Precisely at 7:16 a.m. (I glanced at my watch, because I had not expected him till 7:30), Trecost rapped sharply at the door of my motel room. I had heard much about him at headquarters in New York. In his very first year with the agency, 1958, he had cracked the Dowdy murder case, in which one J. D. Dowdy, insured for $80,000, had dynamited a male companion to bits, intending that the police and the insurance company mistake the pieces for himself and pay the death claim to his father. Trecost, alert to a plot, had tracked down the identity of the victim and then had obtained one of the poor man's shoes from his landlady. It matched perfectly, right down to the impressions made in the inner sole by calluses, with a foot in the morgue. Throughout the agency Trecost became known as "a hound for details." Now he was head man of the entire Southwest district.
I was ready for him when he stepped across the threshold, a dapper, thickly built man of dark Roman looks, graying at the temples. I had shaved closely and put on my uniform, pleased with the fit. Although there was no call for formality, I instinctively drew to attention as Trecost approached. He frowned at the sight of my brown and oxblood saddle shoes—he would have preferred a simple black pair to suit my powder-blue uniform—but he stepped forward to pin me with a badge.
Suddenly he hesitated.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
October 1, 1967
"The pin," he said. "I can't get the damn pin out of the catch. It's stuck."
He struggled with the pin for fully five minutes, his shoulders hunched, his brow furrowed and beginning to glisten from the effort. Finally the pin sprang loose. Trecost slipped it through my shirt, and then, still gripping the badge with both hands, he paused again. "What's the matter now?" I asked.
"The pin won't go back into the catch."
For several more minutes Trecost fought the pin. "I don't want to stab you," he said, trying to be patient. The possibility had occurred to me. I was conscious of having grown slightly cockeyed looking anxiously down the tip of my nose.
"There we are!" Trecost exclaimed at last, snapping the pin shut. He stepped back to look me over: Pinkerton guard No. 26250, ready for duty at the $100,000 Memphis Open golf tournament.
To tell the truth, at 5'5" and a somewhat paunchy 142 pounds, I did not feel entirely confident of my ability to protect Jack Nicklaus from troublemakers in the gallery. In fact, I felt like asking Trecost if I could just go away and drive a bus on Fifth Avenue. But I reminded myself that the uniform I wore embodied 117 years of service on the side of law and order. Wearing the Pinkerton badge, men had pursued outlaws across the badlands of the Old West; they had trailed bank robbers from New York to the jungles of Central America; they had spied behind Confederate lines for Lincoln. I squared my shoulders and climbed into Trecost's sedan. He flipped the ignition switch. The motor coughed, then died. On the third try it came to life, and we sped off to the Colonial Country Club to see what we could do for Nicklaus and the others.
The New York office building, from which point orders had gone out to Trecost to attach me to the Memphis Open detail, is nameless. Standing in the lower Manhattan financial district, it is numbered 100 Church Street, and on its 17th floor one steps off the elevator into a world that recalls cuspidors and boiled collars. Here, along walls of institutional green, lie the executive offices of Pinker-ton's, Inc., the nation's leading private detective and security agency, in business since 1850. We shall return to Trecost and Memphis in due time, but for now, that city is but one pin on a map at 100 Church Street.
On the 17th floor of the building, an impression of gravity hangs in the air. Along the wall of the main corridor, photographs of the deceased leaders of the Pinkerton dynasty—Founder Allan Pinkerton, his sons William and Robert and Robert's son Allan II—are arrayed in dark wooden frames, forming a forest of whiskers, great mustaches and muttonchop sideburns. Their eyes gaze down suspiciously upon passersby. Nearby, post-office photos of oldtime desperadoes nabbed by the Pinkertons also garnish the wall, thickening the prevailing flavor of nostalgia for a day when men rode tall in the saddle.
"Good morning, Mr. Brackley," says an executive passing a colleague in the corridor. The two men may have worked years together, but they cannot escape (nor would they want to) the propriety that always has placed the Pinkerton beyond suspicion. "Good morning, Mr. Boyce," says Mr. Brackley.
The atmosphere on the 17th floor is a world away from noisy stadiums and sweaty locker rooms, yet more than $2 million of the firm's $71 million-a-year business comes from policing the sports industry. It comes from baseball and football clubs, college athletic departments, racetracks, golf tournaments and a variety of other enterprises that are interested in protecting their patrons from belligerent drunks, their turnstiles from gate-crashers and their athletes from the temptations of wine, women and fixers. The athlete who genially autographs a nightclub menu for a stranger may wish he hadn't. Little does he suspect that he has just presented a Pinkerton with a piece of documentation to attach to a report fixing the time and place of his curfew infraction. "Do you know what I think?" Babe Ruth once said in jest to a teammate. "I think this goddam little jockey we been partying with all night is really a Pinkerton." And, of course, he was.
