I'm a private investigator living in the south. When people learn that about myself, its usually met with a certain amount of interest given that TV has cast private investigators in a very intriguing light. In reality, our lives are usually mundane-- more unremarkable vehicles and peeing in bottles than ferraris and beaches. I haven't seen too many noteworthy or exciting things in my line of work. I've been rushed by a few dogs, harassed by mentally unstable people, and busted plenty of times by an intended subject. But all in all, its steady, boring work.

But I do have one story that, for fear of sounding sensational, changed my life.

It was January, a month that falls into what myself and my partners know is the dregs of the slow season. So when I got the call to work a fairly easy assignment about an hour and half away from my home, I was pleased to have it.

The assignment was just that-- scraps. A jiped and angry car lot owner who'd spent too much patience attempting to locate a woman who he believed had skipped town in a less than paid off SUV. "Shes got to be in that area. That's where the GPS last hit before it died" I was told. It wasn't scandalous, high profile work, but I was happy to have it. The snow began to lightly fall as I loaded up my equipment bag into my car. Stocked with spare camera batteries, snacks, and the like.

I kissed my husband goodbye, zipped up my jacket, and plugged in a random address that fell within the last known lat/long coordinates the client had provided from the last ping on the car's GPS. After nearly two hours of sipping coffee and half heartedly dialing my radio back and forth, the channels crackled weakly as I drove further and further away from modern civilization and into the sprawling pastures of the rural back country. Finally, I found myself within the target area. Houses slowly became fewer and farther apart as I approached a long stretch of road. The roadway looked gloomy in the haze of the afternoon winter, its length dipped and craned painfully on for what seemed like miles through farm land. I knew as I proceeded down it slowly that it would be a difficult area to set up on.
I observed the sides of the road, devoid of any shoulder and yielding abruptly from pavement to mucky, snow soaked ditches. I quickly dismissed the idea of pulling off into the grass when I checked my phone and saw I had no signal. This would be a bad area to get stuck in with no reception, given that I'd seen no houses for miles and the snow only fell heavier by the hour.
Turning around carefully, I drove back towards where I'd come from until a single, faint bar appeared in the corner of my cellphone screen. Using the weak signal, I consulted my map and deduced that the long desolate road I had come from connected two main highways and I guessed that the SUV I was looking for was sure to be using it as a through-way. Satisfied but not convinced, I said goodbye to the idea of mindlessly browsing Facebook all evening, and headed back to the area.

The sleet sloshed beneath my tires as slowed down outside of a small ranch style home a little ways off the road at the end of a gravel drive. The house was somber, but looked charming with fresh snow settling on it's worn roof.

As I approached the house, the boards of the porch stoop moaning under my boots. I knocked carefully and smiled immediately so as to appear non threatening to whomever answered the door. The latch on the other side of the door fell, and shortly after, the door opened. To my surprise, instead of being hit with the contasting warm air of a home, I was enveloped by a musty cool draft that seemed to belch up from deep inside the house. Inside the doorway stood a man I guaged to be in his 80s. His eyes were brown and sad, and his face appeared weathered, his wrinkles set deep into his face as if he'd been carved out of the red clay soil that rested just inches below the snow outside. Even though he did not stand taller than myself, he still seemed to look down on me, his broad frame occupying most of the doorway.

I smiled bigger, as if to prompt his own sober countenance to do so, but it did not. Awkwardly, I spoke.

"I hate to bother you, but I've come all this way to look for a car I believe is in the area, and I was wondering if you'd be okay with me sitting at the end off your driveway for a little while to keep a lookout," I'd almost made an art out of playing up my innocent woman status for my own advantage, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't what I was doing in this moment.
He did not immediately answer. He looked at me, studying me, his face never warming and only serving to wear me down with silence. For a moment, I felt my damsel facade had finally fallen on unwilling ears, and I prepared myself for swift denial. But he just stood there, and that's when I took note of his clothing. A plaid shirt tucked into tan slacks ended in slick, black dress shoes. Hardly what I'd expect a gentleman of his age to be wearing in this weather, especially since his home didn't seem to be much warmer than the air outside of it. He clinched a blue, wooden pipe between his teeth, chewing the tip thoughtfully.
He looked terribly faint, almost jaundice, as if my palm might pass right through him if I offered him my hand to shake.

