"I wanted to be able to get enjoyment from doing everyday things again."

He didn't drink a drop the next day. Or the next. Instead, he stayed in bed, violently puking into an orange five-gallon bucket as his system went through drug and alcohol withdrawal. He was sick for days. After drying out, Kaufman went to his first Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Kaufman had been good at hiding his problem, and Collins hadn't realized the extent of it until after he'd moved in with her. When he used, she says, "Shaun was a different person. He was a wonderful person, but also a different person.

Stop - or Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins will shoot.
Anthony Camera
Stop - or Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins will shoot.
The couple's book, How to Write a Dick is only available online.
Anthony Camera
The couple's book, How to Write a Dick is only available online.

"None of us can change another person. They have to really want to change. And there came a day when Shaun wanted to change." After he went to the NA meeting, she says, "was when I realized things were changing in the house in a really great way."

A few weeks after that meeting, Kaufman, once an avid runner, took Buddha for a jog. He only lasted a mile and a half, but, he says, "It was the best run I've ever had. I mean, it was like the onion started to peel back, and it was layer after layer of good stuff."

Dan Gerash, Walter's son and a trial attorney in his own right, had also received Collins and Kaufman's flier. He was skeptical at first. "I wanted to make sure I was comfortable and knew that Shaun was getting his head together," he says. "So I started hiring him on very small things, and he did a great job." As Gerash hired him for bigger and bigger jobs, Kaufman continued to deliver. In one case, he located some reluctant witnesses in a gang-related stabbing that helped convince the DA to drop the charges against Gerash's client. "This kid went from twenty to 64 years in prison to zero," Gerash says. "I attribute a big part of that to Shaun's perseverance."

Having left the Japanese restaurant, the louse and his date continued sucking face. They were pretty shameless about it, too, right there in the street, under the gas lamps. Oblivious. So oblivious they didn't notice the short, stout man with the spiky gray hair and video camera who'd been following them all night, waiting for this exact moment.

After a while, the illicit lovers untangled themselves. The woman headed to her SUV, parked on the street. The louse followed. He climbed in. He leaned back. Her head sunk lower, then disappeared.

Collins and Kaufman retrieved one of their cars and began circling the block, peering inside the SUV each time they passed. On the third go-around, Kaufman rode the brakes until the car was crawling. Collins leaned out the passenger window, holding a different camera. She pointed it at the SUV's tinted window. Suddenly, the louse looked up. His eyes met Collins. She triggered the shutter.

Collins's romance-writer friends were intrigued by her new line of work. Every now and again, Collins, whom they call "CoCo," would e-mail them a wild story about a thirteen-hour surveillance in a crack neighborhood or a tale about how she and Kaufman were hired to find a man's four lost Norwegian elkhounds. (They were at a park.)

"Everybody wanted to be CoCo, because she seemed to lead this glamorous life where she'd go on stakeouts and sit in dark corners waiting for this nefarious person to come by, and then she'd take a picture with a cigarette lighter," says Vicki Lewis Thompson, whose Nerd in Shining Armor landed on the New York Times bestseller list.

Private eyes, both heroic and villainous, have long been a staple of romance novels, and soon, Collins's friends started asking for help. How would a private eye go about installing a bug in an heiress's hotel room? (Most wouldn't. It's illegal.) Is it legal for a P.I. to hack into a crooked businessman's computer? (No.) Is it believable for my tall, dark and handsome detective to follow my blond, blue-eyed reporter through three states as she flees the mob bosses on whom she's writing an exposé? (Not without a miracle.)

The questions led to invitations for Collins and Kaufman to speak at writers' conferences about what it's like to be a private dick. Donnell Ann Bell, a Colorado Springs author who has written five romantic suspense novels, attended one of their workshops. "They'll tell you what you're doing wrong, what you're doing that a private investigator would never do," Bell says. "It's like, 'That's not going to work out for my plot!' But then they'll give you a solution."

Mario Acevedo, a Denver author whose protagonist, Felix Gomex, is a soldier-turned-vampire-turned-private-detective, has also heard them speak. "It's good to hear it from somebody who does it for real instead of the TV stereotypes," he says. Readers, Acevedo says, love to catch an author's mistakes — and Collins and Kaufman have helped him make fewer. "They'll buy the fact that the guy is a vampire," he says of readers, "but I'll have one little [mistake] and they'll say, 'You can't do that! That's not true!'"

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