After the Christmas rush had started, I’d begun to get a little too used to the sound of people knocking on my office door. Don’t get me wrong, ever since I’d found myself in the strange situation of becoming a consulting detective for the users of a trendy new “gig economy” private detective app who found themselves out of their depth, this had been my most successful Christmas yet.
But, I was getting too used to people knocking on the door.
This was probably why I didn’t recognise the knock until it was too late. That sharp, gunshot-like rapping which portends nothing but trouble. It isn’t the indiscriminate hammering of an angry caller or the soft tapping of a charity collector, it’s the knock of someone who feels that they have every right to frighten you and all the time in the world to do it.
‘Come in, it’s.. open.‘ I said, as a sinking feeling washed through my gut. I had mere seconds to prepare myself.
The door swung open and two men in designer suits walked through. They were mid-thirties, athletic and wearing sunglasses. One of them asked me my name. I considered giving a false one but I had the feeling that they’d probably seen a photo of me before. So, I gave them my real name.
With a sharp intake of breath, the other man said: ‘We understand that you’ve been providing a “consulting detective” service.‘
I shrugged: ‘Are you interested in hiring me?‘
He held up a corporate ID card like it was a police badge: ‘We are shutting your little operation down.‘
‘Huh? There’s no law against helping out the poor souls who signed up to your app.‘ I shrugged again, careful not to show fear.
The man closest to the door reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. Speaking in a robotic monotone, he said: ‘Terms and conditions, section five, subsection thirty-two. Provision of unauthorised ancillary services….‘
I must have zoned out for a few minutes but, when my attention returned to the room, he was still reading. ‘…subject to any action the company deems necessary.‘
The other man spoke softly, like he was trying to be my friend: ‘What this basically means is that you need to stop offering your services to our customers. It..‘ He made a show of trying to control his emotions ‘.. disrupts our ecosystem.‘
‘Or what?‘ I asked.
Robot man stepped in again: ‘You will be in further violation of our terms and conditions. This could result in suspension of your…‘
‘Ah.‘ I grinned ‘I never signed up to them. And, more importantly, I never signed up to your app either.‘
Robot man said ‘Yes, but your clients have. We demand to see a list of all of our users who have used your services. Examples have to be made.‘
I shrugged and tapped my forehead: ‘It’s in here. First rule of a good P.I is to know what not to write down. The second rule of a good P.I is to start recording as soon as someone official knocks on the door.‘
I made a show of reaching under my desk and pulling out a small dictaphone cassette. ‘The papers will no doubt be interested to know about your attempts to access private data about my clients. And, if they aren’t interested, there’s always the internet.‘
The men were speechless. With a smile, I gestured towards the door: ‘But I hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust you can see yourselves out.‘
As they shuffled away sheepishly, I cracked open a new bottle of scotch and poured myself a large measure. Outside my window, the snow continued to fall and the Christmas lights above the high street gently glowed and flickered. I twiddled the blank dictaphone cassette between my fingers before putting it back under the desk. The third rule of a good P.I is, of course, to be a better con artist than the ones who walk through your door.