No fog rolled in from the river, no hounds bayed in the distance. In fact there was no air of mystery at all as I parked my car on Garrison Street at about 7 p.m. and headed for the back door of the Rodman drug store.
A line of people stretched from the point at which I had parked all the way up Garrison Street to Wisconsin Avenue and then around the corner from Wisconsin and Garrison to the box office of the K-B Cinema. It was an under-25 crowd that had come to see a new space movie.
As I got out of my car, I saw a young man walking in the street waving a parking ticket over his head. "Hey, look what I got," he called out to the crowd. "A parking ticket! Watch how I take care of my parking tickets." And with that he stoped alongside a sporty Chevrolet parked at the curb and tucked the ticket under its windshield wiper. There were scattered shouts of approval from the movie line.
I noted the license number of the Chevrolet and, when I got to the office, checked out the vehicle's registration with the police, looked up the car's owner in the phone book, and called.
"Did you find a parking ticket on your car this evening?" I asked.
"My son took the car to go to a movie and he's not back yet," the owner said. "What's this all about?"
"Your car was parked on Garrison Street, near the K-B Cinema," I said.
"I saw a young man put his own parking ticket on your car. Please ask your son to mail me that ticket."
"Do you know the fellow who put the ticket on my car?"
"No, I merely saw the incident I described to you."
"Then what good would it do to mail you the ticket?"
"The ticket would contain the license number of the fellow to whom it was really issued. I could get the police to identify him."
"Aha!" the owner said. "I'll tell my son you called."
About three hours later, the son returned home from the movie.
When his father told him of my call, the son looked blank.
"I don't know what he's talking about," the son said. "There was no ticket on my car when I got out of the movie."
There are several possible explanations for the Garrison Street mystery.
Remember the great "Phantom Ticket Mystery" we discussed here several weeks ago? People were being ordered to pay for tickets they swore they had never seen -- and in some cases could not have deserved because their cars were not in Washington on the dates involved.
Authorities explained at the time that sometimes young people remove tickets from one car and put them on another for various reasons.
Some think it's "fun," a hilarious practical joke. Either an innocent victim will pay the ticket without noticing it was issued to a vehicle with another license number; or the innocent motorist who finds it simply disregard a ticket obviously not meant for him -- in which case the real culprit will have to pay a doubled fine at a later date, or perhaps even find a "boot" on his car.
In addition, authorities told me, a person who knows he has just parked illegally will put a ticket under his own windshield -- either a ticket issued at some earlier date and saved for this occasion, or a ticket he removes from a nearby vehcile.
The purpose of this ploy is to give a passing policeman or parking aide the impression that the illegally parked car has already been ticketed by somebody else.
Our Metro desk has had investigators working on the entire Phantom Ticket Mystery ever since District Liners sent me dozens of reports about incidents of this kind. One day soon, I hope our reporters will be able to tell you what they learned.
Meanwhile, I sure would like to know the tag number on that mysterious Garrison Street ticket.
At the time of the incident, I thought briefly of walking over to look at the ticket before I left the scene. But with my luck, a policeman would have come along at that moment and seen me "tampering" with somebody else's auto.
Quite obviously, somebody else did tamper with it before the driver of the Chevrolet returned. One possibility is that after I left, somebody in the movie line appropriated the ticket for his own nefarious purpose.
Another possibility is that somebody in that line waited until the perpetrator of the foul deed had left the scene of the crime -- and then put the ticekt back on the crimnal's windshield.
Or, better yet, somebody in that line might have done what I did several years ago when I saw a scofflaw remove a ticket from his car and throw it into the gutter.
I picked up the ticket and mailed it in to the police together with a defiant and insulting (but unsigned) message.
I have a feeling that was one ticket the scofflaw paid.