He watched from the shelter of a shop doorway as the car slowly drove past.
The driver, a young woman, had circled the block several times looking for a space in the 30-minute parking zone just outside the central city metered area. She stopped and quickly reversed into a vacated space.
He remained motionless as she walked around to the rear door of her car. She bent over, undid the safety harness on the car seat and extracted a toddler.
A second child scrambled out and stood on the footpath. After a few minutes, with the toddler now wedged in a pushchair, the trio headed into the stream of pedestrians.
He didn’t follow them.
He waited until they were half a block away before he made his move. Six quick paces and he was in front of the car. He didn’t need to check the zone’s time limit. He knew the city’s parking and metered zones by heart. Almost imperceptibly, he slid a piece of yellow chalk from his pocket. He deliberately chose yellow. The others always used white but he liked to add his individual touch. A casual glance along the street and then his practised crouch, hold and swipe technique, leaving a small yellow chalk slash across the sidewall of the front left tyre.
He would give it 29 minutes and 52 seconds, enough to stroll six blocks and still be back in time to write the ticket. She would be late getting back. She would probably say she thought it was a 60-minute parking zone, or hadn’t seen the 30-minute sign or that she had been distracted by her children. She would look imploringly at him, searching his face for some understanding, desperately hoping he would let her off this time.
They all tried that. It never worked.
He had read somewhere that parking meter revenue only covered the cost of maintaining the meters and the wages of the meter wardens. So he figured non-payers and parking overstayers were effectively threatening his job. There could be no concessions, no warnings, no latitude. This wasn’t a job for amateurs. He was a professional, cold and calculating under pressure.
He didn’t talk about his job to others. He’d made that mistake at a dinner party once and suddenly found the entire room had gone silent. Nobody would pass him the new potatoes, the salad stayed at the far end of the table until only a few wilted leaves lying in a wet puddle in the bottom of the bowl were left. He had to make do with half a steak and no dressing.
But when he’d made some excuse and left early, he’d made a note of the other guests’ car registration numbers. Like his dinner, revenge would be a dish best served cold.
He hadn’t set out to be a parking warden. When he was growing up he had wanted to be a motorbike traffic cop. He admired their smart black uniforms with their shiny silver buttons, their peaked helmets, their brown corduroy trousers, big motorbike gauntlets and motorbike boots that came almost up to their knees.
And of course, those silver Triumph 650 twins that they rode, accelerating past traffic with siren blaring and bringing speeding Zephyrs and hurtling Humber 80s to an ashamed stop on the side of the road with the wave of a hand.
But damn politicians had ended his dream when they merged the police and traffic because he’d been too tubby to clamber through pipes and too short to scale six foot walls. He had mixed feelings about his present job because while it allowed him to punish parking evil-doers, he had to do it discreetly.
He’d had a couple of tricky moments early in his career, including the time he’d ticketed a Mongrel Mobster’s black SUV, only to be slammed face-down on the vehicle’s bonnet and have the ticket inserted more or less in his back pocket.
He liked to read spy novels. He had a first edition copy of Ian Fleming’s James Bond thriller, Dr No. He kept his ticket book in a leather pouch slung under his left armpit like a shoulder holster. He practised whipping it out in front of a mirror in his small flat. Spy books had taught him street craft, how to blend seamlessly into a crowd, how to tail a suspect, how to use shop windows to observe an almost-expired meter across the street. He prided himself in the fact that he had now written out more than 300 tickets without the errant motorists ever seeing him.
Suddenly he stopped and crouched behind a mobility scooter outside a chemist’s shop.
The man getting out of a shiny late-model BMW 7 series looked familiar. The man said something to his wife, glanced scornfully at a parking meter and the pair walked away.
As the warden stared after them, the memory flooded back. It was Fatty Fletcher from Form 3, the school bully who’d put his head down the loo and flushed it in front of his laughing mates. Half a century had not dimmed the humiliation of that dunking. Even now, he had flashbacks every time he stood in front of a toilet bowl.
He whistled a few bars of the James Bond theme under his breath as he slid his ticket book from inside his jacket. A cruel smile played on his lips. Goldfinger Fletcher would never know what hit him.