Mary arrives early for her one o’clock, a promising sign since half of Chris Butler’s prospective job applicants never show. He ushers the 26-year-old into the room. Everything about her is larger-than-life beautiful. The wide, blush-brushed cheekbones. The pillowy lips. The long, toned legs that carry her to the wooden conference table, where she nervously exchanges greetings with the two attractive older women already seated. They’re sympathetic. They were in her shoes not long ago.
The applicant shrugs out of her stylish leather coat and reaches down to smooth the pleated black miniskirt ruffling against her bare thighs. The neckline of her striped top dives through her cleavage. She must be six feet tall in the heels. Mary sits. “Can you tell me why you were looking in the TV and Film section of Craigslist?” Butler asks in a friendly tone.
“I’ve been working in corporate recruiting for a Fortune 500 company since college,” Mary explains. “I quit a week ago today, actually. I’ve been exploring new options.” Butler nods. He’s heard all sorts of replies. After describing the basics of the job, he throws a few curveballs.
“Do you drink?”
She purses her lips. “I do,” she replies carefully, unsure of the right answer.
“I ask you this because men will be buying you drinks, so it’s important for me to know how you handle yourself around alcohol,” Butler says. He recounts a tale of near-disastrous on-the-job inebriation.
Mary laughs. “I have a high tolerance,” she says.
If she didn’t drink, one of the women interjects, that’d be okay, too. They’d work around it.
“How would you handle a guy whose attention you didn’t want?” Butler asks. Mary considers this. “I’d make it clear that I’m not interested, probably just through my body language,” she says. “I’m a pretty big person, so I’m not easily intimidated.”
“Good.” Butler bobs his head. “I see that you’re married?” A diamond glints on Mary’s left ring finger.
“Yes, for two years now.”
Had she discussed the job with her husband?
“Yes, and he’s fine with it. My husband and I don’t have a jealous bone in our bodies,” she says.
Butler asks for her résumé. The document is impressive. She’d long worked for the Fortune 500 company, had attended a well-known Midwestern university. “Conversational French,” Butler recites. “Are you fluent?” She isn’t.
“How about speaking English with a French accent?” Nope.
“I think you’re a good fit for us,” Butler concludes after a few more questions. Mary beams.
“I think so, too,” says one of the women. “I’d want to work with you. That’s what’s so great about this job — we all work together. Chris and us girls really watch out for one another, support one another.”
Butler pulls out a camera and snaps two photos of Mary for the book he shows to clients. After she leaves, he’s pumped. Mary had the look, he says, and seemed remarkably bright. His colleagues concur. “That’s why I ask them to bring résumés,” he explains. “I want to know what they’ve got in their educational backgrounds. Say they speak a language — well, that’s a great twist.”
It turns out Butler had asked Mary to dress in nightclub garb. “We want to see what she’d look like on a sting,” he explains.
And that’s that. Chris Butler, private investigator, has gained another freelance employee. He may never use her as a decoy on a case. Then again, the very next client who requests a sting operation may decide she’s the ideal bait to snare her cheating husband.
The perfect honeytrapper.
An emotional niche
In 1997, when Butler left the Antioch police force after a decade of service and cashed in his retirement fund to start his PI agency, he never thought he’d spend so much time tracking philandering spouses. He’d advertised his general investigation services in the phone book, and was surprised by the avalanche of calls from people who suspected their spouses of adultery. He soon learned it was a realm where few investigators are comfortable. “A lot of PIs won’t touch it,” Butler says. “It’s so emotionally charged.”
“If the investigator is successful they have to deal with breaking the bad news,” notes Ruth Houston, author of Is He Cheating on You? 829 Telltale Signs. “If not, you’ve got to deal with a client who feels they wasted their money.”
