Just the Ticket – a short story

Amy liked her route. Cromwell Road, Exhibition Road, Kensington Road, and then Queen’s Gate completed the circuit. The biggest advantage of this route was that her breaks and lunch times could be spent in the Natural History Museum or the V&A. Occasionally she would pop into the Science Museum but that wasn’t really her style. She preferred a museum that showed history rather than technology. The major disadvantage of this route, of any route, was the actual job.

Most people think that traffic wardens are power mad, relishing in their ability to issue tickets but Amy wasn’t like that. She was very clear in her mind about the need for parking restrictions and the danger that could be created if people parked where they shouldn’t. Her training had included films, mainly showing young children running out between badly parked vehicles and getting hurt. She also understood that one car out-staying the maximum three hours might mean that another family would miss out on a museum trip. The trouble was, about ninety percent of the tickets that she issued were to families. When she saw a booster seat in the back of a car, she felt guilty, but what could she do, she had to follow the rules. So, whilst it gave her no pleasure, Amy issued parking tickets. Amy issued parking tickets until Monday, last week.

 

That day had started well. The September weather suited her. The crisp sunlight gave a clear view all the way down Queen’s Gate and she could easily gauge the traffic volume. The lack of rain was always a bonus and the warm breeze was a relief after the stifling summer heat.

A couple of cars in the delivery space outside the V&A had moved when they saw her approaching and, even though she had waited the standard ten minutes, they had not gone around the block and returned. The usual rush of coaches filled with school children had arrived between nine-thirty and eleven o’clock. That was always a difficult time and Amy spent more time directing traffic than checking permits. As usual the traffic had settled around midday. Most of Amy’s ticketing work took place after one o’clock. That was when the tickets on the cars of the museum visitors began to run out.

Just after midday, Amy had been walking up Exhibition Road when she glanced left along Prince Consort Road. The level of activity surprised her. Once the medical research students had arrived at Imperial College this road was usually pretty clear. Today there were two window cleaners, at least three people walking dogs, and two cars driving too slowly for her liking. Amy stood for a few minutes looking down the road but the cars kept going. Trying to ignore her overactive imagination, Amy carried on towards Hyde Park.

As she walked her mind was busy. She had become a traffic warden to fill the six months between abandoning her college course and her eighteenth birthday. As soon as she hit eighteen, Amy would be applying to join the police. All she had ever wanted to do was become a detective and every day, as she patrolled her route, her mind would be on the look out for suspicious circumstances. Whilst she was sure that the situation in Prince Consort Road was nothing, her ‘detective instincts’ made up story after story. As she passed in front of the Royal Albert Hall and rounded the corner of Kensington Road the parked cars were not her focus. Her head was filled with images of newspaper articles praising her for capturing burglars, kidnappers, maybe even terrorists. She was sure that the police would fast track her into CID.

She slowed as she approached Prince Consort Road again. What would she do if something were actually happening? They didn’t even issue traffic wardens with radios. She stopped before reaching the corner, suddenly apprehensive. She knew that she was making things up but what if she wasn’t? Something in a corner of her mind told her that this could be her big chance. Not to stop anything but to be a key witness. She keyed 999 into her mobile, ready to push the send button if necessary. Taking a deep breath, Amy turned left, and relaxed. The dog walkers had disappeared, the window cleaners were moving on to the next building, and there were no cars. Certainly the middle-aged couple and the young mother with a pram were unusual for this street, but nothing to worry about. Then a car turned into the road at the far end. Not just any car but one of the two she had seen earlier. Amy stood still, not sure if she was over-reacting. She was trying to calm her breathing when the second car also turned into the road. As she waited and watched, the first car picked up some speed and went past her, turning left onto Queen’s Gate. Then the second car, hazard lights blinking, pulled into a loading bay.

Amy sighed. Nothing suspicious was happening after all, just an everyday traffic violation. She didn’t like everything about her job but she shared one strong emotion with every other warden. They all hated people who thought that hazard lights gave them permission to park. Forgetting her worries about burglars and kidnappers, Amy strode towards the car. As she got closer her anger rose, the driver had not even spotted her. The only power rush she ever felt was when cars scuttled away because the driver had seen her and was running scared. Not this time though, the driver was too busy looking in his rearview mirror. Amy glanced along the road, what was he looking at? Either he was watching the window cleaners or he was obsessed with the woman pushing the pram. Thoughts of kidnappers re-entered Amy’s head and she looked down at her phone to make sure the 999 call was still ready. It was.

 

Slipping the phone into her pocket and with ticket book in hand, Amy approached the car. Rapping on the driver’s window she felt some sense of gratification as he jumped. She quickly became annoyed as he shooed her with a hand gesture and turned to look over his shoulder at the young woman. Amy rapped again and pointed at the ‘delivery vans only’ sign showing clearly on the wall. The driver continued to ignore her as she began to write out a ticket.

Then, suddenly Amy was thrust aside as the car door flew open and the driver leapt out. Amy readied herself to scream for help, forgetting her phone but certain that the window cleaners would come to her aid if this mad man decided to attack her. The scream for help was quickly replaced by one of panic as the driver turned, reached out an arm, and shot the pram pusher once, between the eyes. Amy reached for her phone, hit send, and dove behind the car. Would she be next?

Amy’s hopes of being a key witness were dashed. Once at the station, with a cup of tea and a blanket, she tried to remember the chain of events.   Her recollection of the morning up to and including approaching the car was clear but nothing after that made any sense. Gunmen had appeared from everywhere; the window cleaners, the middle-aged couple, the dog walkers waiting in one of the office blocks. Even on the rooftops, where men with balaclavas covering their features had stared down through rifle sights. The thing that had surprised Amy was that none of these guns had been aimed at the killer. All of the guns were aimed at the dead woman. As she’d peered around the edge of the car, Amy had seen one of the window cleaners approach the pram, he’d peered inside and given a thumbs up, resulting in cheers from everyone else in the street. Then the killer had appeared around the back of the car and reached out a hand to her. At that point, Amy had fainted.

 

Sitting in the police car, waiting at the station, in Dad’s car taking her home. Amy still hadn’t really known what had happened. Her parents had no idea; the police had just called them and said she needed to be collected after making her statement. They had offered to take her home in a police car but Amy knew her mum would never forgive that. Police at the door would be scandalous. It wasn’t until the next day’s headlines told of a foiled bombing attempt in the centre of Kensington that Amy understood what she had actually been a part of.

Today Amy returns to Exhibition Road for the first time. Not as a traffic warden, there’s no point in continuing with a job that she hates just to gain experience. The police force wouldn’t be for her. Her over active imagination had blurred her observation skills. She would have to re-think her entire future. Perhaps she should consider something more creative, maybe writing, maybe acting. Not the police force though, so no need to carry on issuing parking tickets. Today she starts a new job. She starts a job at the Natural History Museum. Today Amy sits at the entrance to the special exhibitions section and issues tickets.

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