It was the kind of morning that would melt the mascara off a dewy-eyed debutante, and the sun was just getting started.
The heat rose in waves off the asphalt as I pulled into the parking lot behind the headquarters of Liar Catchers on East Main Street for a meeting with Matthew T. Valentine, private investigator. I'm in the business of writing stories about businesses, and Valentine's sign out front with the catchy name had caught my eye.
Valentine works out of the basement of a plain brick building that you don't notice until you go looking for it. As I headed down the stairs, I knew my arrival was being filmed. I smiled and pretended not to care.
Valentine was sitting at his desk. He stood up to greet me and I could see he was built like a spark plug, with biceps that could keep half the town in a chokehold. He had a military-style buzz cut and about three days of chin stubble just itching to rub some cheater the wrong way. The inked design on his arm had enough dagger-like points to pierce the falsehoods in a dozen workman's comp cases.
But wait. Didn't his LinkedIn profile say he'd gone to the Juilliard School in New York City, the most prestigious music school in the country? So how come he looked like he had a degree from Parris Island with a major in whup-ass? Better ease into the tough questions slowly.
"Nice place you got down here, Valentine," I said.
"We stay below the radar," he said. "We don't want the whole world to know." Really? Then explain that eye-grabbing sign out front, I thought.
"So, maybe you want the world to know you're here, but not know who comes to see you, is that it?" I asked.
"That is exactly correct," he said. He had a decent smile when he decided to use it.
"We don't want to hurt those who desire privacy, while making folks aware of the services we provide."
"What exactly are those services?" I put my voice recorder on the desk. His words flowed faster than the traffic on I-64.
"The private investigator's license in Kentucky is very comprehensive. There are 34 areas of specialty. We do all but three. About 50 percent of our business is background checks, for corporations and individuals. We check addresses, arrests, money problems, liens, aka's. We can get anybody's Social Security number in 60 seconds."
That last detail threw me like a bouncer at the Shim Sham Club.
Valentine continued. "Maybe you're suspicious of somebody who's moved in with your 80-year-old father. We can check them out. If a parent with shared custody has concerns about who the ex is bringing in the house, we'll do a background check on the new boyfriend."
If that's 50 percent, I'm hoping the other half is juicier, full of guys named Bugs or Frisky and dames with trouble in their eyes.
"We do executive protection," Valentine said. "Maybe a jeweler comes to town with lots of expensive jewelry. We can meet them at the airport, go with them to meetings. Executive protection is a blast."
Love your job, never work a day, they say. Sweet gig you got here Valentine.
"We also do judgment recovery. We find people so that money can be recouped. Process serving, attorneys call us all the time when they can't find somebody. We can find the person. We can find a bank account or safety deposit box in the U.S. You can't. But we'll also tell people when they can find the information themselves, for example, how to retrieve deleted texts.
"All this is on our Facebook page. We must have 500 cases on there, though we disguise them a bit."
Do they cheat em, and how?
So when do we get to the part where you catch liars in the act, I'm wondering.
"About 20 percent is tracking," said Valentine. He got out a magnetic GPS device.
"GPS trackers are our biggest money maker. We suggest people rent a tracker and then the trackers will tell us exactly where a vehicle is at all times, down to the exact parking space at the mall. You can stick it under the passenger seat, under the car. ... anywhere you want and it will last 60 days. We have 14; all of them are out now except this one. ... And if you think someone might want to track you, we rent GPS blockers, too."
The world is chock-full of cheating spouses, that tells me.
"Maybe an employer wants to track a delivery truck to see where it's driven at night or the speed an employee is traveling. Maybe somebody wants to track a spouse ... or a parent wants to put it on a child's car before the child heads off on spring break.
"We can put them anywhere. We had a case the other day. A baby was not allowed to go to the ex-spouse's mother's house. Court ordered. We sewed the GPS in a diaper bag. Guess what? Straight to mother's house where the baby wasn't supposed to go.
"You might find a guy or gal is driving to a subdivision and pulling into a garage. My person will go to where the car is located and take pictures."
So it's as easy as following the satellite signal. Drive a van equipped with cameras that can zoom in a mile and make midnight look like high noon. Sounds like you guys have it made compared to the old days of skulking behind lamp posts on the wrong side of town.
"The job is all in the prep work," said Valentine. "Take a workman's comp case. Somebody says he can't use his right arm. You believe that he's lying, an abuse of the system. You find out that the guy has a lawn service. You get a house and put up mirrored tint on the windows. You call the guy from a throwaway phone."
"A burner," I said, showing I was no stranger to the streets.
"Yeah, a burner. Hire him to come do some yard work," he continued. "All of that prep: setting up the house, buying the burners, calling someone else he's worked for, so you can say 'I was referred by so-and-so.' The sting can take a week to set up. Then the guy comes out to the house and does stuff he supposedly can't do, picks up stuff he can't pick up. Your case is won."
Music in my ears
The time had come to ask about the Juilliard School.
"I studied marimba. I was fifth battery in the New York Philharmonic, which basically meant I was a water boy. I played rehearsals."
And the tattoo?
"A gift to myself on my 40th birthday."
What about the muscles?
"I'm a second-degree black belt in Hapkido, a Korean martial art. And I work out every day."
Any other information you'd like to volunteer?
"That weird feeling is usually right, I tell people. But sometimes the woman isn't stepping out; she's just taking dance lessons for her husband. The kiss of death in this business is rushing to judgment."
Got it. Fools rush in ...
"Most people who call us want to know if we're qualified and will we do it discreetly. If nothing is found, then they want to erase the record and never mention it again. We're that company. Or, if something is found, we'll provide the client the information and let them decide what to do with it. We're qualified to do court testimony. This job is just awesome. We never have the same case twice."
I took a few photographs of Valentine's office and the backs of employees' heads and thanked him for his time. But I couldn't leave without asking one last question. I'd heard it in an old John Candy movie, and Valentine's mention of firearms training had brought it to mind:
"Hey Valentine. What if someone's lying, and you know they're lying. Can you shoot 'em?"
"No," he said. "You can't shoot anyone for lying."
With that settled, I headed up the stairs and back outside. It was time to file my own report, and I had enough material to fill a news hole the size of Lake Cumberland.