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Robbed in Georgetown, Part IV: Truckin'

It was 1:00 a.m. -- rush hour on Saturday night weaving among downtown clubbers. Jose and I looked out over the crowds from his somewhat grimey flatbed limosine -- the tow truck cabin. "So much traffic at night," I said, sounding like a greenhorn or a country bumpkin. Judging from what had just happened, my purse stolen practically out from under my eyes, one could say I was.

Jose had stated matter-of-factly he wouldn't be able to tow my car because the keys had been stolen. Still, he offered a lift and chivalrously turned his phone over to me. I called banks and credit card companies to freeze accounts and cancel credit cards.

"I'm very sorry this happened to you," they all said, sounding sincere.

The gentleman who had introduced himself as Jose answered calls from relatives in between my long calls with the banks. A sister from El Salvador, cousins in Vienna. "Jose" said he was a citizen. I rattled off my social and my birthday to the operators, now the only data points of my official identity. There was no proof. I could call myself "Veronica."

Jose once had to replace the key to his Toyota Camry a few years ago. "They charged me $1300," he said. He had been swindled in some way I couldn't follow. Confusion, trickery, theft -- these were the evening's themes.

I was also calling emergency locksmiths.

Sergei of 24/7 Lock, Safe and Key was at 33rd and Volta on another job, he said. He would meet on a corner.

A jingling sound got louder. The ice cream man?

"Over here!" It was Sergei. His orchestra of thousands of keys tinkled as the minivan rolled over the ruts and bumps of the alley. Sergei started to take apart my car door. Thunder rumbled. Then, lights. It was Officer Anderson again. "I've been keeping an eye on your car," he said. "I told you I would." He hung around.

Sergei was digging through his inventory. I prayed. He used his cel phone and spoke a slavic tongue. The officer stamped his feet on the ground, while Jose got ready to go. I got in the truck and started to write Jose a check. "Let me pay you for the trip," I said. "Let me write you a check."

"No, no," he said. "It's not necessary. Anyway, my name is not really Jose."

I paid him. The truck choked and sputtered away. By now the alley was humming. We had to have woken the Senator.

Sergei hung up on a third call. "I'm sorry," he said. "You need a special tow truck. You need to have the car taken to a dealer. Only they can make a key." Damn.

Officer Anderson didn't seem surprised, again. "I'll be out here 'til four," he offered. "I'll keep an eye on it."

Why hadn't he been keeping an eye on the alley when the purse was stolen during the five minutes I had looked away? Or had he?

Sergei started to drive me to Wisconsin when we spotted a bigger tow truck, idling on O Street.

Worth a try. I hopped up on the passenger side of the big red truck to see a driver with dreadlocks staring straight ahead. As I opened the door, another man righted himself like a Weeble in the front seat. His eyes were closed like a Zombie.

"I'm sorry, did I wake you?" The smell of marijuana was strong. "Oh no," he grinned.

I told my story and asked for help. A conversation ensued. Was I groggy or were they? Were we all getting stoned? I was fuzzy. After a few minutes, I thought I understood. It was the wrong kind of truck. It was the wrong party.

At 2:30 a.m., defeat was apparent. Two tow trucks, a locksmith, and an extremely attentive police officer couldn't help. I was exhausted but with enough energy to worry. Would my car get stolen overnight? Would the thunder turn to rain? What would my new neighbors do when they found their cars blocked in?

A white car lingered behind the stoner tow truck, unable to move. It was a taxi. I got in and asked Mohammed to take me home. He didn't know I would be giving him a check with nothing to prove that it was real.

Robbed in Georgetown is a multi-part series describing a frequent crime in an unexpected place. Next: Judith.