THE TRAFFIC STOP (Present Tense) By: Jonathon Markham The cool rain is falling at sporadic moments through out the night and during the brief pauses, a fog radiates from the warm tarmac of the roadway. Hundreds of toads hop across Route 201 in search of food, several being squashed under the tires of a Summerset County sheriff’s Chevy Impala. At the wheel is officer David McFarland, at 34 years old with 15 years on the force. He keeps himself in relatively good shape and is proud that he has yet to spot a single strand of gray hair, nor has he lost one for that matter. He is out all day patrolling the outer border of the county, which doubles as a border with Canada, and is on the return trip back to the station. He enjoys patrolling the town of Jackman and its surrounding areas, the views are spectacular and the action is light. Route 201 is a typical Maine country road; a lot of blind turns and rolling hills. He is not a fan of driving this stretch at night during the rain, the turns come out of nowhere and you never know when coming over the next knoll if there is going to be a deer, or better yet a moose, waiting to ruin your day. He has never hit a large animal himself but has responded to enough calls that have. If there ever were a choice, he would take the deer. The impact would be intense and the damage to the cruiser would be significant, but a moose would be down right life threatening. As he crests the next hill on a rare straight a way, he spots two pin lights in his rear view mirror, coming around a corner onto the straight. It is the first vehicle McFarland has seen for what he perceives to be at least twenty minutes. It is two in the morning, and with most of the civilized world in bed, there tends to be a lack of vehicles on the road.
2 He negotiates a rather sharp left turn, as droplets of rain splatter on the
windshield. They fall at a slow, yet steady pace and after about thirty seconds, the droplets start merging into larger droplets, skewing McFarland’s view. He flips the wipers on to the first intermittent setting, clearing the windshield every five seconds. He comes around a right turn and a few moments later the headlights return, and are much closer than before. McFarland always travels this road at about 10 miles per hour over the limit; he feels that is acceptable. For the headlights to be catching up to him, he knows the vehicle is speeding. The rain increases in intensity and he turns the wipers to the low continuous setting. He comes around another turn and moments later the headlights are only a car length away. He has no way of being certain that this vehicle is the same one he saw before, and with no way of capturing the speed of the vehicle on such a twisty road he has no cause to pull the vehicle over. Not that he is complaining; the last thing he wants to do is get soaked by the rain. McFarland slows to the posted speed limit and the headlights come so close that they go out of sight of his rear view mirror. He briefly entertains the thought of pulling the vehicle over for tailgating when the Driver decides to give McFarland a more justifiable cause. The headlights come out from behind the cruiser and the vehicle passes David on a hill, in the oncoming lane with double yellow lines. In the process, the vehicle exceeds the speed limit by more than 20 miles per hour before returning into the correct lane and slowing only a few miles per hour after that. “You have got to be kidding me,” McFarland says to himself. “How dumb can you be?” He gives the cruiser some gas and it responds with a growl and a light tailspin before the tires get full traction and he catches up with the vehicle. He can see the vehicle is a black Cadillac Escalade, with the rear window tinted as
dark as the state allows, and a custom plate that says beerman. He flicks on his blue emergency strobe lights but the Vehicle shows no sign of slowing down. McFarland activates the siren in quick succession to get the driver’s attention. It is answered by a left turn signal and the Escalade pulled over. McFarland stops behind the Vehicle with a twenty-foot gap, leaving a quarter of the car in the roadway to give him protection from oncoming traffic as he approaches the vehicle. He turns on his spotlight and points it at the driver side window before calling in the stop to headquarters. He gives the dispatch his location and the vehicle’s license plate number. A moment later, dispatch informs McFarland that the Cadillac is registered to a Mathew Schwartz. “Say again, over.” “The motor vehicle is registered to a Mathew Schwartz.” “Affirmative, over.” Mathew Schwartz was a good friend of McFarland during his college days. He hasn’t pulled over a friend for a long time and he is not sure how he wants to handle the situation. He decides he is going to feel it out once he got up to the vehicle. He puts on his hat and grabs his flashlight before exiting the cruiser into the onslaught of the rain. He remains alert as he walks to the driver side window of the Escalade. The entire procedure is instinctual, all taught to him at the academy years ago. He positions himself at the rear driver side post, shinning the flashlight into the cabin. The electric window makes a hum as the motor lowers the tinted glass revealing an older yet unchanged face of Michael. “I need to see your license, registration, and proof of insurance please,” McFarland says as he does a visual search of the interior of the vehicle. Making sure there are no weapons or open containers.
