Back on the Chain Gang

by Karen Gsteiger

Cara was proud of her singing voice, and even though she never even got a solo in her highly touted but rather pretentious church choir, she sang at full volume to every good song on the radio when she drove alone in her car, which had suffered many fender-benders in the five years she had owned it and had not been washed in five months. Chrissie Hynde was her favorite singer, due to Cara's ease in singing along with Pretenders' songs. Cara fancied that she could mimic Hynde's voice with remarkable accuracy, a belief that could not be independently confirmed because she had never before sung Pretenders' songs in front of anyone else. Except for perhaps the police officer who was angrily tapping on her driver's side window while she was stopped for a red light and belting, "I found a picture of you....OOOOHHHHOOOHHOOOHHHH...those were the happiest days of my life..."

Cara looked to her left with a gasp and rolled down the window. "Is there a prob--?" she began, attempting a winning smile.

The officer, a fairly short man who appeared to be in his mid-30s with short, dark hair and those clichéd reflecting sunglasses, shouted in the manner of a Marines drill sergeant, "I was following you for nearly half a mile! When I turn on my emergency lights and sirens, you WILL pull over! Pull over to the side of the road IMMEDIATELY, Missy!!!"

A couple of milliseconds passed--long enough for Cara to think,ohshitohshitohshitohshit...did he just call me "Missy"? She then responded with a sort of strangled, high-pitched voice, "Okay, okay, okay...I'm sorry! I didn't see you! I'm sorry!"

With an unsympathetic frown, the officer jabbed his index finger at the shoulder of the road. "When that light turns green, you pull over. Immediately." He then stormed back to his squad car and seemed to slam his door shut as he stepped in.

Although the Pretenders were still playing, Cara no longer felt like singing along. It was with a heavy heart and slumped shoulders that she turned off the car radio and submitted to the officer's orders.

Cara had run afoul of the law.

If there was an upside to this unfortunate situation, it was that the officer now appeared to be more smug and triumphant than angry. "Now that I've got your attention..." he began toothily. He placed an elbow on her window frame and leaned slightly against the side of her car. The left corner of Cara's mouth started to twitch slightly, threatening to turn into a smile. Cara's mother had once dated a police officer, and whenever they all drove to Dairy Queen or whatnot together, he took great delight in pointing out "tactical and safety errors" of other officers who were conducting traffic stops with other unlucky drivers. Leaning on any part of the motorist's car was always a big no-no, she had learned, but Cara ultimately decided that it would be wisest to avoid pointing this out now.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" the officer, who could now be identified as Officer Kimball by a pin on his uniform, asked stereotypically.

"Honestly, I sure don't," Cara replied in her best attempt to keep the tone of the encounter light and breezy.

"45 in a 30 mph zone," he explained telegraphically. "About half a mile or so. License and registration, please."

Cara reached over to the glove compartment and rummaged through oil change receipts and photographs from Amal's graduation party nearly a year ago (I really need to get those in a photo album.) and expired grocery coupons and game pieces from various fast food contests. "I know I have it," she stammered, but Officer Kimball did not seem to react.

She finally found it tucked away inside the owner's manual of her car and handed it over with a sigh of relief. She then dug through her purse to find her wallet so that she could give him her...oh God.

Cara suddenly and queasily remembered that she had taken her driver's license out of her wallet and had kept it in the back pocket of her jeans the night before for easy carding at Olivia's birthday. Jeans that were currently lying atop a wrinkled pile of clothing at the foot of her bed.

"Uh..." she stammered, trying to buy some time. She searched through the pockets of her denim jacket in order to make absolutely certain, but she knew damn well that this action was futile. "Uh...I seem to have left it at home."

"I see," Officer Kimball replied with a tone that could keep sushi fresh.

Out of Cara's mouth poured a flood of excuses that grew increasingly high-pitched. "I'm really sorry, sir...I know I look like a real ditz now, but you have to understand that I never, ever do this normally. My license is always, always in my wallet, except for this one time, but I went out yesterday, and I forgot to put it back..." she looked up miserably to see if this litany was having any effect, but he started to look amused.

"I would like to think...Cara, right?" Officer Kimball tentatively addressed her after glancing at her registration. Cara nodded. "I would like to think that I've caught you on a bad day."

"Yes, oh, you have no idea, sir."

"But you know that you need to keep your license on you at all times when you are operating this vehicle, and you need to slow it down and pay more attention to the road than the radio, right?"

"Yes, sir, absolutely, yes."

"Well, I feel kinda bad for yelling at you back there, and I may be interested in giving you a huge break today...if you're willing to do me a favor..." With this, Officer Kimball placed both hands on her window frame and leaned in slightly.

Oh God, this isn't going where I think this is going.

"I think you're kinda cute," he began, slightly less authoritatively.

Oh sweet Jesus, he's not going there.

"And I was wondering, if I gave you my cell phone number, would you call me sometime?"

He went there.

Cara took a moment to appraise him. Well, he's not all that bad looking, really,, no, this is clearly sexual harassment, and I really shouldn't reward him for that. Plus, he called me, 'Missy,' so definitely not. If I were Tonia, I would demand his full name and his badge number and march straight over to speak with his boss. That's definitely what Tonia would do. On the other hand, Cara reflected as she noticed that he was growing impatient, he could totally write me up for at least two tickets and maybe drag me into the station or something. Plus, how crazy would it be if I showed up one evening with some older cop? They'd all assume that it was some kind of crazy sex thing, which is definitely more exciting than anything I can say now...

"Yeah, okay," she replied, attempting a smile.

"Cool," he responded, writing his number down on a piece of paper that he tore from a small notebook. It sounded just a little unnatural for him to say "cool." "You, uh...don't mind me asking you like this?" he queried with a tone that betrayed a slight nervousness.

"No, no, not at all,"

"You don't have a boyfriend or anything like that, do you?"

"Nope, I'm single at the moment." Cara pretended that she hadn't seen the gold band on his left ring finger.

"Good. All right, then. I'll be on my way. But...uh, give me a call. I'd like to get to know you. You have a very nice singing voice," he added with a slight cough.

"Thanks," Cara responded, happier now that this interaction was clearly coming to an end.

"See you around," he said before walking back to his car. In Cara's side-view mirror, she watched him furtively scratch his ass.


He then turned off his emergency lights and drove off. With a huge sigh of relief, Cara turned the radio up and prepared to merge back into traffic. Before shifting her car into drive, she glanced at the piece of paper that she had just been handed. In small, neat capital letters, she learned that his first name was MARK. She tucked this piece of paper in her wallet, right where her license should have been.