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.
The two men in coveralls slammed the young father up against the crib made up with Disney-character sheets and cuffed his hands behind his back. Before hustling him down the staircase, they told Melissa to give him $20 spending money for jail. As Sean was being maneuvered into the car, Melissa’s sister called to him, “You need anything, just call. I’ll get you anything you need.” Then she turned to Scott and George. “Try not to drive over the grass as you leave,” she said.
Scott lives in Rockland County, George in Clifton, New Jersey. But for both these men, the city streets are hunting grounds, their prey those who jump bail. Scott and George are paid by bondsmen who stand to forfeit their investment if the “skippers” are not caught.
Typically, hunters receive 10 percent of the bond for services rendered; in Sean’s case, $1,000 on a $10,000 bond. Occasionally, a single capture can net a top hunter enough to live on for a year. Arizona hunter Bob Burton, who is now president of the National Institute of Bail Enforcement and who founded the National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents (NABEA) – the nearest thing the industry has to a union – says that in the eighties, he chased “huge, million-dollar bonds,” snaring Miami cocaine barons, which means he was clearing at least $100,000 a head. As one of New York’s elite skip-tracers says, “You do it for the money, and you do it for the money. It’s the bottom line.”
Until recently, bounty hunting was a little-discussed vestige of frontier justice, revisited every few years in movies like The Bounty Hunters, A Fistful of Dollars, The Hunter, Blade Runner, and Midnight Run but rarely scrutinized. After all, everyone benefited: The bondsman got his money back, and the service cost the taxpayer not a penny. These mercenaries were a key cog in the justice system, for without them, fewer bondsmen would risk lending out money for bail and more people would spend months sitting in increasingly overcrowded jails awaiting trial.
According to Bob Burton, 87 percent of those who jumped a bondsman-loaned bail, or some 23,000 people, were picked up by bounty hunters in 1996. “Less than two dozen complaints were issued against them,” says Burton. But on the last day of August 1997, the industry suddenly had a lot to answer for. Early that morning, five men burst into a house in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, tied up three of the occupants, and attempted to enter the bedroom of a young couple in their twenties, Chris Foote and Spring Wright. Foote picked up a gun and began firing through the door. By the time the shoot-out had ended, Foote and Wright were dead. Later, under arrest, the bandits claimed they were bounty hunters and admitted that they were, in fact, looking for someone else.
Two weeks later, after further investigation, prosecutors announced they now believed the bounty-hunting story was just a fib, and that the five men in ski masks were burglars whose sortie had gone awry. But the news came too late for the country’s bounty-hunting community. Across the United States, politicians and legal commentators began howling for regulations to control these vigilantes.
Bounty hunting is legitimized in New York by state law and at a national level by an obscure 1872 Supreme Court ruling holding the bail contract to be a unique civil affair between the bailee and the bondsman, empowering the bondsman or his employees to use any means necessary to return a bailee who flees. In New York, only a minority of the hunters are legally entitled to carry guns (35 percent, Bob Burton estimates, although hunters privately admit that a lot of their peers are packing weapons without permits). Says one old-timer, “This is a citizen’s arrest. We’re there under lawful pretexts. If somebody pulls a weapon, you can use deadly force in defense.”
After the incident in Phoenix, State Senator James Lack ordered his staff to research the industry, with a view to introducing legislation that would require hunters to alert local police to busts. There has been talk of introducing age minimums and higher educational standards or military qualifications similar to those recently introduced into the NYPD. Hunters would also have to undergo a physical exam as well as take a written test and submit to an interview that would determine their psychological stability.
Whether or not Lack’s reforms go anywhere, what seems clear is that post-Phoenix (an event more than one hunter describes as the industry’s Rodney King case), the hunters are in for a rougher ride.
The ranks of New York’s bounty-hunting community include everyone from moonlighting private eyes to people who answer the phone at Dial-a-Mattress. There are ex-suits like Bob R., a middle-aged man laid off from his spokesman’s job at IBM; former military personnel like Sonya S., a young woman with eight years in the army who teaches at a parochial school by day; Raymond T., a bus driver with a powerful taste for Long Island iced teas; and one man old enough to claim Social Security who is too addicted to “getting these scumbags off the street” to retire.
Stan Rivkin is described by many colleagues – with grudging respect – as a “forefather” of the city’s hunters. Unlike quite a few of his peers, who prefer their beeper-toting anonymity, he is an inveterate self-promoter, a man whose antics are at least partially responsible for bounty hunting’s blustery, square-jawed, camera-friendly public face.
