice. And that mistake would be one of them.


  1. thank you. the communication doorway is now open.

  2. Sounds like fun...great story!!! I am sure you have lots of cool stories!! Looking forward to reading more!