His lights were in my rearview mirror. The local heat was on my tail like guacamole dip on nachos. I pulled into the dark side street, stopped and waited. The copper shined his flashlight into my blues.
"Know why I stopped you?" TPD was drilling me like an Alaskan oil reserve and I had a blonde waiting for me at the salad bar. She was crazy about Romaine lettuce and I was crazy about her.
I panicked like Pavarotti on a tight wire. "I was texting. You got me. Actually I was reading. Yeah that's it. I was reading a text from my wife. I know it's -" He'd heard it all before. He stopped me cold. "I appreciate your honesty, but -" Sure he did. Here in the naked pueblo an honest mug is harder to find than Jack Frost in July. "- that's not why I stopped you. Your headlight's out."
My heart sank like a solid putt on the ninth hole. I'm not going back to the slammer. I've never been in the slammer but that was beside the point. I'm not going back there. He looked at me with pity, another crazy old man driving around with a headlight out in this crazy old town.
"Driver's license, registration, insurance."
I was late to meet my squeeze at lettuce land. The dame was calling me right then. I ignored the ringtone. I picked up the evidence I was trying to hide from J. Edgar.
"Shouldn't you answer that?"
"No. It's just some dame. She can wait." Bogie would've been proud. I knew what the copper was thinking. "Tough guy. Wish I had his moxie."
"You OK? Anything I should know about? You have any firearms or -"
I cut him off like a slice of brie. "Nope. Um. Nothing." The little wise guy in my brain said, "Tell him ya' got a crossbow under the seat." I slapped the voice across the kisser.
He scanned my papers like I was a double agent on my way back into East Berlin. "I'll be right back." I knew what that meant. The copper was calling backup.
The blonde doesn't like waiting. I was driving her wheels. My car insurance was in my car back home. Her insurance for this car wasn't in this car. It was in her purse, with her, at the herbivore's nibble hut. Sweating, I plotted my escape. Mexico: A life on the run. Suppose the phone was on and the blonde heard me say, "No. It's just some dame. She can wait." I was a dead man walking.
I sat and waited. I passed the time by texting the son I had accidentally butt-dialed earlier. Things happen in the big city. Things that we don't like to talk about. But they happen, and accidentally butt-dialing your son is one of those things.
The law came back. The powers that run this town had him by the badge. "I'm going to have to cite you." He had no choice. Just following orders.
"If you want to contest this citation, this is how you do it ..."
As he talked about traffic court I wondered how anyone could contest the fact a headlight is burned out. Your honor, I live in a parallel universe where facts don't mean a thing. I believe my headlights can never burn out. Heard of the First Amendment?
Freedom of religion? I got my man Johnny Cochran on the squawk box, right here. If I believe the headlight's lit, you must acquit.
Pretty boy handed me the citation. Sentenced to the chair, I knew I'd never get a reprieve from this governor. The chair in Traffic Court is harder than yesterday's Twinkies. You know the drill. Take a number. Kiss your day goodbye.
"Good night, sir. Be careful out there."
Sure, I'm a sap. But I think TPD meant it.
I texted my dame, "Bonnie. Guess what happened. Clyde." I sent a second text. "Did you hear anything when you called earlier?"
I turned the key and drove. I parked the cyclops in front of lettuce land, walked in and looked my girl straight in the headlights (they were both working) and told her, "Listen doll face, I don't know what direction our lives will take after this. All I know is it's a crazy, mixed up world and I'm a man on the run."
She left for her appointment. I headed back to our house on the outskirts of town, slinking home like a rat in a sewer, with nothing but NPR to drown my pain.
I stopped to buy a replacement bulb and prayed no one would recognize me. I knew by now my mug was on every post office wall in America.
I pulled into our hideout's carport and fixed the headlight. I wiped my prints off the steering wheel. Inside I found the insurance card, locked the deadbolt, and peered through the Venetian blinds. No G-men outside. Not yet.
I yelled at our cat, "What are you looking at?" I sat at the dinner table alone and read my one-way ticket to the Big House. "Headlight out ... No proof of insurance."
And then I saw it. There it was: "Approximate Speed: 30, Posted Speed: 35."
This is exactly how "Breaking Bad" began.
What had become of me? When did it happen? How have I fallen this far? Driving 5 miles under the speed limit. Prepare the gallows. Won't be long before I'm napping in the left-turn lane with my turn signal on.
Email David Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org