By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The louse didn't get any action that first night. Or the next night. But the third night.... There was something off about the third night, the wife had said. Her son-of-a-bitch husband, who dutifully called his sweet little wife every day when he was out of town, had been vague about his plans. She suspected they included heavy petting.
Collins and Kaufman didn't take chances. They rented a hot red Pontiac G6. Not the kind of car that blends in, but one that makes life worth living. Wherever the louse was going, they were going, too, one following behind, the other in front.
At 5:30 p.m., hubby got into his white Corolla and hit the road, hauling ass. Collins and Kaufman were right behind him. When the trailing car got cut off by a red light or a slow truck, the lead car squeezed the brakes and dropped behind the target. The louse exited at Downing Street, headed toward South Pearl. Kaufman's brain started churning. The man liked sushi, and South Pearl, with its romantic gas lamps, was home to one of the best sushi restaurants in town. Sure enough, he pulled up to Sushi Den.
Once inside, he sat down at the crowded bar. The woman who sat down next to him was thirty-something, with frosted brown soccer-mom hair worn in no particular fashion. The same could be said for her black skirt and jacket. She had a wedding ring and a hard exterior. His wedding ring was mysteriously missing.
They sat a respectable distance apart and drank beer. A little later, they left the restaurant, crossed the street and sidled up to the bar at Sushi Den's more dimly lit sister joint, Izakaya Den. They ordered sake. And then more sake. Collins and Kaufman followed them and secured a nearby table with an excellent view. On his shirt, Kaufman wore a tiny camera disguised as a button. He pointed his chest at the increasingly less respectable couple, ordered some pop and waited.
7:43 p.m. The louse's hand is snaked around the soccer mom's chair.
8:01 p.m. They're leaning into each other's faces, smiling sake smiles.
8:03 p.m. They're in each other's faces, kissing sake kisses.
And so it went until they stumbled out onto the sidewalk just before 11.
Listening to Kaufman talk over the years about his work as a lawyer and the ins and outs of successful investigations, Collins came to a conclusion: Kaufman would make a crack detective. He was smart, resourceful and brave, and he knew exactly what to look for.
One day in 2004, as they sat in their back yard, she told him so. Both of their careers were at a lull; his because of his law-license suspension, and hers because Harlequin had closed yet another line.
They decided to go for it, and within six months, they started Highlands Investigations, named for the neighborhood where they live.
Private investigators in Colorado do not need special licenses and are not regulated, though they must follow the law. That means no breaking and entering. No wiretapping. No stealing evidence. No lying to the police or in court.
At first it was hard to find work. Kaufman made fliers and delivered them personally to lawyers he'd worked with, lawyers he'd worked against, lawyers who'd been guests at his first wedding. But many of them knew about his suspension — and about his problems. Only one of them called: Ed Huttner.
The two men had met in law school and become friends. "He was one of the few people who was friendly and welcoming to me," says Huttner, who'd transferred to DU in his third year. "Law school can be dry and boring, and most people there are dry and boring. It's horrific. Shaun was not like that, and neither am I."
Instead, Huttner says, Kaufman was engaging and sharp. He could talk about music or politics or religion.
Huttner and his father own a firm, Huttner and Huttner, that takes all sorts of cases: criminal, domestic, personal injury. Shortly before Kaufman lost his license, he and Huttner had been on opposite sides of a divorce case. Huttner hadn't heard about Kaufman's suspension, but "when Shaun gave me the scoop, I wanted to help," he says.
He gave Kaufman and Collins their first case. A local man had gotten a foreign woman pregnant while on vacation and persuaded her to come back to the United States to have the child. She did, but then promptly disappeared. The father cared very much about the baby and wanted custody. Kaufman and Collins tracked down the mother and child, and Huttner kept hiring them. To this day, they give him a special discount.
"I've never had a complaint," Huttner says.
Slowly, Collins and Kaufman's business grew. So did Kaufman's realization that he didn't want to be addicted anymore. "I didn't want to be some lonely old guy...who just gets fucked up all day long and then he dies," Kaufman says. He remembers the moment when he mustered the courage to stop. It was Super Bowl Sunday 2006. He was in the kitchen, making wings. "I just remember saying, 'Please, God. I want this to be the last day that I'm like this,'" he says. "Everything was falling apart. I couldn't be around people. I couldn't go out because I had to stay home and drink and get high.