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The Phantom of the Motorways

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The truth is, most of what I can give you, you’ll get from training.  The only thing they really never tell you about writing tickets in the greater London area is never to mess with the Phantom.

Oh, you haven’t heard of it?

If you’re a traffic warden long enough, you’ll meet it, though.  Most of us have stories.

Well, it’s a big black car.  Classic. Gorgeous. I think Waterson narrowed it down to a Bentley, nineteen thirty something, I don’t remember which year exactly.  If you see it, you might try and snap a photo. Not that I think it’ll come out.

You can try to write tickets for the Phantom, but they won’t take.  There won’t be a record of them. Just like there’s no record of the license plate.  Just like it’s never been caught on a traffic camera.

There are things that don’t work on the Phantom.  Putting a wheel clamp on it, for instance. You’ll just end up with an empty wheel clamp lying in the middle of the parking space (which usually isn’t a parking space).  And not because someone sawed it off, either. It’s like whatever you put the clamp on, it just evaporated.

And besides, things sometimes happen to people who write tickets for the Phantom.  Nothing permanent, nothing horrible, just your luck going completely tits up and all sorts of petty things going wrong.  Scollard says that his pad once caught on fire while he was trying to write a ticket for the Phantom, but Scollard also says he saw Elvis when he went to visit his daughter in the States, so I’d take that with a few grains if I were you. 

It’s not just us, either.  If you’re on the speed trap side of things, you’ll occasionally see the Phantom driving around.  Do not try to catch it.  Ever. Yes, it’s breaking the law, yes, it’s doing its best to break the speed of light, but bad things will happen to your patrol car and you’ll never, ever be able to explain where your engine got to.

Sometimes when you’re driving, it’ll blow past you at mach fuck, but you’ll never see it for long.  It’ll be gone, weaving through traffic, before you can even read the plates (not that the plates would do you any good).  I’ve talked with car boffins, and they say there’s no way a nineteen thirty-whatever Bentley should be able to do that, it definitely didn’t steer like a fish, all that solid steel.  It does it anyway.

The thing about the Phantom is, as far as anyone can tell, it’s usually doing something illegal.  Speeding, or parking all sorts of places that God never intended, including some places you wouldn’t think you could fit a big black car.  It’s infuriating. Stay away from it anyway.

What do I think it is?

I think it’s a ghost.  There are ghost trains, ghost ships, why not a ghost car?  Maybe it belonged to an illegal racer, back in the day. Maybe that’s why it always goes so fast and always parks illegally.  Or maybe the places where it parks were perfectly legal a century ago and it has no idea that it’s marked No Parking now.

Julia—you know, PC Dodge—she says she once dreamed of it coming out of a wall of fire, burning like anything and still going.  She says there was a man inside, and he was grinning. So I think whoever it was, he died racing, and he’s still racing to this day.

All right, yes, I can tell you don’t believe me.  Wasn’t born yesterday. And yes, I know the rest of the boys have been trying to send you after headlight fluid and God knows what else.  So yes, I know you’ll probably decide to mess with it some day because you’re too big a woman to believe in nonsense like this. And when you limp back with your flat tire after losing your hat and being assaulted by a swan, the rest of us will know exactly what you did.