At K-Mart he parks far out on the lot. Shopping-cart scratches are a heartache he can do without for the moment.

There it is, a Mercedes with the headlights left on. He pauses, expecting time-lapse switches on the four-door sedan of deep maroon. Mac, ever the auto magazine devotee, can name the year and list if asked. He attends reverently, as before a shrine to the skill of earning ridiculous money.

Skirting the perimeter, he satisfies himself regarding small details and special-issue insignias while the light continues to not switch itself off. Perhaps a malfunction. He waits. Or maybe the driver just neglected to flip the switch when he got out.

A good deed is in the wind.

Mac tries the driver's door.

A shrill howl emerges, as if from the dee[ reaches of the earth below; it careens and slides, painful to hear. Mac becomes dizzy and time passes before he becomes fully aware that it is an alarm on the Mercedes itself. The scene attracts attention from arriving shoppers. Mac races about the car, seeking some desperate remedy. It does not occur to him to leave.

The sound continues, changing beats now like an ambulance siren. He is still fingering crevices and possible hidden entries when two patrol cars arrive, their approach masked by the pandemonium.

Mac looks up and smiles. Help is here at last. He tries to make out the name tags on the officers but they are moving quickly and wariily. The faces are not familiar: rookies. "Great! Glad ya showed up. I been tryin' to--"

"Okay. Turn around, hands on your head." Mac's confusion is interpreted as resistance and the request has to be gruffly repeated. Finally he turns and gets frisked. His explanations go unheeded.

While he is contained in the back of the patrol car the owner of the Mercedes appears. The kind of guy who looks naked not wearing a suit, as he does now, casual in shorts. The man is brought for a look at Mac, then some agreement appears to be worked out. Only then is the alarm deactivated and Mac taken away.

They are about to pull out on Louisville when another patrol car edges up crosswise. Mac grins. It's Pat, an officer of personal acquaintance. After the openwindowed exchange he pulls up slightly further and meets Mac's gaze.

Pat's face, thin and fairskinned Irish, deflates visibly. He instructs the primary officer to Hold On. They pull back into the parking lot.

Pat gets out and leans in the window, getting the story from Mac. Pat asks the primary officer if the headlights were indeed on when they came up, irrespective of the alarm. The officer becomes dismayed at his loss of memory. The other officer is consulted: affirmative. Pat questions the owner of the Mercedes.

Pretty quickly the guy is red in the face, shoving his finger in Mac's direction. Pat stands silently for a moment, then says something very quietly to the guy. Mac wished he could hear. Then the guy is getting into the car, slamming the door.

Mac is released from the back seat cage.

Pat, displaying fatigue, talks a little longer with the rookies before they leave. Then he and Mac are alone. "Thanks, Pat. Owe you one for sure."

"Mac. Don't you know that no good intention goes unpunished."

"I didn't want the battery to go down."

"Yeah, I know, but . . . Mac. Listen. Does it ever occur to you when something like this happens . . . Did you just figure that for any old car?"

Mac cites the production run on the model, estimates the range of US purchase price in dollars. Pat does a long pause.

"Yes, but this asshole, this owner, did you take him for some sort of guy you needed to do a favor?"

"Uh, didn't think about it really."

"Mac--a guy like that, you think he gives a shit, do you think it hurts him to have to buy a battery?"

Mac's face eager like a child in a Little Rascals episode:"Nobody ought to buy something they don't have to." Pat begins to give him further warning, but stops short--Mac's error is of the wrong sort. It's impossible to go any further.

Pat endures some small talk about who's going to be the new Mayor, what grades his kids are in now. "Mac. Stay out of trouble, okay?"

"Sure thing, Pat. Thanks a lot."

The black and white departs. Sitting in his car Mac contemplates the missed chance to see parts of the jail he'd not yet encountered in tour visits as a taxpaying citizen.