BY LAURA LIPPMAN
The Accidental Detective
By Laura Lippman
Special to the Beacon-Light
BALTIMORE -Tess Monaghan spends a lot of time thinking about what she calls the relief problem. Not relief to foreign hot spots, although she can become quickly heated on almost any political subject you wish to discuss. No, Monaghan, perhaps Baltimore ’s best-known private investigator, thinks a lot about what we’ll call feminine relief.
“If you’re a guy on surveillance, you have a lot more options,” she says, sitting in her Butchers Hill office on a recent fall morning and flipping through one of the catalogs that cater to the special needs of investigators and private-security firms. Much of this high-tech gadgetry holds little interest for Monaghan, who admits to mild Luddite tendencies. That said, she’s so paranoid about caller ID that she uses two cell phones-one for outgoing calls, one for incoming.
“Do you know that at the racetracks in Delaware, the ones with slot machines, they find dozens of adult diapers in the trash every day?” she asks suddenly. “Think about it. There are people who are so crazed for slots that they wear Depends, lest they have to give up a ‘hot’ machine. Do you think Bill Bennett wore Depends?” Monaghan, who assumes that others can follow her often jumpy train of thought, has moved on to the former secretary of education, reported to have had an almost pathological addiction to slot machines, even as he made millions advocating family values.
“No, no, no,” she decides, not waiting for answers to the questions she has posed. “That’s why he had the machines brought to him in a private room. Slots-what a wussy way to lose money. Give me the track every time. Horse plus human plus variable track conditions equals a highly satisfying form of interactive entertainment. With gambling, that’s the only way to stay sane. You have to think of it as going to a Broadway show in which you have a vested interest in the outcome. Set aside how much you’re willing to lose, the way you might decide how much you’re willing to pay to go to a sporting event. If you go home with a dollar more than you were willing to lose, you’ve won.”
So now that Monaghan has held forth on compulsive gambling, adult diapers, and, by implication, her own relief needs, could she share a few biographical details? The year she was born, for example?
“No,” she says with a breezy grin. “You’re a reporter, right? Look it up at the department of motor vehicles. If you can’t track down something that basic, you’re probably not the right woman for the job.”
Rumor has it that Monaghan loathes the press.
“Rumor,” Monaghan says, “isn’t always wrong.”