4 “Sure officer, I just have to get the registration and insurance out of the
glove box.” Mathew is unable to see McFarland’s face through the glair of the flashlight. “That’s fine. Just move slowly and keep your hands where I can see them.” Mathew obliges as he hands the requested materials to McFarland, who quickly examines them with his flashlight. With the light out of Mathew’s eyes, he is able to have a look at McFarland’s face and he recognizes his friend from college. “David? David McFarland? Holy shit, it is you! Or should I say officer McFarland?” At this moment McFarland has to make a decision. Keep his professional domineer or acknowledge his old friend. “Man, you had me really worried there. I thought I was going to get screwed by the pooch. I mean shit, this one could really hurt me, you know?” McFarland does know. He reads the newspaper every day and has seen Mathew’s picture printed on several occasions. Mathew is a lobbyist for the local microbreweries in the state and is in charge of keeping a nice positive image of the industry. McFarland can smell alcohol on Mathew’s breath and he decides to stay professional for now. It has been over a decade since they parted ways and he can’t see any reason to be on friendly terms. “Do you know why I pulled you over this morning?” “Is it morning already? Wow! It’s been one crazy ass night. Kind of like the nights we use to have back at The Lounge.” “Answer the question please.” Mathew’s smile dissapears. “So that’s how it’s going to be?” McFarland doesn’t respond.
5 “I assume speeding,” Mathew said. “Speeding and erratic driving. Where are you coming from tonight.” Mathew doesn’t try to hide the growing frustration on his face. “A friends,” he says. “Did you have anything to drink?” Mathew stares into McFarland’s eyes. “I might of had a beer.” “You said earlier that you had a crazy night and I can smell the alcohol
on your breath,” McFarland says. “Try that answer again.” Mathew looks away from McFarland. “I don’t recall.” “Where are you heading to tonight?” Mathew opens his mouth then gives a pause before answering. “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” McFarland asks. “Some girls house. She gave me directions earlier, but I’ve never been there before.” “So if you don’t know where you’re going, then why were you speeding?” Mathew exhales slowly. “Because I’m horny, alright? I wanted to get laid before it got too late.” McFarland hasn’t decided what he is going to do yet. He tells Mathew to wait in his vehicle and McFarland returns to his cruiser. He checks Mathew’s information and finds that his old friend has a pretty clean record. No outstanding warrants, no unpaid fines, no suspension. He hasn’t even received a speeding ticket in over five years. He decides to give Mathew a Breathalyzer test and if he passes, or comes moderately close, McFarland will let him off with a warning. He grabs his BACtrack s80 and returns to the Escalade. “Mr. Schwartz, I’m going to ask you to take a quick Breathalyzer test.”
6 “You’re a fucking asshole, you know that?” McFarland drops his air of authority a bit so the situation doesn’t
escalate. “Listen, just cooperate with me, I’m trying to help you.” “You’re trying to help me? I can loose my job over this. You feel good about taking food out of my kids mouth?” McFarland always wants to laugh at comments like that. The police get blamed for the situations the suspects put themselves in. It seems that only on rare occasions do individuals take responsibility for their own actions. “I could ask you to join me in the rain so that I can administer a sobriety test. Instead I’m only asking you to breathe into this device.” Mathew keeps a straight face but his eyes tell McFarland a different story—he is nervous. “Fine,” Mathew says. “Lets get this over with.” Remaining by the rear driver doorpost, McFarland extends his left arm into the vehicle with the Breathalyzer in hand. He has Mathew blow into the device and it spits out a reading. “Your BAC level is point one zero. According to this, you’re over the legal limit.” Mathew gives out a long and exaggerated Fuck under his breath and he lowers his head. “However—these machines are known to be off as much as 12 percent, and are not fully admissible in court in the state of Maine.” Mathew looks up at McFarland. “So what are you saying?” Mathew asks. “It appears that I have no choice but to let you off with a warning and to tell you to keep the speed down and drive safe. I would hate to see your children starve because of your actions.”
7 The last part is a bit of a joke and Mathew knows it. His face lights up as
he takes in what McFarland is saying. “Man, you don’t even know how much—you were fucking with me the whole time, weren’t you?” With a straight face, McFarland hands back Mathew’s license and registration, along with a written warning. “Drive safe and have a nice day,” McFarland says. “Man, you really got me, you know that? If you ever want to grab a beer—I know a few good places. You should look me up sometime.” McFarland hints a smile. “Maybe someday,” McFarland says. “Now you take care.” “You too, off-i-cer.” Mathew rolls up the window and starts the Cadillac. McFarland returned to his cruiser as Mathew drives away. The rain lets up again and McFarland radios in that he has finished with the traffic stop. He straps himself into the cruiser, shuts off the emergency lights, and pulls away, continuing the trip back to the station.
A short story exercise in which I had to write a traffic stop in both past and present Tense. Here is the present tense version.