Just at that moment, he seemed satisfied with how long he'd studied me and, maybe having decided I wasn't a threat or trouble, he looked past me to my car, back down to me, and nodded his head in approval. I thanked him and was eager to retreat back to my warm car.

Crunching snow and gravel beneath my tires, I caught one last look of his door shutting before I found an unimposing spot near the end of the driveway and began my surveillance.

As a woman in this line of work, I have come to be aware of my environment. It's not my nature, and only came out of habit. Often looking into my rear and side view mirrors to check my surroundings, I took note of the man's house. It was dark. Even as the sun began to set, and darkness creeped into the valley, I never noticed any interior lights in the home. I suspected he may be entirely frugal, keeping as few lights on as possible. That also explained why his home was so cold... I smirked, remembering how my own father would keep a watchful eye on the thermostat so as not to prevent us kids who refused to put sweaters on from tinkering with the dial. Having seen only two sedans in the hours since I'd arrived, I finally phoned it in and began my trek home.

The next week passed by and I once again loaded up my car for another assignment about an hour north of the man's home. I couldn't shake how sad he looked, and wondered whether or not he had anyone to care about him, his absent demeanor and sad, far away eyes still occupied my mind every now and then. I scratched out a "Thank You" note, bought a box of cookies, and decided I'd leave a little earlier so I could stop by and deliver them to him. I felt compelled to show my appreciation for him letting me, a complete stranger, take refuge on his property to do some scummy repo spotting work.

By this time, the snow had melted, and the roads were far more formidable, albeit cold and damp. I made the familiar turn off the lonely stretch of road and slowly crunched down the driveway. To my surprise, I noted a new car parked near the home as well as two utility trucks. A woman stood outside speaking with a man who donned tool belt and boots, making it easy to surmise his occupation. The woman motioned toward the house, speaking with her hands, and a worker appeared to consider whatever it was she was saying.

She looked on at me, trying to place who I was as I stepped out. Calling out a greeting, I approached, with the letter and cookies tucked under my arm.
I explained who I was, and how I was just wanted to say thank you to the man that lived there for his generosity, explaining that I would not have been able to do my job if not for him.

I felt a twinge of embarrassment when I realized that I'd never gotten the man's name. This woman studied me with the same eyes as the old man had, only hers seemed livelier and more skeptical.
She told me, in an almost accusatory tone, that nobody should have been there, and that she had only just come up from the north to begin renovating the home to sell. She looked on to the contractors with slight annoyance, to which they both denied being responsible without actually being asked any questions.
She looked back to me and explained that her father built the home in 1942 and lived there up until his death four years ago, leaving the house unoccupied since.

She felt completely violated that someone had had been squatting in her childhood home. I apologized out of sympathy while stifling my own fear and bewilderment that I may have been speaking to a crazy man who was eyeing me, possibly deciding whether or not to... do... god knows what.
She seemed reluctant to go on, so I offered up some feigned interest in her home's history in an effort to help her regain some of the autonomy she seemed to lose in light of finding out about the break in.
She walked me around the perimeter, telling me about an old sand pit she played in as a child and how she planned on making it into a garden. She continued through the "tour", explaining how she planned to repurpose and restore certain things. The memories seemed to warm her from the inside out, as if I began to disappear while she reminisced.
I opened up the box of cookies and offered them to her as I got one out and bit it. I laughed as I offered her one, "here, ol' crazy doesn't deserve these." She forced a half- genuine laugh and took a cookie. She then reached into her back Jean's pocket and pulled out an iPhone. Switching to the gallery, she opened an album of photos she had taken of old Polaroid pictures of the home in its former glory. She swiped as she explained each and pointed out their original locations. A photo of her as a child, sitting in her sand pit with an old family dog named Ba-Ba. A large knock out rose bush that had stood near the entrance years ago, had been her mother's pride and joy, and she'd spend hours each week pampering it. She swiped through more photos-- an old pick up truck, her mother holding her infant brother on the stoop that had previously moaned under my boots, a chicken coop surrounded by heritage chickens, and finally, a photo of her father-- a broad, weathered man clutching a pipe in his teeth and grinning at the camera, wearing a plaid shirt, tucked into tan pants, ending in slick black dress shoes.
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Wow that is cool 
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