OVER THE LIMIT
Damn, that Clint Eastwood could act! Mack thought as he came out of the darkened theater and squinted into the late afternoon sunshine. The hot July air engulfed him, sapping his energy. It was the thirteenth straight day of 100 degree plus heat.
Mack started for his pickup and then stopped and blinked. Was he seeing right? Standing slightly behind his pickup, complaint pad in hand, was John Wayne Carter, the copy who had been on his back for weeks now. He and Carter had become fast enemies the night Carter arrested Mack for disorderly conduct. He’d been disorderly with Carter all right, telling him that with that belly and face, he looked more like Don Rickles than John Wayne. Since then old J. W. had gone out of his way to load Mack down with every violation J.W. could find in the city code.
Mack headed for his pickup, the vein in his temple throbbing. What was the sorry bastard up to now? Whatever it was, it was sure to cost Mack money. He’d have to hang on to his temper so Carter couldn’t find anything more to write him up for. He was tired of handing his paycheck over to the city to pay for fines.
“So what’s the problem now?” Mack asked when he came up beside Carter.
“You’re over the limit,” Carter replied.
“What?” Mack asked, taking in Carter’s smirk.
Carter looked calm, cool, and sure of himself standing there in his uniform pressed as neatly as a general’s, his badge and gun glinting in the sunlight.
“City ordinance says the right tires of a parallel parked vehicle must be within eighteen inches of the curb.”
“So how far out are mine?”
“Nineteen-and-a-half inches,” Carter took a small tape measure from his pocket and measured the distance for Mack to see.
“You’re going to give me a ticket for that? You’ve gotta be kidding!” Mack clenched and unclenched his hands, wanting to wipe that smug look off Carter’s face.
Carter smiled, tore the ticket from the pad, and handed it to Mack. “The law’s the law.”
Mack stared at the ticket and his jaw set. He wasn’t going to be Carter’s victim this time. “Just a minute,” he said. He opened the door of his pickup and raised the lid of a small tool box. Removing a metal tape measure of his own, he checked the distance himself and shook his head.
“Come on back here.”
“Come on,” Mack repeated. “Got something to show you.” He started back toward the patrol car.
Carter followed. “What are you up to?”
Mack stopped three cars back from his pickup, put the end of his tape against the curb and measured the distance to the tire. “Twenty inches. Write ‘im up.”
“Now look here....” Carter began.
“Write ‘im up! If I get a ticket for nineteen-and-a-half inches, he sure as hell oughta get one for twenty.”
“All right.” Carter grudgingly gave in and started making out the ticket. He signed his name, stuck the ticket beneath the windshield wiper blade, and started toward his patrol car.
“Hold on,” Mack said. “We can’t stop now. We got work to do.”
Carter faced him. “What do you mean?”
“Just look at all these cars.” Mack stood a little straighter, some of his energy returning. “I bet we can teach a whole bunch of lawbreakers to straighten up their acts. Hey! We’ll make the city some money at the same time. Bet the police chief will like that.”
Carter took off his cap and wiped away the sweat that was forming on his forehead. He put the damp handkerchief back in his pocket. “What are you saying?”
“That we ought to take a walk and see just how many violations of your little ordinance we can find. If you don’t like that idea, I might have to make a complaint against an officer refusing to do his duty.”
Carter looked at him. “You wouldn’t do that.”
“The law’s the law,” Mack replied cheerfully, a big smile on his face.
Mack set off down Main Street, Carter following. Any car that looked suspiciously far from the curb, Mack measured.
“Seventeen-and-three-fourths . He’s okay.” Mack said. “Here’s one. Eighteen-and-a-half. Get out your pad and get this criminal! We’ll teach him a lesson, old buddy.”
Carter made out the ticket; then they crossed the street and continued walking north on Main. At the next corner they turned east on Central and gave two tickets to cars parked in front of the post office. Then they crossed the street and were in front of the police station. Mack was measuring a new Mercury when two of his buddies, Joe and Frank, came out of the station.
“What’s happening, Mack? Teaching J.W. to read a tape?” Joe Tyler asked.
