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"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."
Seven Days - December 5, 9:38 AM
Seven Days - December 4, 9:20 PM
Seven Days - December 4, 5:31 PM
Seven Days - December 4, 8:35 AM
Seven Days - December 3, 7:55 PM