Scrap Man

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

I've been busy working on other projects, so I dug up and edited one of my older (and shorter) stories.

Submitted: October 14, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 14, 2017



The rusting hulk loomed like a monster under the moonlight.  At one time it had been a bus, but those days were long gone.  The front was torn apart and resembled nothing more than the jagged teeth of a predator.  The headlights were missing and looked like empty eye sockets.  The outer surface of the bus was rusted through and had a pebbly surface like the scales of a lizard.  The decaying wreck fit in perfectly with the junkyard it had sat in for the last thirty years.

Detective Owens hated it.  He hated the junkyard, the cold humid night, he hated his job, and he hated the fact he had to come here tonight.  If there was any justice in this world Owens would he resting his six-foot lanky frame and receding brown hair under a hot shower to work the aches out of his muscles.  But Owens knew that justice was at best temporary and at worst nonexistent.

Owens carefully picked his way through the junkyard and headed toward the bus.  There was a light on inside, proof that the man he needed to see was there.  He worked his way through piles of loose car parts and around stacks of totaled cars, trying not to think about what happened to the people driving them when they crashed.  The rest of the junkyard had a sinister look under the pale light of the moon, with jagged bits of steel jutting out like claws or fangs.  Owens had a flashlight but didn’t use it.  He knew his way around here well enough to avoid tripping, and people lived nearby who might see the light.  He didn’t want witnesses for what was going to happen.

Making the place even creepier (yes, that was possible) were the noises.  Whenever Owens stopped moving he could hear a multitude of things scuttling around the junkyard, crawling over and through the twisted metal shells that used to be cars.  They would move then stop, their feet or hands making scratching noises against the rusted metal.  Owens knew damn well that nothing should live in the junkyard since there was nothing an animal could eat, but they were here.

Owens stopped next to the bus’ door.  It was open, and painfully bright light shined out of it.  From inside he could hear muttering and the clanging of tools against steel.

“The door is open, my good man,” said a soothing voice inside the bus.  Owens reluctantly stepped inside.  The bus’ seats were gone, and in their place was a makeshift workbench, piles of spare parts, tools hanging off the walls and an almost infinite pile of junk around the inside of the bus.  The back of the bus was closed off by a curtain, which almost blocked the light and noise of something clunking away.  The roof of the bus was intact enough that rainwater couldn’t get in.

The owner was an old wrinkled man, almost bald, wearing dirty clothes and a smile. “Good heavens, a policeman has come to visit.”

“Evening, Kale,” Owens said.  Kale was an old resident of both the town and junkyard.  Nobody quite knew when he’d showed up, but they couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t here.  He’d managed the junkyard for decades, always old and never seeming to grow older.  People who liked him called him Butterfly Man.  Those that didn’t like him started out calling him the Garbage Man and eventually call him sir.

“Two visitors in one days, this is surprising,” Kale said.  He sat down on an old folding chair and bent over his workbench.  “Janet Forth came by earlier today and asked for a butterfly for her daughter’s birthday.  It’s a simple thing and I had the parts, so I agreed to provide one for the young lady.”

Owens peered over the old man’s shoulder and looked at the devise.  It was six inches long and had orange and black wings that looked exactly like a viceroy butterfly.  There was a windup motor in the abdomen that allowed the machine to fly for thirty seconds.  Children’s pictures were taped over the workbench, made by the proud owners of Kale’s windup butterflies as their only means of repaying the old man.

Owens frowned and said, “A stainless steel toy for a little girl?”

“It’s stainless steel because she’s so young,” Kale explained.  “Children are precious, but they can forget to be gentle with delicate things.  I make my toys strong enough they can’t break.  I’m guessing you aren’t here for a butterfly.”

Owens snorted.  “I came on business.  I’m here about what happened to Gavial Staback.”

Kale kept working on the toy.  “Hmm, his name does ring a bell.”

“Don’t play smart with me,” Owens said.  It was a cliché and not in the least bit appropriate in Kale’s case.  Nobody knew where or if Kale got an education, but the old man could fix anything on two, four, or eighteen wheels.  He also had a knack for repairing air conditioners, home appliances, and remote control cars.  He didn’t do so often and not for just anyone, but if Kale liked you he could work magic with machines.

“He’s dead,” Owens said, “and so is his entire gang.”

“Shocking,” Kale replied.  “I suppose it’s a hazard of his occupation.”

Gavial's occupation was producing and dealing crystal meth.  What that stuff does to a body disgusted even a veteran cop like Owens.  How could anything make a man age twenty years in just four, or turn him into such a monster?  Meth was spreading across the US, mostly because it could be brewed up in a kitchen instead of being grown in another country and smuggled in.  The chemicals used to make it could be explosive if not mixed properly, and no tears were wasted on those who died making such filth.

“It’s how he died that’s upsetting people,” Owens said.  “He—”

Something ran across the floor between Owens’s legs.  It ducked between two empty oxygen tanks before he could react.

“Oh don’t mind them,” Kale said.  “They’re just curious about you.  It’s not often visitors come so late.”

“You wouldn’t want me coming early,” Owens said.  “Gavial’s death wasn’t accidental.”

Kale looked up from his butterfly.  “You don’t say?”

