Cooking is grueling. Just ask any professional chef. It's tedious work getting recipes right, nudging flavors into balance and grooming entres into optimum presentability--especially when this work has to be done for a couple of hundred diners. But if this is tedious, what do you say about Dallas County Sheriff's Department Captain Ray Daberko's daily grind, which entails overseeing the feeding of some 8,000 jail inmates three times a day, for a total of 24,000 meals?

"It's a great big deal," deadpans Daberko, who says he heads up the nation's only centralized penal cook-chill operation with tray service. This means that raw foodstuffs brought into a county warehouse facility in West Dallas are opened, prepped, cooked, fed into plastic bags and rapidly chilled before they are shipped out to Dallas' separate jail facilities. Once they arrive at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center kitchen, the food is portioned into special trays and then delivered to the appropriate Sterrett tower or shipped to another jail facility. Once at its destination, the food is quickly heated in contraptions similar to convection ovens, united with a tray containing chilled items, and served to inmates in the jail "tanks," which hold anywhere from eight to 24 inmates. "Nobody in corrections does what Dallas does," explains Daberko. "What everybody else does is they have a kitchen in each facility."

The logistical requirements for such an operation are daunting. The 18-foot-high walk-in cooler--more like a drive-in--occupies some 1,800 square feet. The kitchen holds four 200-gallon computer-operated cooking kettles. "We buy more corn than any grocery store in the country," boasts Daberko.

Menus are planned six to eight weeks in advance to avoid shortages of food items, which are often purchased by the pallet or the truckload. Meals are prepared three to five days in advance. To whip up the grub, Daberko orchestrates a team of nine salaried cooks and 55 inmates. The inmates are minimum-security birds jailed for nonviolent offenses such as check kiting. "We'll start seeing lots of open-container guys in here pretty quick," Daberko says, almost with relish, referring to the law that went into effect earlier this month prohibiting open alcohol containers in vehicles. "Tuesdays and Thursdays are terrible, because that's when the courts get geared up. We have days out here when it gets pretty tight. We spend all of our time training."

But keeping trained inmates inside the kitchen is not Daberko's only worry. He also has to keep inmates outside the kitchen reasonably content. To do this requires studious attention to some unusual meal characteristics. For example, the foods in hot meals have to be of similar densities. Otherwise, some will burn while others get barely warm. Color is also a serious consideration.

"The reason we deal with colors and things like that and try to get them to contrast is so that [inmates] can see distinctly that there are different things on the trays," Daberko says. They had a problem with appearances some years ago during the transition from older trays to the newer ones required for Dallas' centralized meal system. The new trays were shallower than the old trays, causing the food to flatten and spread in the compartment. To some, it looked like those with the older trays were getting more food than those with the new trays, even though the food was plopped onto the tray with the same 4-ounce utensil. Inmates protested vigorously, and several filed lawsuits.

Flavors are also a consideration. Recipes focus on complementary and interesting flavors--though not too interesting. "None of the Oriental things went over very well," Daberko says.

More important than all of these is the matter of texture and consistency. Every dish must be prepared so it can be consumed easily with just a plastic spoon. "We don't use anything metal that they can cut us with," Daberko says. And while he occasionally serves chicken thighs or drumsticks, he doesn't serve inmates the usual hearty Texas fare. "A pork chop bone makes a real nice something to stick you with," says Daberko, who has been stabbed on the job several times with handmade devices. "Anything like a beef bone or a pork bone, you can sharpen up. And you don't want to get stabbed too many times around here. Eventually one of them might hit something useful."

By purely stereotypical standards, Carl Savering looks like a repo man: shaved head, burly stature, belt buckle, work boots. That's his day job (or late-night job, depending on the assignment). But he's also co-founder and artistic director of Theatre Quorum, one of Dallas' small but ambitious and accomplished theater troupes. You might imagine successful stage actors automatically possess a willowy, high-cheekboned, Olivieresque appearance, but working onstage with his own and various theaters around town for the last 15 years, Savering has managed to command audiences and resemble a sneaky tough who tracks you throughout the day, waits till you're indoors, and then hooks your car to his truck in a matter of seconds and speeds off.

"My repo friends are as perplexed by my theater work as my theater friends are perplexed by my repo work," he says with a smile.

He followed a buddy to Dallas in 1984 after both were released from the Army. Savering didn't come from a particularly artistic background, but he was always interested in writing plays and acting. He says he was "compelled to [performing] and terrified by it" when he took a few classes at Brookhaven College and started taking small theater gigs, like playing a spear carrier in a Hip Pocket Theatre show. He'd already begun a series of jobs to sustain himself: repossessing furniture, then earning his private investigator's license and going undercover looking for drugs in warehouses as well as tailing cheating spouses.

