Thursday night. Northwest Washington, D.C. Late. Very late.

Leon and Maxie are crusin’, looking for a silver S-Class Mercedes.

Any silver S-Class Mercedes.

“Look,” Leon points to a side street off Connecticut Avenue. “That’s one.”

“Yeah,” Maxie says. He pulls the black Toyota down the street a block away.

Leon hops out and walks casually up the street, checking out the houses. No lights. It’s 2 a.m. and everyone’s asleep.

He walks a half black past the Mercedes, takes another look up and down the street, and then saunters back to the car, pulling a long, flat tool out of his jacket. As he slips the tool down between the door and the window, he never looks at what he’s doing, but keeps his eyes on the street, on the lookout for people or traffic.

One tug on the tool and the lock pops upon. An alarm starts to chirp, but Leon is under the dash and pulls a wire loose. The alarm stops. Maxie watches the houses nearby. No lights.

Inside the car, Leon uses another tool to pop the ignition off the steering console, He sticks a screwdriver into the hole where the ignition used to be, turns it, and the car starts immediately. In gear and he’s gone.

The whole thing took 42 seconds.

Ninety-four minutes later, Leon drops the car off at a garage outside Baltimore, collects $500 and hops back into the Toyota with Maxie. In a few hours, the Mercedes will have a new ignition lock, a new VIN (vehicle identification number) and will be on a boat out of Baltimore on its way to a new owner in the Middle East.

Leon and Maxie head back to D.C. There’s still enough night left to pick up one or two more cars.

If you want a high-end luxury car, don’t want to pay anywhere near what it’s worth, and aren’t too particular about where it came from, a phone call to a number in Baltimore will put Leon and Maxie on the job.

Leon and Maxie are car thieves, not your average, run-of-the-mill take whatever’s out there car thieves, mind you, but steal-to-order car thieves. They don’t heist anything until they got a firm order for it.

“We don’t do no low-end shit neither,” says Maxie. “Just luxury, usually Euro, sometimes Jap.”

What about Lincolns and Cadillac’s?

“Why hire us to boost a Cadillac? Nobody drives ’em anymore, not even the brothers. Any GM car is an invitation to steal. Ain’t no challenge there. Mercedes and BMW? They make it harder every year to get into their cars, but GM might as well put a sign on them that says Take Me. They be a goddamned joke. Same goes for Lincolns.”

When somebody places an order, a call goes out to Maxie’s beeper. He returns the call from a pay phone, always picked at random.

“We don’t use cell phones. Too easy to trace.”

They average three cars a night at $500 a pop. That’s $1,500 a night or over a half mil a year split between the two of them: tax free, no questions asked. No bad for a couple of high school dropouts.

Sometimes the cars get new papers and head out of the country. Sometimes they are chopped up for parts. Nothing, however, is taken until an order is placed.

“The days of stealing at random be over,” says Leon. “It’s supply and demand. They demand and we supply.”

Leon was busted twice for car theft as a juvi, but walked both times. Maxie’s record is clean and he claims he can keep it that way.

“You boost ’em quick, boost ’em clean and get out.”

They like Northwest Washington and Georgetown, because a lot of fancy cars are parked on the streets. They also work shopping malls and parking garages.

“In our line of work, you go where the buggies are,” Leon boasts. “If you got a car we need, don’t leave it. If you do, you lose it.”

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC