I had a brief career as an insurance investigator. My excuses for this career choice are: I was nineteen. The job included a company car. A lot of the work was outdoors. It was better than being a non-union hod carrier; that job entailed unloading bundles of rebar from union trucks and hauling the stuff from the curb to the job site where union hod carriers cut the bundles with wire cutters.
Two hundred Toyotas had been stolen from a dock over in Jersey; I mean all at once, not over an extended period of time. My boss gave me the assignment and added, ‘go ahead, take the car.’
He never gave up the car. It was a puke green Ford Fairlane dented in so many places that the body shop wouldn’t work on it anymore. They said it was depressing.
I drove over to Jersey and found the dock. Detectives from Port Newark let me onto the site after laughing at my car, my tie, and my zeal in crime solving. Who coulda done it? They laughed and winked.
The crime scene was deserted, a long expanse of asphalt where the Toyotas graze after being off-loaded for import. A seagull or two lurked on the periphery; I was escorted by two guys who wore enough sharkskin to make you wonder if sharks were an endangered species. They expessed their utter dismay and astonishment at the sudden disappearance of all those cars.
I asked them who was in charge. That’s a lot of cars. They said I should talk to Phil; he was busy doing the Times crossword.
After an hour cooling my heels near the guard shack, even I knew that I was the only person there who didn’t know what had happened. Phil emerged from the guard shack with the stub of a cigar jammed in his mouth; he poked me in the chest and asked, ‘what’s the capital of Portugal?’
They all panicked when I got the camera out of the car. “It’s for the insurance,” I said. The Newark cops called my boss. Then they took my camera away and told me to get lost. One of the cops thought maybe Madrid was the capital of Portugal; Phil studied his crossword. I pulled up in the Fairlane while the sharks went to open the gate.
“Try Lisbon,” I said.
Phil winked. “Hey, thanks, crime fighter. Call me when that check is cut.”