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Citizen’s Arrest

Bounty hunters in this city play a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek to get their man -- impersonating Con Ed repairmen, tapping phone lines, and storming houses with handcuffs. Nabbing fugitives is tricky business, which is why they often come this close to breaking the law themselves.


In the car on the way to La Guardia Airport, Sean says he hopes his 8-month-old daughter, Nasira, won’t remember this morning. A few minutes ago, two men in Con Edison coveralls stormed into their Morris Heights home in the Bronx, threw her daddy up against her crib, handcuffed him, and bundled him down the stairs into a waiting car. His father-in-law couldn’t understand why the men hauling daughter Melissa’s common-law husband away couldn’t be slapped with kidnapping charges. “These people are illegal as hell,” he’d screamed.

Sean is unruffled; the bogus repairmen weren’t altogether unexpected. Last year, he failed to appear in a North Carolina court on a minor drug charge, and today his past caught up with him. On the way to the airport -- where a flight leaving in five hours will remove him from New York for several months and cost him his recently found job at the Gap -- he apologizes to his abductors for the behavior of his father-in-law, a Vietnam vet who had angrily bellowed at the two “cowboys” who’d descended upon his home out of nowhere and ruined everybody’s morning.

George F. and Scott B., two of New York City’s more successful bounty hunters, pulled up to a brick two-family split-level in George’s dove-gray Mercury Cougar just after 7 a.m. They cased the building, which was surrounded by a six-foot-tall chain-link fence, before parking around the corner. There, they opened the trunk, grabbed blue bulletproof vests, and quickly strapped them on. Over the vests went Con Edison coveralls -- orange for Scott, blue for his partner’s 306-pound, six-feet-seven frame. Then came the headphones with antennae and mouthpieces, and handset radios for their chest pockets. Finally, they took out guns -- a slick black 9-mm. Colt for George, a silver Smith & Wesson .45 semi-automatic for Scott -- and pocketed them. Scott stamped his cigarette stub into the ground, jammed a pile of paperwork on their human target under his arm, and got back in the car. The men then drove around to the rear of the house and parked.

George lumbered over to the back fence and glanced at the colonnade of metal trash cans. One of them was pockmarked with bullet holes. “Nice neighborhood,” he muttered. The ex-Marine’s deep-southern drawl matched his wrestler’s build; in his scary-cuddly bearishness, he resembled the psychopathic traveling salesman played by John Goodman in Barton Fink. Scott, shorter, compact -- certainly more Con Edison-like in appearance -- went around to the front. The plan was for Scott to ring the doorbell and attempt to enter the house. Only there wasn’t a doorbell by the gate.

Scott’s voice sputtered over George’s headset: “The doors are locked. I can’t even get into the driveway.”

“Jump it, I guess,” George answered reflexively. “There’s no entrance at all back here.”

“Climb it, and he’s gonna wonder why Con Ed is climbing in,” Scott radioed back.

They huddled briefly and decided to return to the car. At 7:29 a.m., they drove 300 feet down the road and U-turned to point the Mercury Cougar at the front door. They waited, with the engine running. Scott took out his cell phone and used the time to call the Greensboro bondsman. George chain-smoked Marlboro Lights. There was no small talk.

At 8:02 a.m., the door of the house opened, and two young women emerged. Just as they unlocked the gate, George and Scott raced the Mercury sedan up onto the sidewalk, leaping out before the women thought to close the latch behind them. “Which one is Melissa?” Scott shouted. The wide-eyed woman in jeans with long brown hair said she was.

They bustled her back inside the enclosure, shouting they had a warrant for Sean’s arrest, demanding to know where he was. “Upstairs,” the young woman answered, almost inaudibly. They rushed into the house, propelling her in front of them with their bodies. Hearing the commotion, an older man and woman and another young man bolted into the hallway on the ground floor. They, too, began to shout. The intruders barked that Sean was wanted for jumping bail in North Carolina.

All seven scrambled noisily up two flights of stairs, into a small, neat bedroom. There, standing next to a crib, was a young man with a black bandanna wrapped around his head, wearing a T-shirt printed with the words RALPH LAUREN and blue pants. A baby was sitting on the bed crying, holding a bottle in her lap.

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