My name is Johan. I’m a big guy, and I'm quite strong. I have bulging muscles and fast reactions. I used to be a wrestler. Despite frequent wins, my heart wasn’t in it and I gave it all up several years back in favour of the quiet life. I was only 35, but the truth is I’m a bit of an idler; always have been. This means I’ve learned to live close to the breadline. Last year, though, I hit on an idea that, for the first time in my life, has begun to provide a steady income. And not only for me, but a couple of friends too, without whom, it should be said, the idea would never have come to fruition.

It began one bleak evening two years ago. I’d been indoors most of the day due to continual heavy rain. Then, around teatime, the sky cleared. So, as much for the exercise as a change of scenery, I wandered out into the clear cool air. Most refreshing it was too. But I’d only gone about 100 metres when I ran into Hans. Hans, I should say, was more an acquaintance than friend, but we were on good terms. He owned the local garage and was a fine mechanic. At least, he always serviced and fixed my car OK. He was on his way to the local Kneipe… pub, and suggested I join him. I thought a litre or two of good German bier would go down very well after a long day at home.

So we went in and sat there in the almost deserted bar-room, sipping our biers, with Hans checking his watch every few minutes. ‘I’m expecting Rita anytime.’ He said.

‘It’s a small village,’ I replied, ‘But I don’t think I know Rita.’

‘Oh, you’ll recognise her.’ He said grinning.

According to local gossip, a few months earlier Hans’s wife had run off with a Mercedes dealer from Dresden. I guessed he was making up for lost time. After a few minutes, in walked Rita. It was true, I knew her from somewhere. She came over and sat beside Hans opposite me. After making introductions Hans got up and went to the bar.

‘Hans said I’d recognise you,’ I said, ‘and he was right, but I can’t place you. Do you work in a shop?’

She gave a broad smile, ‘Actually, I’m the village verkehrspolizist… traffic cop.’

‘Ah.’ I twigged immediately, ‘I remember now… out of uniform, out of context.’

She laughed, ‘I’ve seen you about too.’ She said, ‘You enjoy a walk by the river, I know that much.’

‘True enough.’ I said, ‘I suppose it’s part of the job to notice what people do as well as remember faces.’

‘To an extent.’ said Rita, shrugging, ‘Maybe my natural curiosity is why I chose the job. But I’m no detective, at least not yet.’

Hans returned with a drink for Rita. ‘Anything interesting to report?’ he asked her.

‘Only on the hand-brake tests.’ She said, ‘Finally ended today…. Do you know,’ she added, ‘handbrakes are nearly always applied only partially, rarely fully. Only when essential, such as on a steep slope, do people bother to apply them fully.’

Hans raised his eyebrows, ‘The issue gave me a few extra customers.’ he said, ‘Shame your department can’t cook-up a few more projects like that.’

‘Most were in good order, though.’ said Rita, ‘It was just that they weren’t fully applied.’

‘Why should they be?’ I said, ‘I mean, on level ground.’

‘They shouldn’t necessarily,’ she said, ‘But they should be firm enough to prevent easy movement, like even a gentle push.’

‘But if another car hits one with brakes full on.’ I said, ‘then the damage will be worse.’

‘That may be true,’ said Rita, ‘but you won’t get knock-on damage to other vehicles.’

‘Vehicle damage is my bread ‘n butter.’ Said Hans, frowning.

We all laughed at that.

After a while I decided to leave them to enjoy one another’s company alone, so said tschüss.. cheerio and wandered out. I took a long walk around the village, thinking about what we’d been discussing. After a while, distracted by the strong wind, which howled in the trees and blew twigs everywhere, I forgot the issue and went home.

The next day, though, on my way to do a bit of shopping, I went past Hans’s garage – as I often did. Unusually, that morning, there was Hans out on the forecourt gazing reflectively at a nearly-new BMW.

‘Hi.’ I called, going over. ‘Very smart.’

‘Look at that,’ he said, pointing at the back. He indicated just above the lowest part of the body where could be seen a small shallow dent. It was hardly visible. It resembled what one might expect from pushing a finger lightly onto a piece of dough or plasticine.

‘What about it?’ I replied, ‘Hardly something to get excited about.’

‘Only €1000.’ He said.

‘What, for that?’ I said, ‘Incredible.’

Hans nodded, ‘It’s the going rate.’

‘But who’d waste €1000 on repairing such an insignificant blemish?’ I said, ‘No-one will even see it?’

‘Insurance job.’ He said, ‘So has to be fixed, regardless. Can’t go above €1500 though, otherwise the assessor would want to see it. Anything less, they don’t bother.’

‘Crazy.’ I said.