The goateed, cigar-chomping Long Islander, now 65, began hunting in the mid-fifties, shortly after he’d finished serving in the Marines. He was working as a repo man for a New York City finance company. Paid $25 by a bondsman for his first human catch, he was one of the only active skip-tracers on the East Coast. His West Coast counterpart was Ralph “Papa” Thorson, who worked out of Los Angeles and died in 1991.
By the seventies, Rivkin, who was raised mainly in an Orthodox Jewish orphanage in Yonkers, was being profiled in People magazine. CBS made a film titled Rivkin: Bounty Hunter that starred Ron Leibman. Rivkin used to store apprehended fugitives in his Franklin Square basement overnight. A photo of Duke, the blue Doberman who watched over Rivkin’s detainees (“higher-strung than your average Doberman,” says Rivkin), still hangs on his living-room wall.
“I’m not a rabbi or a priest or anything like that,” says Rivkin. “But I think I get through to these people more than a court of law or a counselor because I talk their shit. If you want to catch these guys, you gotta get down in the gutter with them, down and dirty.” It’s a point of pride that in 1988, Robert De Niro rode with Rivkin to prep for his role in Midnight Run. (“I rode with De Niro, too,” says Bob Burton. “Ralph Thorson also went out with De Niro. Everybody wants to believe that it was modeled on him.”)
In 1990, Rivkin had a triple bypass, and since then, he’s been content to walk around with an unlit cigar jammed in his jowl. He’s no longer as active as he once was; if there’s going to be a chase, he hires somebody to help. Nowadays, there are plenty of hungry young hunters who welcome the chance to work with the old pro. Rivkin, once the baddest piranha around, no longer has the tank to himself.
Manei M. and his Trinidadian partner, Hayden P., do better than most with a mainly local practice. Their specialty is tracking down men and women who lived in New York City legally as noncitizens but who committed a felony offense and went to prison. These people are subject to a unique form of double indemnity: Upon their release from prison, the INS immediately begins deportation proceedings, regardless of the severity or circumstances of the offense – even if they have lived in the United States since childhood.
While the process is under way, they are bonded back out into society. When the appeals are exhausted, their bonds are retracted. If they do not show up for their deportation hearings, the bondsmen send Manei and Hayden out to collect them. Sometimes the hunters use a van to pick off several people in a single sweep. Frequently, the deportee does not even realize his appeal has been denied. He finds out when Manei and Hayden kidnap him.
The captives are hustled down to Federal Plaza, where they are kept in holding cells on Varick Street; out-of-state cases are flown to the INS’s main processing facility in Louisiana. Manei and his partner drive to the airport, buy the plane tickets, alert the crew that they are transporting someone who is under arrest, and fly to Baton Rouge. From the airport, Manei usually drives the deportee to a small parish jail renting out cells for $45 a night. And there the deportees stay until the INS office in Oakdale opens for business. The paperwork is filled out, the bounty hunters claim their money, and within a few days, the hapless ex-felons are on planes back to lands they may not even know.
On the twenty-third floor of the Peninsula Hotel, at the swanky rooftop bar, Manei greets the maître d’ by his first name. They shake hands. The maître d’ leads Manei to a table and walks off to fetch him a cocktail. Manei calls the bar his “office away from home.” He may be contacted only through a pager number with a Long Island area code; the Peninsula is one of the places he goes to rendezvous with bondsmen.
The 31-year-old has a boyish face and shoulder-length black hair. His body is thin and wiry, and he is dressed casually, in black jeans, a T-shirt, and flashy chains. But this is the Peninsula, so he’s thrown on a sport coat. Manei still manages to look like the college student who acted in Molière and Tennessee Williams plays ten years ago at Long Island’s Dowling University. If he catches his man early in the morning and gets down to Federal Plaza before the INS offices open, he can sometimes be found sitting in the McDonald’s on Broadway across from the Federal Building, wearing his bulletproof vest and reading Gogol or Dostoevski while Hayden, his tall, baritone-voiced partner, sits outside at the steering wheel of his gold 1997 Chrysler Sebring, glancing occasionally through the rearview mirror at the cuffed prisoner in the backseat.
