Frank Ahearn strides up Third Avenue, New York, in his big suede boots, his thinning ponytail waving in the wind. He has a vente latte welded to his palm. Six feet tall, the goatee-bearded and denim-clad Frank M. Ahearn (pronounced Ayhern) could have walked straight out of a novel by his favourite mystery writer, Elmore Leonard. Like a Leonard character, he thinks fast and speaks faster. Born and bred in the Bronx – he now lives in Venice Beach, California – Ahearn notices everything that’s going on around him. Nothing escapes him, because Frank M. Ahearn is a skip tracer. One of the world’s best, he is employed by companies, private investigators and individuals to find people who have skipped town leaving behind debts, unpaid employees or angry partners.
“In 20 years, guess I must have found close on 40,000 people,” says Ahearn, ignoring a pedestrian stop light. “I’m a New Yorker, man, I want to get there today,” he shouts over the din of the traffic. “Most people who vanish just take off and go, right? BIG MISTAKE! I’ll find you,” Ahearn promises. “People leave behind their debts, they use their frequent-flyer programme to escape, not knowing that I can access that, along with their utility bills. People have no idea how many footprints they leave, how many connections they reveal.”
Creating a pretext or a scenario to wheedle information out of people and organisations is Ahearn’s key skip-tracing weapon. “You call up, you ask questions. In the end, every ‘No’ leads to a ‘Yes’,” he says, easing into a pizza at Grace’s Trattoria, an unremarkable Italian on East 71st Street. “I’m very persuasive on the phone, and the people who work those sites are trained to sell stuff, not protect information.”
The previous week in Los Angeles, it had been Ahearn’s turn to say “No”, to Sharon Stone and an offer to make a movie of his life. “I had dinner with her and her producers. They were not offering enough. Do they think I’m running a lemonade stall and desperate for cash?” Stone was interested, not only because Ahearn is a skip tracer extraordinaire, but because he has re-engineered his considerable skills to help honest people who have a genuine and compelling need not to get found by stalkers, kidnappers, violent partners or the Mob. Frank M. Ahearn is the man who can help you disappear.
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