‘Not for my business.’ He said, ‘I reckon half my income is from fixing minor bumps like that, things that wouldn’t get fixed if an insurance outfit wasn’t coughing-up.’

I laughed, ‘Now I know why premiums are so high.’

‘It’s the system.’ He said, ‘Luckily for me… though to be honest I could do with a few more like this. Business is slow these days.’

I said, ‘What does it actually cost you to correct something like that?’

‘Oh, only a few euros, maybe 20 or 30 at most.’

‘Incredible!’ I repeated, ‘Wish I could fiddle a bit of money as easy as that.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘That’s the trade. I guess most trades have their perks.’

‘True,’ I said, ‘The building trade for one.’

Hans nodded, ‘Anyhow, I’d better get on.’

‘Nice meeting Rita yesterday,’ I said, turning to go, ‘see ya.’

He waved, and I continued to the shops.

Once back home I started thinking about the handbrake issue again, and the BMW with its minuscule dent. My house backs onto a small municipal car park, just off the main road. From my kitchen window I can watch cars parking there. The parking area is just a row of about a dozen spaces either side of a central driveway – Reib igerpl. One side is on a very slight incline, and when the cars stop there they usually move a little towards the driveway before the driver applies the handbrake or park mechanism. Then I suddenly had an idea…. a not particularly commendable one, I should say, but it hit me like a whip.

I put away the shopping then went out again to find Rita. After nearly half-an-hour I spotted her through the window of a real-estate office sipping tea, with several cars parked illegally outside. I waited a while, looking in nearby shop windows, and eventually she emerged, walked straight past the illegally parked cars, and towards me, smiling. ‘Hi Rita.’ I said.

‘How are you?’ she replied, stopping.

Then I told her how I’d seen Hans that morning, about the dent in the BMW, the car park near my house, and finally my unprincipled idea.

She looked shocked at first, then she frowned and said, ‘What you suggest is highly irregular, reprehensible even.’ She thought for a moment, then said, ’Nevertheless, money is tight these days and your idea sounds interesting. I’ll mention it to Hans, but don’t imagine anything will come of it. I’ll go and see him now.’ And off she walked.

Obviously she thought I was well out-of order, which I guess I was. I just shrugged and went back home, weighing the risks of the idea as I walked.

A couple of hours later Rita was at my door. She came in and we watched the parking from my kitchen window. ‘Hans says it’s a great idea,’ she said, as we watched, ‘And I do too now, having considered it. He said to start straight away, but to choose the cars carefully, according to nationality and where they park. If those are right, then swoop, he said.’

‘OK,’ I said, ‘But won’t you need a real cop as witness or anything?’

‘I’ve seen to that.’ she replied, ‘I’ve just called Klaus, an old friend from college. He covers this area. He’s based in Dresden, and has been driving cop cars for as long as I’ve been here. That’s about six years. As you know, they always sting a victim with a €25 on-the-spot fine at an incident, plus I’ve agreed a percentage of whatever we make from any scam.’

‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said, ‘what about the risks? We could all get banged-up, and you’d lose your job into the bargain.’

‘I discussed everything with Hans.’ said Rita, ‘We have it all worked out. And we covered just about every possibility of anything going wrong. It seems like the proverbial “perfect-crime”.’

‘Is there really such a thing?’ I said,

‘What could go wrong?’ she said, ‘First, the chances of two cars being insured with the same outfit is negligible, so long as we only go for foreign drivers. Which means they’ll never correlate any particular claim with the same cause or the same location or even being paid to the same claimant. And foreign drivers are unlikely to argue, especially if they don’t speak German. I’ll pretend I can’t speak another language, and act all official and strict to scare them a bit. Besides all of which, they’ll consider the situation so trivial as to not be worth causing hassle about, probably not even bothering to take photos. They’ll just see it as an unlucky €25 on-the-spot fine and nothing more, and will just want to move on. If they even suspect anything it will only be us looking to make our entirely legitimate €25. But 6-months later we sting their insurance outfit with a big repair bill.’

‘And I guess our victim will just lose a bit of no-claim discount.’ I said, ‘So what’s the procedure?’

‘First I’ll make the flat side of the parking area less inviting with some grit and a few scraps of litter.’ Rita began, ‘then, as you first suggested, when you see a suitable car move onto the sloping side, you walk out there and watch the driver till you’re sure they’re well out of sight, then drive your wagon into the opposite space. When it’s all clear, and if the handbrake isn’t on too firmly, you push the car across the driveway so it touches yours. Simple.’

‘And if the steering’s awry?’

‘Just park your wagon so it’ll roll into it.’ She said, ‘You should be able to judge that pretty easily. And if you call me when you first go outside, I’ll be there by the time the cars are touching.’

