Hey all, another auto repair story here. This one’ll be a long one, I’m afraid, but I’m loathe to break it into multiple parts.
It was 7:00 in the evening on a Saturday in August when my cell phone rang. It was Rom.
“Hey dude, I’m showing a customer that red V70, and it won’t start.”
Me: “Turn the key and it just clicks?”
Rom: “Yeah, what’s that mean?”
Me: “Battery’s dead. You’ll have to jump it.”
Rom: “Can you come by and do it? I’ll buy you a sandwich from that deli across the way.”
The sandwich shop in the strip mall next door was pretty damn fantastic, I had to admit, and coming in meant I got to clock a whole quarter hour of overtime.
Me: “Whatever the special is on wheat, lots of olives. I’ll be by in 10.”
The Volvo turned out indeed to just be a low battery, and a quick jump off my Jeep had it going in seconds. I walked into the bay to punch in all that delicious overtime.
“Hey Rom? Where’s the orange Smart Cabrio?”
We were one of the first retailers of imported Smart Cars, a couple years before Mercedes / Penske brought them officially. We had a small herd of grey market cars, and since there were only a handful in the states at the time, they tended to get a lot of attention. They were a great car to have in inventory, since they had a huge profit margin (circa $5,000 markup on each), and basically sold themselves. But with the ravenous demand for them, we knew they were a serious target for thieves, and we kept all of ours in one of the bays under lock and key.
Rom’s eyes snapped to the empty spot in the bay where a certain orange Smart Cabrio should have been sitting. He freaked, his voice rising to a soprano shriek.
“What the f***? Is it in the service bay?”
I kicked off the alarm for the service bay and surveyed. Lots of broken Volkswagens, some evidence that one of the techs and Colossal Redneck had enjoyed a few Natty Ices after hours, but zero Smart Cabrios. Within seconds, Rom was on the horn with the police.
Rom basically told the Volvo customer to piss off, and he and I chatted for a minute while we analyzed the situation. Someone had managed to get a car out of the bay without tripping the alarm on the building, and Rom assured me the building was locked up tight when he arrived an hour earlier. I scrolled through the alarm, but we all had the same code, so it was impossible to tell who had been in and out. We had nothing to go off of.
Monday came with no word from the police about our stolen Smart Car. I came in at my usual a-little-bit-late-o’clock and rolled open the door to the bay. I immediately whipped out my phone and rang Rom.
“Boss, you’re not going to believe it. The orange Cabrio is back in the bay.”
“The building was locked, no trip codes in the alarm, and the key is back on the hook. Car’s dirty, but it’s intact.”
Rom blasted into the parking lot moments later, The Amazon in tow. The Amazon was his wife and co-owner of the business. She was every bit of eleven feet tall, and loved exactly three things in the world: shouting at employees, shouting at vendors, and shouting at customers. Just shouting, in general.
The two yelled incoherently trying in vain to scream themselves toward a logical explanation while I scrolled through the alarm. Lots of arms and disarms on Sunday, nothing atypical there, and nothing that morning. We called the police back and informed them that the car had been found. Rom asked them to come take fingerprints, and even without speakerphone turned on, I could hear the guffaw on the other end of the line. Obviously we were going to have to solve this ourselves.
It’s the next Saturday, and I’m laying on my couch trying to balance a can of Coors on my stomach while watching Nigella Lawson when the phone rings. It’s Colossal Redneck.
“Dude, Rom just called me. That there Cabrio’s missin’ again. Y’all know anything about it?”
“I didn’t put it in for service on Friday, did you?”
“Nope. S**t. I’ll have Rom call the fuzz again.”
Monday rolls around, and I saunter into work a few minutes late. The bay door is open, with Rom, The Amazon, and Colossal Redneck standing around staring at something. I pull up to the door. Lo and behold, the Cabrio is back.
Amid the wailing of the bosses, Colossal Redneck pontificated in a bout of eloquence.
“This s#!t is f&#ked the f#*k up.”
Immediately following the profanity, however, was a rare moment of brilliance.
“Lookie here. The alarm ain’t gone off, the building’s locked up, the f**kin’ key is back in the right spot. If it was a thief, why didn’t they take none of the computers or the tow rig or the flatbed or nothin’? S#!t, the techs have all them tools, and nobody went and bothered those. And hell, why’d they bring the car back, and twice? I’ll tell ya’ what, it’s gotta be somebody in the company doin’ it.”
He was right. The evidence added up to only one thing: somebody on staff was borrowing the car without wanting anyone to know about it. Some dealerships let staff take inventory home in the hopes that they will be more familiar with the cars and be better able to sell them, but aside from occasionally loaning a car out for an overnight shakedown after major repairs, this was not something we did. And particularly not with a grey market Smart Car. In fact, we didn’t even let people test drive them, with the exception of one blue hardtop that we used as the demo car.
“It ain’t me, I doubt it’s any of you three, and I’d be real surprised if a tech took it home, since none of them like these things much. Gotta be someone in sales or the office staff.”
