Don't waste your time watching "Reality" TV. It's Not A Game is a collection of actual cases involving private investigation, bounty hunting, and abducted child recovery. It includes exciting, poignant, and often times funny accounts of someone who makes his living being involved in the darker side of other peoples' lives. Mel Barth writes about the cases that he has handled during his over-twenty year career in a way that allows the reader to be there with him as he deals with people and their problems.
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It's Not a GameDiary of a Private Investigator/Bounty Hunter
By Mel Barth
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Mel Barth
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI was sitting at my desk eating a sandwich and enjoying the nice spring weather when into my office entered an elderly man, who apologized for interrupting my lunch. I said "that's okay and what can I do for you?" The gentleman then proceeded to tell me his problem. He has a son who is homeless and has been diagnosed with bipolar disease. The son refuses to take his medication, because he won't ingest any chemicals to maintain a toxic free system. According to the Constitution, he can't be forced to take anything. Whenever he sees his father he beats his father up. The son, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been living on the streets of Washington, D.C. for several years. I was touched by this man's dilemma. I told him that he would have to supply me with a photograph, a full description of his son, his habits and places that he is most likely to frequent. The father told me that during the day his son usually hangs out at libraries reading and sometimes plays chess at various D.C. parks. He wears an old army surplus trench coat and carries a broken briefcase under his arm containing his documents. He is 6'5" and has a beard. I then asked him what he wanted to do when I found him. The man replied, "My wife is seriously ill and I'm an old man and we just want to know that he is still alive." We then agreed on a fee and a retainer and signed contracts. The client then asked that, if I located his son, would I please telephone him so that he could see his son. He didn't want to talk to his son for fear of upsetting him and causing another altercation.
Now that I agreed to take the case, I had to put together a plan to proceed. Since I'm not familiar with the nooks and crannies of our nation's capitol, the best way to begin was to canvass the libraries. I drove into D.C. and, armed with an area map, visited the area's libraries, to no avail. It shouldn't have been difficult to find a bearded man, 6'5", wearing an old army surplus trench coat. Wrong!! At the end of the day, no luck. The following day, I decided to walk around the city visiting the various parks. Again, nothing.
I returned to my office and rethought the various directions to follow. I was in a quandary, since I never really paid attention to the behavior of the homeless and especially one with a superior education.
Several years ago a small firm was moving to another location and they did not have enough room to take their 100 gallon fish tank containing four adult piranhas, so called "flesh eating fish". I thought that it would not only look good in the office, but it would be entertaining to watch the fish swimming. Every two weeks I would purchase thirty goldfish and put them in the tank with the piranha. For days, the piranha and the goldfish would swim around in a sort of fish ballet until, all of a sudden, there were no more goldfish. Sitting and watching the fish I realized that to find my subject I would have to find where he goes for meals. After talking to several D.C. police officers and checking with the yellow pages, I determined that the most reliable food service for the homeless was a group called Martha's Table, since they drove around the district in a van and serviced a set route.
That evening I followed the van to familiarize myself with its route. No luck in finding my subject. The second evening I introduced myself to the volunteers on the van. They agreed that I could help serve food from the van, but would not be allowed to leave the van if I should see my subject. They were afraid of frightening both my subject and some of the other homeless. I promised to be discreet and became a volunteer distributing food for those less fortunate than me. I have to tell you, it was a good feeling.
I worked on the van for six evenings from five p.m. to nine p.m. with no luck. On the seventh evening at approximately seven thirty, we stopped at Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Lo and behold, a very tall man with a bushy beard and wearing a worn out army trench coat came to the van and I served him his meal (soup, sandwich, and coffee). He refused the coffee and asked for water instead, since he explained coffee contains caffeine. After watching him as he walked back to the park and sat down on a concrete bench, placing his food on a concrete table. I quietly left the van and walked over to a pay phone (before cell phones). I called my client and told him to meet me in front of the White House, all the while praying that my subject wouldn't leave after finishing his meal. Luck was with me as the subject began to play chess with the man sitting across from him at the table. I waited at the corner and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, leaning against a lamppost with my back towards the subject.