Manei fell out with his mentor, Stan Rivkin, in the early nineties. He isn’t well liked by the NABEA crowd, either. Somewhat more cerebral than your average hunter, he’s been talking recently about setting up a more exclusive organization to rival Bob Burton’s. Many of those in NABEA, he feels, are small-timers. “Out of 10,000 people,” he exaggerates contemptuously, “you’re lucky if there are 10 people who are real bounty hunters, who make a living out of it 24 hours a day.”
Describing his work, the hunter quotes Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes – according to Manei’s paraphrase – “If you can win a battle without fighting, then you’ve truly won. If you win by destroying a city, you’ve got yourself a headache. You go around being some superhero gung ho guy, you just get a headache for yourself.”
There was the time Manei and his sensei, Rivkin, staked out a house in a snowstorm in Pennsylvania, looking for a 68-year-old cocaine importer from Florida. After four days, they saw him on the street and rolled down the window to ask for directions. When the old man stopped, Manei called out harshly, “Hey! Jack! Why don’t you get in the backseat? You’re under arrest.” The hunters jumped out of their vehicle, and within seconds, the man was cuffed. Once they’d shuffled him into the car, Manei changed tack, becoming the gangster’s friend, agreeing to send him socks and T-shirts in jail. “And I did,” the hunter remembers fondly.
The wiles are endless. “I make a phone call to a guy’s house,” Manei continues. “I’ll ask for his wife or sister. Then the guy’ll say to me, ‘She’s not home right now; who’s this?’ I’ll tell him: ‘Tell her it’s Mike. Who’s this? Her brother?’ Then I get him in a conversation – you know, I want to take her out, or whatever. Then I ask, ‘What time can I call back?’ I get his name because I’ve got him in conversation. Little tricks like that.”
That’s how Manei gets definitive proof the fugitive is in the house. “I know bounty hunters who call a house, the guy answers the phone, they raid the house, he’s not there. Because he’s got call-forwarding. So what do I do? I go to the apartment. I’ll listen by the door. With my cellular phone, I’ll dial the number. If the phone is ringing in there, I’ll hear the person pick it up. And then I have an option. I’ll either wait you out, or I’ll go knock on the door. I usually prefer to wait.”
On TV, there is a theatrical emphasis on the brute force it takes to apprehend bad guys. NABEA has advised members not to participate in the syndicated show Bounty Hunters, which re-creates real hunts with real-life hunters. “They’re too much into the Rambo-SWAT-team image,” says Bob Burton. “They ignore the 97 percent of talking with attorneys, detectives, witnesses, and, most of all, the victim. There is very little kicking in doors. Less than 3 percent of the people we arrest resist us.”
A good bounty hunter prefers to flush his quarry out with tactics closer to those of Sherlock Holmes than those of Steven Seagal, only rarely breaking down doors. After all, one never knows what’s waiting on the other side. In Washington State two years ago, an overeager hunter opened a closet door and got shot in the face. Scare your not-quite-subdued quarry, and he might do something rash. One of New York’s skip-tracers once chased a teenager onto a roof only to watch in horror as the young man, in his terror, tripped and fell over the edge.
Often Manei deals with this by confronting targets on the street with a name he knows isn’t theirs. “I’ll come up on you, show you some I.D. I’m gonna tell you, ‘Listen, Mr. Rodriguez, you’re under arrest.’ He says, ‘Okay, I’ll come with you, but I’m gonna sue you. You got the wrong guy.’ Once I have him in custody, in cuffs, I say, ‘Listen, it’s really you I’m looking for,’ and I show him his picture. He says, ‘Man! That was a good one!’”
Manei has a new trainee, Leo. Leo found his way into the business the way Mr. M. did – through an old-fashioned apprenticeship. As Manei explains while Leo is out on the street spying on a house in the Bronx, “You’ve got to do all kinds of shit. When we’re teaching you, and we’re doing it for free, you’ve got to break your bones for us.”
The custom of allowing prisoners back into society before trial has its origins in Norman England. Because dungeon conditions frequently finished inmates off before they ever set foot in court, judges began releasing prisoners into the hands of their family members or fellow villagers. No money changed hands; if the prisoners legged it, their guardians could swing in their place (though in practice, the Crown usually exercised mercy and levied a fine). But the Tudor courts hammered out some of the system’s roughest edges, and the substitution of money or chattel as bail gained acceptance. Bail soon begat bounty hunters, who were hired out-of-pocket by family members (since England has never had legal bondsmen). By the eighteenth century, London newspapers were chronicling the escapades of bounty-hunting gangs like the Broyles Street Boys. In England, bounty hunting finally disappeared in the nineteenth century, leaving the field to the police. The United States is today the only country that allows bounty hunters to apprehend bail jumpers.