Among the roughly two hundred East Bay agencies listed in the directory of the California Association of Licensed Investigators, only seven, including Butler’s, indicate that they handle domestic situations such as infidelity. Even fewer push such services in the phone book. Deceived? Betrayed? queries the ad for Butler & Associates, Inc., which depicts a grief-stricken woman with one palm pressed to her forehead. Specializing in cheating spouses. … “For your piece of mind, let us uncover the truth.”
Under California’s no-fault divorce statute, the “truth” about a partner’s marital infidelity means nothing in court, but that doesn’t stop people from seeking evidence.
Thus did Butler recognize an available niche, and find it suited him well. “I’ve always been told I’m a good listener,” he says. “I think of this job as investigator-slash-therapist.” Indeed, clients are invited to call at any time, no charge, to vent to Butler’s team rather than to their spouses. He doesn’t want any slain husbands on his conscience. Many clients take advantage of the offer — Butler’s phone rings constantly, and he rarely neglects to answer it.
A majority of the fifty or so potential clients who call each week are in crisis mode, such as the man (roughly 20 percent of his infidelity clients are male) who wants to know whom his wife has been dialing on a store-bought phone card. That, Butler calmly explains, would require subpoenaing the calling-card company, something he cannot do. Then there’s the woman who calls from jail after being brought in on a restraining-order violation. He politely suggests she have her attorney contact him.
Just as clients shop around for a PI, Butler chooses his clients carefully. As a rule, he won’t lift a finger until a potential client meets with him in person and signs a contract. Among other things, the contract stipulates that the client cannot be burdened by restraining orders (Butler isn’t eager to assist stalkers). He also nixes people who want him to do surveillance on an ex. And he demands payment up front. A check is fine, but it has to clear before Butler and his crew of two full-time investigators and numerous part-timers spring into action.
Ping ’em & sting ’em
Two key words in Butler & Associates’ lexicon: ping and sting. The first relates to Global Positioning System technology. It’s legal in California for a spouse to track the partner’s car. And apparently it’s becoming more common. Brickhouse Security, an online retailer that offers “Catch a Cheating Spouse” gear, says sales of its $280 magnetic GPS units have tripled in the last year. “We’ve sold over 350 in the last thirty days,” boasts company president Todd Morris. “It’s only recently that these products have gotten to the point where people can do it themselves instead of hiring a PI.”
Butler caters to clients who don’t want to do it themselves. The client typically brings the spouse’s car to his office, tucked away in a bland industrial strip in Concord. In the adjacent garage, Butler spends about ninety minutes installing a customized GPS unit. The client pays $170 for installation, and $250 a month to keep it active. By logging onto a special Web site, the suspicious spouse can then access real-time and historical data about the car’s location. Every five minutes, the transmitter sends out a signal that is relayed via satellite back to a computer server, giving the vehicle’s location and speed. Butler can override the five-minute interval by requesting an immediate update via computer. That’s called a ping.
A sting, meanwhile, is the firm’s specialty, for which Butler maintains a stable of about thirty decoys clients can choose from. The PI has whittled the operation into three distinct stages. The first tests whether the suspected philanderer will flirt with an attractive stranger (the decoy), and to what extent. If he — sting targets are almost invariably male — phones the decoy, the client can initiate a level-two sting. At that point, the decoy calls back and slyly works in questions the client wants her to ask (“Are you married?” is a popular one). The final stage, which about half of Butler’s sting clients eventually opt for, is the confrontation. The decoy arranges to have dinner with the cheat. Shortly after they start their meal, the client shows up. The decoy rushes off in a huff, the client sits down, and the unfaithful partner, says Butler, who has seen many such scenarios unfold, turns white as a sheet. At that point, the firm’s job is done.
Baiting the honeytrap
“Princess Superfly or Uma Thurman Kill Bill?” asks Andrea, a single mom from Berkeley who works for Butler thirty to forty hours a week and who, like Butler’s other employees, is identified by a pseudonym for this story. She holds aloft a hanger draped with a long 1970s-style leather coat and a flowery silk dress in shades of muted brown and green. The alternative: a tight black halter top and lemon-yellow vinyl jacket with racing stripes, plus the trendy jeans she’s wearing.
