The bickering starts before Larry Benton even steps foot in the van.
- Bondsmen Greg Price (left) and Larry Benton
"Don't ding up the fucking side, man," shouts Greg Price from the window as Benton bends acrobatically out of his Jeep, trying not to hit his car door against Price's 1994 maroon Safari.
"Don't mess up the love van?" Benton comes back with sarcasm.
It's hard to imagine a van in worse condition. The windshield on the driver's side is cracked in the shape of a spider web, the result of a collision with a fugitive's head (Price served as a middle man in the accident). As the back door slides open, an extra large gas station coffee cup and an empty gallon water jug -- part of the small garbage heap on the floor of the van -- fall onto the street. "Don't fucking litter," Price calls back from the front seat.
Inside the messy van, the first row of seating in the back has been removed to create a buffer between Price and Benton and their unruly guests. A Hustler sticker with a naked woman's outline is plastered to the center console below the radio, and a miniature American flag sticks out of a hole Price drilled into the plastic next to the dashboard. He added the patriotic touch when he came across "made in China" written on the flag. Before he had the van, he hunted fugitives in a white Crown Victoria with the words "Big Daddy's Taxi" painted across the side.
Price turns on the ignition and instantly begins beating on the dashboard with his closed fist.
"You're going to yell at me for scratching it and you're beating the hell out of it," says Benton. Wearing a black T-shirt over a long-sleeved undershirt and $200 dark jeans, Larry looks more like a college boy or a singer-songwriter than a bondsman.
"Gotta get the lights to work on the dash, man," says Price. "Sometimes you gotta beat on it a couple times. You'll get over it."
Price looks more the part. The few days' worth of stubble on his face match the length of his sloping buzz-cut hair. Tonight he wears a sleeveless, label-less black shirt, which reveals his tattoos. Scripted on his right triceps are the words "You think you know," with "but you have no idea" on the hidden part of his arm. Emblazoned on his left shoulder is the paw-shaped crest of his security school alma mater. Price is overweight, but he doesn't wear it like fat.
On our way to Hidden Valley, a gangland in northeast Charlotte, Price is chatty, talking about an insurance company that scammed him out of a windshield. "'We'll put in a free windshield for you,'" he says in an old lady's voice. "They have that commercial where the Grandma says that shit: 'I'm a grandma, you can trust me.' I called up for a free windshield I didn't get shit from Grandma but fucking clap." If Price goes five minutes without saying something offensive, check his pulse.
We pull into the drive of a small, robin-egg blue home. We're here to find Saul Valdovinos, a skip who missed court on drug charges. "You just sit there and look pretty like you always do," Price says to Benton before we leave the van.
"Cómo estás, Saauuuul!" Price howls in an exaggerated Hispanic accent. A briny smell is so strong as we enter the house you almost expect to see visible odor fumes like in a cartoon.
"He's in Mexico," the shirtless patriarch of the house answers, his tan belly poking over his tight black jeans. "He don't come back." The shoebox living room is filled to capacity with the man's family: his wife and four children ranging in ages from the unattended baby in a carrier on the couch to a preteen who serves as the translator. Most of the photos hung on the walls are crooked. In one, the family with fake smiles is superimposed under the embrace of a larger-than-life Jesus.
"Homeboy says he ain't coming back," Price turns to tell Benton, who has just come in after searching behind the house.
Price strolls around the room altering his posture so the gun resting in a holster against his hip can be seen more clearly. He feigns interest in the photos. This is not Price's bond; it's Benton's. And Price knows it's hopeless. Saul is also a coyote, a person who makes his living running illegal immigrants over the border and, in Saul's case, finding them a home in Charlotte. If illegal immigrants are hard to find, coyotes are impossible.
The TV by the door is on too loud, and the enthusiastic inflection of the Spanish announcer's voice provides a cacophonous background to the heated conversation that ensues. Playtime is over.
"We know he's a coyote. We don't care," Price says. The shirtless man gives a knowing smirk. Price continues: "I'm not la migre. I don't give a rat's ass. He didn't go to court. He's got to pay for that."