Nationally, there are an estimated 2,100 men and women who call themselves bounty hunters. Bob Burton calculates that NABEA has more than 250 members in New York State and New Jersey. Still, there are plenty of people – Rivkin, for example – who choose to operate outside of NABEA’s purview. Freelance hunting is an antisocial, even paranoid affair. In a trade whose unofficial operative motto is “No body, no booty,” established hunters fear colleagues who sell their services for a smaller percentage of the bond. And, of course, there’s also a queasiness about captives coming back to seek vengeance on the guys who put them away.
New York hunters are generally employed by out-of-state bondsmen to track down fugitives who have disappeared into the roil of the city. Unlike in most states, where the bondsman has between one month and one year to return a fugitive to the court before the bail money is forfeited, in New York, the forfeit goes into effect as soon as a person fails to keep his or her court date. It is entirely up to the judge’s discretion whether he will set aside the forfeiture and return the bond money should the defendant reappear.
Many judges will, in fact, give the bondsman up to a year to return the fugitive, but bondsmen such as Brooklyn’s Helen Mavica, unwilling to send good money after bad, are reluctant to employ hunters, instead preferring to wait until the Police Department’s 170-strong Warrant Squad brings the bailee in. Although the squad is notoriously inefficient – a recent ABC PrimeTime Live report estimated that 35,000 people (the majority of whom do not borrow from bondsmen) jump bail every year in New York, and the squad catches only 6,000 to 10,000 of these – its services don’t cost anything. By contrast, if Mavica were to hire a hunter, she would have to pay him a fee upon the fugitive’s arrest, even if the judge refused to “exonerate” the bond.
‘There is no hunting like the hunting of men, and those who have hunted long enough and liked it never care for anything else thereafter.” The quote is Hemingway via NABEA’s training manual. “Street smarts really come into play in a town like New York City,” Bob Burton tells his audience as he paces back and forth on the blue carpet in a conference room at a Quality Inn in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Eight to ten times a year, NABEA’s founder conducts three-day training sessions around the country. On the last weekend of October, 32 people dropped $427 apiece and made their way to Lyndhurst so Burton – who covered Central America for Soldier of Fortune magazine in the eighties and who counts G. Gordon Liddy as a business associate and friend – could teach them how to “psychologically overwhelm the weak.” Since automatic NABEA membership is conferred at the course’s end, these weekends do a lot to burnish Burton’s godfather stature within the business.
Of the students present at the Quality Inn seminar, nearly half are from New York City. There are repo men and social workers, students from John Jay College, and a 41-year-old grandmother (the only woman in the class) studying computer science at Hunter and looking to salt her midlife years with some adventure, “experience different walks of life,” she says. There aren’t many women in the business – and none in New York are full-time – but there is a hunter in San Francisco, Mackenzie Green, who’s appeared on several TV shows and runs her own Website, Bounty Hunters Online.
Under the conference room’s enormous, low-hanging chandeliers, Burton and several colleagues tell war stories and swap macho, innuendo-drenched, backslapping repartee. “In this business, you’re going to be dealing with swines sic, scum, street trash, and with lawyers, attorneys, and cops,” says Burton, pausing long enough for a crony to repeat the “swines, scum, street trash” chorus. “Suhn uhm’va bitch,” Burton exclaims, and the audience roars.
The lights go out, and students watch a few documentaries, including a BBC production about a California bondsman who ends up catching his man by shooting into the dirt in front of his motorbike as he tries to flee.
The lights back on, Burton starts to shake the profession’s dirty tricks out of the bag – from setting up “trap line” 800 phone numbers operated by companies such as Colorado’s TelScan that automatically locate where the caller is phoning from to how to “spirit” (read: kidnap) fugitives out of other countries and back into the good old U.S. of A.
The scholars of subterfuge also learn how to use any branch of Domino’s Pizza to get an address when all you have is a phone number. Call Domino’s and order a pizza. When the operator asks your address, you then say: “I don’t know, I’m at this dude’s party. All I know is the phone number.” Read the fugitive’s number to the operator, and the sophisticated Domino’s caller-I.D. system will spit out the address.