“Kill Bill,” says Lisa, a decoy hired last November.
It’s an unseasonably warm Saturday night in mid-February, and I’ve been invited along on a stage-one sting. Andrea, 43, is one of the women from Mary’s recent interview. Butler brought her in as a decoy in 2005, and once he discovered her extraordinary background he began grooming her for a lead role in his infidelity practice, which makes up about half of his caseload.
Andrea is certainly qualified. After completing the Juilliard School’s prestigious acting program in her early twenties, she returned to her native Los Angeles, where she wound up dating a “somewhat famous” actor for six years. That ended after she found a box of condoms in his car. Around the same time, she became disillusioned with acting. She left the guy, quit showbiz, shaved her head, and joined an environmental justice nonprofit specializing in direct action.
Over the next four years, Andrea mastered the MacGyver-esque skills that, coupled with her acting talents, made her so attractive to Butler. Andrea acknowledges that some of her former tactics — assuming false identities to get information, climbing up and rappelling down the sides of boats carrying objectionable cargo — might be questionable, but she felt justified. “I was working for the greater good of our environment,” she says. “If I was not doing any kind of harm to anyone and it was done in a nonviolent way, I didn’t take issue with it. I was cool with it.”
Andrea views her current work similarly, but keeps it under wraps. She fears some of the people close to her won’t understand, and that her PI work could hurt her gig as a freelance consultant for nonprofits. These days she mostly works behind the scenes doing surveillance and helping Butler plan stings and other operations. But tonight she’s bait. With her thin five-foot-two frame, curvy hips, classic features, and wavy dark hair, she’s the sort of woman the client thinks her husband might go for. The wife suspects he’s been sleeping around, but has no evidence of any one, drawn-out affair — a classic player.
Lisa, a thirty-year-old who manages a nonprofit by day, will play Andrea’s pal, aka the Control Girl — “We never send in a girl by herself,” Butler says. Lisa’s role is to ensure Andrea’s safety and videotape the infidelity with a hidden purse-cam.
And my role? Third wheel.
“Want to see our guy?” Butler asks, entering the conference room with a manila folder. If the PI resembles an ex-cop, it’s the type you might see in some TV drama: short brown hair and groomed goatee, boyish features, muscular body. He’s dressed in dark jeans, a black sweater, and black sneakers crisscrossed with Velcro. With eighty-hour workweeks, comfort is key.
He passes Lisa a photocopied snapshot of the target, along with a description of his car. “He’s a big guy,” Lisa remarks.
“He is,” Butler says. “I hope he doesn’t go sideways on us.”
He shows Lisa a photo of the client. She’s pretty, unsmiling, early thirties. She resembles Andrea.
The honeytrapper zips up her spike-heeled boots and extracts two narrow blue bottles from her Kate Spade tote, aromatherapy potions made by an Oakland company. She rubs a dollop of Love Spell lotion onto her shoulders. Butler plunks a Toshiba laptop onto the table and the girls crowd around. He’d installed a GPS on the guy’s car a week earlier. Now it’s time to locate him.
Butler logs on and a simplistic area map appears, indicating a dozen or so suspected cheaters being tracked. “The black triangle means our guy’s stationary,” he explains. Butler checks the tracking log — the car has been in the same spot for more than an hour, but he’s not certain what’s there. “He’s close to where we get our business cards printed up,” he says. “I’ll Google Map it and see what comes up.”
“There are a couple places he might be,” says Lisa, who lives in the city in question. “There’s a pool hall near there.”
Butler opens Google Earth, the satellite mapping program, and types in the address. “This is so cool,” Lisa says as the image zooms from a bird’s-eye view of the planet down to a grainy view of a street lined with large gray buildings. Every few seconds a car slides slowly in and out of the picture. “I never tire of this part — it’s amazing,” Andrea says.
“Do you recognize any of this?” Butler asks. “The car is here,” he points at the screen, then at a squat structure. “Is this the pool hall?”
