For many years, Gopher Hartman was the go-to guy for any overworked fellow private investigator who needed a gofer. Thus, his nickname, one (or more) might assume. One (or many) would be wrong. Gopher earned his moniker in grudging acknowledgement of his propensity for popping up in unexpected places, at unexpected times, as if from a hole in the ground. Sticking his neck out for a good cause was second nature to him.
Replete with details of his unconventional modus operandi, Gopher’s casefiles were a revelation for anyone lucky enough to visit the inner sanctum of his out-of-the-way office.
A random example.
Gopher was hired to rid a golf course of a flock of pesky waterfowl, notorious for charging the greens in search of food and pecking the tees, wooden or plastic, with a vengeance. He assessed the situation and concluded the guilty parties were birds of a feather, or at least similar enough to be of the same avian family or genus or what have you.
The PI floated a number of possible remedies that did not get off the ground. The country club board of directors declined to stock the water hazards with alligators, piranhas, or the like. They were equally cool to the notion of getting all their ducks in a row prior to enlisting the aid of a sharpshooter known as a one-shot wonder. Without even a hint of irony, considering their location, the board cautioned Gopher not to make a hole in one, let alone in the whole bunch of birds. In other words, he must not reduce the flock with a Glock.
For someone of his mindset, failure was not an option. Briefly, he wondered if this case would be his swan song. Then, he remembered the saying what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Gopher recommended the installation of airport style noise makers—what’s good for runways should be good for fairways—with a mulligan for anyone teeing off, or putting, whenever the devices were sounding. He was let go before learning whether or not his suggestion was adopted.
Either way, for him it was case closed. Gopher filed his notes in a manila folder labeled The Maul-Tees Fowl Kin.
There was no middle ground for Gopher. He tended to see everything as noir or blanc. Speaking in generalities with him was a waste of time for everyone concerned.
Before entrusting him with what I hoped would be a routine delivery of a valuable package, I wanted to make sure he was up to the task. I strove for specificity when I inquired about his health.
“Are you taking your blood pressure medicine?”
“It’s an Ace inhibitor.”
“I have a poker game every night this week.”
“Are you on a winning streak?”
“Maybe skipping a night will improve your luck. Hear me out. At the very least, you can cut your losses. Not only that, you’ll be able to earn some money at the same time.”
“Is it a job you could do yourself?”
His question gave me pause. I feigned indifference the best way I knew how—I shrugged my shoulders. Then, I attempted to validate the contrived message of my body language with an offhand remark.
“I could, but I’d rather not. The errand requires meeting a client, after dark, in a part of town that’s unfamiliar to me.”
“I’ll do it,” Gopher said.
What a relief! I’d never been there, day or night, but I knew the district by its bad reputation. Gopher either didn’t know or didn’t care. I wasn’t about to ask. All I knew was he’d be going where I feared to tread.
In the wee hours of the morning—standing on the crumbling sidewalk near the intersection of a mean street with a dark alley—Gopher Hartman, for perhaps the first time in his life, was unsure which way to turn. His uncharacteristic indecisiveness was cut short when somebody shot out the streetlight. After an additional moment’s hesitation, the PI took an alternate route. Spotlighted by the broad beam of a flashlight, by all appearances, he went into cardiac arrest. He clutched his chest with crabbed fingers and slowly collapsed on the pavement.