The term "private eye" actually derived from a trademark the Pinkertons employed for many years—a drawing of a wide-awake eye, under which were the words, "We Never Sleep." Yet it is a mistake to think of the Pinkertons in terms of the two stereotypes that are popularly attached to private eyes. In the first, they cause gorgeous blondes to swoon. In the second stereotype, they are beefy, vulgar men making their living out of shabby one-room offices, tracking down evidence of adultery. The fact is that, although marital difficulties provide the private-detective industry with its most dependable source of revenue, the Pinkertons will not touch an adultery case. "We just don't like that type of work," says Robert A. Pinkerton II, the fourth-generation head of the company. "It's unpleasant. It's dirty."
Oddly enough, the Pinkertons came to be included in American history texts largely because of exceedingly unpleasant and dirty steel riots at Homestead, Pa. in 1892. Working for the industry barons, the Pinkerton guards were accused of firing wantonly upon strikers and bystanders. Still blanching from that accusation, the Pinkertons to this day will have no part of a labor dispute, and surely it is difficult to imagine Robert Pinkerton II ordering his men to the support of any questionable cause. A wispy, nattily attired man of 62 with straight black patent-leather hair, he possesses a courtly manner that suggests Adolphe Menjou playing a hospitable hotel manager. He is the last of the Pinkerton males, and the fact that he exists at all comes as an agreeable surprise to strangers who meet him. For some reason the general public seems to think that all the men of the Pinkerton dynasty are dead and that the name has been perpetuated as a corporate identity. Gently amused, Robert Pinkerton says: "People say to me, 'Well, if you are Mr. Pinkerton, where are your whiskers?' I had a young friend attending the Lawrenceville School who opened his big mouth in a history class and said he knew Mr. Pinkerton, at which the instructor took strong exception. He accused the boy of boasting about something that could not be true. In order to restore the lad to good standing, I had to write the instructor a letter saying I was alive."
A deskbound executive, Robert Pinkerton makes no pretense of ever having engaged in cloak-and-dagger adventures, but his ancestors enjoyed getting out into the field and grappling with outlaws who preyed upon their clients. His great-grandfather, Allan Pinkerton, a large-nosed Scottish immigrant who started up the agency after quitting his job as a detective on the Chicago police force, personally rode shotgun on stagecoaches. He led the capture of the notorious train robber Frank Reno.
Clear into the 1930s the Pinkertons operated as an unofficial arm of American law-enforcement machinery. District attorneys, not staffed as they are today with batteries of investigators, looked to the Pinkertons to wrap up their murder cases. Times are changed, however; the firm's security service displaced its gumshoes as the profit leader, and the company diversified into the marketing of burglar alarms. In 1965 Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, Inc. became simply Pinkerton's, Inc. Nevertheless, the Pinkertons still take pride in their ability to hard-nose their way through a case until a solution is reached. Post nubila sol—after the clouds, the sun—trumpets the calling card of a Pinkerton agent.
In the world of sports, Pinkertons have been policing horse tracks for three-quarters of a century, but it was baseball's Black Sox scandal of 1919 that put them to work on the sporting scene in earnest. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the crusty reform commissioner, fastened Pinkertons to the tails of ballplayers, and from that beginning the agency has worked quietly, as though treading barefoot on sand, to spare the sporting world embarrassment. In the Big Ten, a football star is swiftly plucked from his team; the Pinkertons have spotted him consorting with shady characters. In the East, less than an hour before a major fight, a boxing commission withdraws both judges and the referee, acting on an 11th-hour report from the Pinkertons that gamblers have learned which ring officials have been assigned to the fight. Even in so improbable an area as deep-sea fishing, the fine hand of the Pinkertons has done its work.
"Now there was an assignment I was always sorry I didn't take myself," says Robert Pinkerton, bringing up the particulars of what may be termed, "The Case of the Suspect Catch." A catch of a very large billfish had been made by a man at the eastern tip of Long Island. He had entered the catch for recognition as a world record, but there seemed to be some question as to whether all the requirements had been complied with.
Had the sportsman's line been of a strength greater than the rules permit? Had a helper assisted the man before the fish was alongside? In game fishing circles ugly rumors were afoot.