As for why he never pursued that most clichéd of actors' survival professions, Savering says, "I'm too misanthropic to wait tables, and I think I'd go crazy stuck in an office cubicle for eight hours."

His raw, learning-on-the-job approach to stage work eventually revealed a natural inclination for live performance. He launched Theatre Quorum more than three years ago and found a host venue in the Mesquite Arts Center, attracting some of the city's finest actors to work with him. Meanwhile, he settled on full-time auto repossession as his primary income, and last year went so far as to buy his own truck and start CS Services. He works mostly for small car dealers who do their own financing and drives all over Dallas mornings and evenings hunting down folks who have defaulted on their loans. He averages 10 to 12 cars a week; 40 repos mean a good month for him. Matt, his Australian cattle dog, sits passenger side during most tasks.

The gig is about 90 percent waiting and 10 percent action, but the adrenaline of nabbing a cheapskate works for him. "I enjoy leaving crooks stranded at 7-Eleven," he says. "It's flexible. It pays well for the hours I put into it."

Auto repossession features its own vagaries, some of them dangerous. Savering has poked rottweilers out of back windows with a stick. People sleeping in the backseat (some of them mean drunks) have been discovered once he returns to the lot. Women have offered him sex not to tow their cars; men have dangled drugs in front of him. And, of course, there's the small fact that Texans are willing to defend their property with deadly force.

"There's an adage in this business that says, 'If someone comes out waving a gun in your face, they won't shoot you,'" he notes. "And that's true. When someone wants to fire, they're not going to give you warning."

Savering discovered this on--ironically enough--April Fool's Day 1996. It was 5:30 a.m. in Lancaster, and he was silently attaching a car to the back of his truck. As he pulled out of the yard, the glass shattered in his back window. There was a warm wetness on the side of his throat. He sped away, and the event was over before he realized that someone had fired eight rounds from a .22-caliber rifle at him. One shot had grazed the side of his head and pierced the cartilage in his ear. He found the bullet in his truck bed and keeps it at home.

Despite the constant risk, Savering intends to continue his business. Besides the money and the flexibility, the solitude complements his art nicely. "It's great for me, as a stage director," he says. "While I'm driving around in the middle of the night, or parked down the street waiting, I can direct a show in my head. I'll stew about what needs to be fixed, what can be improved."

Comedian Chris Rock once made a statement that private investigator David Cohen says he has considered framing on his desk: "Men are as loyal as their options."

Cohen founded his own private investigation firm, Investigative Resources of Texas, in 1994 after assisting collection agencies in their pursuit of big debts and in worldwide efforts to locate military deserters. He has abundant experience in insurance fraud and is a highly paid expert witness in different kinds of trials, but he considers one field a specialty: matrimonial investigation. If you're cheating on your spouse, he or she can hire Cohen to track your lying ass around the city, state, country and world to document evidence of adultery for divorce cases.

"Texas is going into its fifth year leading the nation in divorce rates," he says. "Dallas-Fort Worth is right up there. North Richland Hills, Addison, the Mid-Cities--they're all hotbeds for adultery. Highland Park is big, too. I've had some very rich, very eccentric clients from there.

"Generally speaking," he continues, "we have a stronger economy than the rest of the country. We have loose income brackets, discretionary income, people working for large commissions. All those create incentives to stray."

Marriages that turn stale often share some common traits: Both partners are working professionals with a combined income of $70-$120,000, children and a mortgage. And incidentally, contrary to the legions of spurned women pouring out their tales on daytime talk shows, Cohen says that in his experience, wives cheat on their husbands as often as vice versa. People choose to continue a troubled marriage either because they don't want to admit it's hopeless--and seek solace in other arms--or they simply crave both the stability of the institution and some variety on the side. They rarely travel very far for that extra bit: He estimates that in 80 percent of the investigations he handles, the cheater is having an affair with a co-worker. Perhaps strangest of all, that co-worker usually bears a strong physical resemblance to the spouse being cuckolded.

"If you suspect your spouse is cheating, then you're usually right," Cohen notes. "We're the only P.I. firm in Dallas I know of that does hard advertising. I have ads in topless clubs, health clubs, upscale restaurants. Imagine you're a guy who's worried about his wife. You have a couple drinks at a club, you walk into the rest room, and above the urinal there's an ad with a picture of a woman getting into a car and the line, This is your wife...but whose car is she getting into?' It plants a seed."