Lisa squints at the screen. “Yes.”
“Okay, I’m going to keep this on so you can just run it in the car, in case he leaves.”
The evening’s goal is simple: See if the client’s husband will ask for Andrea’s phone number. That’s really what the wife is paying $125 an hour for — although any video footage is helpful.
“Expect the unexpected,” Butler reminds his crew. “He could leave …”
“… with someone else,” Andrea finishes. “It’s happened before.”
Butler nods. “In that case, we’d switch over into surveillance mode. But if it goes as planned, whomever he ends up picking, it’s the same plan. If he hits on Andrea —”
“Then I’ll say my boyfriend’s coming,” Lisa says.
“And you’ll call me. That way I can get close enough to where we can film them.”
Andrea has prerecorded a voicemail greeting at a phone number she’ll give out to the target, but if the guy hits on Lisa instead, the girls will duck into the bathroom and change it right away. “Sometimes the guy will call before we leave to confirm it’s not a dial-a-prayer,” Andrea says.
“Dial-a-prayer?” Butler bursts out laughing. Then he turns to me, all business again: “Now, if our guy ends up choosing you, what are you going to do?”
Time: Just past seven. Location: Pool hall parking lot. There, parked right in front, is the target’s car. Butler pulls his Camry into a space just out of sight of the entrance and hops out. “Stay here,” he says. “I’m gonna go in there first and see if I can’t find the guy.”
The decoys are calm, but I’m undeniably anxious. Andrea had earlier said she never gets nervous. “To me, you take it on as if you’re doing a role, and that’s it,” she says. “If you’ve been onstage long enough, you know that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Sitting down next to someone and seeing if they’ll ask for my phone number is not a problem.” Lisa, too, is collected. “They aren’t looking for a video camera,” she explains. “Usually they’re gonna be more looking at your boobs than anything else.”
A few minutes later Butler returns with a report: The target is with a friend. “Come with me,” he tells me. “You two, stay here.” I follow Butler behind the row of parked cars directly in front of the bar’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “See them? There in the middle?”
The target looks like Vin Diesel’s country cousin, while his pal is a dead ringer for George Clooney’s kid brother. They’re in jeans and black T-shirts, maybe in their early forties. Suddenly I feel as though we’re in a spotlight. “Are you sure they can’t see us?” I whisper.
“Relax,” Butler says. “They can’t see us from in there. See that empty pool table next to them? Go in there, play a game at that table, get some drinks.” He then explains that because Andrea and Lisa will both be occupied, I’ll have to be the control girl. As soon as our target makes his choice, I’m to phone my “boyfriend” and Butler will bring in the hidden-camera purse that I’ve — oops! — accidentally left at his house.
“Are you cool with that? Holding my hand, acting like we’re together?” he asks. Not really, but I nod anyway.
When Andrea, Lisa, and I walk into the place, every pair of eyes seems to follow us as we cover the fifteen feet to our designated table. Everyone, that is, but the target and his pal. We ignore them, rack up, fetch drinks, and dive into what must be the worst game of pool in history. Some junior-high girls a few tables over gawk at us, giggling.
A server soon brings over three small glasses filled with a pink concoction. Shots. Courtesy of the bartender, she says. “He was hot,” Lisa says aloud, a twinkle in her eye. She and Andrea turn toward the bar and raise their glasses. I see the target and his friend eyeing us. Still, a half-hour later, nothing. Maybe it won’t happen. Lisa whispers that that would be a good thing: What client wouldn’t want to hear that her husband didn’t take the bait? That maybe she’d been wrong?
In some stage-one stings, the client authorizes a decoy to approach the husband, but usually the target has to make the first move. Butler’s decoys also are careful to match the target’s level of flirtation, but never to exceed it. Unless provoked, Andrea won’t ask his name, reach for his hand, or offer a phone number. But almost as soon as the words leave Lisa’s mouth, our man makes his play.
