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Bend's Magnum P.I. 

Ed Barbeau feels like fiction, but he's the real deal

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It's 3:30 p.m. on a Friday and I'm behind my computer typing and researching and blogging and doing other sitting-at-a-desk-related tasks. Again.

Then the phone rings and I get the most intriguing invitation I've ever received.

Do I want to go on a stakeout, like, right now?

The caller is Ed Barbeau, local pizza joint owner, would-be politician and, as it turns out, one of Bend's most successful private investigators.

Do I want to go on a stakeout?! I grab my coat and a notebook and a minute later am sitting shotgun in the cab of Barbeau's Toyota Tacoma flying down Bond Street to find our bad guy.

It's a surreal world in the truck as we weave in and out of traffic on the bustling streets of downtown Bend. Cords attached to multiple devices like a GPS, a couple of cellphones, a battery pack, a video camera—it's a roving detective office.

We make a sharp turn around a corner to catch a yellow light and I reach for the oh-shit handle.

"For about 10 years, I had the worst driving record possible," says Barbeau, grabbing his cellphone to call the client who'd hired him to tail our target.

I'm struck with the same awe I experienced when I first learned that Barbeau did this for a living, during his recent run for a Bend City Council seat.

He had come by the Source for an interview with the other three candidates for the position. He apologized profusely for being tired and for running on with his answers.

"I'm sorry guys," he told our editorial board. "I've just been out all night on surveillance and am just now coming in."

Uh, wha, wha, what's that you say, Ed?

Turns out Barbeau has been a private investigator in Bend for more than a decade and is, in fact, one of the most respected bodyguards and PIs on the West coast.

"He specializes in executive protection," says Rocky Pipkin, who owns Pipkin Detective Agency, one of the largest private surveillance and personal protection firms in the nation. "We send him all over the country sometimes because he's very good at what he does."

Resolving kidnappings, protecting presidents, protecting corporate assets, finding stalkers, collecting DNA, aiding celebrities in trouble—you name it, Barbeau has done it.

It's a concept that applies to his private life, too. The onetime surfer kid and pre-law student became owner of his own company at 23. Master stair builder, pizzeria owner, local politician—Barbeau is a character out of a Dashiell Hammett novel, except he's real and may have, at one time or another, been hired to spy on your neighbors.

Barbeau is a big guy. Not tall, but broad. His demeanor is a bit like a bull in a china shop. He hulks, he lurches. He opens his arms wide like a gorilla sometimes. He takes up all the space on his side of the truck and part of mine, too, as he gestures while telling me about the creep we're tailing today.

Our guy has been claiming workers' comp over a shoulder injury. He's made similar complaints before at other jobs, and recently some photos of him doing a wheelie on a motocross bike popped up on his Facebook page.

Barbeau has been hired by the guy's employer to find out where he lives, what he does in his off time, and if he's actually going to physical therapy.

"My whole day has been following this idiot," says Barbeau, who speaks bluntly about everything from what's wrong with the political leaders in Deschutes County to his personal characterizations of the people he's been hired to track.

We catch up to our target at a local physical therapy clinic that's notorious, Barbeau says, for assisting people faking workers' comp injuries. Barbeau wants to tape the man through the window doing his exercises, if he is indeed doing exercises.

We park right near the entrance, and I immediately slither down in my seat. What if he sees us through the window?!

Barbeau is unfazed as he picks up a boxy gray videocamera and begins taping what's going on inside the building.

"I'm kind of a proponent of hiding in plain sight," says Barbeau, squinting into the viewfinder.

Almost immediately a man comes out carrying a small bag of trash to a nearby dumpster. He gives us a long look and then heads back inside. We're debating whether this guy has made us when Barbeau's phone blares out at us. As focused as I am on our mission, the sound scares me half to death.

It's a call from an employee of Pisano's, his pizza joint in NorthWest Crossing.

The young woman begins spinning a pretty obvious bullshit story about why she missed work that day, explaining that she had phone problems and couldn't call in.

"Oh, I'm sure you have other problems," he distractedly tells this girl as he continues to scan the building with his camera. Still, he gives her another chance.

In the meantime, the guy with the trash bag has found another reason to come out to the parking lot and is eyeing us again.

"Well, shit," he says. "I think we've been burned."

We back out and exit the parking lot with speed, pulling onto a side street where we can watch from a distance.

Getting burned. It's happened to Barbeau more than a few times.

He's run for both Deschutes County Commission and Bend City Council without a whole lot of support from the GOP, his political party. Barbeau says he has publicly criticized area party leaders and that doesn't sit well, but when there's something wrong, he has a hard time not getting personally involved, he says.

As a result of his stances, he says, he lost by wide margins in both elections, first to Tammy Baney in the Republican primary for county commission and more recently to Doug Knight for the city council seat.

"I'm done with politics in Bend," says Barbeau.

He says he doesn't fit the standard political roles. He says he's frustrated by the state of the economy and governmental regulations, but is more of an environmentalist than half the people who give money to the Sierra Club. An avid cyclist, he spends a lot of free time in the woods.

"And I pick up shit when I go out there," he says. "I'm tired of labels."

He also had a fairly public run-in with another pizza business when he opened Pisano's first location in Prineville years ago.

