Detective Story #2 — Billing Practices

“How much do you charge?” He asked.

I reached into my purse—it was hanging from the back of my wooden chair—and took out my smartphone. I tapped in my code, then tapped the small icon that looked like a old-fashioned taxi meter with a magnifying glass for a lever. I set the phone on the desk between us and rotated the screen so we could both see the ledger with two buttons, one red and one green.

“I charge by the minute. Whenever I am working on your case I tap the green button, when I stop working on your case I tap the red button.”
“That sounds expensive.”
“It’s like this,” I explained, “If I’m doing surveillance on your case—tailing a suspect, for instance—I tap the green button. If they go shopping and I follow them inside I will do my own shopping and tap the red button while I do. Then when I check out at the register, I tap the green button again. Let’s say I stake out a suspect’s apartment. I will bring a book and read. I don’t hit the green button until they do something that is potentially germane to the investigation. As much a possible I try to use the down time inherent in detective work to perform personal tasks that I would otherwise do on my own time. When I’m doing surveillance I also eat, catch up on my correspondence, take care of my nails, watch my favorite shows, read books, and so on.”
“Okay. . .”
“By the same token, if I’m eating dinner with a friend and he or she goes to the bathroom and I think about your case—not idle thoughts but productive ones—I tap the green button until my friend returns or I stop thinking about your case. Every minute of actual time I spend on your case is logged and, when possible, itemized. Other detectives charge you for sitting in the car for five hours eating salted peanuts while they watch a client’s wife watch TV for three hours. Some even charge for the peanuts. I charge only for the time and any direct expenses I would not otherwise have incurred.”
“What sort of expenses? What do you mean: ‘not otherwise have incurred’?”
“Suppose I’m following someone and they go to a movie. If it’s a movie I want to see, I tap the red button. Otherwise: green button. Or let’s say they go to a museum—if they go to a museum I’ve been intending to visit, I won’t charge for the admission fee and I won’t charge for any of the minutes I am inside until I am forced to pay attention only to the person I am surveilling. Or until circumstances change. For instance, if they go into a Special Exhibit I’m not interested in I will charge you for that entrance fee as well as for the time I spend in the special exhibit.”
“It sounds pretty subjective to me.”
I shrugged, “It is.”
“Do you typically charge less than other detectives?”
“I have no idea. My billing method isn’t a promotional gimmick and I’m not telling you about it in order to make a sale. This is just the way of charging for my services that makes the most sense to me.” I paused then added: “I can’t say for sure but I would guess that my rates are usually in line with what other detectives charge but occasionally much cheaper—some cases line up very well with my own routine.”
“It sounds fine,” he said and waved of his hand distractedly. Then he said, “I’m curious, though: what do you mean about some cases lining up with your routine?”
“I’ll give you an example: I was on a case two years ago that required I chase a suspect—he attempted to commit a crime while I was tailing him and I had no choice but to intervene. He fled and I chased him through a hilly park for nearly twenty minutes before I was able to apprehend him.”
“And you counted that as exercise.”
“Exactly. I run three days a week for twenty or thirty minutes. I tapped the green button when I finally caught up with him and made a citizen’s arrest.”