“His crew died when their drug lab blew up,” Owens said.  He wanted to pace but their wasn’t room inside the bus with the piles of machine parts, parts that at first glance looked almost like the guts of a car or a microwave.Almost.  He also wanted to smoke, but he knew better than to do that here.  “Meth labs blow up all the time.  Like you said, it’s an occupational hazard.  This one blew up with eight of Gavial’s men inside.  Killed them all.”

“What a pity,” Kale said in a deadpan voice.

“Damn it, this isn’t a joke!” Owens shouted.  “There’s an investigation into how Gavial died.”

Kale looked thoughtfully at Owens.  “You mean to tell me that our fine state is spending taxpayer money to investigate the death of that monster?”

“Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  They found the cut break line in Gavial’s car.  The investigating officer thinks he had an enemy, a rival dealer who wanted him dead.  They’re trying to find the guy because they think he’ll try to take over Gavial’s territory and start this nightmare up again.”

Owens heard things scuttling around outside the bus.  There were more things moving around inside it, too.  He lowered his voice and spoke again.

“I’m still on the case.  I was investigating Gavial before he died, so they’re asking for my help finding the killer.”

“I see,” Kale said.  The scuttling noise died away.  “What have you learned?”

Owens shifted his weight from one foot to another.  “Gavial and his gang were working out of an old factory.  He may have been a damn drug dealer, but he was smart enough to put his lab in an out of the way place.  There were some complaints about the smell, but nobody took notice since it was next to lots of factories.  Two days ago the place blew up.  Eight of Gavial’s men were inside at the time, almost the whole gang.  It was a nice piece of work.  The investigators still think it was an accident.”

There was more scuttling noises as feet and claws scratched their way across the junkyard.  Owens was sure they were watching him.

“Do go on, it was getting interesting,” Kale said.  “This factory was where a certain police detective tried to get a warrant to enter and search the building, correct?”

“Yeah, that’s the place,” Kale said.  Tired, he added, “Wasn’t enough evidence.  Nobody’s much worried about that part of the case.  The thing is, one of Gavial’s men disappeared before the explosion.  Nobody’s found him yet.”

“Nor are they likely to, at least in any condition they might recognize him,” Kale said.

Owens tried not to show how much that bothered him.  “Then there’s Gavial himself.  Our good friend Mr. Gavial heard about the explosion on the news.  He tried to run for it.  Witnesses saw him drive away and said his car was working fine.  Then all of a sudden he couldn’t stop and crashed into a tree.”

At the back of the bus, a timer rang behind the curtain.  Kale got up and pulled the curtain aside.  Owens saw what looked like a still, but stills make liquor, not the bright green stuff flowing through a confusing mess of coiled glass tubes.  The liquid dripped into a small flask.  If you looked closely at the flask you could see something moving inside it.  Kale turned a knob on the still, picked up the flask, and sat back down.

“His breaks failed,” Kale said.

“They were cut while he was driving,” Owens said.

Kale shrugged.  “If they were cut before he started, he would have noticed while still at a low speed.  A crash at twenty miles an hour would do little to hurt him.”

“Then his gas tank exploded,” Owens said.  “Our mechanics don’t know how that happened.  I was the first officer on the scene, Kale.  I knew he’d run and I went after him the second I heard about the explosion.  That’s how I found this.”

Owens reached into his coat pocket and took out a small, charred hunk of metal.  It was partially melted, but the thing’s legs and head were identifiable.  The six inch long machine looked like a rat, but a rat with stainless steel skin, inch long claws and jaws made from pruning shears.  Owens held up the broken machine and placed it on the workbench.

“Oh,” Kale said.

The scurrying noise intensified.  There were dozens of things moving around outside the bus and at least ten more inside.  Some of them got close enough for Owens to see.  They were based off animals, mammals mostly.  There were hordes of stainless steel rats, raccoons, opossums, ferrets and skunks.  Mechanical spiders, stag beetles and lobsters joined the crowd.  A larger machine that looked like a pit bull rounded out the collection.  They were constantly moving, watching Owens as they ran about.  Three of the things climbed up onto the workbench and studied their dead companion.

Kale used a knife to pry open a panel on the dead machine’s back.  He took out a small vial, broken and scorched.  “I thought this might have happened when I lost contact with him.  The vita formula is gone.  Boiled away, I suppose.  The parts I could fix, but my pets die without the formula.  Thank you for bringing him back.  I can at least give him a proper burial.”

Owens watched Kale handle the dead machine.  Softly, the police detective said, “I grabbed it before anyone else saw it.  That was a big risk.”

Kale reached up and took one of the children’s drawings off the wall.  It had a stick figure drawn in crayon, surrounded by purple butterflies and the words ‘Thank you Butterfly Man’ scrawled on it.  Kale looked at the picture for a few moments before speaking.

“He survived the crash.  I had to do something.  Allowing him to go on ruining lives was not an option.  Owens, when you can create life, even temporarily, you realize how rare and precious it really is.  Life is something to be protected at all costs and from all enemies.  I believe you understand this.”

“I do,” Owens said.  He reached into his coat pocket.  The horde of machines braced themselves, ready to lash out.  Owens pulled an envelope from his coat and dropped it on the workbench.  The machines relaxed.

“Five thousand dollars, same as always,” Owens said.

“Your business is appreciated,” Kale replied.  He poured the green liquid into tiny vials, then plug them into the waiting machines.  His creations gathered around to receive the fuel that would keep them alive for a few more days.

Owens left the bus and called back, “Next time, Kale, nothing so obvious.”

© Copyright 2020 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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