At eight o'clock my client arrived. Thank goodness his son was still at the table playing chess. The old man stood with me for about fifteen minutes. Seeing his tears, my eyes welled up, also. He said that he was leaving and that he was satisfied that his son was alive. He then gave me two hundred dollars and asked me to give it to his son after he was on his way home. I walked across the street where the son was and handed him the money, telling him that it was from his father. The subject took the money and thanked me before he went back to playing chess. I then hailed a taxi to get me to my car and went home to a good night's sleep.
Unfortunately, it has been documented that all big cities have a populations of homeless people roaming the streets day and night. Several months ago I attended the retirement party for a L.A. narcotics sergeant who happens to be a dear friend along with his wife. After visiting the L.A. Police Academy we took a ride through downtown L.A. where the homeless were being fed in the street. There were so many of them they were completely blocking the streets, since they behave as though they own the area. It is unfortunate that we can't seem to help these poor people.
Chapter TwoI met with this very pretty woman who had made an appointment with me for a conference with her and her lawyer. It is my strict rule not to contract for a domestic case without first conferring with the client's lawyer. Without proper directions, I might obtain too little evidence or evidence that is far too much and costly to the client. At the meeting the woman, who I'll call Marti, described her husband's actions. It seems that her spouse was having an affair with a woman who was a loan officer at the bank that she and her husband both had accounts in. The husband would disappear from his office for hours without explanation. This was occurring almost daily. Since Marti worked for her husband's firm, which dealt with insurance claims, she was present during his long absences. Marti further stated that her husband owned a large cabin cruiser docked at a Maryland marina and he no longer took her along when he used the boat. His excuse was that he was annoyed with her for being suspicious of his activities.
The attorney advised her to obtain a divorce on the grounds of adultery, along with a bunch of other charges. The attorney said that, if I could obtain proof of his infidelity, she would be able to obtain sixty percent of the marital assets and have her legal fees paid by the guilty husband. Having obtained a photo copy of all of Marti's notes and information, we filled in a contract, which she quickly signed, agreed on a substantial retainer, and I was off and running.
The first thing I did was to go to the bank where the husband's girlfriend worked and was able to photograph her through a large window. I then waited until she left for "lunch". I followed her to what I believed to be her townhouse, which was not far from the bank. She drove a Cadillac Seville that appeared to be about three years old and, according to my client, was previously owned by the husband. As she entered her townhouse, I photographed her again. I parked in an area on the other side of the housing development and waited. Bingo! Ten minutes had passed and I watched a second Cadillac parking next to the first Cadillac, the same model but brand new. Marti's husband exited the car and entered the same townhouse, just as the bank's loan officer had done minutes before. I photographed him entering the dwelling and waited. To make the charges stick, I had to get them together, using the legal criteria of time and opportunity. About twenty minutes had passed and each one left the dwelling separately, entered their cars, and left. I followed them from a distance as they went to a neighborhood bar and went in. Again I was able to obtain a picture of them together. I waited in the bar's parking lot for over an hour, until they exited separately and left in their respective cars. It was apparent that they had been schooled by someone who was knowledgeable of the behavior needed to establish grounds for adultery. This was going to be a tough one. I went to the townhouse every day for a week and witnessed the same behavior of them going in, then departing in twenty or thirty minutes, and then going to that same bar for an hour or two. I took plenty of pictures, but the only difference was in the clothes they wore.
I called the attorney and told him what I had, which wasn't much in the area of necessary evidence. The lawyer then instructed me to call the client as she had further information for me. I called Marti and asked why she hadn't gotten in touch with me sooner if she had additional information. She said she thought that she could only talk to her attorney and that he would relay it to me. I assured her that the case would be less costly if she dealt directly with me since attorneys generally charge for each telephone consultation. Marti then told me that her husband was making plans to spend the following Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on his boat and he didn't want her along, since he just wanted to be alone. Terrific information, since Friday was a bank holiday and the lover would be off from work. I then told Marti of their odd behavior of them first meeting at her house but only staying for a few minutes each time. Marti told me that her husband was undergoing treatment for premature ejaculation. That sure answered the mystery of the quick departures.
