Access Granted: Private Investigator School Lets Me In!

No one was more surprised than I when the PI called back. “I’ve checked you out on Amazon,” he said. “We’ve decided to let you in for a few days. Pick some courses and get back to me.” 

I was professional when I thanked him, ignoring the irony of having had my pseudodym verified… waiting til he’d hung up before doing a little happy dance.

They were going to let me into PI school! Oh. My. God.

First hand lectures with real-life Private Investigators. Case Files. Insight into “Criminal Minds.” I’d get to handle PI gadgets and try on a trench coat (all of this did actually happen – except trying on the trench coat. I had my own anyway.)

A few weeks prior, I’d resurrected an older novel I’d been working on concurrently with my M.A. thesis. My brain had rebelled at the restrictions of a creative nonfiction memoir, and when I told my tutor Sara Maitland this, she astutely (and sardonically) wrote back “how clever of your subconscious to pick something plot-driven.” Yeah – clever all right. My brilliant subconscious had found a way to subvert my focus, and at the same time, given me the writing itch for a completely different project. I’d prevailed in squashing that enormous temptation and graduated… but I’d lost the plot with the detective novel and it had lain dormant in my harddrive for the next several years.

Scanning the course timetable at PI school gave me a little thrill – Surveillance, Internet Investigations, Fraud – almost like choosing my first undergrad courses. Not quite, because now, of course, every adventure outside the house requires a lot more preparation than my “drop everything and plunge” teenage days.

My friends and family are very kind to me and keep their whispers of agoraphobic to a dull roar when I’m within earshot. I don’t know what they say behind closed doors, but that doesn’t matter because generally, they come to “my zones” to visit me and try to be moderately understanding when I leave them waiting in the rain on days I just can’t get it together to make dates.

Add to my “reclusiveness” the fact that I was five months’ pregnant during that course week, and the nausea had been progessively worse. I needed access to a sink or toilet at all times. Taking a course at 7:00 AM in downtown Ottawa seemed downright ridiculous, but it seemed equally ridiculous to let this opportunity go by.

Luckily, my wife had a project to do in the Glebe during PI week, and didn’t mind leaving two hours early in order to get me to the church on time. She’s been nominated for sainthood at least a dozen times since we’ve been together – more than half of those instances during this pregnancy….

I signed up. I paid the fee. I bought the textbook. I picked out my outfit. Then, predictably, I changed my mind.

What if the side door down the dark alley wasn’t open and I was standing there alone in a creepy neighbourhood at 6:45 because Nancy drove off, thinking I was inside?

What if the bathroom was communal and down the hall from the classroom? What if I barfed on the floor or on others because it was too far away?

What if the classroom was super tiny and the only spot left was at the very front in the corner?

What if everyone stared at me, wondering what the hell I was doing there? What if they didn’t want a writer in their class?

The course fee hadn’t been that much. I should just stay home. I probably wouldn’t feel well anyway. I’d probably have a headache and the quease and faint in the classroom (all of which had happened at least five times already in various places).

But I still really wanted to go, so I did what all good shrinks tell you to do: identify what you want and ask for help. I’m sure the Psychiatric Association never meant Facebook specifically, but hell, if it works… whatever! I updated my status. CONVINCE ME TO GO!!! My peeps convinced me to go. Some with threats, some with guilt, some with reason. Some with “Quit’cher bitchin’ and get your ass out the door!”

I set my alarm, but I didn’t really need it as I didn’t really sleep. I woke up bleary-eyed, put on my selected outfit, and packed my Quease-Defence kit (gingerale, soda crackers, Preggie Pop Drops, mints, almonds, gum, water, etc.).

Retched the whole way in the car.

Nancy dropped me at the top of the dark alley. I wound my way down in the semi-light and found the side door. Turned the knob. Waved goodbye. She didn’t laugh at me – at least until she drove off.

The bathroom was indeed communal and down the hall from the suite I wanted, but it was a short hall and there were two bathrooms.

I walked in, hung up my trenchcoat and looked around. The students were taking a quiz. The only seat left in the tiny classroom was at the front in the corner away from the door.

Christ on a bike.

Luckily, the course instructor was a sympathetic guy with a healthy respect for writers and our process (HAhahaha!). He made everyone move so I could sit by the door. Awesome. Fear #2 (barfing on other students) avoided; Fear #5 (students hating a writer in the class) ensured.

The class was fanatastic. I learned how to spy on my neighbours (how to find out how much they’d paid for their cars, their boats, their ATVs). I learned about the “deep web” and the “dark web,” the lingo for black market goods like credit card information, and what a monocular is. I got to play with camera pens and ear buds and evidence kits. Yes! Evidence kits! And I learned how to trail a suspect. Seriously! First there’s this guy in front called a Cheater….

I loved the infidelity investigations. Anything involving sex, really, is more interesting than anything without, so hearing about the lengths people do NOT go to in order to conceal their cheatin’ ways totally made me laugh. Once, there was this couple from Ireland….

The things I learned about how to investigate someone’s online identity were the most helpful. I needed to figure out how my villain was going to get caught, and how my young PI was going to track down his crimes. The course definitely pointed me in the right direction on that front, and at the same time, provided me with the lingo I needed to write a compelling and authentic story.

I have a protagonist: a Police Foundations-trained private investigator named Jyl Kidd. I have a plot which involves a secret identity, an undercover mission, and a whole mess of complications. I have a love interest: who says the detective shouldn’t fall in love with her target? And I (finally) have a villain, a crime, and a resolution.

At the end of two days, I came home loaded with borrowed textbooks (nothing makes me happier), a bajillion notes, and a CD ROM with all the slides from the class… just in case I forget how to use a monocular. Cha-Ching!

I also had a raging headache, a bad case of the quease, and sleep deprivation that lasted for a week… but it was totally worth it. The manuscript did, indeed, sit untouched for another month, but I dragged it out yesterday, and started brainstorming.

In the near future, UnCatholic Conduct will be unleashed upon the world. Just as soon as I can stop puking….