Arek Krol peered at the trembling, shirtless man who was trying to get his attention about noon yesterday outside Andy's Auto Service in Holmesburg.
Probably just a crackhead, Krol thought to himself.
But he walked toward the man anyway. When he got up close, his jaw dropped.
There stood a trembling Kensington bodega owner who, in halting English, claimed he had just been kidnapped and tortured by a pair of thugs who wanted $20,000.
"He had burn marks all over his arms, legs and stomach. The skin was peeling off," said Krol, 28, whose family owns the garage, at Torresdale Avenue and Solly Street, in the shadow of the old Holmesburg prison.
"His right eye was swollen shut, and he had a long rope tied around his leg. He was scared."
The man, identified by police as Digno Valerio, had a simple request: He wanted to use Krol's phone to call the police and his family.
Cops and relatives of Valerio raced to the garage, and the rattled torture victim recalled his unnerving story, which began when he was abducted outside his Oxford Circle home yesterday morning and ended when he escaped, bloodied and beaten, from an abandoned rowhouse around the corner from Andy's Auto Service.
Police said relatives of Valerio, 33, called 9-1-1 at 7:48 a.m., minutes after he was ambushed behind his home on Dorcas Street near Levick.
Valerio's nephew, who didn't want to be named, said the family knew something was wrong when they heard their dog barking loudly.
A relative looked out back and saw Valerio's black Mercedes SUV speeding down the driveway, which made the family think something was wrong, the nephew said.
Police said the kidnappers took Valerio to 4622 Wilbrock St., where they bound and beat him and burned him with an iron. They ditched his Mercedes around the corner.
The abductors poured gasoline on Valerio, promised to kill him, and said they were going to return to Oxford Circle to rape his girlfriend, the nephew said. The assailants believed that Valerio had recently acquired $20,000, perhaps through a business loan of some kind, police said. Neighbors speculated that Valerio may have been followed from his store at E and Clearfield streets.
When the thugs left the Wilbrock Street torture house, Valerio managed to hobble away.
Yesterday, several Wilbrock Street residents said the house had recently been inhabited by a pair of possible squatters.
Overgrown weeds blanket the front lawn, and black trash bags cover the rear windows. James Scott, 32, who lives on nearby Kraydor Street, said the garage door at the house where Valerio was tortured has been open for days, revealing an old water heater, busted shelves and an empty fish tank. A relative said Valerio was in the intensive-care unit at Temple University Hospital. Police said they had only a vague description of the kidnappers.