It’s subtle: a smooth “Excuse me” and a coy smirk as he brushes by Andrea. Then, a few minutes later: Mind if I borrow your bridge for a tricky shot? It almost seems scripted, some bad Hollywood cliché. But Butler has said that his clients’ suspicions are usually correct. Hiring a PI, after all, isn’t cheap. Tonight’s sting will likely cost her $500, not counting the GPS installation and the surveillance Butler already has conducted.
Then a short exchange, and would she like a drink? Would we all? Andrea politely declines. By then, she’s removed the flashy yellow jacket, and as she leans over to make a shot, her thin gold-link necklace clicks on the edge of the table.
Lisa and I, playing against Andrea, have yet to sink a shot. As we nurse our drinks, Lisa discreetly shows me a cell-phone photo of her eight-year-old daughter and reveals that every guy she’s ever dated, save one, has cheated on her. In fact, soon after she started working for Butler, she learned that the guy she’d been casually dating for more than two years was married with a kid. The information wasn’t hard to come by — it turned out the young family had a MySpace page.
After an hour, the target and his friend motion toward us while ordering drinks. The waitress heads our way. “They want to buy you a round,” she says. We finally relent, and when the drinks arrive, so do the guys. We introduce ourselves, and Andrea is immediately spirited away to their pool table, leaving me and Lisa with the friend.
Within the first few minutes I finger my wedding band and work the fact that I’m married into our conversation — might as well make it clear right off the bat. He says he’s freshly divorced. We all chat for a few minutes, then Lisa groans. “I just realized I left my purse at my boyfriend’s house,” she announces. “He lives right near here so I’m going to call him and see if he can come bring it by.”
I’m caught off guard by the sudden role-reversal. Lisa has concluded that the friend prefers me, ring and all, and now I’m stuck with him. Lisa goes out to fetch Butler, and they stroll in moments later, hand in hand. She’s carrying her so-called purse. A pager case clipped to the top disguises the tiny camera. “Thanks for ruining our girls’ night!” I say, greeting Butler with mock annoyance.
“Well, if my girlfriend wouldn’t do things like forget her purse …” he replies. He shakes hands with the guys, who promptly forget he’s there.
Lisa sets the handbag on a high bar table next to the guys’ pool table, where we’ve all migrated, and Butler shifts it into position. He couldn’t have asked for a better tripod. “Let’s go get another drink,” I suggest after the friend plants himself right in front of the camera. He orders Red Bull and vodka for himself and his buddy. I request Diet Coke.
Lisa pulls me aside for a restroom break around 9 p.m. and links her arm through mine as we amble off. “Are you okay?” she asks.
Her voice is soft but urgent: “He’s obviously totally into you. Is it too much?” I says I’m fine, and it’s true. I later ask if she felt conspicuous dragging me off to the bathroom. “Girls totally do that,” she says. “That’s the thing — it’s not like I do anything on stings as a control girl that I don’t normally do. I always check in with my girlfriends to make sure they’re comfortable with the attention they’re getting.”
Back at the table, the client’s husband is utterly entranced by Andrea, who manages to keep him on the side of the pool table directly across from the camera. He weaves his hand through hers. Plays with her hair. When Butler and Lisa slip out to pop in a fresh videocassette, the guys don’t even notice they’re gone.
I decide to quiz the target’s buddy. “Is there anything we should know about your friend, considering that it looks like he and Andrea are about to elope?” I ask.
The man doesn’t hesitate. “He’s a great guy. He treats women really well,” he says.
“Is she his type?”
He looks across the table. The client’s husband stands behind Andrea with his arms around her waist. He pulls her close, and she’s acting like she’s having the time of her life. “She’s totally his type,” the friend says. “He hasn’t changed since high school.”
After three hours, Lisa announces that she needs to relieve her babysitter. We skedaddle, but not before the target asks Andrea for her number. She whips out a pen and jots the number on his palm. “Andrea would write it on his forehead if she could,” Butler says later. “That’s just Andrea.”