Never mind who called the Pinkertons into the case. The agency never divulges the name of a client in an undercover job, even when, as in this instance, the job dates back more than 20 years.
Pinkerton headquarters dispatched an agent to infiltrate the Long Island boating set. Equipped with a liberal expense account, he chartered a handsome yacht and gave lavish parties aboard for almost a month, his ear alert for scuttlebutt. Hang the cost, he would get to the bottom of this smelly fish matter! In the end, happily, the Pinkerton agent absolved the sportsman of cheating, and with a sigh of relief the moguls of game fishing approved the new record. The job had been done without an iota of fanfare, in the characteristically silent style with which the Pinkertons at this moment may be closing in on your high school football team's doctor if he is trying to beat the insurance company by requiring a dozen visits from a lad who has sprained his thumb.
Out in the field, away from the sober atmosphere of New York headquarters, Pinkertons often put away their blue business suits, address one another by their first names and informally refer to themselves as Pinks. Unlike the Cincinnati Reds, who once timorously changed their nickname to Redlegs, the Pinkertons are' not going to be cowed out of their birthright by any Johnny-come-lately organizations such as the Communist party. Pinkerton tradition is strong, and it is nowhere more in evidence than among the lowly guards who take tickets at a stadium or check credentials at the door of a locker room. Gate-crashers find them impervious to their wiliest persuasions. In 1952, at the first Marciano-Walcott fight in Philadelphia, a would-be crasher approached a Pinkerton old-timer named Cap Murphy and informed him that he was one of Walcott's seconds. To support his claim, the man carried a water bucket and a silk robe on which Walcott's name was stitched in red letters.
"It's a good thing you're not carrying Walcott's trunks," Murphy said firmly, "or he'd be embarrassed as hell going into that ring tonight."
Pinkerton guards are aware, of course, that the gate-crasher confronting them may be a Pinkerton plainsclothesman testing their reliability, but as I myself was to discover when I joined up at the Memphis Open, the mere act of putting on a Pinkerton uniform is an ennobling experience, one that calls a man to his duty. There are no ifs, buts or howevers in vow No. 2 of the Pinkerton guards' 10-part credo: "I shall take complete charge of my assignments, remain on duty under all circumstances until properly relieved and—without fear or favor—execute all orders and enforce all rules." Clifford Roberts may be director of the Masters golf tournament and a man of stern presence on the Augusta National course, but when he neglected to wear his badge and official green blazer one sweltering day, he got what was coming to him. In rapid succession, Pinkerton guards kept him away from the press building, the trophy room and the grill, though they knew his face as well as they knew their own mother's. What's more, Red Blaik and his Army football squad were refused admission to the 1956 Army-Navy game when they turned up at the wrong gate. The Pinkerton on duty eventually stepped aside, but not until he had summoned a superior who thought the matter over and decided that the enraged coach and his players were a necessary appurtenance to the event.
To understand firsthand such rigid devotion to duty, I flew south in June to make my debut as a Pinkerton. It seemed essential to be one in order to grasp fully the spirit of the agency, so I had studied the company's operation carefully and drawn up a list of assignments that carried a potential for danger. Eliminating these, I asked to be attached for a couple of days to a golf tournament. Golf spectators scheme to great lengths to get into a tournament free, often sneaking onto the club grounds by riding like Mafia victims in the trunk of an auto, but once on the course they behave themselves.
Nevertheless, they require expert crowd control—for two reasons. The first is that the average spectator rarely attends more than one tournament a year and therefore, being unfamiliar with tournament environment, is apt to take a false step that could cost a golfer thousands of dollars. The second reason for crowd control is that pro golfers at heart are not entertainers. If the purse money were right, they would prefer to play their tournaments on the moon, before any settlers have arrived. Most galleries annoy the golfers, simply because most tournaments are policed by amateurs—as a rule, by marshals who are recruited from the membership ranks of local clubs and who are more intent upon watching the play than upon keeping order. But wherever the Pinkerton golf specialists are hired, the tournament pros become downright sunny, a phenomenon that seemed to be worth investigating firsthand.
As luck would have it, Agent A.D. Trecost, the legendary hound for details, had become in middle age the Pinkertons' leading expert on golf tournament security and would be traveling from his New Orleans office to take command of the Memphis Open. (In the South and the Southwest, nine tournaments had contracted for the Pinkertons' service this year, thereby establishing the southern leg of the golf circuit as the most orderly on the tour.) As I had mailed Trecost my measurements so that he could have a uniform made up, my principal fear was that he would view with disgust the addition of a 5'5" guard to his force.
