Fire and Ice: My Sleuthing Mentors

“I punched him. His teeth hit the wall like Chiclets.” Okay, so maybe my first private investigator boss John Nazarian didn’t pull tough-guy stuff like the fictional line above but he wanted you to believe he did.

The year was 1994. I was 29 and had uplifted everything–job, friends and family–to move from Florida back to Berkeley where I had gone to grad school. The plan was to get on as a reporter at the Chronicle or the San Jose Mercury but those jobs don’t exactly drop from trees. Time was running out. I wasn’t going back to the minor leagues of daily journalism. I started calling private investigators in the Yellow Pages as I was changing careers.

John was a former cop and San Francisco sheriff’s deputy turned private investigator. He gave me stuff he didn’t want to handle, like stakeouts and lame domestic cases. I more or less took to it like a duck to water. I did surveillance in an old baby-shit yellow Dodge Dart I had bought for $500. The car sometimes stalled when I took corners too fast, orI had to start the engine by connecting the battery points with a screwdriver. And yet I persisted.

John had an office on Townsend in San Francisco in an old garment factory that would now be about a block from AT&T Park. Know what I liked about the life? Weird hours, cash, sleaze, intrigue, goofiness, the pressure, excitement, boredom and getting results. Sixteen years later I still dig the gestalt.

I never thought John’s investigative skills were top-notch, and God knows my education combined with report-writing acumen still dwarf him, but you could never compete with John for success or for marketing genius. I tried to learn from him how he handled private clients and from his dealings with attorneys. The one thing you can say about John; he is never cheap. He lavishes gifts on his favorite lawyers and keeps up great contacts with information brokers and other sources.

He is also shrewd about picking the best people to be on his investigative team. He charges around $400 an hour or so but he puts retired L.A.P.D homicide dicks on his cases. He is now pretty much the PI to the Hollywood stars. But he told me that private investigators too often sell their services for cheap. His maxim was always: You get paid to make people’s problems go away.

If John Nazarian was fire, then Glen Maxwell was ice.

Glen came up through the Army, Ohio State University and a background as investigator for a major insurance company. While still getting the 6,000 hours to earn my license, I worked under both John and Glen. Maxwell and Associates handled workers’ compensation and sensitive investigations for such clients as the Oakland Unified School District, Safeway, etc.

Glen also taught me a ton, like how to take a recorded statement. He used to have us dictate our reports. When you prepare reports in this format you learn to shape your thoughts and words with a minimum of clutter. He taught me that all your stutters, ums, “you knows,” etc. can show up in a statement transcript.

Glen was a sharp dresser. He walked into a room and you knew he meant business. I worked for Glen part-time for about two years handling investigations of stress claims and other alleged work-place injuries. He taught me how to be an accurate and fair biller of time and services.

Glen works with his wife Petra. I would drive to their office in Vallejo to turn in reports. They used to have nice, classy Christmas parties for us in places such as Napa. They are good people.

In my practice today I have a foot each in these investigative realms: the straight-forward, more formal cases and mythical stakeouts of sleazy motels and domestic matters.

I can thank my teachers for making me not only a well-rounded investigator but for showing me how to be a solid businessman.