Once that seed is planted, and Cohen is hired, he or an assistant spends anywhere from 3 to 5 days a week for three weeks--sometimes totaling 12 to 15 separate periods of surveillance--to document what the courts call "a pattern of habit." Adulterers meet at restaurants or bars far outside their typical social circle, or are viewed entering and leaving each other's homes during odd hours. Cohen is always nearby--waiting in a car, or just a few tables away--to catch on digital video images of lovers holding hands, kissing, touching one another on the bottom. Sometimes husbands tryst with other men, wives with other women, but no matter the situation, Cohen halts his efforts after the couple departs a public space; while adultery itself is not illegal in Texas, spying on and taping someone in a private residence definitely is.

Paranoia runs in all directions: Cohen confirms he's been tapped for countersurveillance, in which spouses believe their husband or wife is having them followed and want him to prove it. All snickering aside, "I believe cheating on a spouse is morally and ethically wrong," he says. "It's very destructive. It wreaks hell psychologically on men and women. There are times when I've charged clients for counseling, because they spend hours and hours going over their stories, wondering what they did wrong."

Cohen's advice? "If you don't want to be married, get out. Otherwise, keep it in your pants. It saves everyone a lot of trouble."

Investigative Resources of Texas can be reached at 877-285-9519.

For years Maria Frenkel couldn't talk about why she launched her own business. Her reasons for doing it were too personal, and if asked she would simply say, "I wanted to be able to help people." Only recently has she felt comfortable explaining why she started Crime Scene Clean-Up Services of Texas.

In the spring of 1996, Frenkel, then 37 years old, was pregnant with her first child. One morning, as she sat on her bed, putting on makeup, she felt something peculiar. "It was like an electric shock that was moving up toward my navel," she says. "And then I started feeling back pains. And I thought, 'What the heck is wrong?' I didn't know what was happening until I started bleeding.

"When I came home from the hospital, I was the one who had to do the cleanup. So I spent a lot of time praying about what to do to help other people who were in similar situations."

Thus from the umber stains of that stillbirth years ago sprang Frenkel's new business. She incorporated Crime Scene Clean-Up Services that same year. She says she went door to door, offering her services to people in whose homes and apartments and places of business had occurred all manner of messy, unspeakable tragedies. Teeth embedded in walls. Puddles of blood on Berber carpet. A bathroom shower raining on a dead man's face for two weeks.

She can now talk about her own reasons for getting into the business back then, but Frenkel closely guards the details of her work today. She has cleaned up the physical aftermath of some of the most publicized deaths in the area, but the emotional mess left by these incidents, some of them recent, can't be carted off in red bags for incineration. She'd prefer the families involved not have to read about any of it here.

One case she will discuss, though. About a year ago Frenkel got a call about a situation in an Oak Cliff apartment (she and her regular team of five assistants are always on call). So she drove there in her unmarked car with her tools and solvents. She pulled on a disposable white body suit and strapped on a particulate respirator. Plastic visor to protect the eyes. All mucus membranes covered. And Frenkel went in to deal with someone else's mess.

Seems a woman had decided to go out of town for an extended period, and she had decided, in the interest of convenience presumably, to leave five dogs in her two-bedroom apartment. "And these were not small dogs," Frenkel says. "We're talking big dogs. She left huge tubs of water and food for them. Long story short, the dogs ganged up and killed one of the dogs. Another dog died, I don't know how. The other three got trapped in the bathroom, very small bathroom, and chewed through the hot water line. The hot water was running the entire time. One of the dogs was actually boiled to death. It was a horrible, horrible situation."

Space prevents a full recounting of how difficult the entry was because of water pressure against the bathroom door or how hazardous the flea infestation had grown or even how quickly the dog owner, upon returning to town, found herself behind bars. But two animals did survive. What was left of the other three went into the red bags and the incinerator. Such material is handled like medical waste, and its disposal is regulated by the state. Frenkel contracts with another outfit to haul it off.

Frenkel handles about 70 cases every year. Unfortunately, she regularly turns away work because she's too busy. Since she started Crime Scene Clean-Up services, other cleanup concerns have entered the industry. Some have endured, but most have moved on because, according to Frenkel, they didn't understand "it's not a pleasant thing to do." This is called an understatement.

"The only thing that keeps me going, that keeps me from burning out, is that I do a lot of praying," she says. "We pray, and we fast. You have to pray. You can't do it without God. You just can't do it. You see things that people do to each other that are just horrendous. I can't do it apart from the Lord. I really can't."

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