There are a million stories in the naked city of Emporia. This is one of them.
One summer during college I worked as a private eye in a friend’s agency. As kids, Jimmy B. and I had the “H & B Detective Agency,” so when I asked for a job, he must have figured that, since I had experience, I’d be a good hire. “Private eye” sounds pretty glamorous, but mostly involved me entering data into a computer (which at that time was the size of a refrigerator but with less computing power). Jim’s agency worked mostly for insurance companies who were trying to catch fraudsters. A mainstay of our business was untangling the auto accident claims. It seems folks from a particular Third World Nation that shall remain nameless had created a cottage industry around accident fraud. They would get in a wreck, usually on purpose, and then claim there were (I am not kidding) 10, 15, even 20 people in the car at the time. The aliases they used were confusing to our ears, you couldn’t tell men from women and, given their ambitious approach, it seemed that half of the nation of ---------- were involved in the scheme.
It wasn’t all drudgery, however, as I was able to go on a couple of field ops. One in particular was down near Emporia. A guy was claiming disability for a back injury and the insurance company thought he was faking it. Our job was to surveill him to determine if he was capable of working or whether he was frauding.
My partner in this mission was a prematurely or pretentiously cynical guy in his mid-twenties who seemed to want to grow up to be Jim Rockford .He drove a Trans Am, complete with some sort of Firebird/Phoenix/dragon painted on the hood and a t-top roof.
As we rolled down I-95 from Richmond, we formulated a fool-proof plan for the surveillance: we’d pose as traffic counters. (Remember them? They would sit in folding chairs on a corner with a clipboard, pencil, boom box and tanning lotion. This was before the advanced technology of air-pressure hoses used in gas stations was applied to traffic counting.) The plan looked less fool-proof as we got off 95 and drove further and further into tobacco country, down small town roads that turned into two-lane roads that turned into one-lane roads that damn near turned into cow paths.
We finally got to the guy’s “neighborhood” and staked out the corner about 100 yards up the road, pulling out the requisite materials listed above, along with a camera equipped with a telephoto lens.
Sure enough, within 30 minutes the guy comes out into the front yard and starts throwing old tires, huge sections of logs and cinder blocks into the back of a pickup truck. I don’t know what this guy used to do for a living, but unless it was pulling locomotives with his teeth, he was still qualified to do the job.
We got our pictures, but then suddenly the guy jumped spryly into his truck, turned it over and pulled out onto the street, coming in our direction.
Now, understand, when he drove past us, he would be the very first car that we as traffic counters would have had the opportunity to count in more than 90 minutes. There’s no way he would buy this. We began to panic. Too late! He was on us, signal on, and began his turn around our corner. We looked at him. He looked at us.