I sat with my feet on my desk trading words with my partner Tony, chewing the fat that accumulates over the course of days filled with routine assignments and mundane investigations. It had been weeks since either of us had seen the type of business that raised our excitement, our spirits, or our blood pressures a single mark higher.
Then she came in, the type of woman who wore clothing advertising “open for business,” but whose attitude and demeanor indicated a fatal breath of inferno awaited anyone who tried. I remembered her from a past life as Sheila, as pleasant to tangle with as a shaken hornet’s nest. Her game for us was surveillance; we were to stake out a thin man and a Chinese man, employees of her firm, who screwed up and caused a valuable item to go missing. She waved a couple carrots in our face to entice us, and to motivate us further, threw in a veiled threat indicating if we didn’t take the job and do it right, she'd pull strings to make sure we'd never work in this town again. When I asked what we were snooping for, her curt reply was, “Make sure they don’t screw up a second time.” If they didn’t find her valuable dingus, we were to intervene and find it ourselves.
I was not happy. I didn't like Shelia, the stakeout was scheduled for a weekend, and I had no idea what to expect. But, as Tony said, business was business, and he and I can’t turn down an offer with decent compensation; my days off would have been filled with fifty-five gallons drums of nothing anyway. She gave us the stakeout location and we traded phone numbers. As she left she offered us no thanks or attaboys, only an air of rectitude and condescension. I sensed something was wrong. Something else was also missing.
Tony and I observed the scene from different locations. I can’t speak for Tony’s position, but mine was a lonely furnished ten by ten with my view limited to a twenty-inch window. I’d occasionally see a short burst of activity involving the thin man, followed by long minutes of nothing. During those times of static, I’d contact Tony to see if he could see anything I couldn’t. I learned his view was roughly equal to mine, lousy. We both commented on how we felt; since the moment Shelia walked into our office until now, we felt like something other than her macguffin was missing. I became obsessed, searching as much for that other unidentified absent thing as I was scouting for a thin and Chinese dingus discovery.
Surveillance warps time. When nothing happens, minutes seem like hours. With that empty feeling, the feeling something is lacking, the time ticks even slower. Having no clock at my stakeout post, I felt like it had been days since the last observed activity. Then I received a phone call. It was Shelia brusquely announcing the stakeout was over, the thin man and the Chinese man found the dingus. The spy detail ended with as little fanfare as it had begun.
I informed Tony. “Another job well done,” he said. I reminded him we did nothing, our stakeout yielded us only wasted time. “At least we get paid,” he said as he hung up the phone.
At that point I realized the other thing that was missing: the attaboy, the thanks for doing distasteful work, the appreciation for being on the job during undesirable hours, the recognition for pulling the assignment the best one could on short notice with the resources available. But I suppose that is to be expected in this cockeyed profession, particularly when working for an employer like Shelia, an emotionless wretch showing zero professionalism and loyalty, who doesn’t care about anything except getting the job done on her terms.
But, hey, at least I get paid.