The car came to a halt outside number 23. My car. A tall, dark haired girl emerged from the driver’s seat. That’s me. And as I leaned back inside to grab my bag, my back twinged. Gee I couldn’t believe how much I still ached. It had been over a week but everything still hurt.
I really must hit the gym. I’m so out of condition.
But I knew I wouldn’t. Laziness was the real reason but business would be the excuse.
I straightened myself up, slammed the door shut and pressed the button to lock it. It gave a little beep. I rechecked the number on the letter box, then strode up to the front door.
I always liked to stride. If anyone was watching from the window it made me look confident.
The front room curtain twitched. Ah, someone was watching.
As I stood on the doorstep looking for a bell, the door opened. I’d been right, someone had been watching for me. I’m not a private detection agent for nothing!
The man standing in front of me was sour faced, with a small pinched mouth. He was about middle height but appeared shorter because of all the flab around his middle. As he stood there, hands on hips, he looked me up and down.
I didn’t like that. My price had just gone up, this was a forty dollar an hour job.
I handed him my card. He pursed his lips even more.
‘Kylie Trainer, Private Detection Agent,’ he read as if I didn’t know what was on my own card.
He stood aside to let me enter.
‘Glad you could make it. We’ve been expecting you.’
Well I certainly hope so, you’re the one who called me remember?
‘Glad to be here,’ I muttered. ‘Hope I can help.’
‘Come this way.’ He shut the door and lead me into a bright, airy sun room. A leather lounge suite dominated the room. The smell of Mr Sheen was overpowering.
He paused at the door and called out. ‘The private detective is here.’
Now this is where I should have corrected him. I’m not a private detective, never have been and I never try to pass myself off as one. My card clearly states private detection agent. I have not had any formal training or passed any exams and I definitely wasn’t licensed but, like all the other times, I let it pass.
I sat on a chair facing the door and rummaged in my bag for my phone.
‘You don’t mind if I record this? So much easier than taking notes,’ I said as I hit the record button.
Before he could answer, the man’s wife came in. She was small and birdlike, only there was no fluttering as she struggled to carry in a large tray with coffee, milk and sugar. He didn’t get up to help and she managed to ease the tray down onto a low coffee table before I could get out of my seat.
Retired middle management, bit of a bully and pompous, wife does everything. The price went up to fifty.
It was then that the man formally introduced himself.
‘Right, now to business. I’m Ned Jenkins, and this is my wife, Rosie. You can call us Ned and Rosie.’
Rosie looked up from the tray and offered me a coffee.
‘Not now, Rosie,’ said Ned. ‘We’re talking business.’
Yes, now, Rosie, I’m dying for a coffee, and thanks for going to all that trouble.
‘White, no sugar,’ I said.
Irritation flashed across Ned’s face.
Yeah, a bit of a bully was our Ned.
‘Okay then, coffee for me too. So Kylie, I got your flyer in the mail and to be honest, I was going to throw it away, but then I got to thinking, the police are doing buggar all to find our stuff, so I figured why not give you a try.’
I nodded encouragingly.
‘As I explained on the phone, it’s been well over a week since someone got into our back yard and robbed us. The police aren’t interested and I thought why not give you a try.’
‘Thanks Ned, I appreciate the call. Exactly what was taken?’
‘My stationery exercise bike, some outdoor furniture, a lawn mower and some gardening tools.’
‘Can you describe them?’
‘Well, the bike was blue. I’m not sure of the brand. I had it on the deck so I could work out in the fresh air. The outdoor table had an orange mosaic top and the two chairs were wrought iron. Sat down the back on the patio. The lawn mower and the tools were Rosie’s. I was always telling her to put things away after she uses them but …’ Ned raised his arms skywards as if to say who could understand the vagaries of his wife.
Rosie looked up. ‘I can tell you about those. The lawnmower was a Massport and the garden tools were all Ryobi. I know I should have put them away but I was just so tired after mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges that I came in for a cup of tea and then I just forgot. They took the hedge trimmers, my new broom and the line trimmer.’
‘Left the wheelbarrow though,’ said Ned. ‘Found that in the easement.’
Oh, the wheelbarrow was great, would have taken that too but it was too big. Made my job way easier though. I used it to carry everything out to the trailer. Only had to make two trips.
‘Now tell me a bit more about your bike, Ned. I need more to go on, there a lot of blue bikes out there.’
Come on Ned, tell me about the scratch. I need you to tell me about the scratch.
‘Well, it was just a plain blue bike. Dark blue if that helps.’
‘Any distinguishing features?’
Think Ned, think, tell me about the large scratch down the side.