"Your physique is tremendous for us!" he lied diplomatically when I arrived in Memphis on that Friday afternoon. "You're all right. You're athletic! From your measurements, I thought you'd be...well, you don't look like you have malnutrition."
The Memphis Open easily was drawing enough spectators to pose a true test of the Pinkertons' skills. On Thursday and Friday, attendance had been 7,000 and then 11,000, and it was destined to swell to 19,500 Saturday and 21,500 Sunday—crowds worthy of a major championship event. Friday night, Trecost and his aides would study the field, selecting the five threesomes they considered most likely to attract the bulk of the Saturday gallery. To each of these they would assign a five-man Pinkerton escort, but as the Saturday play progressed the Pinkerton command would keep a weather eye open for any sudden shift in crowd interest and would stand ready to realign its forces. "For a starter, we'll throw you right in with someone like Nicklaus or Player," Trecost advised me. From literature that had been provided me in New York, I already had undergone a sort of correspondence course in tournament security work; but on Saturday morning, when Trecost called at my motel room to pin me with a badge, I suddenly realized that I was a very real cog in a $100,000 event and that a single lapse on my part could affect the outcome and bring shame on the agency.
Three hours later, bounding briskly down the first fairway alongside the threesome of Gary Player, Chuck Courtney and Babe Hiskey, I strove to review in my mind all the small yet vital details that make a Pinkcrton-policed tournament a cut above the average. I noted that Player, his lips pursed, looked particularly grim, a man who would expect impeccable service. Minutes later, from the No. 2 tee, he sailed a drive into the rough to the right. Instantly the right-fairway team—a husky Pinkerton and I—sprang into action, strictly according to Pinkerton procedure. While my partner covered the ball, I flung myself into the path of spectators hurrying onto the green. Silently, with palms upraised, I admonished them to halt. None but the Pinkertons, you see, would appreciate the possibility that crowd movement toward the green might be seen from the corner of Player's right eye as he addressed his ball in the rough, and reduce him to a lump of quivering jelly.
The people swept right by me as though I did not exist. I was convinced right then that I did not possess an ounce of authority in my appearance, and I was certain that if Player had a poor round he would go straight to Trecost and blame it on me.
"Put up those hands like you mean it!" Trecost hissed at me, emerging from nowhere. He wore a powder-blue cap and an armband that identified him as a Pinkerton officer. Having sensed my timidity, he had decided to hover on the fringe of the crowd and throw me cues as needed.
As it happened, the sight of Chuck Courtney, who was tied with Player for second place, served for a while to quiet my nerves. Courtney seemed out of place among the grim pros. A lean, bespectacled man with a fuzz of yellow hair, he wore at all times a bemused grin, scanning the activity around him as though he had dropped from another planet into the midst of an earth rite that he found amusingly strange. Coming off the 6th green, he followed behind me as I tried to clear an alley through the gallery that stood thick as mush around the green. "Watch the players!" I heard Trecost's voice call from the edge of the crowd.
"Watch the players!" I echoed, picking up the cue.
From behind me, Courtney sang out, "Watch the players!"
He had discovered me for an impostor, I was sure. Mortified, I wondered what to do.' 'Watch the players!" I called out weakly.
For all my discomfort at that moment, a startling transformation soon began to come over me. Gradually my uniform began to feel as though it belonged on me, and as it did I found that with one swift upward movement of my right hand I could silence a whispering crowd on the green. "No running!" I snapped softly in the rough along the fairways, and small boys froze in their tracks as though hit by a Buck Rogers ray gun. A sense of elation surged through me. Looking back now, I cannot escape the conclusion that all these years a cop complex had lain dormant within me, and that, given half a chance, I would make a thoroughly hateful cop. By 4 o'clock, when Trecost sent me to relieve a guard at the entrance to the men's grill, I was eager to take on the first troublemaker who dared present himself without a grill ticket.
Alas, practically every adult male on the course, it seemed, had a ticket to the grill. There were tickets for club members, tickets for members' guests, tickets for players' brothers, uncles and grandfathers—in fact, 16 varieties of tickets. "What the hell is this?" I wondered. After all, guards are for keeping people out, aren't they? At last a heavy-set, homely man tried to talk his way past me without a ticket.
"Look here," he persisted, "I've gotta meet a friend inside."
"Over my dead body," I thought, though I turned him down with cool courtesy.