Other ploys include phoning a fugitive’s credit-card company after procuring his Social Security number from the court record. Impersonating the fugitive, one says something to the effect of “My wife has run off with my credit card. I don’t want to press charges, but I wouldn’t mind finding out what she’s been charging.” With a bit of luck, a gullible employee will read off the last few purchases, giving the hunter an idea of where his man is hiding out. There is also a way to identify a credit-card company’s trip-up question (“What’s you mother’s maiden name?”) in advance, too complicated to relate here. Doesn’t this violate a ream of statutes? “It is legal for a bail-bondsman and his agent to access all of the defendant’s financial records,” says Burton. As for impersonating the fugitive, “it might be a gray area you could easily slip into,” Burton says cryptically.
After two days of lectures, the students are herded into the parking lot and taught how to handcuff efficiently and thread leg shackles and belly chains around disruptive captives. And don’t forget to make sure the captive sits in the right rear seat of the car: Otherwise, “he could push the seat forward, breaking the seat and pushing you forward to cause a wreck,” explains George F., a graduate of the course. “Or he could choke you to death with his handcuffs.”
Burton also discusses state and federal laws regarding bounty hunting and the carrying of weaponry (“In Arizona, it’s a felony if you don’t have a gun in your car,” Burton says, pausing to make sure his audience gets the gag before wrapping things up with a hearty “Suhn uhm’va bitch”). Students are presented with the option of buying from a whole line of “Death Gear,” which includes black SWAT-team-style clothing printed with FUGITIVE RECOVERY AGENT and a “Pneu-Gun ballistic baton,” which promises to “take out a 300-pound man at 20 feet” with a 2 1/2-ounce shot bag – no permit required. A salesman with emphysema hawks the goods between doses of oxygen taken through a tube in his nose à la Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.
At the course’s conclusion, all participants receive a certificate that entitles them to purchase a badge something like a sheriff’s star, useful mainly as a form of I.D. to be flashed at cops and prisoners. Burton admits in private that only about 15 percent of NABEA’s membership, or 300 to 350 people across the country, can earn a living as full-time hunters. Alumni send their cards to bondsmen around the country, schmooze a lot, and hope to get a trickle of small jobs. Some parlay their experience into something bigger. But that could take a while. “Don’t quit your day job if you have one,” says Bob R.
Louis McNeill and his posse are some of Burton’s more successful recent graduates. Hewing to the principle that there is safety in numbers, they tend to travel in a pack – all wearing blue bulletproof vests under those black jackets emblazoned with the words FUGITIVE RECOVERY AGENT. Louis McNeill is 25 and lives in Bushwick, and when he isn’t hunting, he puts in time as a volunteer auxiliary cop. His view of things is Manichean: All fugitives are inherently evil, and anyone associated with them must be tainted, too.
“We’ve got a fuckin’ problem here!” McNeill shouts into his cellular phone in front of an empty house in Far Rockaway sometime after 10 p.m. He has just realized that the indemnitor – in this case, the elderly mother-in-law of the woman they are looking for – has sold the house she’d put up for collateral, disappearing with the proceeds. As he talks, self-proclaimed “Special Agent” McNeill works himself up into a frenzy of rage: “I want 30 grand the value of the bond! If she just sold the house, fuck the bitch!” Then he turns plaintive. “I’m working out here naked right now. I’m working my ass off right now, and I come to a gutted house!”
Determined to locate her, he makes a few phone calls to friends in the Police Department. Nothing comes up. So he resorts to that tried-and-true method: dialing 411. And what do you know? “The bitch is listed!” he shouts triumphantly, pumping the air with his fist. “Ain’t this a beautiful thing.”
Four carloads of angry hunters drive off to Jamaica to pay a house call.
At eleven at night, Marquita, her middle-aged son, and her two teenage grandsons are in bed. There’s a persistent knocking at her door. She and her son eventually come down the stairs. They look through the screen door and see seven men and one teenage woman, all dressed in black, standing around the porch.
Flashing badges, the visitors identify themselves as fugitive-recovery agents.
“Why you come to my house this time of night?” says the woman, who stands firm in her skimpy lace nightgown, seemingly more irritated than frightened.
“We have the right to search your house,” McNeill booms. Since he has no knowledge that the fugitive is in the house, and since he is not empowered by any search warrant, McNeill is skittering about on thin ice here. But the woman doesn’t know it. And even if she did, who is she going to complain to? The hunters aren’t about to go away, and she wants her door left intact. Reluctantly, she lets them in. Theoretically, had Marquita refused to open her door, McNeill could not have entered her house legally. But by telling her he has this power, and playing on her ignorance of the law, he has managed to get himself invited in.
