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.

With Henry and Luis in the back of the tow truck, Negron begins cruising for several cars at once, all in the area of 79th Street and NW 18th Avenue. After checking on three different cars and not locating any of them, he successfully tracks down his final target in the neighborhood A a 1976 Jeep. Using the keys he was given, Negron opens the Jeep and sees that the steering wheel is on the right-hand side. This once must have been a mailman's Jeep, sold at auction to a used-car dealer, who in turn sold it to the people in whose driveway Negron, Henry, Luis are now standing.

State law allows repo men to take a car from a private driveway as long as the driveway isn't fenced in. Open carports are also fair game, as are garages with the door open.

Negron doesn't need to worry about any of those considerations because the driveway is open. But he does have a more pressing problem. With a car this old, he doesn't want to try starting the engine for fear it might be noisy and awaken everyone in the house. "Let's push it," he says. Amid giggles and jokes, the Jeep is shoved down the street about half a block, where Luis cranks the ignition. The motor starts up nice and quiet. "Well," Negron says, almost apologetically, "it's good practice to sneak a car out every once in a while."

After dropping the car at a nearby dealership, the crew heads over the 79th Street Causeway to Miami Beach, where they find a 1985 Dodge station wagon. As with the Jeep, they have keys for this car, but the Dodge is potentially even trickier because it is parked on the sidewalk, directly under the owner's ground-floor bedroom window. "Don't start it here," Negron whispers to Henry. "Push it out." But before Negron can finish his thought, Henry has started the engine with a big roar and drives off.

Startled, Negron quickly runs back to the tow truck. He looks over his shoulder to see if lights come on in the apartment. They don't. Negron seems amazed: "I can't believe the guy didn't wake up."

It is now after 5:00 a.m., and Negron wants to make a quick run through South Beach. "I pick up cars here all the time," he says. With Henry and Luis following behind in the station wagon, Negron checks on several addresses in search of a white Camaro. With the sun beginning to rise and the Camaro nowhere in sight, Negron tells Henry to head back to the office with the station wagon while he checks an address in Miami. "I'm looking for a 1986 Ford Bronco," Negron explains. "The guy hasn't paid a cent on it for more than a year." He's recently been given a new address where the owner might be staying. Sure enough, he spots the Bronco -- with two flat rear tires. Negron quickly backs up his truck to the Bronco, lifts it by the rear wheels, and pulls away. "Perfect," he says.

When he finishes with the Bronco, it will be time for him to go home and drive his six-year-old daughter to school. Then it will be back to the office for a couple of hours of paperwork, then out on the street again to check a few job sites for wanted cars. He'll call it quits around 5:00 p.m., be asleep by 7:00, and then start over again at 2:00 the next morning.

But now, driving up Biscayne Boulevard with a Bronco on the hook, Negron couldn't be more content. "God, it makes me feel good," he says with a smile. And the ordinary people, those just leaving their homes and apartments to start another humdrum day, can only watch and wonder as Negron passes them by.

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