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Bailey and her sons, like the student PIs she teaches twice a week, are learning the trade as they go along. On a Wednesday evening in a classroom lined with surveillance photos from class projects, Bailey holds court over future graduates of City College in Fort Lauderdale, the same tiny community college where she picked up the basic investigative skills that helped launch her PI career five years ago. Students trickle in -- a goateed ruffian with three earrings, a stocky woman with long blond hair, a Latino guy with a shaved head. Midway through a discussion of how to read body language for signs of deception, a knock is heard at the door. A stout young man with curly brown hair strides into the room.
"I sell steak and seafood, chicken and pasta," he says. "Frozen food, its good. I'll bring some in, it'll take two seconds. I've got the truck right outside."
"There's no soliciting here," says Bailey.
The young man leans down, grabs his black backpack and disappears out the door. The students sit in stunned silence.
"Now write down just what you saw," says Bailey.
"He took your purse," says a student in the front row.
The staged robbery is an exercise in observation designed to show the disparity between the reality of a crime and eyewitness accounts. The thief, it turns out, is Bailey's son Jason, who really did sell steak and seafood before joining his mother's company.
Such play-acting comes easy to the woman who once performed at birthday parties as Jazzo the Clown, Bertha Berkowski the Bag Lady (a role she once used as a cover to eavesdrop on a conversation in a public park), or a leather-clad Sadie Marquis. "I knew a lot of rich people then," she says. "They knew me as that goofy lady who would get them on stage at fundraisers wearing a shower curtain and carrying a toilet brush. They couldn't believe it when I became a PI." A few of those people, she says, have since become clients.
But why the change from clown to sleuth? Bailey, sitcom fodder in her own right (PI Mom. "Coming soon to the WB, a clown turned PI helps the downtrodden.") says most of her motivations come from television. At first it was mostly Murder, She Wrote. "I wanted to write mysteries," she says. "I thought I'd take some classes and learn how an investigator thinks." When the investigating bug took hold, Angela Lansbury morphed into Cybill Shepherd. "I'm still waiting to meet my Bruce Willis," she says. And today? "I'm Magnum PMS," she says. "I'm just like Magnum. Did you ever see him get paid?"
Contact Jay Cheshes at his e-mail address: