Keith sat in the driver's seat of his car, adrenaline jangling through his veins. His hands trembled as he retrieved his license and proof of insurance, so he placed them firmly in his lap, on one top of the other. The patch of gravel he'd pulled over onto was barely big enough to accommodate his SUV and the police cruiser that sat behind him now, flashers lighting the interior of his car up, blue and red.
Keith watched in his side mirror as the cop got briskly out of his car, sunglasses in place. His image in the mirror grew larger as he approached until the mirror showed nothing but black fabric and silvery buttons, at which point Keith raised his eyes to look into the expressionless sunglasses. Wordlessly he handed his papers to the officer who scanned them briefly, then looked up and asked him,
"Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?" Keith stifled a groan and thought to himself, why do they always lead with that? Do they think I'm going to volunteer something? He bit down on an urge to offer a snarky response - "The fifteen kilos of cocaine in the trunk?" - and offered a meek, "No sir?" He hated the obsequious tone in his voice, the instinctive urge to sound respectful and compliant - Officer, I'm one of the good guys, I'm not one of those creeps who you have to be a hardass with - but couldn't keep the sense that he somehow should be groveling out of his mind.
"Sir, this is a forty-five mile an hour zone. I clocked you doing almost sixty."
"Officer, I swear I thought the speed limit was fifty-five along here." Keith hated the mealy taste of the lie as he said it. He had driven along this stretch of road - long, straight, smooth - for years; he knew quite well what the limit was.
"No sir, the speed limit is clearly marked along the road here. Sir, I'm going to ask you to wait here in your car while I check your papers." Keith nodded silent agreement and the policeman returned to his car, Keith's driver's license and proof of insurance in hand.
Keith sat still and silent while the cop worked. He felt a hot rush of shame and embarrassment every time a car passed on the road, like a child who'd been made to stand in the corner. He found himself speculating wildly about what the police officer was doing back there in his car - was he really looking anything up? Did it really take this long? Maybe he was just dragging this out to make Keith more uneasy...but why would he want that? Keith thought that the last thing a police officer would want is for a suspect to be jumpy.
At last the officer climbed back out of his car and came back up to Keith's window.
"Sir, do you know that this insurance document is invalid?"
Keith felt a dash of cold water hit his spine.
"What?" he said, "It shouldn't be!" He realized immediately how absurd that sounded and continued, "I just made a payment online last week!"
"Sir, the insurance company..." He paused and glanced down at the papers, then continued, "Progressive, they indicate that you don't have an account with them. They stated that you've never had an account with them".
Keith felt something shift in his head, like the framework of the world was coming loose.
"That's nuts!" he exclaimed, a note of shrillness creeping into his voice. "You have my papers right there, you can see that I have!"
"People can use computers to create all kinds of things these days, sir," the cop responded.
"I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the car, sir."