Joe Ford, car detective, searches the world for stolen rare automobiles on the black market. The case he’s on now could set him up for life—if he’s not outsmarted by a skilled network of criminals and cheats.
Joe Ford is sitting at the Pelican Landing, an outdoor restaurant in a fancy marina on the Intracoastal Waterway. Across the way is a 180-foot yacht, the name abbracci painted across the stern.
Joe’s cell phone rings. Wah-wah-waaahhh.The theme music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Joe’s ringtone.“Hold on,” he says. “It’s the FBI.”It’s midday, and Joe has just finished his first Corona. He’s self-employed. The Pelican Landing is off the main channel in Fort Lauderdale, part of the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, a twenty-two-acre, four-star resort where deckhands refuel yachts before they sail out to sea. When you’re sitting at the bar, the boats look like shimmering skyscrapers. Crew members scrub down decks; owners sip cocktails and shout into smartphones.It’s a place Joe goes.He hangs up his call. “The FBI says this is the most fun case they’ve ever worked—and I’m going to help them solve it,” he says.He looks around, nods at the Abbracci, once owned by a Texas businessman who recently sold off seventy-eight rare automobiles for a total of $53 million. “If you can afford that, then you can afford a million-dollar car,” he says, by way of explaining that lunching at this high-end grill is an essential part of his work. His order of ceviche and plantains arrives, and Joe orders another Corona.Joe is a detective for hire who specializes in recovering stolen cars. But not your car. Joe doesn’t look for cars stolen from parking garages or shopping malls—everyday transportation whose value lies in the number of miles they carry us. Joe Ford specializes in recovering cars whose value lies in not being driven much at all: rare, collectible, fetishized cars that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions or tens of millions of dollars, prized not for their ability to get from here to there but rather for their beauty, the artistry of their design, the care with which they were built, and perhaps most of all, their provenance.“I’m in a niche of a niche of a niche,” he says.Joe, sixty-two, is more Magnum P.I. than Sam Spade—tall, trim, tan, usually wearing a fitted polo or a Hawaiian shirt. Drinks sweet tea by the gallon and speaks like the New Orleans native he is. (“I grew up in east New Orleans, near the Ninth Wah-ard.”) Likes to swim and dive for lobsters and drive boats. He recently cruised on a sixty-five-footer down to Utila, “this coral-reef island off the coast of Honduras,” he says. “It was incredible—diving with whale sharks and drinking with outlaws. One guy didn’t come back.”People end up doing all kinds of jobs in this life. You sometimes wonder if, given a few left turns and different choices, the guy playing center field at Yankee Stadium could have ended up a taxi driver instead. Or vice versa. But Joe . . . Joe Ford is what happens when a particular set of skills, personality traits, and turns of phrase lead a person into the only thing he should be doing. It’s rare. And when you see him at work—when you see him move easily among both the shady creatures of criminality and the millionaires on those yachts—you wonder whether you, like him, have found your place in the world.....