Intrepid Optimist

Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age

On Stealing a Car in the Tropics


My father-in-law, a former Italian diplomat, died intestate and in the resulting chaos which ensued,  his pride and joy, a 1980, Renault Alpine, disappeared. Despite it being the only one of its kind in Ecuador, nothing was heard of it for three months  until a family friend spotted it advertised for sale in a Guayaquil newspaper. To say the least, this was most unusual as Guayaquil is nigh on 500 km from its original home in Quito.

As I traveled frequently to Guayaquil, on my next visit I found the showroom where the car was on display but I did not identify myself on that occasion. On my return to Quito I officially reported its loss and its whereabouts  to the police. From one of my contacts in this service, a colonel, I learned distressing news. Despite us having the car’s papers, it would still be a long and complicated business to reclaim the Renault. His advice was for me was  to steal it.

Considering the other option, which would mean going through the Ecuadorian justice system – as with any issue – would be a lengthy and costly undertaking; larceny seemed the better answer. The colonel’s suggestion was made more appealing when he informed me that as the Guayaquil police were not to be trusted, he would loan one of his own agents to lend a hand in the felony.

With the agent, me paying his expenses and a small remuneration when successful,we would visit the showroom and on the pretext of considering  buying  the car, ask to take it for a test run. The theory being; once the car was outside the premises, the agent would reclaim it as a stolen vehicle. The colonel admitted there could be a problem with this strategy. No one selling a car permit anyone, let alone another Ecuadorian to drive off alone, especially with an expensive such as the Alpine. However, on second thoughts he kindly said, as I looked like a respectable gringo, he doubted they would refuse.

The problems started when Geronimo, the police agent and I got off the aircraft in Guayaquil.  Geronimo, born and bred in Quito, had never been down to sea level before and was immediately overcome with the thirty-five degree temperature and the surfeit of  humidity. I was wearing a linen suit and he had on flannel trousers, a vest, shirt and thick, knitted pullover. I must draw the reader’s attention to the fact that Quito is 2,850 metres and Guayaquil is just 8 meters above sea level. By the time it took the taxi to get us from the airport to drop us near the downtown car showroom, Geronimo’s normal bronzed Indian face had become mottled red. He was sweating profusely and appeared to be utterly out of his element. He wanted to call the operation off  and I only managed to persuade him to continue by agreeing he phoned the Guayaquil police and arranged for two local agents – at further cost to me – to be around when we pulled off the heist.

For two hours, while waiting our back-up and  in a vain attempt to escape the sweltering heat, we sat drinking ice cold beers under  the shelter of a café’s colonnade and just around the corner from the showroom. When the two agents eventually arrived they confirmed Geronimo’s fears; doing police business in violent Guayaquil was rarely unproblematic. This meant more beers and my agreeing to two more small remunerations before we were ready for action. It was agreed the two agents would wait a small distance from the showroom, ready to rush to our help if needed.

On entering the showroom, were pleased to see the Renault parked outside on the lot. We sniffed around the Alpine, with me attempting to look like a genuine buyer being advised by Geronimo, my trusted mechanic. It took me no time at all, after examining under the hood, the complicated dashboard and the sporty, gear stick arrangement, to realize that even if I was to be given permission, there was no way I was going to drive the beast.

By now a salesman, sensing a genuine sale was hovering around us, extolling the vehicle’s  plus points and the bargain  price. He also agreed my giving it a test run but he would have to accompany me, which is not what we had in mind. I took Geronimo aside and whispered in his ear that I was not confident enough to attempt driving the thing but with a little show of English haughtiness, the salesman eventually agreed that my mechanic could drive and I would be passenger. It appeared to me, observing Geronimo attempting to get the car started, he knew as much about sports cars as myself but he bluffed it better than I would have. Geronimo started it without problems and we drove off, stopping and starting and lurching our way out onto the busy thoroughfare . It was all too perfect.

We were no more than five meters into the street when the engine stalled completely. A disaster in the making. Geronimo repeatedly tried to start it without avail, although we were not too concerned as we now had the car off the premises. However, the salesman, seeing we had stalled, called for two of his men push the Renault back into the lot but this was the last thing we wanted. Geronimo leaped out of the  car and sprang into action. Producing his ID he informed the astonished man that the vehicle was a stolen one and he was impounding it.

The owner of the saleroom seeing something was amiss came out onto the street to investigate. He accused Geronimo and I as being thieves and the ID Geronimo produced having  no authority in the city of Guayaquil and in all probability was a fake. By now a crowd had gathered, curious to see what all the hubbub was about. The owner, with his accusations being screamed loud enough for all the spectators to hear above the traffic noise, ordered his salesman to call some colonel in the Guayaquil police. Geronimo, to emphasize his own authority, drew his pistol, which amused the surrounding mob of curious citizens.

In Quito, the produced weapon and a couple of shouted commands would  have been enough to disperse a crowd but this was Guayaquil; a noisy and seething, tropical metropolis, where little respect was paid to the law and order and any ad hoc gathering was show-time. That day it promised to be even more entertaining for the audience – the two main performers being a policeman and myself, a foreigner.

Fortunately for us the two local agents decided it was time to move in  and attempt to move on thespectators, at the same attempting to convince  the showroom boss the Renault was a stolen one and belong to me. Although I was waving copies of the original car papers at the man, it was not proving an easy task. A few of the more belligerent bystanders had stopped admiring the vehicle and, regardless of  whosever it was, were now attempting to rock it from side to side and the local agents now saw fit to draw their weapons. The lot owner hurriedly disappeared back inside his office, presumably to contact his colonel  or a lawyer, leaving my three intrepid agents to struggle with the aggressive spectators. There was little I could do apart from standing aside and looking baffled, as the agents struggled to arrest and handcuff  two of the more hostile onlookers.

It was while they were attempting to appease the onlookers and call for a police wagon to cart off the detainees, that Geronimo got back behind the wheel of the Renault. He turned the key once and lo and behold it roared into life. I did not need him to tell me to climb aboard. I vaulted in and with my right leg sticking out over the car door and the crowd jumping aside as we shot away from the curb, into the traffic and in the general direction of Quito, leaving behind the showroom owner, two unpaid agents, two prisoners and an unruly bunch of yobs to entertain themselves.

BRT,  13.05.2017n-fiction


About bbryanthomas

Not so young man about town who, having witnessed and enjoyed life, is presently having fun, writing about those by-gone times and life in general.

2 comments on “On Stealing a Car in the Tropics

  1. GoodKorma
    August 18, 2017

    Hi bbryanthomas – what a wonderful adventure, and wonderful piece of prose! I hope you got the Alpine home. Thank you for your ‘like’ on


    • bbryanthomas
      August 18, 2017

      Getting it home is another story. It broke down in the middle of nowhere and and as it was the only one in Ecuador no one understood its workings. We managed somehow but I had to pay the agent more cash. Instead I gave him a hat-full of reload cartridges for his pistol. Later I learned they jammed his weapon. Amazingly enough I’m still alive. By the way, like all Brits, I’m a curry addict.


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This entry was posted on July 24, 2017 by in Stories and tagged , , , , .
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