The following Friday I rented a small boat with a small cabin and, with another P.I., tied it up alongside the target's boat. Virginia law requires two private investigators, one to write the report and the other to corroborate that the report is correct and honest. The law also requires time and opportunity and that no other person is present. We then set up in the public toilet overlooking the docks and waited. Sure enough, along came the two of them holding hands and carrying a large cooler. They boarded the cabin cruiser and I was able to get photographs. The other P.I. and I then waited for the sun to set and returned to our rented boat watching for any strange movement, like rocking, of the cabin cruiser. Now knowing his sexual problem, I climbed the gunnel of our boat and was able to peer into the cabin cruiser's porthole, giving me a clear view of the cabin that they were occupying. So far all they were doing was kissing and groping. Then luck was with me. They both disrobed and started having sex. I got the picture and continued to stand on the gunnel until a wave came in and the boats starting to part, stretching me to the limit. I made sure that my helper got hold of my camera, since I was sure that I was going into the water. Again, luck was with me as the boats returned to their normal positions and I was able the get off the side of the boat and plant myself on the deck. As I have always said, I'd rather be lucky than smart. We slept in the small cabin for the night and left the next morning. As were leaving, I spotted them on the stern deck kissing each other and photographed them as we pulled away.
The following day I called the attorney and informed him of yesterday's happening and he was tickled pink. He suggested I call Marti and advise her of the same. That's exactly what I did. She was really pleased. In addition, she asked me if I would follow her husband the following Friday night, since she overheard her husband making a date with another woman and that they were going to their favorite motel. I advised her that we had enough to make her case but if she wanted to spend more money it was alright with me.
Next Friday came so fast I almost forgot to cover Marti's case. Fortunately there was a church across the street from Marti's house where I could park without being seen. At eight o'clock p.m. the husband left for his rendezvous. I tailed him to a motel not far from where he resided. He parked his car and entered room 115. Since he knocked on the door, it was obvious that his girlfriend was already in the room. Knowing his prowess as a lover, I figured that I'd be home early. Waited for twenty minutes and I knew he was coming out soon. I just happened to glance to my right when I spotted Marti coming out of room 125 with a man. I immediately started my car and intercepted her, while blocking the view from room 115. Was able to get her into my car and depart quickly, taking Marti home. Whew! What a night. I told Marti that my work was complete and that I would have a report and photographs, with expense receipts, which would be deducted from the retainer. If there was any money left, I would return it to her. She told me to keep it since, as she put it, "you saved my ass". I wished her the best of luck and told her I would testify to my reports when the time came. The time did come and she and her husband were divorced on the grounds of his adultery. The kettle calling the pot black.
Two weeks after Marti obtained her divorce her ex-husband showed up at my office and advised me that I was a disgusting person, following him around and taking pictures of him and his "friends". I responded, while smiling, that it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. But then again, I asked him have you ever looked at yourself nude in a mirror?
Chapter ThreeI took a case regarding a man who was working as a trucking agent, but had been arrested for embezzlement and had fled the court's jurisdiction. We knew that he was working the truck stops from New Orleans, Louisiana to Houston, Texas. I flew out to New Orleans, rented a car and started canvassing the truck stops looking for my fugitive. I never realized how many stops there are and as a matter of fact, until now, who cared? At most of the stops the truckers knew of my skip but didn't know where he was. It was early evening when I arrived at a Holiday Inn to bed down for the night or so I thought. There was a Cajun wedding taking place in the main ballroom and before I could get to the dining room in the lobby I was ushered into the ballroom as an honored guest and asked to join in the festivities. I gotta tell you that it was a lot of fun and quite interesting. To me all the music sounded the same and the booze was flowing like water. Had a great time. The next morning, hangover and all I continued to work my way to Houston, Texas, where there are lots of truck stops.
Finally a truck stop manager told me where he could be found. I followed that lead and I found him. After telling him who I was, I handcuffed him and attempted to return to the airport in New Orleans, since that's where I rented the car and was scheduled to fly home from. This was my first trip to the "Big Easy" and I stayed on the main interstate that had signs pointing to the airport. Every time I tried to exit the ramp was closed. After passing a tollbooth three times the toll taker asked, "don't I know you?" I asked her how to get to the airport and she advised me that this is Mardi Gras and everything was blocked off to allow the parades. She suggested that I exit further down the road and wait for the parades to end. I followed her advice and finally returned the rental car and got on my plane to Virginia. One lesson I learned was to check to see if anything is happening in the area you are visiting.
Excerpted from It's Not a Game by Mel Barth Copyright © 2010 by Mel Barth. Excerpted by permission.
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