Dan O'Brien: Facebook Detective


I knew she was coming into my office before she even knocked. Maybe a part of my brain heard the soft footsteps, or maybe it was the smell, or the way some guys can always tell when a woman's nearby. Or maybe I've just got a sixth sense for bad news, thanks to all my experience. Regardless, even though I was prepared for an entrance, I certainly wasn't prepared for her entrance. She wore a short blue dress that was tight in all the right places, and she wore it well. The dress wasn't too shy to let out a pretty nice view of a long set of legs, but still concealed just enough to let a man's imagination go for a spin. She had blond hair, the kind that's so bright it gives off a little bit of excess light to the surrounding areas. Seeing that shine around her head, you might mistake it for a halo. If you didn't catch her eyes, that is. The eyes tell you there's more to this broad than your first glance will cobble together. That's her giveaway. You can pretty your hair up and put on some fine lipstick and sneak into your best Sunday dress, but if your eyes say "Trouble," there's not a powder, dye or skirt in the world that'll cover it up. She batted her eyes on instinct, and I was reminded of every stupid decision I'd ever made. "Excuse me," she said, her voice somewhere between a sigh and a whisper. "Are you really a detective? A Facebook detective?" "That's what it says on my door," I said, lighting a cigarette.

"My name is Regan Woodsturn. I need help," she said. Admitting, it's the first step. "Admitting, it's the first step," I said, because it seemed foolish to waste a line like that on inner monologue. "It's a case I need you to handle. Actually, I've got three cases I'd like you to take a look at, if you don't mind." Between her legs that seemed to travel for days and a set of eyes I'd break a rule or two for, so far there's nothing this broad's shown me that I'd found disagreeable, so I decided to hear her out. She unloaded a story about three people that were making the forecast a little bit cloudy over on Planet Woodsturn. Three unrelated issues, all happening to her, simultaneously, all bad enough that she needed a private dick to ride in, ask some questions, get some answers. I'd say she must have had it pretty rough, if I wasn't positive that those eyes could bat their way out of any corner she backed herself into. She wanted me to hit the streets of Facebook and gather some information on these associates of hers that were making her antsy. Facebook, like me, works alone and plays pretty loose with the rules when it comes to privacy. A few people might have a problem with that, and maybe they're right. Or maybe they're hiding something. Anyway, it's my beat. Facebook. But something about these cases stunk. "Please help me, detective. I would be ever so grateful." "Oh I'm sure it would just warm your heart, but, if you don't mind, I'll pass. There are plenty of dicks in this town. But I'm sure I don't need to tell you that. " That one actually probably should've been just an inner monologue thing. "I'm afraid I don't understand," she said. "Listen lady," I said as I stood up from my desk. "I like the way you smell, it's sort of like cinnamon mixed with a memory. And I like your hair, and I've found that the only thing hard about your eyes is taking mine off them. I've very much enjoyed your long, sweet Popsicle sticks and sincerely appreciate their visit. They're welcome here any time." I crossed the room so I was standing right in front of her. Too close for two strangers, but a muscle other than my brain was calling the shots and I wasn't in a position to argue. "But if you think for a second that a pretty face and a couple of easy teasing 'atta boy's' is enough to get me to take a case that's more slippery than yesterday's fish and twice as rotten, then you've got another thing coming, sweetness." I reached behind her and grabbed the door, pulling it open. "So thanks, Mrs. Woodsturn, but no thanks, all the same." As I held the door open, taking in a few last-minute inhales of her perfume and idly wondering if "Popsicle sticks" was actually an established slang term for "legs," she pulled out a checkbook that she kept in a small clutch on her left wrist. "Ten thousand dollars, plus expenses," she said. "Is it starting to smell a little better now, detective?" A stronger-willed man would've tossed her out, told her that there isn't enough money in the free world worth taking three cases that smelled like a setup from a mile out. But I bet a stronger-willed man wouldn't need ten grand quite as much as I did. Without a word, I let her slip the check into my breast pocket. It felt hot. "Atta boy," she said.
Those damn eyes. Case 1: The No Good Nephew Woodsturn's younger sister was a wild one. She'd only been married once, though not for lack of trying, so the story goes. She lied, she stole, she fought; anything for an adrenaline fix. She'd bounced around from man to man and drug to drug for the better part of her life until one bounce landed her in her room with solid bars and a low ceiling. As a result, Woodsturn had been caring for her locked up sister's son, Eddie, for the last few years. Eddie's been getting home late… lately, and Woodsturn was worried he was starting to go the way of his momma. Stealing, vandalism. The signs were all there, but Woodsturn wanted to know for sure, so she turned to me. And Facebook. A preliminary look at his Facebook wall didn't seem to turn up anything concrete. "Doing Drugs" wasn't listed as one of his interests and there were no pictures of him actually stealing anything, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve. I befriended Eddie, simply enough, and then used all of my cunning and created a Facebook group that, if Woodsturn's suspicions were true, might catch his eye.

The sting operation was set up. All that was left to do was monitor Eddie's page and play the Waiting Game.

