Captain Hook

Meet the repo man. He wants to steal your car. He has a legal right to steal it. And you don't have a chance.

Negron drives off shaking his head. "Security guards," he groans, "are a general pain in my ass." When he reaches the second guard shack, a female security guard steps out. Negron goes through his routine, but once again it leaves him on the wrong side of the gate. The guard says she'll call the police to see if they will take responsibility for letting Negron pass.

He smiles. "Let me see if I can bullshit my way in," he says under his breath. "Okay, look," he shouts at the guard, "I'll pull in here and wait for the cops." Negron motions toward the far side of the gate. "If she opens the gate," Negron whispers, "we're going in." But the guard is suspicious and refuses.

Just then a resident pulls up. When Negron sees the gate about to open, he perks up. "I wonder how long that gate is going to stay open," he says to himself as he revs his engine slightly.

At that instant a police car arrives. Then another, and another, until five patrol cars -- the entire Cooper City force on duty that night A crowd around the guard shack.

"We've got repo men," the guard says to the officers with palpable disgust. She points toward Negron, who is now back in his smiling, friendly mode. "Morning, officers," he chirps.

While he explains his predicament to one patrolman, the other cops mingle nearby. "We're curious," says a female officer. "We don't see too many repo men up here."

By now Negron has been told that the cops will not escort him into the development; it's up to the security company to make a decision. So as everyone stands around waiting for a security company supervisor to arrive, Negron holds court, amusing the officers with tales from the front.

They ask how long it will take him to snag the car he's looking for once he spots it. "I can be out of there in 30 seconds with the Jeep Cherokee," Negron answers.

"How easy is a Camaro to grab?" one officer asks.
"Even easier," Negron boasts. "And forget about The Club. The Club is a joke. I can get through that in seconds."

"Geez, that's comforting to know if I'm ever late on a payment," the officer laughs.

"The cars that are a real pain in the ass to get inside of are the Mercedes and the Volvos," Negron explains. The Volvos have vacuum-pressure locks, and the newer Mercedes feature specially designed doors -- each making it almost impossible to break in using a Slim Jim."

"That's nice, but I can't really afford a Mercedes," another cop shrugs.
The security supervisor drives up, confers with the female security guard, then walks over to Negron, who, for the fourth time, explains what he's doing. "From what I understand," the supervisor says, "you may have tried to run the gate."

Negron is incredulous. "What?!" he barks. "How am I going to run the gate? That's just ridiculous."

The supervisor tells Negron he's not going to let him past the gate. In response, Negron demands the supervisor's name and dutifully writes it down. "I don't expect that much from people who make six dollars an hour," he condescendingly sniffs. "And you know what? I make more on one car than you do in a week."

As the repo man departs he begins shouting and cursing to himself. "The fucking asshole!" he cries. "Wasting my time. Fuck!" He takes a deep breath. "Oh well," he says, regaining his composure but lapsing into a string of strange little adages: "He who laughs last, laughs best. What you lose in the bananas you make up for in the peaches." Negron is jolly again, but he turns serious one last time. "I swear to God I'm going to find out if those cars are there," he vows.

Two days later, posing as an interested homebuyer, Negron returned to the guarded development and was given a VIP pass. "I searched the area pretty well," he says. "The cars weren't in there."

It's impossible to predict how people will react when they discover their car has been repossessed. Negron has been threatened with guns, though no one yet has pulled the trigger. More often, according to Negron, the car owner's anger quickly changes to quiet resignation and shame.

Earlier this year Negron received an assignment to repossess a plumber's van. The only information he had was the man's beeper number, so Negron paged him and then pretended to need help with a broken toilet at his office. When the plumber arrived (not realizing it was a repo office), he immediately set to work checking the water lines leading to the bathroom. As the plumber toiled inside, Negron slipped out the back door, got in his truck, and towed the plumber's van to his secret storage lot a few blocks away.

Negron then walked back to his office and broke the news to the plumber. "He actually took it pretty well," Negron recalls. "He knew there was nothing he could do about it."

Just a couple weeks ago Negron was assigned to pick up a Volvo. He called the owner with a warning: If overdue payments weren't made by Tuesday, he'd come looking for the car. By the following Thursday the owner still hadn't paid up, so Negron and Henry drove to his place of work, spotted the Volvo, and hooked it up. As they were pulling away, the owner came running. He was taller and in much better shape than Negron and if he had wanted to, he probably could have done serious damage to the repo man. The threat was only enhanced by the fact that several of the man's co-workers ran to his side, thinking their friend's car was being stolen.

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