The owners of Cibelli's sued Barbeau, claiming he stole their recipe and restaurant concept. Barbeau fought the claim in court, spending, he says, $30,000 of his own money in the process. Eventually the suit was dropped and a private agreement was reached out of court.

Frank Cibelli, the owner of Cibelli's, characterizes the episode as "just business."

"I have nothing against Ed. I wish him all the best," Cibelli told the Source.

For Barbeau, the lawsuit was a major personal blow and nearly took all the fun out of running his restaurant, he says.

But to visit Barbeau at the corner pizza shop, it's clear he still loves the gig. He interacts personally with every customer—"Do you live in the neighborhood? Where are you visiting from?"—and goes over the top in thanking them for their business.

The restaurant has been doing well, he says. It's currently ranked seventh of all restaurants in Bend on Trip Advisor.

In 2010, the restaurant won first place in the Western region at the International Pizza Challenge for a gourmet pizza Barbeau made.

"I swear to God, I couldn't talk for like a half an hour," he says.

Spend any amount of time with Barbeau and it's clear that he's rarely speechless. As we settle in to wait for the workers' comp guy, Barbeau is a font of jaw-dropping stories about his adventures as a private investigator.

He mentions a kidnapping and I press further.

The case began in Tillamook County where a young girl had been taken from her grandparents—her legal guardians—by the girl's mother, who had just gotten out of prison.

Rocky Pipkin of Pipkin Detective Agency called Barbeau in on the job.

The grandparents told Barbeau to spare no resource—just find our girl.

Barbeau tracked the woman to Jacksonville, Fla. Knowing that she once worked at an IHOP, Barbeau called the Jacksonville IHOP and got lucky. The manager called Barbeau a few days later, reporting that the girl's mother had just been there.

Barbeau hopped on the next plane to Jacksonville. The next few days were nailbiters as he tried to find the woman's apartment and set up court dates in Florida that would allow the grandparents to legally take the girl back into their custody.

Pipkin, who has been in this business for 26 years, says Barbeau's knowledge of the law and legal proceedings is one of the things that makes him a good detective.

He said he's worked with Barbeau for a decade and trusts him to do just about every kind of assignment his agency accepts.

Just last year, Pipkin hired Barbeau to provide executive protection (read: be a body guard) for former president George W. Bush, who was attending an agricultural expo in California.

"Ed is not afraid to do any type of special operation," says Pipkin. "He can go into a situation and assess. Whether it's the best legal way to obtain DNA—he's the kind of guy that I can send him an assignment and you can easily consider it done."

Things did get a little hairy at that ag expo with George Bush, though, Barbeau admits.

He went to the expo with his mentor, William Herrick, a retired California cop and another local PI.

Just as Bush was getting into his motorcade, a particularly vulnerable time for attack, members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staged a protest that erupted in chaos. Could it be a diversion? At the same time, someone cut a barbed-wire fence around the expo site. Moments later, a generator in an outbuilding exploded, causing a fire.

"So, now we've got guns out and we're trying to figure out what the hell is going on," Barbeau says.

It turned out all the events were unrelated and the former president exited the event safely. But maintaining calm in these situations and responding efficiently is why Barbeau is right for the job, he says.

"It's a business you almost have to have a knack for," he says. "Ed is just a very intelligent guy."

Back in the truck, Barbeau and I are still talking about that Florida kidnapping when, in the rearview mirror, he sees our guy pull out of the physical therapy clinic parking lot in his black SUV.

"Here we go," Barbeau says, revving up the engine and pulling into traffic a few car lengths behind our guy.

It's pretty clear this man knows we're on to him. He swings through some roundabouts and speeds up. He's getting away around some curves in the road and by the time we have a nice straight view, he's far ahead.

We track him to a neighborhood we're pretty sure he's ducked into, but it's hard to decide which street to turn down.

Suddenly, on the other side of the median, the SUV pops out of a side street and begins to turn back the way we came as he tries to lose us. The driver's hoodie is up and he's hunched down in his seat.

We consider driving over the median, but Barbeau decides to make a U-turn at the next light.

"The hard part is I'm not a cop, so legally this shit'll get you in trouble sometimes," he says.

By the time we get back to the street, the vehicle is gone. But on a hunch, Barbeau turns into the neighborhood. Using a photo from the guy's Facebook page, we're pretty sure we figure out where he lives. Barbeau calls his client to tell him the good news.

I realize I'm grinning from ear to ear like a total dork—I want more action, but sadly it's time to head back to my office.

Back in front of my safe little office, Barbeau tells me the end of the Florida story. Through a set of lucky events, he finds out where the girl's mother and her boyfriend are living and goes to the apartment. They're all inside and, as in every other complicated situation in his life, Barbeau has to make a judgment call. Is he going to get personally involved? Is he going to fight for the girl right then and there?

He decides it's legally safer to call the sheriff's department, and deputies come running.

"The sheriffs go hauling by," he says. "These two big-ass sheriffs get out with their hats on and go pounding on the door."

The mother and her boyfriend open up and the little girl is delivered to Barbeau, who soon after reunites her with her grandparents, who had flown to Florida to get her. It was a super emotional scene, he says, and not his favorite kind of job.

But it's the perfect example of what Barbeau says drives him in every one of the many jobs he's ever done, whether it's owning his own construction company or running for political office or making pizzas.

"I work for myself and I kind of like being creative," he says. "To have things come out of my head and be successful."

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