‘Like I said it was just an ordinary bike … but no wait (I held my breath) now I come to think of it I think it had a small mark, a scratch maybe down the side.’
No maybe, Ned, a massive scratch actually, and thank you very much for remembering. Hopefully you’ll still remember that when I bring the bike back.
‘Great. That will make it much easier to identify,’ I said. ‘Now have the police been in contact recently.’
Ned snorted. ‘The police? Contact? All they’ve given me is lip service. No finger print men, no forensics, just a description over the phone and a thank you very much, we’ll be in touch.’
I made a clicking noise with my tongue, hoping it sounded suitably outraged at the situation. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what Ned was expecting, a bike, an outdoor setting, a lawn mower and some gardening tools were small potatoes to the police but definitely my bread and butter.
I took a sip of my coffee, delicious. Wonder what brand it was? I picked up my phone, turned off the voice recorder, and asked to see the crime scene.
Ned positively beamed when I said ‘crime scene.’ He leapt up and lead me through the kitchen and outside onto the veranda.
Rosie stayed behind cleaning up the discarded coffee cups.
The house was next to an easement with a side gate that allowed access. It had a giant padlock on it now, unlike the last time I was there. I made a show of taking some photos.
‘The lock on the gate looks new. Was the gate locked last week?’ I knew damn well it wasn’t.
‘Nah, I only bought it after the robbery. Never locked it before, never had to.’
Thinking aloud I muttered a few things about easy accessibility and opportunistic theives. Clients always liked the sense of the dramatic.
Ned immediately joined in the one-sided conversation.
‘Yes, yes, I know, but it’s always been a safe neighborhood.’
I didn’t answer but kept clicking away. Finally, I put my phone down. I asked for the key to the side gate. Once I was in the easement I looked over the fence. Yep, just as I remembered it. Ned had followed me out and together we went back inside his garden and I watched as he carefully locked up again.
‘Well, this is what I think Ned, only the bike would have been visible from the easement. I think once the thieves saw the bike they jumped the fence and then helped themselves to the everything else. It was the bike that attracted them. Just be glad it was only your back garden.’
I said this to make Ned feel bad. I hadn’t forgiven him is crack about Rosie not putting her tools away.
‘Do you have any security cameras?’ I asked.
I knew the answer was no because I never would have risked it if there had been cameras about, but I always liked to ask that question when appropriate, because A, it included the client in the investigation, it made them feel part of it and B, it also put the client on the back foot and established me as the professional.
Ned shook his head.
‘Never needed them before. Why, do you think I should get one?’
‘Not for me to say, but anything you spend on security can’t be a bad thing. Living next door to an easement is really an open invitation. They jumped the fence grabbed what was easiest and made their way back out through the gate when they realized it wasn’t locked.’
‘Yeah, that’s the way I figure it too.’
There was no ‘way,’ about it. It was exactly how I had done it, eight nights previous.
‘Okay, I’ll take the job. My rate is fifty dollars an hour, minimum five hours.’
‘Two fifty.’ Ned looked like he had swallowed a fly. ‘What guarantee do I have that you’ll recover anything?’
‘You don’t. But the odds are about fifty fifty. But take it or leave it, it’s not negotiable.’
I stood there waiting. I figured his stuff was worth about two grand and I knew exactly what he was thinking. If I didn’t find anything he would just add it to the cost of the claim he’d make against his household insurance. He would make sure he wasn’t out of pocket so I knew he would hire me.
‘Fine,’ he said, ‘but we’ll make it just for the minimum five hours.’
Oh, come in spinner, how predictable.
‘Great,’ I said, ‘I just need you to sign an agreement and I’m on the job.’
A few minutes later, agreement duly signed, I was back on the street. I walked past my car and headed further down the street.
I walked past number 25, a rather nice two storey weatherboard. I’d had high hopes for number 25, after all they did have a nice Lexus parked in the driveway the last time I was here, though it was absent now, but there had been nothing left outside suitable for me to take, so it was a nonstarter. I walked on to number 27.
Number 27 was a weatherboard too, probably built around the same time as 23 and 25. Hell the whole neighborhood was probably built by the same builder but this house had certainly seen better days. As I waited for someone to answer the door I took in the peeling paint, the frayed door mat and the torn curtains hanging inside.
I should never have taken anything from number 27. It looked dingy by night and the day light did nothing to dispel the air of neglect. But it had been slim pickings. Out of the ten houses in the street I had ear marked for my attention, I had only managed to pilfer from two so I had no choice but to try my luck with this one.
Twenty an hour or maybe twenty-five. My hopes fell to zero when the door opened. A grey man stood there, and I do mean grey, he looked ill and he was clinging to the door frame for support, a zimmer frame by his side.
