The Junkers Saga - Trash, Cash, and Two Smoking Tailpipes
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<<<ACT 1 ⏮ <<<ACT 2 ⏪


Act 3

Trash, Cash, and Two Smoking Tailpipes

Guys, I've got it! Listen to this: "The Stench Connection"!

I don't get it.

The French Connection was a movie about smuggling drugs.

But not just any drugs. Heroin! And what do they call heroin on the streets?

Horse?

Brown?

Smack.

Junk! And what is it we're hustling around in our cargo?

Garbage?

Trash.

Effluvium!

Come on, you guys. This is really clever.

Hey! Where is DUSTER?

Dunno. We thought he was back here already.

No. Hey FINCH! Where is DUSTER right now?

Not showing up on the map. He just lost signal all of a sudden.

Something isn't right. I've got a bad feeling about this.

We're almost done here, BEARD. Come on and press this last load of loot.


"Well keep looking," Rodney rifled through the center console of the truck while Polk combed the glove compartment. "We need another clue to go on here."

"What are you two looking for?" Slate asked while he stood smoking a cigarette.

"Gotta find the LoJack."

"The what-now?" McCormick paced on the sidewalk while the Skippers searched inside the streetsweeper.

"A transponder; like a GPS unit," explained Rodney. "Tons of companies these days with fleet vehicles install tracking systems on them. If we're lucky, this truck had one on board, and if we can get at the data it could tell us something."

As it turned out, the Skippers were lucky: the truck did have a vehicle tracking system installed, and they were able to get at the data. Polk's phone converted the information into a functional user interface, and he pulled up a map of the city with a "Trip History" projected. The 10th street district they were in right now, as well as a couple other neighbourhoods nearby, had been visited multiple times in the past few days. But all these trips started and ended at the same address.

"What is that place?" Slate leaned in to see what was being discovered.

"In the industrial district," said Polk. "Machine shops, warehouses, a couple auto repair places…"

"This spot used to be a recycling depot," Rodney recalled bringing his old TV there when he'd upgraded to a flatscreen. "A while ago now."

"Are they trying to be poetic or something?" McCormick scoffed. "That has 'Hey! Come catch us!' written all over it."

"Sure, it's so obvious you'd almost wonder why nobody's gone and done it already."

Polk's sarcastic quip almost set McCormick off, but Slate responded first. "Well then now's the time."

Rodney checked his watch. "Damn it, where's our backup?"

"No time for yours," Slate pointed everybody toward McCormick's and his car. "We've got a SWAT team on standby that can meet us there."

Moments later, everyone was in the Feds' black Crown Vic speeding to the scene. "This is FALCON, calling in a Code Red at the following address," McCormick said urgently into his phone. "Get local backup on-scene ASAP! We are heading there now - I repeat, we are on the way right now."


Ah crap. Listen up everybody, the heat is closing in faster than expected!

I knew that something wasn't right!

Calm down. There is a backup plan for this.

There's a plan that we don't know about?

When we've been practicing every possible plan, over and over?

Just do as I say and leave the rest to me. I can talk our way out of this, but only if you all lay low and let me handle things.

I can not get arrested! Seriously uncool.

Everyone, park yourselves over here. Go on, and shut everything right down. I'll throw the tarps up.

Hold it! Is this really our best bet? I can't abide staking the farm on a long shot.

I was hoping you'd say that TWO-PAIRS. No, since you have all the loot on board, you'll need to make a break for it now.

Hold on, how is that plan any better?

Brother, don't worry about me. I can bluff or barge my way through whatever they've got waiting.

But not with all of us moving together…

Hurry it up, BEARD. I need you here with the others.

FINCH, will you shut up for one minute?

Alright, this is what's best then. We'll wish you luck.

You know I've got all the luck I need.

See you on the other side, brother.


Slate stopped the car at the mouth of an alleyway formed by a fenced-in lot and a factory adjacent. "Alright, here's the loading yard. Follow this fence and the gate should be around the corner down there."

"What are you telling us for?" said Polk.

"Because yous two are going to slip around and cover the loading docks at the back," McCormick explained. "Our boys are waiting for us at the public entrance, but they only got enough men to breach the front doors. So you're gonna have to be the pincer."

