Tom followed the black Toyota Prado down the narrow side street filled with parked cars toward the arterial roundabout. The Prado slowed and stopped. Cars coming down on his right were forced to wait for the pedestrian crossing light to turn green. In adaptive cruise control mode, Tom’s Subaru Impreza automatically slowed and stopped some two meters behind the Prado.
Tom relaxed and waited for the traffic to start moving, wanting to finish his shopping and get home. Heavy black clouds hung low, and light rain began to sprinkle his windshield. He pursed his lips and shook his head. There goes his plan to cut the grass and do some weeding. Behind him, three cars also waited. He could not see the Prado driver hidden from view by the tinted back window.
A full parking lot loomed on the other side of the roundabout. On his left, the Woolworths supermarket had a constant stream of shoppers going in and out. On the right, the parking lot partially hid the large Big W store.
A local train pulled into the station behind the parking lot with a squeal of brakes and a sigh of compressed air, disgorging its load of passengers, while others waited to board heading into the city or one of its stations.
The pedestrian light turned green and the backlog of cars began to stream through, some taking the roundabout into the parking lot. With the street clear on his right, Tom waited for the Prado to move. It was not showing any turn indicator, which suggested it intended going into the parking lot, or the driver simply forgot to turn it on. He had seen a lot of P platers not bother using their indicator, much to the annoyance and irritation of other drivers, which was strange, as Tom expected the newly licensed drivers to be conscious of road rules. The young had no respect for anything these days, he mused.
The Prado sat there, not moving, even though it had a clear right of way. Tom frowned, then tooted his horn. The black beast refused to budge. Drivers behind him also started to lean on their horn. Tom wondered why the Prado driver refused to move. Did the guy have a heart attack or something? Perhaps his car died. Stuck in a narrow street with parked cars on either side, Tom could not go anywhere, forced to wait for the Prado to get out of his way. The drivers blasting their horn behind him did not think much of this development either.
In the rearview mirror, Tom saw the last car in the queue reverse, turn into a driveway, and back out to run down the street. The driver of the car behind him got out, face red with fury, and stomped toward him. He banged on the window and Tom pressed a button to wind it down. Cold drops touched his face.
“You waiting for something special?” the driver snarled.
Tom pointed at the Prado. “I can’t do anything until that guy gets out of my way,” he said reasonably. “Why ask me to move?”
“There is nobody in front of you, you idiot! Get going!”
Nobody in front of him?
“What’s the matter with you?” Tom demanded. “You blind or something? You cannot see the black Prado?”
“The only thing I see, buddy, is you blocking the roundabout,” the driver snarled. “Move your heap!” He stomped back to his car, got in and slammed the door.
Tom tooted his horn, but the Prado did not move.
A police cruiser with its dark blue checkerboard pattern on the side pulled up on the arterial just as the pedestrian light turned green. The Prado had a clear run to go through the roundabout, but it just sat there. Tom leaned on his horn in a prolonged blast. The car behind him was reversing, the driver having had enough of this nonsense. Tom did not care what problems the Prado driver had, and placed the gear lever into reverse. He had his own problems and did not relish hanging around in the rain.
He saw a uniformed cop get out of the car and wave to him. Tom wound down the window and waited.
“Why are you sounding your horn, sir?” the cop asked, eyes wary.
“I’m waiting for the Toyota in front of me to get out of the way, but it’s just sitting there,” Tom explained.
“Mmm. Please switch off your engine and get out of the car,” the cop ordered and stepped back.
“Is there a problem, officer?” If the cop wanted to hassle someone, he should be going after the Prado.
“Just step out of the car.”
Tom sighed, switched off the engine, and opened the door. The cold breeze made him squirm. Another car pulled up behind his Impreza, the driver looking on with interest.
The cop placed both hands on his hips. “Why are you blocking the roundabout?”
“I’m not blocking the roundabout. I’m waiting for that Prado to get out of my way.”
“That one!” Tom pointed with his hand and his jaw sagged. There wasn’t anything in front of him. It took a few seconds to collect his wits. “I tell you, there was a black Toyota Prado blocking the way and my dashcam can prove it.”
“All I saw when we pulled up, Mister, was your vehicle stopping others from going through,” the cop remarked coldly. “Have you had anything to drink today?”
“Nothing,” Tom declared, still in shock. The Prado was there!
“Let me have your license, please.”
Tom dug out his wallet and handed over the license. “This is ridiculous.”
“Wait here,” the cop ordered and strode toward his car. A few minutes later, he came out with a breathalyzer. “Exhale into this until I tell you to stop.”
Toom took a deep breath, clamped his teeth on the white plastic tube, and let out a long exhale.
“That’ll do,” the cop said and studied the instrument. “You are clear, but I’ll have to give you a ticket for obstructing traffic.”
“I was waiting for the damn Prado!” Tom exploded, enraged that he was being booked for something he did not do.
“You will receive a court summons if you fail to pay the fine after 28 days,” the cop told him, and walked back to his car. He returned and held out the license and a green paper. “Next time, don’t make a nuisance of yourself,” the cop advised and strode off.
Tom stared after him in disbelief. Has everyone gone crazy? The Prado was there! With a glance at the car behind him and the grinning driver, he got in, buckled up, and turned left. He parked in the Dan Murphy’s liquor store lot beside Woolworths, and hurried toward the supermarket, pursued by thin, cold rain. Loaded with groceries, he dumped them into the trunk and drove home, still shaken by what had happened.
Was he going nuts?
Still fuming, he unpacked, stowing things into the fridge and the pantry.
He knew what he saw, determined to show the bastards.
He walked into the garage, opened the car door and extracted the mini SD card from the dashcam. In his study, he inserted the card into an adapter and slid it into a computer slot. He powered up, scrolled through the card’s directory and brought up the dashcam clips.
It took him seconds to open a clip showing the Toyota stopped at the roundabout.
“Hah!” Tom sighed with relief. He might have gone around the bend, but the dashcam at least was sane. But why didn’t the drivers behind him see the Prado? Was it a ghost or something?
He scanned the next two clips. Toward the end of the second clip where the cop told him to switch off the engine and get out, the Prado flickered and vanished.
Tom stared at the screen in shock. This is nuts, he told himself, badly shaken. He replayed the clip twice, feeling himself sag further into the chair every time the Prado vanished.
He did not drink in the morning. This time, he figured he would break that rule. He poured himself two fingers of bourbon and tossed it back in one gulp.
The SD card, he nodded with satisfaction. It would put a major dent into the cop’s case when he took the fine to court. Before powering down, he backed up the last six dashcam clips…just in case.