The crew ushers Marquita and her son and two grandsons into the living room. A few peel off and station themselves around the house. There’s no violence, but there is definitely menace.
McNeill, wearing a backward baseball cap, sits down on the sofa with Marquita and begins to interrogate her. His spiel ricochets from lawyerese to cop talk to psychobabble to the words of a parent scolding a wayward child. Repeatedly, he says, “I’m trying to keep this on a professional level.” He informs Marquita of her legal position as indemnitor even though she already knows it. She’s not happy with her daughter-in-law, either, and calls her a “dog” for running off on bail. He tells her that if the daughter-in-law doesn’t show up, Marquita’s pension from her years as a NYNEX operator will be subject to partial seizure. It is, he confides in her, “a messy situation.” But if she works with him, he’ll work with the judge on saving her pension. (Since bounty hunters have no special influence with the court, this is a somewhat extravagant promise. But it’s all part of Louis’s rap.)
James, a Nassau County security guard with prematurely salt-and-pepper hair, a little man with a puffed-up ego, goes into the kitchen to rifle through Marquita’s address book. He is accompanied by the teenage girl, who lives on Long Island and is riding with the boys for kicks. Playing tough for the girl’s benefit, James asks if there is a photo of the fugitive in the house, and when Marquita answers that there isn’t, he shouts at her that she’s a liar. “Don’t get funky with me!” the grandmother shoots back. When her son, the bail jumper’s husband, protests the search, James assumes a deep voice and growls, “I have the right, sir!” He finds a few old numbers in the phone book and announces victoriously, “You said you hadn’t heard from her. Her number’s in here five times. Your credibility’s crap!”
Marquita’s son alternates between rambling fury and sullen cooperation. While the others are making a lot of noise and finding out nothing, Jamaican-born “Special Agent” Rali takes him on a walk and, seducing him with the bonhomie of a fellow countryman, gradually squeezes out a few tidbits.
The hunters depart, leaving behind a business card in case the family hears anything. It’s midnight, and the cars speed back toward Brooklyn on the Van Wyck Expressway. “Rali, we gonna piss people off tomorrow?” McNeill asks jovially. “You know that, baby! You know!”
They’re confident that in the morning, Marquita’s son will phone Rali and provide additional information allowing them to locate the woman. But the call doesn’t come. And James’s phone numbers lead nowhere. A couple of weeks later, at NABEA’s Lyndhurst seminar, McNeill reveals that the bail jumper’s husband mentioned a name the woman might be using to Rali during their walk. McNeill ran it through his computer and discovered that the fugitive had changed her name and Social Security number. But he couldn’t get her address. What he does know is that the indemnitor surely knew as much as the husband, and wasn’t telling. “That lying bitch,” he snorts.
In room 136 of the Marriott Hotel, on the outskirts of La Guardia Airport, Sean, still handcuffed, settles into a green armchair by the window. Scott turns the TV on for him and surfs the channels until he lands on HBO. It’s 9:35 in the morning, and Scott and George are waiting for Louis and Rali, who – for a small fee – will sit on Sean until the bondsman shows up to escort Sean back to Greensboro.
Ten minutes later, the junior hunters knock on the door and enter the room. Feeling generous, Scott hands a wad of cash to Louis and tells him to order up a pot of coffee and some bagels for all of them, including Sean. The older men tell Sean to take care of himself as they head out to make their second catch of the day.
Later that night, Sean phones Melissa from North Carolina. He is going to stand trial, do his time – probably only a few months – and then return to New York. All things considered, Melissa is taking things fairly calmly. She thought George, who had done most of the shouting, had been “pretty rude.” But “the smaller guy, under the circumstances, was as pleasant as he could be.” She’d known that Sean was wanted for jumping bail, and once Scott and George had identified themselves as bail enforcers, she’d felt no physical fear. What upsets her most is that Sean will miss Nasira’s first birthday.
Sean is philosophical about being taken back into custody. “I did wrong,” he says with resignation. “But I wasn’t out in New York selling drugs. I was working – I’d been looking for a job every day for three months and just got one two days ago. Now I’ll have to start all over again when I get back to New York. I hate it when they ask you about those gaps: ‘Where were you?’” His father, though, will be a happy man. “He’s the one who, uh, bailed me out,” Sean says, grinning sheepishly.