"Sounds like the reports of a SWAT team on standby were greatly exaggerated," Polk quipped.

"Test me once more," roared McCormick. "Once more, and see what happens!"

"Alright, look," Slate said, defusing the tension. "We need five minutes to regroup with the cops around front and prepare to storm in. So wait no less than five before making any move from the back, got it?"

Agents Rodney and Polk slid out of the car and slinked their way along the shadows beside the fence. Polk was glad to finally have a minute away from the Feds.

"Okay, Rod. What the hell are we doing?"

Rodney looked at his partner. "What do you mean?"

"I mean are we completely off the rails, running around with these two idiots instead of getting our own guys out here?"

"I talked to HQ back at the cafe, remember?"

"Right. So how'd that conversation go?"

"I told them the anomalous activity was confirmed and that we'd need to dig deeper on it. I told them we were dealing with autonomous vehicles, and that our car got wrecked."

"So what about reinforcements?" Polk asked.

"Funnily enough, I did ask them about dumping a thousand soldiers into the city on 20 minutes notice, and sending a tank or two to smash up the magic trucks for us."

"Let me guess, their counter-offer was Dr. Wile E. Coyote and his big magnet by Acme?"

"Close," Rodney chuckled. "They're starting with a city-wide perimeter, checkpoints on all avenues in and out. Keeping these vehicles from getting onto the interstate and out to who knows where is the first step, until more MTFs can be deployed."

"So where does that leave us?"

"I hate to admit it," Rodney shrugged. "But it leaves us counting on Uncle Sam's firepower here, for now."

By this point the Agents had found their way into the dusty lot and were hunched behind a pile of debris. "What's our timing like?"

"Still too soon," Rodney replied. They spent a moment surveying the entire face of the building - noting the placement of every door, anticipating the interior layout behind, scanning windows for movement. "Hmm… seems quiet."

"Yeah," Polk agreed. "A little too quiet."

Rodney glared at Polk. "You know what happens every time you say that."

Polk rolled his eyes, "I don't think anything happens every time I say that."

The metal bay door of the recycling centre was suddenly ripped from its frame and sent flying by a dump truck ramming through from within the building.

"Oh come on!" Polk whined, before Rodney tackled him down out of the path of flying bricks and rubble.

"You bastards," came a shout from somewhere within the truck. "Come and get me, if you're feeling lucky!"

As the Agents found their feet and ran for cover, Rodney fired a handful of rounds in the direction of the truck.

"You are shooting a .45 caliber handgun," Polk shouted over the noise, "at a ten ton truck. Will you get real!"

The dump truck, instead of pursuing the Skippers path, veered toward the gate. It easily barreled through the chainlink fencing and drove away down the road.

"Well," Rodney sighed as he tried to catch his breath. "That didn't go well."

Slate and McCormick appeared in the new gaping hole in the wall. McCormick was shouting a bunch, but the Skippers made it clear there was nothing that could have been done.

"Never mind then, come on over here." Slate waved them over. As they approached, he turned to McCormick and said "Hey, if those boys have swept all the rooms and got the prisoner secured then go ahead and send 'em home. I ain't swallowing all their overtime for just standing around." He added with a wink to the Skippers, "And they probably oughtn't be witnesses to what comes next, huh?"

As McCormick went back inside, Polk addressed Slate. "You said 'prisoner'? Singular?"

"Get a load of this," laughed Slate. "These gangsters must've cleared out just before we got here, but left one patsy behind to take the fall."

"There was just one guy in there?"

"No resistance, easy takedown. We got him inside now, ready for a little informal interrogation."

Polk and Rodney exchanged furtive glances, but finally Rodney said "Okay then, lead the way."


The Skippers followed Slate through the loading bay and into a secondary warehouse area. There they found a younger looking man handcuffed to a chair, with McCormick pacing the floor behind him.

"Come on, fellas," said the captive. "This is a pretty extreme response for someone simply trespassing in an abandoned building."

McCormick yanked down a large tarp, revealing an inert garbage truck beneath. Pulling away another revealed the forklift they had seen earlier on; a third one, the cargo truck as well.

