In the Event of Flight

Days and nights with a bounty hunter

Here are some of Evangelista's many investigative precepts. Scan cell-phone conversations just after someone has denied knowledge of a fugitive's whereabouts -- the person will probably try to brief the fugitive. Never go after a guy as he's entering his house -- let him go in and feel the peace of his sanctuary for a few minutes, and then knock on the door. Take a drug addict when he's in the deepest depths of sleep, usually around noon. Never forget what an excellent source of detailed personal information trash is -- if a fugitive's addresses are stale or questionable, begin surveillance in the garbage. Be respectful and polite whenever possible, and do not abandon this manner when making threats involving financial or legal action. Page a fugitive (a high percentage depend on beepers) using a special tracing service called a trap line, which immediately yields the location of the phone used to return the page (the fugitive gets a generic message telling him the person he's calling is unavailable).

Also, avoid complicated confrontations like brawls and shoot-outs and car chases at all costs -- if you can't isolate and surprise a fugitive, go home and try again another day. Remember that behavior tends to be repetitious, and concentrate on human connection -- serious illness and significant holidays and pregnancy and sexual desire and the vulnerability of small children all draw fugitives to their families and friends and lovers. If a fugitive takes prescription drugs, search his last known residence for pill bottles, noting the pharmacy address and refill date (collaborating with the pharmacist, who can stall the fugitive by telling him his prescription won't be ready for a few hours, is always a possibility). If financial desperation may be distorting a fugitive's thinking, or if he might be particularly gullible, send him an advertisement-like card telling him he has won something, such as an expensive TV, and how to claim it. (The most famous episode of this kind of baiting, Evangelista says, was orchestrated by the U.S. Marshals Service, several years ago. The story goes like this: a high-level Mafia boss who had flipped agreed to pretend that his son was getting married. He sent invitations to fifty East Coast bosses and their families. The Marshals Service created a lush phony wedding, at which the bride and the priest and the best man were all marshals. The event unfolded lullingly, its true nature finally revealed in the reception hall by the best man, who toasted the groom and then asked the guests not to move, as the many patient, smoothly tailored marshals drew their guns.)

Evangelista knows almost by heart the bail-bond waiver provisions and the clause of the New York State Criminal Procedure Law and the texts of Supreme Court decisions and the two sections of Article IV of the United States Constitution which together generate the field of legal authority that encloses him when he goes out to work. Law-enforcement agencies often know little about the legalities of his profession; when he's out on a case, he always carries the jurisdictionally relevant legal literature. In New York he takes section 530.80 of the Criminal Procedure Law (a procedural translation of constitutional law and Supreme Court precedent); everywhere else he takes local criminal-procedure laws and the Supreme Court decisions relating to bail recovery and Article IV of the Constitution, which obligates states to respect criminal charges brought in other states by surrendering fugitives. Evangelista's professional identification consists of a badge and a laminated excerpt of an 1872 Supreme Court ruling, Taylor v. Taintor, the first and last legal decision to fully enumerate his unique powers.

When bail is given, the [defendant] is regarded as delivered to the custody of his [bondsmen]. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up in their discharge; and if that cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another State; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and, if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose.... It is said: "The [bondsmen] have their [defendants] on a string, and may pull the string whenever they please."

Evangelista often uses the phrase "by the book," but he rarely uses it figuratively. Cops frequently detain him, but none of their suspicions -- of kidnapping, criminal impersonation, assault, breaking and entering -- has ever withstood his multiple legal references. "You got to know how to read and learn and comprehend the law," he told me. "If you can't do that, get out of this business. You're gonna get screwed, arrested, executed in the media." Evangelista treats the law with vehement devotion; he often quotes it like Scripture. He admires a bounty hunter named Lance Wilkinson, who took a wrongful-conviction case -- he was accused of kidnapping a fugitive he had picked up out of state -- to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts and won. "See, everybody eyed Wilkinson like a piece of shit," Evangelista told me, "but Wilkinson's in the law books now."


I HAVE spent many hours in Evangelista's office listening to him talk about his profession. A majority of his sentences feature baroque constructions of foul language. Among the terms that ornament these constructions: "douchebag," "dickboy," "razorhead," "knucklehead," "meathead," "pumpkinhead," "penishead," "pimplehead," "fathead," and "potatohead." When he feels that someone has done something foolish, he refers to that person as Mr. or Mrs. Potatohead, as in "Mr. Potatohead over here gave me the wrong address." He frequently threatens his loitering children, which amuses them. Once I heard him say to Sal, "Keep doing that, I'll pop your head like a zit." Sal appeared not to hear him. Evangelista uses the adjective "frigging" to modify pretty much everything; in puzzling situations he frequently asks, "What the frig?" Another adjective he likes is "felonious." He is fond of observing that people are creatures of habit, and he likes to preface answers to serious questions with the phrase "to be quite honest." When someone is hassling him, he'll sometimes wonder why that person is breaking his shoes, or breaking his balls; when he admires someone's audacity, he'll say, "Pair of balls, right?"

In all the hours I've spent with Evangelista, I've never once seen him idle. I've never seen him pause to daydream. He has as much energy as anyone I've ever met. He works from twelve to eighteen hours a day, averaging around a hundred hours a week. Six years ago he took a vacation. Indelible dark crescents underscore his eyes. Evangelista smokes incessantly; he lives mainly on chicken-parmigiana hoagies that he orders from an Italian place down the street and eats at his desk.

Although he often thinks intently, Evangelista almost never appears thoughtful. Sometimes he seems preoccupied, but only in a horizontal, multiple-task kind of way, never in a vertical, self-analytical kind of way: he is either purely engaged in one or more aspects of his life or work or searching intensely for something to be purely engaged in. He is never frantic; his attention marches steadily from one engagement to the next, fastening on each with the same total commitment, and you never know quite what's guiding him, which tends to insulate him slightly from the people around him and cast them in a subsidiary light. Evangelista's conversational manner heightens this effect: his periodic avid quietness indicates a hard evaluation of confidential objectives; otherwise he's a torrential talker, difficult to interrupt and given to digression.

is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn.

The Atlantic Monthly; November 2000; In the Event of Flight - 00.11 (Part Two); Volume 286, No. 5; page 82-92.

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