The Toxic Cops

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“He’s on his way.” The radio report was crisp and clear. Dewey checked his watch. Ought to be home in time for dinner.

“Roger that.” He put the handset down on top of a steel drum.

A faded blue El Camino that had seen better days rolled up to the loading dock and its driver got out. He was a husky middle aged man wearing a torn tee shirt and grimy jeans, but he was surprisingly agile. Instead of walking up the three steps, he leaped easily onto the dock and said, “Knock, knock, knock. I’m here for the pick up.”

“Inside,” Dewey shouted from the shadowy interior. “C’mon in. My name’s Dewey.”

The driver stuck out his hand as he approached. “Bob. They call me Beer Can Bob. Howdy.”

Dewey drew back to reveal three 50 gallon drums. “Here’s the deal. We got 150 gallons of paint thinner we need to get rid of. How much you want to take it off our hands and haul it away?”

“Well, lemme see here.” Beer Can looked his potential client up and down. Was the man desperate or not. “Got any other bids?”

“Well, yah. Our guys said it would cost at least $450 to legally dispose of this amount of paint thinner. One trucker said he’d do it for less.”

“How much less?” Beer Can asked cagily.

“Well, I don’t think I should tell you that. I want an honest bid from you, not just to undercut everyone else who might do the job.”

Beer Can rubbed his chin stubble. “Okay. Yah. Sure. I can do it for $350. How’s that sound?” Easy money, Beer Can thought. Take it down the street and dump it into the sewer. No problem.

Dewey appeared to consider this for a moment. He walked once around the barrels, stopped in front of Beer Can and said, “Yah, okay. Three fifty for all of them?”

Beer Can said, “Those three right there. I’ll take ’em away for you.”

“You got a license?”

Beer Can looked surprised. “License? Yah, I got a driver’s license.”

“No,” Dewey explained. “I mean are you registered with the state as a hazardous waste hauler?”

“Oh, sure, sure.”

“Can I see a copy of your hazardous waste insurance, which is what a state licensed hauler has to have.”

“Well, y’know, I didn’t bring a copy with me. But I can get you a copy tomorrow if I haul that away for you today.

What do you say I knock it down to three twenty-five?”

Dewey seemed to waver. He walked around the drums once more, stopped in front of Beer Can and said, “Yah, okay. Three and a quarter for all of them?” He stuck out his hand to shake on it.

“Done deal,” Beer Can said as he slapped his palm into Dewey’s. “I need to see the color of your money and I gotta have cash in advance.”

“No problem,” Dewey said as he unrolled a wad of bills. He peeled three hundreds off the outside, flipped the wad open and counted out two tens and a five. “There you go. Need help moving them?”

Beer Can said, “What? For a 50 gallon drum? Naw. I got a hand truck.” He hopped down, removed a red two wheeler from the El Camion’s flat bed and proceeded to trundle the barrels off the loading dock. When he was finished, he casually lit a cigarette while standing next to one of the containers which had begun to leak. The weight of the barrels caused the flat bed to sink low to the ground. As he started the engine and pulled away, the vehicle’s shocks were so weak that sparks flew when the tailgate bounced and hit the ground.

Dewey had made no secret of the two way radio which he held casually in his hand all the while he watched Beer Can work. Now he snapped the send button and said with urgency in his voice, “Get in here fast! This idiot’s about to blow us all up!”

A siren began to wail as a white Ford SUV came racing around the corner. A temporary red light stuck on by a suction cup flashed from the passenger side of the windshield. The Ford drove straight at the El Camino which came to an abrupt halt. Beer Can sat with both hands at the top of the steering wheel and an astonished look on his face. Two men leaped from the Ford, took positions behind the doors using them as shields.

“Environmental Protection Agency department of toxic substances control!” the guy on the passenger side shouted as he crouched with a pistol pointed directly at Beer Can. “Both hands where I can see ’em. Out the window. Now!” Beer Can followed instructions. The man enunciated carefully, “Turn off the engine using your right hand only.” When the engine was off, he told Bob to open the door from the outside using one hand. “Now get out of the vehicle with your hands above your head!”

The driver of the Ford also trained a pistol on Beer Can.

“Slowly,” Dewey cautioned the trucker as he gingerly stepped up from behind and slapped a cuff on one wrist, lowered both the man’s arms behind his back and clapped the second handcuff closed. “Well, Beer Can Bob. Looks like you have a problem.”

“Yah, what’s that? Hauling trash ain’t a crime.”

“It is if you transport toxic chemicals without a permit,” the Ford driver said as he approached and holstered his weapon. “You are under arrest for violating EPA rules for transporting volatile substances.”

“What,” Beer Can Bob sneered. “Since when is it illegal to haul paint thinner.”

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