Lying Friends, Crab Rangoons, and Don’t Drink Coffee on a Stake Out

After Scott (Birdsall) hacked into my WordPress account and posted a bunch of  fabrications about my (not) dusty house, my other friends couldn’t wait to get in on the action and make up stories, too.

Especially Jeff.

I’ve known Jeff for about 8 or 9 years now. He’s a Juvenile & Standing Master in the county circuit court. Basically, he’s a judge and hears cases involving juveniles.

Master Jeff begged and begged and made such a nuisance of himself, that I finally caved and agreed to let him be a guest writer on The Blog.  I have no idea what he’s going to write, but from all the sneaky laughter, I’m sure I’ll regret it.

Take it away, Jeff:


When I found out that guests were being offered the opportunity to contribute to the prestigious Dusty Lizard blog I was thrilled.  Ideas began flowing through my mind like a literary Niagara Falls.  In fact, I had so many ideas that it was difficult to choose.  In the end I decided to use this opportunity as a public service.  Many newcomers to Dusty Lizard, and not a few long-term devotees, have asked, “Why is Jackie so fascinated with cameras and so fixated with Li’s Chinese buffet?”  The answers to these and other questions will be revealed in …


Chapter 1

It was a rainy afternoon when they came into my office.  I was leaning back in my chair with my feet on the desk, ignoring a pile of bills and focusing on the sports page.  There were three of them, all in dark suits.  Two sat in my client chairs and one stood by the door.  I put the newspaper down, but not my feet.

“We’re from the National Security Agency, Department of Internal Affairs,” the first suit said.  “We’re hiring you to conduct an investigation for us.”

I noticed it was not a request.

“What if I don’t want to be hired,” I asked with a charming smile.

“We’re going to make it worth your while to agree,” the second suit said, without a charming smile.  The stiff at the door cracked his knuckles and glared at me.

“Assuming you do …,” I began.

“We will,” the second suit said.

“Assuming you do,” I continued, “what am I being hired to investigate?”

“We have reason to believe that an American woman who previously worked at NSA is selling classified information to the Chinese government,” the first suit said.

“So why come to me,” I asked as I put my feet on the floor and swiveled toward them.

“Because she is no longer an NSA employee.  She’s just a private citizen, so we don’t have jurisdiction to investigate her.”

“But isn’t there some other agency that handles that,” I asked.  “CIA?  FBI?  MiB?”

“This is a matter of national security,” the second suit said angrily.  “It’s not a time for jokes.”  More knuckle cracks from the stiff at the door.

I considered my options.  Potential clients weren’t exactly beating down the door.  The secretary I couldn’t pay hadn’t been in for weeks and probably had another job by now.  For the sake of my pride I opened a desk calendar and flipped through it.

“Okay,” I said.  “I should have some free time coming up and, because you boys asked so nicely, I’ll take the case.  What are the facts?”

The file the NSA suits gave me identified the woman as Dusty Lizard.  It was a strange name, but I’ve seen worse.  I once investigated a stork of a man whose last name was Birdtall.  Unfortunate.

Dusty had worked at NSA in some low level gig in the past, but she still had ties to people in the agency.  Now she was trying to live under the radar in a little town in Pennsylvania.  She’d created an elaborate cover as a wife, mother and amateur photographer, but NSA was on to her.

The first red flag was her husband.  He came to NSA’s attention because nobody knew his name.  He was identified only by the code name “Weatherman.”  The second red flag was the camera Dusty carried everywhere.  Dusty was thought by some at NSA to have very superficial social relationships, although others thought that might have been because her ever-present camera scared people away.  The biggest red flag though was Dusty’s frequent trips to a local Chinese buffet called Li’s.  NSA didn’t believe she was going for the food.  Some bean-counter at the agency had calculated that Dusty should weigh 673.24 pounds based on the frequency of her trips to the buffet.  But Dusty’s picture showed a petite woman; suspicious looking, but definitely petite.

NSA’s theory was that Dusty’s co-conspirators at NSA let her photograph documents and that Dusty took the camera to Li’s where she somehow transferred the camera’s memory card to Chinese agents.  Nice theory, but nobody could prove it.  The suits had identified Dusty’s co-conspirators at NSA, but rather than arresting them and tipping off Dusty, NSA was feeding them false documents.  My job was to catch Dusty giving the false documents to the Chinese.

Rule 5 in the Private Detective Procedure Manual is “When in Doubt, Stake Out.”  So, I decided to stake out Li’s.  Most detectives think the key to a good stakeout is the snacks.  I say the key is good fluid intake management.  Sgt. Friday, Columbo, Magnum, Spenser, Mike Hammer – none of those guys ever lost a suspect because they were in the bathroom.

A few days later I was sitting in my car across the street from Li’s, carefully pacing my coffee.  I only had to watch two hours before Dusty, Weatherman and two kids showed up in a nondescript minivan.  Sure enough, Dusty had the camera on a strap around her neck.  I don’t know who Dusty thought she was fooling.  You don’t have to be an NSA suit to question why someone would take a camera to a Chinese buffet.

As I watched Dusty for the first time I considered what I knew about her.  You had to be truly cold and calculating to hide espionage behind two innocent kids and a bunch of tourists in their reproduction Unionand Confederate battle caps.  I would have to be on my game to nab this traitor.

Through the restaurant’s big windows I could see Dusty and Weatherman greet the hostess and follow her to a table.  Along the way they stopped and talked to every server, a cook refilling the lo-mein, and a man who acted like he was the manager.  That was odd because everybody else in the place ignored the staff.  But Dusty seemed to know them all well enough to have a brief conversation with each.  She even snapped a few pictures.  Dusty and Weatherman ate from the buffet, but they ordered French fries for the kids.  Curious.

I had watched for an hour, slowly nursing my coffee, when I saw it.  Dusty and Weatherman had finished their meal.  They collected their kids and belongings and moved toward the exit where they ran into the manager who just happened to be moving toward the door in a seemingly coincidental way.  They all stopped and chatted.  Then Dusty handed her camera to the manager and posed with Weatherman while the manager took a picture.  Or at least he tried to take a picture.  The manager seemed to have trouble with the camera.  Dusty stepped closer to help him.  There could easily have been a transfer between them as their hands fussed over the camera, but I was too far away to be sure.  I was going to have to get a closer look.

To be continued …