Stepping From the Shadows

Private eye Max Caulfield's mysterious past includes a stint in the federal Witness Protection Program. After more than a decade of intrigue and paranoia, he's going public.

Caulfield says he has proof the cell phone was his in the first place, but freely admits he failed to pay back money he owed Filauro. Filauro was paid in kind, Caulfield says, in that he "got to go to the 'Max Caulfield How-to-Be-Cool School.' And he didn't even graduate."

Some call it arrogance. Caulfield calls it cool. Caulfield, understand, is always right, even when he's wrong.

Acting in defiance of the state, Caulfield continues to investigate and doesn't care who knows it. He'll get his license back at a hearing in October, he says, after he shows the state once and for all who's right.

And now he wants to be in the light.
He says he's tired of the mystery surrounding his identity, and he's sick of hiding from the Mob. He wants people to know his life story -- the good and the bad. He says he's hit a point of desperation where he just plain doesn't give a damn any more. (And besides, his disclosure might be good for business.)

Max Caulfield is emerging from the shadows.

He was four years old when President Kennedy was killed, and he vividly remembers the first time he saw the footage. As a youth he studied the assassination. Not the conspiracy theories so much as the action. His first hero was Clint Hill, the only agent who actually tried to shield the President from the shots.

The Secret Service, to this kid, wasn't just a federal agency, it was a shining ideal, the pinnacle of life. Protecting not just the Presidents -- they came and went -- but the presidency, which would last as long as the United States exists, was the highest calling.

To be a great protector, one has to know the mind of the assassin and he delved into the criminal mind with a vengeance while he was still getting kicked out of private elementary schools. He knew details about every Chicago mobster by heart. He hasn't stopped studying and has an encyclopedic knowledge of American criminal history. He's fascinated with the borderline personality, with the twisted folk who wind up on the front pages. Get him going, and he'll transport himself into an emotional and dark state where he has strange dialogues with the likes of Squeaky Fromme, Mark David Chapman, Timothy McVeigh.

"I studied the same book he makes you think he studied," he says, referring to an amorphous, collective assassin. "I worked longer and harder to be a bigger crazy than he is."

His mother, Rose Cleveland, remembers her only child as incredibly self-reliant from kindergarten on. His imagination, full of all those criminals and G-men, was fertile. For instance, he wouldn't sit in public unless he could find a place with his back to the wall.

"I used to get so perplexed," she says. "I'm talking to a little kid who is talking like an adult. I would say, 'You're ten years old -- who would want to gun you down?'

"He'd look up and say, 'Well, you never know who your enemies are.'"
Turned out, she was looking at one.
One day, in the family's apartment on the 55th floor of the John Hancock Center in Chicago, Caulfield approached his mother with a "gleam in his eye," she recalls.

"He had me right where he wanted me," she says.
Seems the boy had a tape in his hand that proved Mom was cheating on Dad. Either buy the tape, he told her, or he'd give it to his adoptive father, an attorney for the City of Chicago.

All he had to do was cut the phone cord, attach an alligator clip, and produce an additional line, which he ran to a tape recorder.

"I wasn't real thrilled with him," Cleveland, now age 66, remembers. "I looked upon him as a real little traitor at the time."

The plan backfired when he gave his dad the tape.
"I thought he'd yell at her and that would be the end of it," Caulfield says. "But when I played the tape, all hell broke loose. They got divorced. I didn't mean for that to happen, because at that time you couldn't be a Secret Service agent if you came from a broken home. I thought my life was over."

It was actually a beginning, his unofficial first case as a private investigator.

"I was appalled," his mother says. "He must have had a love-hate thing that kids have for their mothers. When he was young, he was always jealous of any man in my life, though he tried not to show it."

Caulfield clarifies, in his wry way, that it was more like a "hate-love" thing. He resented the fact that she was married so many times. He was five years old the last time he saw his biological father, who his mother says was an alcoholic bus-driver. Don't bring up Freud. Caulfield doesn't like the subject and insists he has no complexes, including the short-man's. (He happens to be five-foot-six, with a barrel chest.)

Caulfield, however, seems always to have been looking for a father. "Daddies come and go," he says, a self-proclaimed idealist dripping with cynicism.

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