I was sitting in my old Toyota car, bored out of my mind. Stakeouts. They have two modes. Long excruciating stretches of absolute boredom with fleeting moments of excitement and rushed activity. You generally never know when something is going to happen, so you have to set yourself up to wait long periods of time, hoping you are in the right place at the right time to take advantage. It’s surprisingly similar to nature photography. You can wait around for the perfect lighting or wildlife to become active for what seems forever and then take a few hundred shots in just a few minutes.
This evening was no different. Fortunately, I was in a nice part of town. The Hyde Park area has always been a well-kept up neighborhood where you don’t need to worry too much about major crime happening. It’s an almost perfect mix of residential and businesses. Enough well-kept homes to make it a great place to live and a decent number of thriving businesses for convenience as well as providing a stable tax base.
I was hired by a concerned wife who believed her husband was being unfaithful. She wanted proof. Nothing better than having a video or numerous pictures of an adulterous spouse to be used in divorce proceedings. It’s generally the men who hire me for this drudgery. They are more aggressive and possessive, while the women tend to be more forgiving or simply suffer in silence. This time it was the other way around. I actually liked it better this way as women never got upset and blame me for their problems when presented with the evidence.
My Toyota was a perfect car for stakeouts. It’s about as nondescript as you can get. Not new. Not old. Grey with a few minor dents and scratches but nothing anyone would ever pay attention to. Utterly forgettable the instant you stopped looking at it. Perfect for blending into any background. Reasonably comfortable as well, which was a plus when you have to sit for hours on end.
The client had called me a few hours ago letting me know her husband, Gary, had called to say he had to work after hours and wouldn’t be home until late. He then added specifically not to wait up. A good time to go visit the other woman. Or, in reality, actually working late. Not everyone who calls home saying they are working late are doing something nefarious. Therein lies the problem for me working alone.
In situations like this, there are two options. The first is following the person from their place of work. It gets pretty obvious early on if they are just working late. If not, you are able to follow them to wherever they are going. Sometimes it is to a secret rendezvous while other are less scandalous. I once followed someone for weeks around town to various shopping areas, bars, and movies simply because they didn’t want to go home to their spouse after work. I used this option late last week to find where the husband was going instead of home to his wife.
This evening, however, I decided on option number two. My personal favorite. It works most of the time but is definitely not infallible. The first option is great for getting information. Follow them to see where they go, what they do and who they see. The second option is great for getting the proof. It’s nearly impossible to get clear pictures or video when you are actively following someone. The perfect parking spot doesn’t magically appear when you need it as it does in the movies. You need to be in the right place at the right time. The best way to accomplish this feat is to go to the precise location and have patience. It’s why I was sitting in this same spot for the past few hours, hopeful for the husband to show up and not truly be working late in the office.
The street I was on was across the way from a nice condo complex. It’s where I tracked the husband to a few weeks ago and expected him to visit again. The street was lined with full, mature trees on both sides. The complex I was watching was typical for the area. Four to five two-story condos connected together by a single, common wall. Landominiums is a more descriptive term but no one uses that in a normal conversation. Everything was well kept up. The condos were spotless for their age. The landscaping had recently been trimmed, weeded and new mulch added. The streets were clean and free of any trash. Obviously a strong and active homeowners association.
I had a perfect view from where I was watching to see the front door of the condo where the suspected adulterous husband went last time. My car was parked facing in the general direction and had an unabated view between a couple of shrubs. I was far enough away to not risk being seen but close enough my powerful lens and extender, normally used for capturing birds and other wildlife, could get some nice crisp images. The camera and stabilization rig laid on the passenger seat ready for use.
Passing the time is always a challenge especially after dark. There are countless stories of stakeouts similar to this, by both the police and private detectives, that were foiled because of the constant glow of a smartphone being used. It’s best to just sit and wait. During the day I will bring other work along like researching or editing a submission for The Thousand Words blog, returning bunches of phone calls or saving some online shopping to complete. I tried reading once but got so involved with the latest thriller, I completely lost track of time and missed my opportunity.
The sun had set not long ago, so there was still some twilight in the sky but all of the street lights were on. Reluctantly, I simply sat and watched the traffic and the people coming home from work. I was on the lookout for a new silver Lexus. There were a number of false positives, but a few minutes after eight, my patience was rewarded. The car pulled slowly into the condo complex and parked in a spot directly across from the place I was watching. Time to earn my fee.
“Here we go,” I said to no one in particular.
I got the camera up and ready, verifying the exposure out of pure habit. I watched him get out of the car checking his phone, turning it off and putting it in his pocket. He was dressed in an outfit that worked well for corporate middle management and a midweek date. Highly starched white dress shirt, dark grey pants, and black leather loafers. Nothing too expensive but it gave off the appearance of being the best clothes he owned. He was also cleanly shaven, even at this late hour. Another telling indication.
He quickly looked around and started heading for the door, my queue to start taking as many pictures as possible. The fast check to see if anyone was around, however, had me a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to get any proof for my client. Those very cautious individuals often make my job extremely difficult. He kept his head up looking at the condo door and windows. When he was about ten feet away the outside light was turned on and the front door opened. In the doorway, a very fit and attractive woman appeared and walked out to meet him on the sidewalk.
She had shoulder length sandy blonde hair painstakingly styled with natural look makeup. Enough to make her face glow but giving the appearance of simply waking up that way. She had on some skin tight jeans and an untucked button-down shirt with the top three buttons undone, showing some impressive cleavage. She was obviously not wearing a bra and wanted to let him know. It was hard not to be a bit envious.
If Gary had any intentions of getting into her house indiscreetly, they instantly vanished the minute he saw her. All of the blood in his head started draining elsewhere. My guess was she was single and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care he was married. She smiled at him brightly, extended her arms and gave him a big hug. Leaning her head slightly back the blonde woman then gave him a long passionate kiss that Gary enjoyed thoroughly. Breaking their embrace, they held hands and walked into the condo and closed the door.
The whole encounter from walking from the car to the closing of the condo door took maybe sixty-seconds tops. During that time, I took a little over four-hundred photographs. The benefits of having top of the line professional photographic equipment and making sure I was in the right place at the right time. If I had been following Gary instead, I wouldn’t have been able to get the necessary shots. My propensity to get the required images was why I had a good reputation with the police department and private investigative clients. Any individual image of these clear, in focus and properly exposed pictures would be enough to sink Gary.
My work was done. No use in sticking around for the aftermath of him leaving. It could be hours and the retreating photos rarely have the same flair for the dramatic. Those tended to be less startling and influential as the anticipation of what was about to happen. Besides, I had more than enough evidence for my client. No use wasting extra hours for more images that would never be needed. The camera gear was packed away.
I opened my phone and scrolled through the contacts, selected the right one and started the call. This was never fun part but a necessary evil that paid the bills. She answered after the first ring.
“Hello, Mrs. Corbitt. This is Alex Layne. I have some news for you on your case. Can you meet at my office tomorrow? Does ten o’clock work for you?”
There was a long pause with nothing but silence on the other end. Finally, a wavering voice on the other end said, “Yes.” It sounded like she wasn’t sure of her ability to talk. “I will see you then.”
She hung up and I started my drive home.