Saturday, July 20th, 2024

B Book Excerpts by Jean Loxley-Barnard
The Hope Trap -- Planning Surveillance


The following is an excerpt from The Hope Trap, Jean Loxley-Barnard's forthcoming book.

Planning Surveillance

The location could not have been better for a PI. The office was in a small house on a little road off the main road. When I saw the street sign, I drew my breath: Baker Street- Sherlock Holmes' address. I loved the irony.

The little house was unassuming, but the atmosphere was comfortable. When the receptionist noticed me, she apologized for keeping me waiting, putting me at ease.

When shown to a surprisingly large office, I met Elizabeth Herrington, an attractive woman who looked athletic. Her handshake confirmed strength.

I kept in mind that Elizabeth did this for a living, but, for me it was a unique experience, one that made me uncomfortable. Spying on my husband was a drastic step indeed. It was a clandestine business. I was excited, it was an adventure, but I was uncomfortable.

"I'm a novice here, Ms....." I began.

"Lizzie," she inserted.

"Lizzie," I repeated, gratefully. "I am here to find out what you can do for me, how much you charge and how all this works."

"My fee is $75 an hour," she began, addressing one of my biggest concerns right away. I was relieved it was not twice that amount. "I take a retainer of $750 before we begin any surveillance. Basically, we can observe whomever you want observed. Your husband?" she inquired.

I liked Lizzie; she was direct, and her no nonsense approach was just what I needed. "My husband is a surgeon turning 50 who is having an affair with a 17-year-old high school girl," I said straight out.

Lizzie raised her eyebrows, surprised. That surprised me. I guess I expected that nothing would be new to someone in her business. Lizzie read my mind.

"I'm not shocked," she told me, "but I never expect to hear that a middle aged man is actually interested in a 17-year-old. Twenty-seven, maybe."

Lizzie shook her head in dismay. I felt now that I was talking woman to woman. My whole body eased back into the chair facing her desk. Only then did I realize that I had been sitting on the edge of my seat.

Lizzie took note of my relaxed posture. She got down to business. "Do you want evidence for a divorce?"

Well, that got to the point. It helped me to hear it. I needed to let it sink in as much as possible. This time there would be a divorce. A divorce. Not a separation and reconciliation. This time it would be over and a new life would follow.

"Yes." My answer acknowledged finality.

Lizzie said she would need a picture of Rob, and of the girl. She would like addresses, license plate numbers, pictures of his car, office.

"Can I tap our phone?" I interjected, holding my breath.

"In this state," Lizzie rattled off, having been asked this question hundreds of times, "at least one party needs to know the conversation is being taped."

"Right down the street," Lizzie continued, "they sell the attachments for phones to connect to a tape recorder."

I drove to the store, musing that maybe the tapped phone line would prove that Rob was telling the truth. I knew it was too much to hope for, but it was certainly worth a try.

I told the helpful clerk I wanted to connect my phone to a tape recorder to catch an obscene phone caller. I was very sorry to be deceiving him and wanted to apologize, to tell him the truth and ask his pardon. I knew I could not.

Making up a lie felt so very strange. How anyone could live a life where he or she lied all the time? How did Rob manage to do it? Was it really something that could become second nature? Did it get easier each time? I shuddered. I wasn't about to find out.

Tapping the Phone

Jo had agreed to be my lookout while I set up the taping equipment. I'd have had a stroke if I had to do it alone. Rob could come and go at any time, and I couldn't fiddle with the plug and recorder in my bedroom and be my own lookout at the same time.

I stopped at the office and brought Jo home with me. She sat upstairs in the family room, looking out the wall of windows where she could see all the way down the long driveway. If Rob were to drive up Jo would give me plenty of notice.

"This might be a stupid question," Jo posed, stopping dead still, hands on both hips, to ask,"but have you checked to see if he beat us to it?"

I looked at my friend, whom I towered over, and a little smile came over my face. "Not a bad idea, Nancy Drew," I replied. We both began to laugh - "howl" was the word Jo would use. "Wouldn't that be a stitch!"

First, we checked every phone in the house, to see if Rob had indeed beat me to it. He might want to know what I knew. He'd be able to find out what I was telling my friends and sister. There was nothing. He probably didn't care enough to think about doing such a thing.

All through the inspection of the six phones in the house, Jo and I continued our peals of laughter. It may have been to relieve the tension of the moment.

Satisfied that no Hardy boy had been at work on the phones, I returned to the dastardly deed. Jo sat down again by the family room windows, peering intently down the driveway.

"I need help," I wailed, even though I knew that Jo would have to leave her post in order to be my technical assistant. She came, but it made both of us nervous.

Jo let out a combination of a laugh and groan. "You go to the windows now to be Nancy Drew," she said, "and I'll look this over." I did as I was told, relieved that one of us could keep an eye on the driveway. Just knowing that Rob could come and go at will, although unlikely on a weekday afternoon, heightened the drama, which was already almost unbearable.

That evening, I went to a mall store. No one bothered me as I read the packages and found the multiple outlet plug.

The next morning was a Saturday, and I was happy to see Rob drive away early. I called Jo at the office where she waited at a window to watch Rob drive by before she came over.

This time, it was easier. Jo and I tested the system while she sat looking out the windows, more nervous on this Saturday than on the weekday when Rob was less likely to appear.

It worked. We tested each and every phone and it worked! Jo was greatly relieved when I pronounced it ready to "tap" and she was able to get back to the office, safe and sound.

I waited eagerly for Rob to return home, then left immediately, hoping he would call Kitty when alone.

After a few hours, I returned to find him riding the tractor. I raced upstairs, closed my bedroom door, nervously locking it. I knelt down quietly, lifting up the dust ruffle of the bed cover, and gently pulled the tape recorder out from under the bed. I saw the tape was well advanced. My heart was beating fast and, I was certain, audibly.

I ran to the window, saw that Rob was still mowing. Returning to the recorder, I turned the volume down and rewound the tape to the beginning. This time I pressed the play button. Immediately, I knew I had something. I removed the tape, inserted another and reset the recorder.

I hid the tape in my purse, unlocked the bedroom door, and walked directly to my car, hoping Rob would not have stopped mowing and come to the house while I was leaving. I was certain my face would give me away. It had to be a criminal crimson by now.

I was careful to drive out slowly and steadily. My office was less than three miles away, but it seemed to take me three hours to get there.

Jo had a tape recorder in her office. I raced in and fumbled with the tape - afraid that I might erase it, but finally saw it begin to slowly unwind until I heard Rob's voice.