‘OK.’ I said, nodding.

There was nothing for a couple of days. Then a big grey English car stopped and reversed into a space on the incline. As arranged, I called Rita then went down there. It was a dry and pleasant but overcast day, neither warm nor cool. As soon as the guy was gone, I moved my car into place. Next I tried pushing the grey car. The guy had put the handbrake on quite firmly, and at first it wouldn’t budge. Then to my releif I was just able to move it very slowly, though it was hard going and I wondered if I’d be able to get it all the way. Eventually, though, it was there, touching my wagon. Whew! That was tough work. Then Rita appeared.

She’d been watching from the side of the houses. With her little notebook in one hand, and mobile in the other, she was calling Klaus. ‘You scarper now,’ she said to me, ‘Just keep away and we’ll talk later… hang on,’ she added, now looking at the front of the car, ‘They’re not quite touching. That’s crucial. If they’re not actually touching then there’s no offence.’

So in a final effort, I pushed the car again till Rita was happy, kicking a small stone behind one of the wheels so it wouldn't roll back. Then I went over and sat on a wall about 20-metres away. A few minutes later the driver returns and looks astonished as he hurriedly approaches.

‘That’s my car.’ He says.

Rita moves between him and the car, telling him in German not to touch it. He seems confused. It's obvious he doesn’t know German. He keeps trying to get to his car, and Rita keeps moving between him and his car, declaring ‘Offence, offence! I call assistance.’ In bad English, as she calls Klaus on her mobile.

The English guy, looking past Rita into the car, points in at the window. He mimes the pulling of a handbrake. ‘The handbrake’s on!’ he cries, ‘How did it move?’

Rita shakes her head, pretending not to understand, ‘Ten minutes.’ She says in English with a strong German accent, splaying her fingers to show the number of minutes before assistance should arrive.

Finally, the cop car turns up. Klaus, with his female assistant, emerges, and smiling broadly strides over to the English guy with his hand out. He shakes hands with the English guy, bowing slightly, almost obsequiously, and is extraordinarily friendly.

His companion also shakes hands with the English guy. It's more like a sociable business meeting than a potential traffic offence. Klaus goes and gazes at the point where the cars are touching. He bends over to look closely. Shaking his head, he returns to the English guy, removes his note pad and writes something. Then in German he asks the Englishman some questions, all the while being extremely genial and cheerful.

Clearly, the English guy hasn’t a clue what was being said. Then Klaus indicates for the English guy to get in his car and move it back. The English guy points out that the handbrake is on, but Klaus just shrugs and pretends it isn't important, or as if he doesn’t understand. Klaus keeps sweeping his arm to show he wants the English guy to reverse back to where he was originally parked.

That done, the English guy shows Klaus various documents, and Klaus mentions - in clear English - €25. Everything else he says in German. Without delay, the English guy presents €25 even before Klaus actually requests it. Klaus tries to show the English guy a section in a book he has to prove the fine is legitimate. But the English guy isn’t concerned. He just wants to give Klaus the money, which after another attempt to explain, Klaus finally accepts.

While Klaus fills in his paperwork, the English guy goes and makes a closer inspection of the back of my wagon. He stares very hard, and declares that he can’t see where his car had been touching it. Of course, there is no blemish. Even so, he takes a photo.

Neither Klaus nor Rita will look. They keep well clear of my wagon and pretend not to understand the English guy's requests for them to examine it.

Altogether, the process lasts more than an hour. Finally, Klaus walks quickly over to my wagon and shoves a note under the windscreen wiper, then goes and shakes hands again all cheerful and friendly with the English guy - as if he was an old friend - then he and his assistant get into the cop car and drive away. Rita, by then, has already wandered off.

The English guy, still looking confused, stands there by my wagon for maybe ten minutes as if wondering what to do next or waiting for the owner to turn up. After a while he sighs, climbs into his car and leaves.

I go over to see if I can see where the car touched mine. Nothing. Not the slightest mark, not even the dirt is disturbed. Rita now returns from behind the houses and says, ’That was an easy €300 or so each, don’t you think?’

‘What?’ I say, ‘How much?’

‘We don’t get it for maybe 6-months.’ She says, ‘Perhaps longer. But it’ll materialise eventually, according to Hans. He'll assess repairs, then you submit a claim, and the cash will roll in. Somewhere around €1200 maximum between us.’

‘Incredible,’ I say.

* * * * *

And it’s true. I don’t do it often, maybe six or seven cars a month like that, and eventually the money rolls in, just as Rita said it would.

Some months I make a cool €2000. Not bad for pushing a car several metres occasionally, even if it is against a partially applied handbrake. But when you've got muscles like mine, what's the problem?

So long suckers!