Talk About a Rough First Day

When I was 20 years old, I still wasn't sure where I was going and what I was doing (apparently not a WHOLE lot has changed). One day my father approached me and asked me if I 'd be interested in working as a private investigator. Now, to a 20 year old kid, the words "private investigator" conjured up a range of images. Everything from Ferraris and helicopters to sexy assistants and big expense accounts, a life of intrigue and adventure, specked with a little danger and of course a very large gun. Who could deny the chance?

A friend of my dad's who owned a agency was looking for a new recruit, so I applied and went for the interview. A few minutes of showing me around HQ, looking at Beeper Cameras, camoflauge outfits, a brief introduction on building sniper nests and I was hooked. A few days of training in use of the equipment, creating undercover personalities, the finer points of following a target by foot, or vehicle, and of course, stealth, and I was ready for my first assignment.

A little background: I was not tracking cheating husbands or missing children, it was nothing quite so honorable. No, I was employed to catch insurance cheats, people filing false claims for injuries which they did not actually have. You may have seen these kind of people on TV exposes. They drive to the Dr's office in a cast and walk in on crutches and then take off the cast and throw the crutches in the trunk when they leave. It's a huge business, billions upon billions are lost every year, and it was my job to find these people and videotape them doing actions which their "condition" was supposed to prevent.

Now as it was my first day, the boss decided to have me work in a team. I would be the forward observer at the target's residence and be in charge of all surveillance for that area, while my partner would position himself in a van a few hundred yards down the road, so that I could radio to him if the subject left by car.

The location of this particular target was in farm country in southern Illinois. Lots of long grass, cows, bugs, hot weather and beer drinking shotgun toting hillbillies, one of which was my first target. When conducting surveillance on a residence in an open area, it's critical that you insert before dawn. The light can compromise you before you've had a chance to build your nest, and once that happens, besides blowing the mission, the neighbors might come after you. Not a good thing.

I had about 60 pounds of gear, including telescoping video cameras, camoflauge netting of various shapes and sizes, food, water, radio, binoculars, compass, map, large knife, small knifes and so forth. My face was completely painted in camofluage and I was wearing a sniper suit, but not quite as dramatic as the ghilly suits you see in movies. It's 4am and we're ready to roll.

Now my insertion point was about 500 yards down from the house, across the street, in a large prarie area. I would have to go over the barbed wire fences, through extremely thick brush and forest, and then follow a drainage ravine until I finally reached a position across the street from the targets home, where I could build the nest I would be sitting in for the next 12-14 hours.

It took about 25 minutes to get through all the brush, fences, long grass, and ravine, but finally I made it. With dawn approaching I had to move quick. The long grass was helpful for camoflauge but with little behind me to break up my silhouette, I had a lot of building to do. Some sticks here, some grass there, a couple of logs here and there, and just as the sun was coming up I was able to get the nest built. Next I set up the camera and made sure it was camoflauged as well, the sun reflecting off the lense is an easy way to get spotted, so I had to make sure it was blocked as much as possible, while still allowing me to shoot video.

Once I was set, the next task was to do a radio and spot check. My partner would drive by and see if he could spot me from the road, to make sure I was hidden well. After the first drive by, I made a few corrections, and we were ready to go.

This was in July as I recall, and July is a VERY hot time of the year in southern Illinois. Obviously I can't move much and I'm covered in camo and heavy netting, so it was REAL hot out. By 10am I was sweating buckets. Unfortunately, there wasn't much I could do about it. Just sit and wait.

Finally at about 12:30 or so, I saw some movement. A portly middle-aged man exited the house. He matched the description I had for the subject, and my pulse started to rise. Hell ya, here we go. I focused my camera and waited for him to do something. It seemed like forever, but evetually he walked into a open barn next to the house and came riding out in a small tractor. OK, OK, this is good, now if he bends over past his waist, I got him. Just about then a pickup truck pulled in the driveway and what appeared to be a friend of his got out and started chatting away.

That's when things started going bad.

Then next thing I know, they head back in the house and pop out a few moments later with binoculars. Oh shit, this is not good, why are they looking around with binoculars? I radioed this to my partner and he said our cover must've been blown. They must've seen him in the truck and got suspicious. What? Now what? Fu-----ck!

As quietly as I could, I started taking down the cameras to get ready for my escape. Unfortunately for me,this was the same time these two good ol' boys decided to come lookin for me, and they had gone back in the house again, this time coming back out with shotguns. Not what I was looking forward to on my first day.

So here these guys come shotguns in hand, headed right for my position. What do I do? I have no gun. I'm definitely not in a positon to make a run for it and lose all my equipment, fighting doesn't seem like too good of an option either, so that only left one thing to do: Hide and pray.

I don't think your heart can beat a WHOLE lot faster than mine was beating. These guys came over the barbed wire fence about 20 yards in front of me and were sweeping the area looking for any sign of me. All I did was lay back in the grass, cover myself and my equipment and held my breath. I could hear them getting closer, their footsteps slowly approaching my position. Fuck, fuck fu------ck! Don't come over here, please dont come here.

Then it happened, they were standing right beside me, I mean , I could read the "Wolverine" on this guys boots. And by no less than divine intervention these guys didn't see me! They just turned around and walked right back out the way they came. Oh thank you Lord! Thank you thank you thank you.

Death narrowly averted it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. Now the tricky part was gonna be exiting the area without drawing attention. I needed to move quick while their backs were turned as they walked back to the house.

As fast and quietly as I could, I packed up all my gear, radioed to my partner to head to the drop-off point we used earlier and ran up to the barbed wire fence. Now normally barbed wire fences don't provide much cover, but luckily the grass and weeds had grown up, so there was a perfect 3 foot high wall of green blocking a view threw the fence. The thing is, I would have to crawl, on my belly, backwards for five hundred yards pulling a 60 pound duffle back to get to the extraction point. Why backwards? So I could see if the boys came looking again.

Now the problem with crawling on your belly backwards, is that your clothes, especially a shirt thats not tucked in, constantly gets pulled up, leaving your belly exposed and scratching the shit out of your skin, just more fun to add to the situation.

I did crawl pretty quick though. It only took me about 15 or 20 minutes and I was far enough away to get up and walk in a low crawl, I headed back to the ravine and instead of following it, decided to jump in. At about 8 feet deep, there would be no chance of me being spotted. The problem of course was that this was a drainage ravine for cow sewage and runoff. So I was basically wading through cow shit and piss and muddy water. The crawling had been better.

Finally making my way around to about 100 yards from the extraction point, I radioed to my partner and told him to come get me. It was kind of like a scene from a movie really. He pulls up in the big green van, the side doors swing open and I throw in my gear and jump in, peeling off as I struggle to get the doors shut. Finally I was able to relax as we sped off.

Our first stop was at a gas station, and my camoflauge sniper outfit drew a few stares, but the gallon of Gatorade was worth it. I was able to get the guy on film, so even though we were "made" the mission was a success. I even got a $50 bonus from my boss, making the daily take about $250, not bad at 20 years old. Though, considering how it could've turned out, amybe not that great.

And that, my friends, was the toughest first day off my life. I stuck with that job for about 9 months or so. Traveling all over the country, working along more often then not, but eventually got tired of being on the road alone and risking my neck to catch insurance cheats. Oh, and incidentally, now you know why my email is JDNPI....just couldn't part with it I guess.