We nodded in agreement. In one fell swoop, CR had narrowed it down to just five people – the two salespersons and the three other employees. We endeavored to install a camera in the bay where we kept the cars, and before the sales staff came in the following morning, a tech and I climbed up into the loft and hid a camera and recording box up there pointing down toward the bay door.
Fast forward to the following Sunday. I’m underneath an old Ford van a friend used as a tow rig, trying desperately to get the sad, old 351 Windsor to not overheat, when my phone rings. Covered in a mixture of grease and ethylene glycol, I answer. It’s Rom.
“Cabrio’s gone. Get over here and help me get the recording out of the camera.”
15 more glorious minutes of overtime, hooray! I tightened a few hose clamps on the Econoline and hopped in the Jeep. I roll into the parking lot at work to find Rom, The Amazon, CR, and a bored-looking police officer standing around a curiously vacant spot in the bay. I climbed up in the loft to grab the recording box and hook it to a TV.
Oddly enough, there were no lights on either the box or the camera. Someone had unplugged them. We played back what we could of the recording, but all we saw was a typical busy Saturday – the two salespeople, the owners, and most of the office staff coming and going all day long. Nothing looked untoward at all, and the orange Cabrio remained cemented in place the entire day. And then, right around 5:00 when people were starting to look like they were thinking about checking out for the day, the recording stopped.
Either the tech who helped me had spilled the beans, which wasn’t super likely, because the technicians hated the office staff with a passion, or someone had spotted the camera and pulled it offline just before stealing the car. Unfortunately, I had positioned the camera in a way where it didn’t catch the staircase to the loft, and so once again, the trail was cold.
There was much deliberation. My job was threatened by Rom, The Amazon shouted at me for a while, and the police officer left without saying anything. I noticed CR was surprisingly quiet, until he butted into the yelling and relayed a cunning plan. It hinged on the absolute stupidity of whoever was taking the car. This ordinarily might have been a problem, but being that it was probably a salesperson who took it, betting on idiocy meant the trap was foolproof.
Fast forward to the following Friday, 6:00 PM. I’m back home after a day of work, cooking dinner, when my phone rings. It’s Mr. Ferrari, one of our sales staff, who previously had worked for the Ferrari dealership in town, and never let anyone forget it.
“Got a car that won’t start.”
“K, be there in a few.”
“No. I’m sick of this s**t. Just tell me how to fix it.”
This was novel. The sales staff categorically refused to mess with a car, even for something as simple as filling a tire off the compressor or jumping the battery. Lady Applebee’s was too incompetent, and Mr. Ferrari was far too important for such things. Mr. Ferrari even refused to refuel the cars, making one of my lackeys do it for him. I had to admit, I was a little impressed that he wanted to fix it on his own for once, and I was certainly pleased that I might not have to put pants back on.
“Click but no start?”
Mr. Ferrari sighed in exasperation.
“NO. Quit making stupid assumptions. The god-damn key won’t turn in the ignition.”
“Alright, hang on, let me call a tech real quick and get an opinion. Get back to you in a few.”
Ten minutes later, Rom and I screeched into the parking lot one immediately after another.
Mr. Ferrari was livid. He marched toward me, finger pointed accusingly.
“What the f**k? You were supposed to call me back, you piece of s#!t!”
Rom sauntered over to him like the bow-legged sheriff of some spaghetti western town.
“You F**KED UP, that’s what!”
Rom snatched the key out of Mr. Ferrari’s hand. Sure enough, it was a Smart Car key, suspiciously labeled for the orange Cabrio. In a scene that looked a fair bit like the closing moments of a Scooby Doo cartoon, Rom explained the plot.
“Colossal Redneck switched the keys out on the orange Cabrio for another Smart so it wouldn’t start. We figured it wasn’t anyone in service taking the car, and we knew sales couldn’t troubleshoot why the key wouldn’t turn. When you refused to have 36055512 come fix it for you, we knew something was up, since you never fix s#!t. And here you are, orange Cabrio key in hand, you stupid dumb f**k.”
Mr. Ferrari tried to weasel out of it by saying that he thought it was okay to borrow it for the weekend. When that didn’t work he crafted a wild explanation like a child caught in a lie, claiming that somehow all the key tags fell off the Smart car keys, he got them mixed up trying to put the right tags back on the right keys, and that he really was trying to get the demo to start, not the Cabrio. Rom was having none of it, and in the end, Mr. Ferrari got a “stern talking to,” which meant sitting in Rom’s office while he endlessly whined “I don’t get what your problem is.” Over an unknown number of weekends, Mr. Ferrari had racked up a few thousand miles on the Cabrio and somehow managed to scratch and gouge the hell out just about every panel in the interior, meaning we ended up having to sell the car at a loss.
In the end, I received nearly forty-five minutes of overtime for my participation in the ordeal, though the promised sandwich never did appear.