Shit, I can’t charge him.
I gave my name, handed over a card and was asked inside. I was five minutes early for my appointment.
The man hobbled his way into the lounge room and I followed.
The layout of the house was identical to number 23 but that’s where the similarity ended.
What furniture what there was of it, was old and frayed. The settee was a rustic orange velvet that in its heyday would have been considered elegant, but now it was just old and tired, and in some places the material had worn away to reveal the wooden frame underneath. Completing the room was an old TV cabinet sitting in the corner minus the doors and the TV. Any mustiness in the house was dispelled by the smell of a scented candle burning in a saucer sitting on top of the cabinet. It gave off a delightful frangipani smell.
But I wasn’t really interested in the décor or smelly candles. There was no profit in this house for me.
Garden hose and brass fittings, two pretty girl garden statues, and a dart board, I ran through the list in my head. I listened politely as Mr Griffins, please call me Stan, ran through the items.
‘The statues were bought by my late wife. They really have only sentimental value, but I’d still like them back.’
I didn’t bother to record our conversation or write anything down. There was no point and I really didn’t want to waste any more time here. Stan’s things would be returned and I would not charge him, end of story so time to move on to my next appointment.
Stan asked me about my rates but I just told him I would be in touch and made my escape as early as I could. I didn’t want to appear rude but gee I had to go where the money was. No need for a signed agreement, I would do this gratis. That was one of the conditions I had set myself when I had embarked on this plan – never charge any one on a pension.
Now a quick visit over the road and I was done.
Number 30 was impressive. It was the best house in the street and a corner block. Easy to jump the fence. Neatly trimmed garden, dazzling green fake front lawn, new Mazda in the drive way. Fifty an hour definitely, maybe more.
I was fifteen minutes early for this appointment but I figured what the heck, it showed I was keen. I straightened my ponytail, tucked my blouse in and marched up to the front door.
It turned out to be number 23 all over again only without refreshments.
Again it was a man who answered the door. He was neatly dressed in chinos with a white shirt and tie. I got the impression that this was his idea of casual.
I turned my phone on and let the phone do the work for me, no real need for me to listen. Mr Alfredo started to drone on the minute I hit the record button. I already knew what he was going to say.
I snapped to when he said, ‘… and a brand new set of golf clubs.’
No, no, no. No golf clubs. Vintage rocker, door mat and a really nice flower stand in the shape of a bicycle, a karcher cleaner, still in the box, and a golf bag, but definitely no clubs.
Obviously I couldn’t call him a liar so I just had to accept what he said, but unlike Ned Jenkins who would pad out his insurance claim if I couldn’t find his stuff, this sounded more like an insurance scam.
‘Police are doing nothing. The whole street’s been robbed.’
Again no, only three houses, but who’s counting?
Eventually when he stopped to draw breath, I asked if I could see the ‘crime scene,’ which was actually two, the front porch and the back garden.
We started with the back garden. And I started in again with my picture taking routine.
‘And where exactly were all the items that were stolen.’
‘The flower stand was over there,’ he pointed to the rear of the garden. ‘It was shaped like a penny farthing bicycle. You know what that this?’
I nodded and tried no to roll my eyes.
‘Distinctive shape,’ I muttered. ‘Easy to recognize if I should find it.’
‘And my golf clubs were by the back door. I had been practicing my swing and just forgot to take them inside with me. Expensive clubs too.’
Yeah right. I tried to show interest.
We then moved back through the house to the front porch.
‘This is where the rocker was. Did I tell you it was an antique, belonged to my mother, and the door mat was there, by the door.’
Mr Alfredo pointed to his front door in case I couldn’t grasp the concept of what a door mat was.
‘Only a couple of months old,’ Mr Alfredo said bitterly. ‘Had my footy teams colours on it.’
Ha, Collingwood, I thought, a justifiable reason to steal it.
‘Oh and I forgot to mention the roof rack.’
For heaven’s sake, what roof rack? There was no roof rack.
But Mr Alfredo didn’t miss a beat. ‘I left it by the car. Bought it when I went to Bunnings along with the Karcher. I was going to fit it the following day. Thought it would be safe. Never had any problems with thieving before.’
Now there’s thieving and there’s thieving. I once looked up the definition of theft and it read; the offence of theft is to dishonestly appropriate property belonging to someone else with the intention of permanently depriving that person of it.
Well that was never my intention, all properties would be returned, so I wasn’t permanently depriving anyone of anything and therefore my conscious was clear, I just wanted to make some money, but returning stuff I had never stolen, well, that was beyond me.
