On a damp, misty Long Island morning -- the kind of morning when the shoreline disappears in slow-moving tufts of fog -- Bill Stanton is ready to face the enemy. Strapped to his waist is a Kimber Ultra Elite CQB, a lightweight .45-caliber aluminum pistol. The Ferrari of handguns, the Kimber seems to shine even in the flat light of this dreary, sunless day.
Stanton carries his weapon cocked and locked in a custom-made, non-thumb-break leather holster designed for speed. On the other side of his waist are two Wilson magazines, each holding six bullets; and there are two more in the pocket of his cargo pants.
"Don't think. React. When you think, you get in trouble," yells a small, wiry man in ninja pants and wraparound Oakleys. "It's simple. See the motherfucker, shoot the motherfucker."
The man is Pat Rogers, an internationally known combat instructor who looks -- white hair, military demeanor, and all -- like Senator John McCain's slightly demented brother. A former Marine and New York City cop, Rogers trained the elite units that guard Yasser Arafat and
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But on this morning, he is at the Pine Barrens Shooting Range, a lifeless collection of targets and sand hills on a former Air Force base in Westhampton. His student is New York private detective Bill Stanton.
"In a perfect world, when someone's coming at you" -- all I can think is that in a perfect world, nobody would be coming at me -- "one shot between the nipples should cause the assailant a significant loss of morale. It never does. So let's work on the Mozambique."
Rogers steps up to face the targets, which stand nine feet away. In the blink of an eye, shells fly and the air explodes with the sound of three shots. I can taste the gunpowder. "That's the drill," Rogers says with evident satisfaction. "Two to the chest and one to the center of the forehead. That'll stop anybody."
"You know, most cops sit around and dream about winning the Lotto or someone dying and leaving them money," says former partner Sergeant Al Parlato. "Not Billy. He was gonna do it himself."
Stanton gets in his modified Weaver stance -- feet just about shoulder-width apart, left foot slightly forward for balance -- and on command gets off three quick shots. The tough one, the one to that small area of the forehead, is perfect. "You know," says Rogers quietly, "90 percent of the guys who do what Billy does don't get anything near this kind of training."
True. But in his career as a private investigator, Bill Stanton has never been called upon to put a bullet between the eyes of an onrushing assailant. Or, as a matter of fact, to fire his weapon for any reason. However, the gun is an indispensable part of the show, and the show is an indispensable part of the job. For Stanton, being a private detective is a full-time, scenery-chewing, perception-building, high-octane performance -- from the sophisticated weaponry to the all-black Matrix-like outfit to the buffed-up body to the late-night escapades -- and it's a role he was clearly meant to play.
In the small, competitive world of celebrity private eyes, image and self-promotion are everything. "There's no question that you've really got to bang the drum and make some noise to get them in the tent," Stanton says. "But once they're inside, you've got to give them a good show or they won't come back."
All of which is critical to understanding how a former cop, bouncer, and bodyguard from City Island built a private-detective agency with a seven-figure annual gross. He's worked on explosive, sensitive, headline-producing cases like the acrimonious Carl and Liba Icahn divorce, the Perelman-Duff debacle, the multi-million-dollar face-scratching dispute between famed saloon-keeper Elaine Kaufman and a customer, and the case of Charles Schwarz, the cop convicted of holding Abner Louima down while Justin Volpe brutalized him.
"Billy is always my first call," says bombastic attorney Dominic Barbara. "I've been doing this 31 years, and he's the best I've ever seen. He always gets it done. And I just love that smile."
Smile? With all due respect to the romantic image created by Raymond Chandler, today's hungry detective-entrepreneur isn't a laconic loner sitting around drinking gin, smoking cigarettes, and waiting for the sultry blonde to walk into his life (like Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep). He's out promoting himself, putting on his show: successful, flamboyant, outrageous, wild Bill Stanton, P.I. The tough, smart, twenty-first-century private detective.
Friends and clients talk about Stanton's tenacity, his ingenuity, and his dependability as a P.I. But what they really want to talk about is everything else: his personality, his energy, his gall, his uninhibited social life, and his womanizing.
"People just want to be around him," says Fox News Channel anchor and friend Laurie Dhue.
"Billy is unlike anyone I've ever met," says ABC correspondent John Miller. "His personality is overwhelming, and his personal story is remarkable. To look at what he's invented and how he's invented it is amazing. He's a character who could only exist in New York."
When Bill Stanton arrived at the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx to work his four-to-midnight shift on a cold March afternoon in 1987, he had no idea his life was about to change. He parked his old Mustang in the usual place, hit the locker room, put on his uniform, and stood for roll call. As always, Stanton was paired with Sergeant Al Parlato, a seventeen-year veteran who had, in the course of teaching him how to work the streets, become a kind of father figure for him.