Shaun Kaufman turns his 1996 sky-blue Toyota Corolla into a neighborhood in Englewood full of older houses. The one he's looking for has a stone facade and a patchy lawn. Wind chimes dangle from the underside of the low roof. Wasps buzz around the wind chimes. Kaufman, half of the husband-and-wife detective team profiled in this week's cover story, "The Plot Thickens," is here to serve a lawsuit.
Process service is one of the least glamorous parts of the job, which also includes conducting surveillance on cheating spouses, interviewing witnesses in criminal cases and finding lost loved ones. Today, Kaufman is wearing cargo shorts, a Grateful Dead t-shirt and Velcro-strap sandals. He's in his fifties and sports spiky gray hair. A former defense attorney, he's not easily intimidated. His appearance also isn't very intimidating. His wife, Colleen Collins, often refers to him as "a nice Jewish boy."
Kaufman parks in front of the house and cuts the engine. He grabs a white envelope, checks its contents to make sure it's the right one, then exits the car and starts up the walkway toward the front door. It's not very inviting. On it, someone has taped a sign handwritten in bold, black marker: No Solicitors.
Kaufman takes note of the cars in the driveway and then rings the doorbell. The curtain covering the big picture window to his left flutters. But no one opens the door. A minute passes. He rings the doorbell again. Still nothing. Another minute passes. Then another.
Just as the wait is about to cross the line from uncomfortable to unbearable, the inside door swings open. A burly man stands in the doorway, separated from Kaufman by the screen on the outside door. He's wearing a Harley-Davidson t-shirt and a long necklace with some sort of symbol on the end. He has a goatee and little hair.
The lawsuit is for a young woman who'd been involved in a car accident. The other driver is seeking damages because he claims it was her fault. Kaufman has information that the woman lives here with her mother. He asks if either of them are home.
"No," the burly man says. "But I'm Billy, the husband and father."
Billy opens the screen door and Kaufman hands him the envelope. "These papers are for your daughter," he says. "I'm here to serve them. She needs to contact her insurance company right away."
Billy rips open the envelope and studies the papers for a long minute. "Which accident is this?" he asks. "We've already contacted Geico about two accidents."
Kaufman explains that it was a rear-end collision. The date of the accident is on the paperwork, he says. He cranes his neck to read it: June 2010, he says.
Billy is agitated. "A year ago?" he says. "You can't serve me if it was a year ago!"
Actually, he can.
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Billy jerks the screen door open and flicks his wrist. The papers flutter to the ground and come rest on top of a conch shell, which has been artfully placed in a patch of dirt next to the front steps. The wasps start buzzing faster. Billy slams the door.
Kaufman walks briskly back to his car. On the drive home, he calls Collins to report how it went. "This was a recipe for a refused service," he says. "He had a Harley T-shirt and a goatee and his name was Billy." But for Kaufman, it's all in a day's work.
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