2:30 PM

6:15 PM

11:45 PM

3:22 AM

Bingo. Verdict: It would be ideal if I could come back to Woodsturn with something slightly more specific, but a result is a result. This kid is guilty. Of crimes. Case 2: The Cheating Husband Good Old Mr. Woodsturn was coming home late, and some nights, not coming home at all. He had the calling card alibi of all cheaters ("It was a late night at the office"), and I felt like I could smell gin on him just by looking at his profile picture.

I noticed that he commented on women's pictures a lot. Idle flirts, sure, but never anything too incriminating. Never anything incriminating enough, anyway. Nothing that would let me put a bow on this case. He also seemed to have a nasty habit of friending any woman with an Internet connection, a habit he was taking no steps to break. He was smart enough to conveniently leave out his relationship status, but not smart enough to not use the standby "I'm at the office" excuse despite
clearly being a freelance construction worker. Left to my own devices, I'd have called this one on hunches alone, but I had a client to answer to. I created a fake account as a dizzy, cute-looking broad and started poking around.

The Woodman poked back almost immediately, like there was a future in it. We exchanged a few more sexual-tension-laden pokes before Woodman decided to take it to the next level.

We agreed to meet at a motel off the 405 Freeway, the kind of place with a lot of motel clerks who know how to keep a secret. The Woodman approached me, a hard hat still on his head and a tool belt around his waist, or whatever you'd call the area hidden directly below his protruding gut sack. I humorlessly identified myself as Girlface and lit a cigarette. He squinted his eyes and rubbed his goatee before speaking to me. "Huh. You're a lot more… of a dude, then I'd assumed based on your picture. But we're both here, right? Hell, I'm game if you are. It'll take my mind off how totally not married I am." He grinned and carefully blinked both of his eyes, the way an uncoordinated child tries to mimic winking. "Do you want to rent a room or just… just right here in the motel lobby? Not married."
Verdict: Two for two, so far. You wouldn't think a man like Raymond Woodsturn would cheat on a woman like Regan, but you need to remember that men are caveman warriors. They're instinct-driven, and being tied down goes against nature. Some men see a wedding band like a line of thin tripwire, trapping him in one spot, holding them back from their biological imperative to roam, unfettered, spreading seed. All he needs to do is hop over that little wire once in a while and he's got his sweet, sweet freedom. Also, he's fucking retarded. When I told Regan, she took it like a trooper. A single tear rolled down her cheek. Several times, and from both eyes. Case 3: Old Man Illegal-Immigrant-Smuggler Regan had reason to believe that her father-in-law was smuggling illegal immigrants into the country, a suspicion that I (in retrospect, foolishly), never questioned. Things like "Why would he do that?" or "Based on what evidence?" or "What use would a retired shoe salesman have for immigrants?" are queries that your average detective might ask, but I'm a
Facebook detective. The only questions I generally ask are things like "What's on your mind?" and some others, I imagine, so it never really occurred to me. Tracking down Admiral Chandler Woodsturn. This is the case that gave me a funny feeling. In my business, sometimes a funny feeling is all you have to go by, and turning your back on one of those feelings is almost always a shortcut down a shady alley in a town called Danger. The case still stunk like last Tuesday's gym socks, but I needed the money (to, in part, buy laundry detergent to wash those socks), so I lit up a cigarette and started huffing it down my usual avenue. I hit the beat and in just a few seconds, stopped dead in my tracks, letting the cigarette drop right out of my mouth. Before the ash even hit the carpet, I was already out the door and booking it downtown to see Regan. *** "Here's your check back, Regan, I don't want it. You don't stick around in this business for as long as I have without learning how to spot the difference between a garter snake and a killer python. I'm here to return your check, minus some expenses, and tell you that I won't be able to complete your case. Also, I'm sorry I kicked your door down when I came in, I really wanted to talk to you." "You didn't even
try to knock." "Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. The punchline is, you can go ahead and file this case under 'Up for Grabs' again, because I'm wiping my name off it." "But why, detective? You solved those other two cases so quickly." "A case like this, Mrs. Woodsturn, is the kind of case that keeps detectives like me up at night. It's why you're likely to find more dicks in a dive bar then in a church, looking for salvation in a bottle. The case is unsolvable. I didn't see it at first. I saw three cases: a kid nephew, a young husband and an old retiree. One of these things didn't belong, but I just didn't see it, maybe the shadow cast by that check of yours was keeping me too in the dark, I don't know. All I know is, I'm not touching this case, it is entirely unsolvable." "How do you know?" "How old is your father-in-law, Mrs. Woodsturn?" "Eighty… five or so?" I stubbed out my cigarette and leaned in, just a few inches away from Woodsturn's face. "And how many 85-year-olds do you know that use Facebook?" She was starting to get it now. "You mean…?" "That's right, sweetness."

"He's not there," I said, though that explanation was probably unnecessary. "Might he be on MySpace?" "Jesus, I don't know. That's none of my business. My business is on Facebook, and if there's no account, there's no work." She tried protesting a bit more, mostly out of blind denial, not reason. I saw some tears creeping in to make their second cameo of the evening. "But… what if we convince him to get an account? I mean, can't- Would that… help? If we… if… if-" I took her in my arms. "Forget it, Regan. It's Real Life."

Daniel O'Brien is a double black belt Facebook Detective.

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