"Well, well," Slate reached into the compactor of the garbage truck. "What do we have here?" He hauled up a small gold bar for everyone to see.

"Okay, fine. I'm using this space as my workshop. I'm an artist."

"An anartist," accused Polk.

"Hey, you can't let a little thing like reality get in the way of your creative vision, man."

"Well then," Rodney stepped closer. "Why don't you tell us about this particular vision, man?"

"Yeah? Right, so it's called 'One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure'! I'm taking the old cliche phrase and using it to make a fresh statement. Not just about the environment, but the nature of humans' attachment to possessions, and the perception of value in-"

"How about the nature of having a ton of free gold in your pocket?" Polk cut him off. "Was that a part of your vision, Mr. … what is your name, anyway?"

"Charlie," the young man replied. "Charlie Finbar. But the truck's conversion rate is too low for me to make much use of it that way."

"Maybe not on your own," McCormick loomed behind Charlie. "But you had some helping hands out there, didn't you?"

"Those are just prototypes. Like practice pieces."

"Don't play dumb with us!" McCormick leaned down. "Those trucks were out removing trash from the streets tonight, weren't they?"

"Fine. I needed something to test my work; there's nothing wrong with that."

"On the contrary," Slate chided. "Racketeering is a rather serious offense. Organized crime, undermining labor union negotiations - someone could do a lot of hard time for charges like that."

"Oh, no way!" Charlie jerked in his chair to look straight at Slate. "That's not on me, I'm no gangster. I just needed them so I could get my hands on the materials."

"That's more like it," McCormick softened up now. "Tell us about this 'them' then."

"Well," Charlie hesitated. "I can't just buy a garbage truck on my own. A friend of a friend put me in touch with someone who could arrange what I needed. But a deal had to be made, so I had to help them to use the piece like this - to make the payment! I didn't even know there could be those kinda implications."

"But if all these crooks wanted was a bunch of gold," Rodney reasoned, "Why not just go to a landfill and have a literal mountain of the stuff?"

"You don't get it, man," Charlie rolled his eyes at the Foundation agent. "I'm not some kinda reality-bending alchemy-wizard dude, I'm an artist. There has to be intent and expression and all that creativity stuff in the mix before I can do what I do."

"Skip the theatrical bullcrap and get to the point."

"Waste disposal is more complicated than you might realize. It all starts when someone throws something away - could be anything - but once that consumer discards that product, it can be considered 'waste'. And there's lots of ways that all that waste gets handled. Some of it might be salvageable for reuse, some of it might be recyclable, some of it might just end up in a landfill; but it's all manners and means of 'waste disposal'."

Apparently the kid had done his homework. Or at the least, his creative interpretation of the matter sounded informed.

"Now, at what point is that waste 'disposed of'? Maybe once that consumer has left it out on their curb or tossed it into a dumpster, to them it's gone. But that waste still has a ways to go - collection, sorting, processing, all that business. Anyway, by the time it's under the dirt in a dump is way too late for me to work with. Like, New Yorkers call Flushing Meadows a park now; you get it?"

"Whatever you say, kid" McCormick scoffed. "But I asked you to tell us more, and I didn't hear no names. So maybe running you in downtown is what we're gonna have to do."

"Ahem!" Agent Rodney got Slate's attention. "May I have a word with you over here?"

Slate convened with the Skippers at some remove from their prisoner. "What is it now?" he hissed.

"This 'arrest' talk from your partner here is what it is," said Rodney. "We don't actually know the extent of this person's anomalous abilities; they need to come through a Foundation facility for assessment."

"Oh, give me a break," Slate scoffed. "So he can make a truck drive on its own, you said yourself you've seen that before."

"Yeah," replied Polk. "Still anomalous, still our concern. And if it comes down to it-"

"Well, now now," Slate became suddenly conciliatory. "If we all have to call up our bosses and get them involved, that's just gonna make for some more unhappy campers. We've been getting along well so far." Slate glanced back at his partner for a second before continuing. "Look, we really need a new lead in this case; we're desperate here. If you give us just 24 hours with this kid in our custody, we can make him flip on these gangsters. And then you guys can do your little tests and all that."