“No,” Mack said. “I just thought it was time to give a hand to my old buddy here. He got it in his head he wanted to get people over the limit, so I thought it was only right for me to make sure he didn’t miss anyone.”
Frank looked puzzled. “What do you mean, over the limit?”
Mack explained while Carter made out the ticket for the Mercury.
A patrol car pulled along side of them, and the cop inside rolled down the window. “Everything okay here?”
Carter glanced around.
A family had just come out of the cafe next to the police station and were looking curiously at the gathering on the walk. Two women were also watching from the sidewalk in front of the post office.
“Sure. Fine.” Carter removed his cap again and wiped away the sweat with his wrinkled handkerchief. “Just giving a parking ticket.”
“Okay.” The cop rolled up the window and drove away.
The little group walked west, back toward the Main-Central intersection, Mack and Carter in the lead, Joe and Frank following. At the corner, they turned back north.
In front of the bank, Mack was kneeling to measure a Lincoln when Joe’s mother came out of the bank. She frowned when she saw her son with Carter and hurried up to them.
“What’s the matter?” she asked Carter.
“Don’t get excited, Mom,” Joe said. “Nothing’s wrong. Mack’s just helping J.W. out.” He went on to explain the eighteen inch law.
Mrs. Tyler turned to Carter and raised an eyebrow. “Is that right?”
Carter placed a ticket on the Lincoln’s windshield. “Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled.
Mrs. Tyler’s eyes widened in amazement. “Why I never thought I’d see the day Mack Schrader would be helping the law! You don’t mind if I tag along and watch, do you?”
“Course we don’t,” Mack said. “My old buddy and me, we’d like everyone to see justice being done. Wouldn’t we?” He turned to Carter and smiled expectantly.
Carter mumbled something they couldn’t make out and plodded down the street.
The others followed along. When they reached the parking spaces in front of the pool hall, every car was within the limit.
“My!” Mrs. Tyler said. “I never thought they’d be such good parkers here!”
Carter looked at her with a hangdog expression and walked on.
At the corner of First and Main, they crossed over and started back south. The courthouse was on the southeast corner of the Main-Central intersection and a number of lawyers had offices in the same area. There were eight violation in that block alone, more than any of the others.
“My goodness,” Mrs. Tyler said. “Seems like folks around the courthouse don’t care how they park.”
They all crossed the street at the corner and were almost back to where Mack and J.W. had started.
“Here’s another one,” Mack said and bent down to take the measurement. “Nineteen on the nose. Write ‘im up.”
Carter looked at the car and hesitated.
“What’s the problem?” Mack asked.
“That’s a Subaru,” Carter said. “A little compact like that doesn’t stick out in the street any farther than the rest of the cars.”
“They got a different law for compacts?” Mack asked.
“No,” Carter admitted. “But look, don’t you think we’ve given enough tickets for one day?”
Mack opened his eyes wide. “He’s over the limit. The law’s the law, remember? It wouldn’t be fair to all those folks who got tickets if we let this one slide by.”
“Schrader, this is the mayor’s car.” Carter’s voice had a whine in it. “I can’t believe you want me to give the mayor a ticket for something like this.”
“They got a different law for mayors?”
“Well, then, he’s over the limit and,” Mack nodded toward his buddies and Mrs. Tyler, “I got witnesses to the crime.”
Carter motioned Mack aside and lowered his voice so the others couldn’t hear. “Why don’t I just tear up your ticket, and we’ll forget about the mayor’s?”
“We couldn’t do that.” Mack smiled. This was one ticket he wouldn’t mind paying. “I was over the limit, remember? And like you said yourself, the law is the law.”
Carter filled out the complaint, signed it and put it on the windshield.
“I guess that’s that,” Mack said, looking around. “Here we are, back where we started.” He took a deep breath. The air was cooler now, less oppressive. Mack held out his hand to Carter. “It’s been a pleasure working with a law enforcement officer of your caliber,” he said. “We ought to do it again soon.”
Carter refused Mack’s hand. He headed for his patrol car without a word, mopping the sweat from his face with a now-rumpled handkerchief.
Mack smiled and waved, then glanced up at the movie marquee. Clint would have been proud of him.