He turned to a stranger and said, "Can I please borrow your grill ticket for just one minute?" He then entered the grill and in a jiffy returned carrying two tickets—the one he had borrowed outside and another that he had borrowed from his friend inside. "O.K.?" he crowed, waving the latter ticket under my nose. With that, he disappeared into the grill.
I was still sulking several hours later as I had dinner with Trecost and two of his aides. Why is it, I complained, that everybody and his brother can get into the grill? "The club wants the business," Trecost shrugged. He was sympathetic to my frustration but unwilling to share my mood. He and his men were pleased because the tournament was running exceptionally smoothly. Gay Brewer Jr., for one, had gone out of his way to applaud the Pinkertons, saying, "On the first hole I pulled a shot into the rough and some of the fans tried to talk to me when I got there. But a Pinkerton swooped right in and said, 'No talking to the players please!' " To my mind, this seemed a trivial deed, hardly worthy of mention, but the golfers seemed to regard any intrusion on their concentration as part of a conspiracy to destroy them. No doubt the guard who hushed Brewer's gallery received from his superior a ringing "Attaboy!"—the reward that Pinkerton golf guards are given for outstanding work. After earning five Attaboys a guard is in line for a "Well done!"
"Wouldn't your men rather have a raise?" I asked Trecost's right-hand man, Nelvil Theard. (Although it is neither here nor there, such surnames as Trecost and Theard—pronounced Thayard—have the ring of Ian Fleming fiction, and I could not resist treating myself to fantasy thoughts in which the two men turned out to be Interpol agents closing in on a cache of diamonds that Gary Player had smuggled out of South Africa.) Actually, the question I put to Theard was unfair, because since 1961 the Pinkerton firm has bestowed U.S. Savings Bonds of up to $500 upon guards who have acted meritoriously or with valor, but Theard met the gibe head on.
"There are some things," he replied evenly, "that money can't buy."
By the time I reported for duty Sunday morning, I had recognized my cop complex and put it under control. In a lighter mood, I decided to seek out Gary Player in the locker room and treat him to a laugh by announcing that I, one of his guards the previous day, in reality was a journalist. As I went through the entrance to the locker room, however, a guard threw me a suspicious glance, and when I had proceeded halfway down an aisle leading to Player's locker, another Pinkerton stepped into my path and said, "Can I help you, sir?" Pass me a stack of Bibles and I shall swear on them: here was a uniformed Pinkerton stopping another uniformed Pinkerton. If ever I had doubted the agency's reputation for devotion to the rules, I had no such doubts now.
"Only players, press and officials are permitted in the locker room," the guard said firmly. I had to show him a press card, revealing my true identity, before he would let me pass. I had the feeling that if Arnold Palmer, who had skipped the Memphis Open, had dropped by the locker room to visit, the Pinkerton would have ordered him to leave.
At any rate, Player was greatly amused when I told him, a moment later, that I was a journalist in disguise. "Oh, that's priceless," he exclaimed, slapping his thigh. We chatted for perhaps five minutes, during which he pronounced the Pinkertons to be "the finest thing that could happen to us." Forty-five minutes later, Player teed off, hitting his first drive into the rough, and it was there that I came to appreciate, as I never fully had, the importance that Player and Brewer and the others attach to the tranquillity that the Pinkertons make possible.
Working again in the detail assigned to escort Player's threesome, I hustled after his ball and backed the gallery away to give him plenty of hitting room. I expected that Player would be amused to see me in action and might even toss me a quip or share with me his concern over a somewhat troublesome lie. But he gave me no sign of recognition. Expertly he hit his ball to the green and then walked briskly past me, not two feet away, without giving the least indication that we had met and chatted less than an hour before. In short, he had summoned to his work a capacity for concentration so total that it bordered on a state of shock. Many times during the course of his round that day, he looked directly at me, but his eyes seemed not to see, and at no time did he so much as acknowledge my presence with a nod.
Player had begun the day holding second place, five strokes behind Dave Hill, a fairly obscure golfer who had taken an early lead and remained hot. On the back nine now, Player bogeyed three holes, losing whatever chance he had of overtaking Hill, and I wondered if somehow we Pinkertons had overlooked a trick. Had we permitted a diamond ring in the gallery to reflect the sun into Player's eyes and shatter his concentration? Had we allowed a press photographer to work with a camera that clicked too loudly? Probably not. "The Pinkertons here," Gay Brewer declared, "have done the best job of policing a tournament that I've ever seen. We'd probably profit by hiring them every week." I made a mental note to relay Brewer's words to New York headquarters. The least that Trecost and his men deserved was five Attaboys and a Well done!