"One day," Rodney clarified, "and then you turn him back over to the Foundation?"

"Absolutely," said Slate. "And we only need the info he has, so we'll let you guys leave here now with all the other anomalous stuff. Those trucks there, the trashcan, any gold loot still laying around - you can all take away now."

After some consideration, Rodney finally agreed to the deal. Slate and McCormick led Charlie Finbar in handcuffs out to their car, and drove off.


Wait a second… Did you ever mention the trashcan videos to those guys?

Huh? Yeah, I think so. We talked the whole case over at the cafe, right?

We talked about the trucks at the cafe. We saw the truck driving on its own, and we shot the forklift, and that's what we went to the cafe with those Feds to discuss.

Right, we went and we talked to them about the anomalous vehicles. We talked about the union strike, and we talked about the trucks hauling the trash.

But we never said to them what tipped us off to the scheme in the first place. We never told them about the online videos, or the trashcan that looks like a girl, or any of that stuff!

Well, so what if we didn't?

The last thing Slate said to me was that we can take all the anomalous objects and evidence - the trucks, and the loot left behind, and the trashcan. How did he know that trashcan was part of the package we'd want?

… He wouldn't. Unless they knew more than they were telling us.

Or they were outright lying to us.

But they did help us contain the anomaly in the end.

They weren't helpful, they wanted to get rid of us from the start. They tried to tell us it was nothing anomalous; they tried to tell us to just drop it. They didn't really get motivated until after we'd already nabbed that streetsweeper and picked up this address.

Yeah, that's when they get all hot to call it in and rush over. Then at the sting here, they put us alone at the back door - knowing we can't stop any truck on our own. So, you think they wanted to make themselves look good by making us look bad?

No, I don't think that's it… Why would they say we weren't needed; that it's mundane crime? Why would two UIU Agents be on a case without anomalies involved?

They knew we were Foundation, so not bulling us for The Veil's sake… What are you saying?

They were in on it, all of them! The punk's job was to run the trucks and pack the loot, and those two fake Feds' job was to pull the wool over our eyes and keep us running in circles until they could get away!

Holy shit!

They played us like a damn fiddle! Call HQ on your mobile phone right now; screw infosec protocols! We need to let them know what's happened, ASAP.


Days later, back inside the offices of a mid-tier Foundation Site, Polk and Rodney settled in at their workstations. This would be their probationary assignment for the next six months, relegated from field work until then.

"Well, we're back on desk in the bullpen," Rodney was trying to cheer Polk up. "You must be happy about that, right?"

Polk said nothing.

"I got my appointment at Site-17 done too," Rodney said. "So there's no way now that some hucksters could pull one over on us with any memetic influences."

Polk kept his eyes on his work.

"And we did successfully bring in all those anomalous objects," Rodney offered. "So we aren't even really in that much trouble after this probation is done."

Polk's keyboard became pointedly louder with each keystroke.

"Fine then, go ahead and pout."

Tracy, a Level 1 administrative assistant in the same office space as Polk and Rodney were now stationed, had taken it upon herself to make the Agents feel welcome. As was her habit, she dropped by to chat on her way to the break room. "Say, did either of you see that one weird story in the paper today? There were three murders out at the old quarry site."

"Oh, no kidding?" Rodney replied absently. This mention of the quarry was the first time he'd considered it, but that place did once have both a cityside address and access via dirt road out to the old two-lane highway. Had HQ thought of that when they established those checkpoints?

"Maybe some kinda gangland executions, they say," Tracy went on. "Pretty gruesome stuff; apparently the victims looked like they'd been run over by a dump truck!"

"How cruel," Polk deadpanned. Rodney was glad he at least seemed to perk up a little.

"And here's something really weird," Tracy announced. "Underneath one of the bodies, they found a gold brick pressed into the dirt! What do you suppose that means, huh?"

Polk and Rodney stared at each other.


Somewhere on a lonely highway, a dump truck might have been cruising along with a load full of gold bars in the back, and Kenny Rogers' 'The Gambler' playing on the radio.


***


THE END

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