I say goodbye to the friend, who’s been trying to convince me that human beings are not, by nature, monogamous, and that it’s okay to cheat so long as you don’t tell your spouse about it. “Walk double time!” Butler commands softly as we cross the gravel parking lot, climb into the car, and speed away.
Back at the office, Butler gives us all Breathalyzer tests since we have to drive home. We’re good. I ask how the sting measured up. “He was mild,” Butler replies.
“Some guys can be really assertive,” Andrea says. “Things were pretty mellow with him.” Her voice arches. “Straight out of the gate, he told me, ‘My wife — she’s gone. She’s been gone for six months.'”
“Eventually it came out that she left him,” Andrea says. “Yeah, right. She’s at home!”
“Was he wearing a ring?” Butler asks.
“Not on his ring finger. It was on his third finger,” Andrea says.
I wonder aloud if the filming was really necessary.
“Most women, in my experience, they want that irrefutable proof,” Andrea explains. Butler had said previously that more than 95 percent of his clients confront their spouses prior to seeking his help — most are rebuffed, told they’re wrong, or simply crazy. So the tapes prove to the wife that she isn’t just being paranoid. “Put your feet in her shoes,” Butler had said. “You’re going to divorce him without knowing for sure?”
Each decoy determines her own comfort zone during a sting. Andrea has a no-kiss policy. Lisa, meanwhile, once sat in a guy’s lap at a crowded bar and didn’t flinch when he initiated a full-on makeout session. “If I were the wife,” she says. “I would want to know exactly how far he’s willing to take it.”
We watch a few minutes of the black-and-white sting video.
“So, Kill Bill, huh?” Butler jokes.
“Yeah, I guess it worked!” Andrea says.
Butler will edit this footage and give his client the highlights, blurring out his employees’ faces when necessary. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow and tell her that it went off without a hitch,” he says. “The clincher is going to be if he calls.” He taps his goatee. “We did our job, and I’m thinking he’ll call.”
The guy does call. The very next day. And again a day later. He thinks Andrea was “really cute,” and wants to take her out. Hearing those messages was apparently enough for the client, who doesn’t call Butler again. “We don’t get involved now in the interaction between her and her husband,” he says. “She may give him walking papers. She may confront him. Once a client leaves the office with the video, I don’t know what they’re going to do unless they contact me again. I don’t call them and say, ‘What happened?'”
Butler does advise clients not to reveal that they hired a PI. Author Ruth Houston concurs, particularly for anyone hoping to save the relationship. “If you expose how you found out, the partner is going to be leery,” she says. “You don’t want to reveal everything you’ve learned, but enough for him to know that you’re pretty certain.”
But since there’s no telling what people will do, Butler takes precautions. He protects his decoys’ identities and keeps his office lot under video surveillance 24/7. “My clients can go and post this stuff on the Internet at my-husband-screwed-me-dot-com,” he says. “But the girls know I’m not going to release anything that jeopardizes their identity.” For starters, a vengeful cheat has no way to locate a decoy. The numbers they give out are linked to any of 35 phone lines to which Butler’s agency has access. Nicknames are the norm, and last names are verboten.
Finding Butler is relatively easy. Six husbands have shown up at his current office since he opened it in 2003. Each time, he noted their arrival on his video monitor and contacted the police. He packs a gun in the field — he has a license to carry — but when asked whether he’s ever used it in an infidelity case, he laughs as though it’s a ridiculous notion.
I ask if that was a no.
“No,” he says. “Never.”
To catch a cheat
Midafternoon on a gray-tinged day about a week after the pool hall sting. I’m sitting in Butler’s monstrous black Chrysler SRT8, trying not to panic. Andrea is several miles away, helping him track today’s target. Maria, a 23-year-old Cal grad, is hunched over a laptop in the backseat. Butler recently began training her as an investigator. On her very first day, a call came in from a Spanish speaker who feared his wife was straying. Butler handed Maria the phone. Hours later the man was in the office signing a contract.
