The man across the table from me scratches his temple and tugs at a tie that’s already loose around his neck. He bites the inside of his mouth, chews his lip and glances towards the window.
‘Careers . . .’ he muses. ‘Sorry, why did you want to talk to me?’
‘You’re a private investigator,’ I reply.
He shrugs slightly, more like he’s admitting something he’d rather keep hidden.
‘Are you embarrassed by it?’ I add.
‘No, no . . .’
It’s here that the interview takes an odd turn. We’re in a cafe close to Manchester’s Aquatics Centre, in the university area of the city. It’s very new Manchester. Tall ceilings, large glass windows, a menu written predominantly in Italian. The smell of espresso fills the air. If it wasn’t for the gloomy skies, we could be in Rome.
I’m here to speak to Andrew Hunter, to ask him about what life is like as a private investigator in the city. Is it a viable career path for someone to take?
Andrew is a tallish, fair-haired man who somehow seems shorter than he is. When he shakes my hand, there’s a fraction of a second where he squeezes too hard before catching himself. I get the sense this is what life’s like for him. A beta male in a potential alpha’s body.
It’s not Andrew who causes the interview to take an odd turn, however. There’s a young woman on the table next to us whom I hadn’t particularly noticed.
‘He is,’ she interrupts.
We both turn to face her. She’s pretty with a rounded face, long dark hair and a straight fringe.
And that voice.
She’s so northern, so Mancunian, that it takes me a second or two to clock what she’s said. The Manchester accent is a beautiful thing. Drawn-out vowels, the punchy ‘G’ at the end of a word ending in ‘ing’. But if that ‘G’ sounds punchy among the locals, this young woman delivers it like a knockout blow.
‘Sorry?’ I reply.
‘Not now,’ Andrew adds.
The young woman shuffles across the gap, offering her hand to me. ‘Lucy, isn’t it?’ she says. ‘I’m Jenny.’
Except she doesn’t say it like that, of course. It’s Jenn-eh.
‘Hi,’ I reply, shaking her hand, confused.
‘I’m his assistant,’ she says. ‘Well, I say “assistant”. I do all the computery stuff and I get the biscuits in. You can’t go private investigating on an empty stomach.’ She elbows Andrew playfully. There’s a good decade between them in age – she’s twenty-something and he’s in his thirties – and yet it’s brother-sister stuff. For a moment, I wonder if they are related.
‘And don’t pretend you’re not embarrassed by it,’ she says, turning back to me. ‘He pretends he’s not but he is.’
‘I, um . . .’ Andrew squirms on his seat as Jenny squeaks her chair across the gap and joins our table.
‘You shouldn’t be embarrassed by it,’ she says, talking to Andrew and then back to me. ‘He helps people.’
Andrew is biting the inside of his mouth again, wanting the ground to swallow him up.
‘Sorry,’ he says, offering me a watery smile. I’m not sure if he’s apologising for himself or Jenny.
‘How do you help people?’ I ask.
Andrew glances to Jenny and there’s a moment where we both wonder if she’s going to answer for him.
Not this time.
‘I suppose there are things where the police can only do so much,’ he says. ‘They’re under-staffed – cuts and all that. I guess that’s where we come in.’
‘Like Batman,’ Jenny says.
‘Not like Batman,’ he replies.
‘A bit like Batman,’ she grins.
‘Nothing like Batman,’ he concludes.
They eye each other and I can’t do anything other than laugh. I can picture them in an office somewhere, bickering back and forth like a pair of pensioners in a retirement home.
‘I’d make a good Robin,’ Jenny says, turning back to me. She’s grinning like a naughty schoolgirl and it’s infectious. Before I know it, I’m grinning as well.
‘This might sound like an odd question,’ I say, trying to compose myself somewhat, ‘but what does a private investigator actually investigate?’
Andrew glances at Jenny but she says nothing.
‘All sorts,’ he says. ‘Sometimes it’s due diligence, like checking someone’s finances on behalf of a company who wants to hire that person. We might try to find stolen goods that the police haven’t managed to trace, or perhaps someone’s gone missing . . .’
He tails off, bites his lip.
‘Have you ever found someone who went missing?’ I ask.
Andrew and Jenny share a look that’s only for them.
‘That’s the thing,’ Jenny says, ‘when the police do something good, everyone knows about it. They discover a killer, or a thief. They find some kid that’s gone missing. It’s all in-your-face, out in the open. When we do things, it’s quieter. It’s only really the families who know.’
There’s a moment or two for me to take that in. I’d never thought of things like that, of quiet heroes working unacknowledged in the shadows. I’d thought of noir movies, with grizzled PIs smoking packs of cigarettes in cars during overnight stakeouts. I suddenly feel chastened for my lack of knowledge.
‘I assumed it was all finding cheating spouses,’ I say.
Andrew shrugs again. He does that a lot. ‘I turn down that sort of thing,’ he says.
‘Isn’t there money in that?’ I ask.
‘It’s not all about money, is it? I suppose this job is like any job. You want to be fulfilled. Following around husbands or wives all day doesn’t really do it for me.’
There’s a short silence between us.
‘It’s because he’s Batman,’ Jenny says.
‘I’m not Batman,’ Andrew replies, far louder than I think he intended. I can’t work out if he’s faking annoyance, or actually annoyed. He’s spoken so loudly that the cafe has stopped and everyone’s turned to look at us. A dozen or so students twisting towards a thirty-something man loudly declaring that he isn’t Batman.
Jenny laughs, waiting until everyone’s attention has returned to their macchiatos and biscottis. ‘Ask him about the Bat-Cave,’ she says.
Andrew sighs and runs a hand through his hair. ‘Wasn’t this interview supposed to be about careers?’ he says.
‘It is,’ Jenny replies, then nods to me. ‘Tell your readers that being a private investigator is a bit like being Batman.’
‘Don’t write that,’ Andrew says.
‘What is it like?’ I ask.
Andrew presses back in his chair. He seems exhausted simply by having Jenny around and yet there’s affection there. It’s clear in the way they look at each other, finish each other’s sentences. I wonder how long they’ve worked together but don’t ask.
‘I suppose it’s what you want it to be,’ Andrew replies. ‘If you want to follow around husbands and wives to see if they’re cheating, that’s the job it is.’
‘What is it to you?’ I press.
He bites his lip and swallows. Despite her youth, Jenny is gazing at him with a mother’s pride. ‘It’s about helping others,’ he says. ‘Making things better, I suppose.’
Jenny nods acceptingly. This is what drives the pair of them.
There’s a pause and an understanding between us. I knew before we met that Andrew couldn’t talk of specifics – confidentiality and all that – but I sense there’s something different about the way he does business. I’d love to ask about his cases, about the people he helps, but it’s probably apt that Jenny gets the final word. I suspect she gets a lot of final words.
‘And the Batmobile,’ she says. ‘He gets to drive the Batmobile.’
If you enjoyed Lucy’s interview with Andrew Hunter then don’t forget to read Lucy’s interview with Jessica Daniel here.