I just had to nod and agree. I had no idea why he was telling me these lies, maybe he was practicing for when he next spoke to the loss assessor and wanted to hear how they sounded but whatever his play was, it was between him and his insurance company. It wasn’t for me to pass judgement.
To make him squirm a little, I asked him if he had the receipt for the roof rack.
He paled slightly.
‘No, is that necessary?’
‘Not for me,’ I assured him. ‘But I’m assuming you’re going to claim on your household insurance if I can’t find it. They may want proof.’
‘They haven’t asked me for it yet.’
Ah, so you’ve already lodged a claim. You want it both ways, me to find your things and for your insurance company to pay you out. Sneaky.
The claim would obviously be fraudulent. And he sure as heck wouldn’t tell them when I eventually returned everything I had taken.
‘Okay, Mr Alfredo, I’ll take the case. I charge sixty an hour, five hour minimum.’ I wasn’t above taking advantage of his insurance scam. If he was making a bit on the side, I wanted a piece of it. Not noble I know, but I had to make a living.
‘Sixty dollars an hour? Bit steep.’ He narrowed his eyes for effect.
‘I’m not a charity, Mr Alfredo, this is my job and I’ll need you to sign an agreement to that effect.’
Mr Alfredo was about to say something else but I held up my hand to cut him off.
‘Only you know if the things that were stolen are worth the three hundred dollar price tag. I don’t haggle over my prices, Mr Alfredo. I’m busy so I don’t need the grief.’
‘And what guarantee do I have you’ll find my things.’
‘None,’ I replied. ‘Except I can devote more time and effort into locating them. Police resources are stretched, I work only for my clients.’
‘It’s the rocker I really want returned. Did I tell you it belonged to my mother?’
For a moment Mr Alfredo looked wistful.
Yeah, you sure did. And the price is still sixty per hour.
I made a point of looking at my watch. That usually hurried them up. But I actually was running late. Where I had been fifteen minutes early I was now fifteen minutes late. I should never have made three appointments so close together, what was I thinking. People always expected more of me than I was prepared to give, like what part of my job meant I had to listen to them moan and complain about the lack of police response.
Come on, come one, while I’m still young.
I tried to keep my face impassive. I started slowly counting to ten. Agreement or no agreement. I needed to get back to the office to see Hyott.
‘And when do the five hours start?’ Mr Alfredo asked.
‘As soon as you sign my agreement. I also give you a written report, to show how my time is spent. And I don’t charge expenses.’
That was the clincher.
Mr Alfredo dully signed the form. Quickly I shook Mr Alfredo’s hand and beat it out the front door. Not bad for a mornings work, five hundred and fifty dollars. Shame about the pensioner though, but how could I have known?
Now that I had all the agreements signed, I was still smarting a little over number 27, I had to make up for lost time. I was only going a little bit over the speed limit, last thing I wanted was to get a speeding ticket. Jeff my step brother who was also a cop, always said that you got an allowance of ten percent, so I figured in a 60 zone, 70 was okay.
I needed to get to my office, see Hyott and grab my camera.
I had ten minutes to spare when I pulled up outside New World Pets Paradise. Try saying that when you’re drunk.
Hyott was inside fiddling around with the bird enclosure.
‘Did you fix it?’ I called out. ‘I need it, like now.’
‘Yeah, all done. A bit of TLC and you’re good to go. Next time throw something unbreakable.’
‘Next time keep your crazy birds in their cages and I won’t need to throw anything. Where is it?’
‘On your desk and your welcome.’
I dashed into my office, and there among various bags of pet foods and assorted pet accessories, I found my camera. Great.
I really must ask Hyott to find somewhere else to put his chattels. I pay good money to rent this office space.
Hyott was a pretty good guy. He was the owner of the pet store and my best friend.
I also rented the small flat, not more than a bedsit really, above the shop. I use the word rent loosely. I can’t remember the last time I’d actually handed over some money, but as I liked to remind Hyott, my living above the shop saved him from having to install an alarm system. I also got an office address to put on my business card as well.
It worked well for the most part but last night an eastern rosella had decided it was time to make a break for freedom and had escaped its cage and started swooping. Hence the throwing of the camera, self defence, your honour!
Hyott had been less than pleased to receive the emergency call but had rushed to the rescue – the bird’s not mine. I was hiding under my desk.
But now he had fixed the camera and all was forgiven. I had less than five minutes to take up my position. I dashed back out to my car, put the camera on the front passenger seat and drove to my next appointment, trying to convince myself that Jeff had said the allowance was twenty percent.
It was a surveillance job, and one that didn’t involve cheating spouses. I parked about two hundred metres down the road and waited.