Today’s client believes her husband is involved in a long-term affair. Butler won’t admit it, but I’m convinced he’s as freaked out as I am. We’re parked across from a car dealership where the hubby dropped off his ride this morning. Stuck to its underside is one of Butler’s GPS units, and if a mechanic discovers it, all hell could break loose.
It was a sticky case from the start. When the client arrived at his office a few days earlier, she’d been frantic. Follow him, she pleaded, as soon as you can! She explained that they’d just had a fight, after which her husband had announced he was taking off for a few days — to be with “her,” the wife suspected. When Butler told her the cost could run up to a thousand bucks a day, the woman counted out some cash, dashed off a check, and uttered four words every business owner loves to hear: “Money is no object.”
The catch: The wife couldn’t bring his car in, so Butler would have to sneak into their driveway before the husband left and affix a battery-powered GPS device to its undercarriage. That meant he’d have to replace the battery every twelve hours — he’d last done so at five o’clock this morning, and that the signal would be weak due to the transmitter’s placement near lots of metal.
Andrea phones in to report that the target has been with his mistress all day. Now she’s tailing them, she presumes, back to the dealership. She’s right. We watch as the mistress’ car pulls into the lot and the couple vanishes into the showroom. Ten minutes later, they haven’t come out. What’s going on? Fifteen more minutes tick by. Butler is baffled. “Ping it,” he tells Maria. She does. She’s not getting a new location. Five more minutes. “Ping it again.” Still no change.
It’s impossible to know whether the GPS device is still attached to the car. “We’re going over there to take a look,” Butler declares, gunning the engine. He sails across the four-lane boulevard. “Look,” he tells Maria, grimacing. “Shit.”
One hundred feet from the main entrance is a second entrance we couldn’t see before. A wave of frustration flickers across his face. He pulls into a slot next to the mistress’ car and gets out to tour the lot while Maria watches the laptop.
We saunter alongside the building. Neither the couple nor the man’s car is anywhere in sight. We continue around to a back lot where few cars bear sales stickers. “Can I answer any questions for you?” A jovial, balding associate materializes from the service center adjacent to a car wash station. I freeze, convinced we’re busted.
Butler doesn’t miss a beat. “Does every car that comes in for service get a wash?” he asks, his voice light with curiosity.
“You bet! Every one!” the salesman says.
We’re safe. As the guy jabbers on about the dealership’s stellar service, we stroll the length of the garage, and then back to the showroom. “Let’s go,” Butler says as soon as the salesman walks away. We’ve been gone maybe five minutes in all. “The car’s not there,” he tells Maria as he dons his headset and slams the car door. “We looked everywhere.”
“Yep,” she says, watching the screen. “It’s moved. They must have left together in his car.” Thirty minutes later we’re parked a hundred feet from the husband’s car. He and the mistress emerge from a tidy stucco office building, light cigarettes, and before long begin kissing and hugging like lovestruck teens. Butler videotapes the scene through the rear window. We tail them back to the dealership, where the woman hops into her car, and then follow both cars to a department store. “When you follow people, you don’t want to be directly on their bumper,” he instructs Maria during the drive. “If you have the option of driving in another lane, take it.”
Inside the store, Butler and Maria track the couple for more than an hour before heading back to the parking lot to wait. And wait. The satellite radio station provides an apt soundtrack: “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “Love Is a Losing Game,” “Everybody Hurts.”
Just before the husband and his mistress return, Butler dashes across the lot, dives under the target’s car, and retrieves his GPS unit. He’ll replace it before dawn, but he won’t need it until then. The client phoned a few hours back to let Butler know where her husband will be tonight: home, with her. The PI is confident his team has gathered all she needs.
The client views the footage the next day, and soon after phones Butler to report that her husband has confessed to the affair. He’s promised that it’s over, that he’s home for good. Butler instinctively knows what’s coming next.
Follow him tomorrow, she says.