A Load Of Rubbish
The squad were in good spirits as they sat waiting for the captain to join them, watching MOP (their Mechanical Office Pet) trundling around showing off a new trick it had been programmed with. It moved around the base picking two things up at a time and holding them up proudly. Prior to this, MOP had only been able to compute instructions for one thing at a time, but HyJean had since programmed it to be able to understand more than one instruction at once – thus making it more efficient than the staff at Homebase. As the squad watched and applauded at MOP’s successes (as parents do when children complete the easiest of tasks in three times the amount of time it’d take an adult to do it) Captain Clean entered the room and cleared his throat. MOP held up a piece of paper and a glove and the captain just shook his head.
‘No, thank you,’ he said, brushing the robot away. It returned the items to the table it had got it from and waited for further instructions.
‘Today we’re going to look at what to do if someone attacks you with a knife,’ he began. ‘So, let’s get right into it. Flush, can I borrow you?’
Flush nodded and dutifully rose, walking over to stand in front of the captain and puffing his chest out a little with pride at being picked.
‘Right, I’m going to come at you with a knife,’ the captain said, taking a combative stance.
‘Wait, a minute,’ said Flush. ‘What sort of knife are we talking about?’
‘Does it matter?’ asked the captain.
‘Of course it matters. I need to know how far away I need to stand. If it’s a pen knife, I’ll be closer, but if it’s a machete I’ll stand way back.’
‘Okay, it’s a pen knife.’
‘Pfft, that’s no problem.’
‘Oh really? Okay, we’ll see about that. MOP, fetch me the pen knife.’
The robot stayed motionless where it was. The captain looked at it disapprovingly, waiting for it to do something.
‘You have to say please,’ HyJean pointed out.
The captain let out a heavy sigh, ‘Fetch me the pen knife, please.’
The robot sprung to life and trundled over to a table where numerous tools, weapons and other assorted objects were spread out. Meanwhile, HyJean smiled, pleased with herself that she’d managed to make the robot respond to good manners. MOP then slowly trundled back over to the Captain Clean, holding a plastic knife in one mechanical arm and a ballpoint pen in the other.
‘No, I said pen knife, you stupid robot, not a pen and a knife. That’s wrong!’ Captain Clean held up his arms, crossed in an X shape as if this would help the robot understand. MOP showed absolutely no emotion in return, the little robot eye staring at him blankly. The captain snatched the pen and knife off the robot and instructed it again. ‘Go and fetch me a pen knife. A PEN KNIFE. All one word. Go!’
The robot once again went over to the table and returned again with yet another combination of plastic knife and ballpoint pen.
‘Oh for God’s sake, I’ll do it myself,’ muttered the captain as he went and picked up a pen knife from the table, muttering under his breath, ‘I don’t even know how he got that second knife, there was only one on here.’
He returned and took his place in front of Flush. ‘Right, are you ready?’
‘Yup,’ nodded Flush.
Cap whipped out the pen knife and swung it at Flush with a mighty ‘Aha!’
Flush just stood where he was and smirked. Whilst the captain’s handling of the pen knife looked impressive, he’d mistakenly flipped out the bottle opener attachment instead of the knife.
‘Cheers cocker,’ said Flush as he picked up a bottle off the table and opened it with the bottle opener.
‘Alright, you’re obviously not taking this seriously,’ the captain sighed. ‘You, sit down. Faucet, can I use you?’
Faucet got up and, just as Flush had, stood in front of Captain Clean to await an attack.
‘Okay, so this time it’s a real knife. Something bigger, like… a katana!’ said the captain, pretending to hold up his imaginary katana.
‘Ooh, now we’re talking,’ said Faucet with a smile.
Before he could carry on, Captain Clean was interrupted by MOP as he drove slowly towards him holding out a banana, much to the amusement of everyone except the captain.
‘No! Wrong!’ he shouted, crossing his arms again. ‘Go away!’
MOP left to head back to its home in HyJean’s office, peeling the banana with a metal cutting tool on one of its appendages. Captain Clean turned back to Faucet.
‘So, if I came at you with a katana, what would you do?’ he asked.
‘I’d spray you with a jet of water to blind you and then attack you,’ replied Faucet.
‘Okay… that’s good,’ the captain nodded. It wasn’t the answer he had hoped for, but he was pleased that Faucet was at least thinking tactically. ‘But what about the others? They don’t have water jets, so what would they do?’
‘They’d call me,’ Faucet replied with a slight smirk.
‘But what if you weren’t around. How would you stop the attacker?’
‘I wouldn’t need to, I’m not there,’ he shrugged.
‘Oh, for god sake. Fine, go sit down,’ the captain said with a groan. ‘Mick, help me out here, come on.’
Suds got up and took Faucet’s place.
‘Okay, I’m coming at you with a katana, what would-’
Before he could finish, Suds whipped out his soap gun, which he routinely kept at the lowest setting by default, and shot the captain in the face, covering his head in a sticky, pink goo.
Suds turned to the others and said, ‘Drink?’
The guys all agreed and got up from the table, high fiving Suds and patting him on the shoulder.
‘I think we’ve earned it,’ said Faucet.
‘Yeah, three of us just survived getting attacked with a bottle opener,’ chuckled Flush as they headed out of the base, leaving HyJean to deal with a frustrated captain.
‘I don’t think they’re taking these lessons very seriously,’ said Captain Clean as he wiped some of the goo off his face.
‘No,’ said HyJean, handing him a towel. ‘I don’t think they are.’
‘I don’t know why you insist on keeping that thing, he’s useless,’ said the captain as he took the towel and began wiping his face with it. ‘He can’t even follow basic instructions.’
‘Come on, Will isn’t that bad.’
‘Not Will, the robot!’
‘Oh! Well, he’s still learning,’ HyJean shrugged with a little sympathy for her robot. ‘The more we use him, the quicker he’ll learn.’
‘He’d better,’ said the captain, scrunching up the towel in frustration and handing it to her.
‘He is trying y’know,’ she said as she took the towel from him.
‘Yes, you’re right, he is very trying.’
Later that morning, the captain was in his office, while HyJean and Mary were enjoying a nice cup of tea at the main table.
‘I’ll get it!’ the captain cried, almost breaking his office door off its hinges as he flung it open and bolted across the room. He skidded to a halt and opened the main door. He was surprised to find a cheery looking woman on the other side holding a parcel. She had short grey hair and was dressed like someone considerably younger than she looked. She didn’t seem at all surprised to be greeted by a man a man wearing a mustard yellow cape, but the captain looked at her with a furrowed brow.
‘Who are you?’ the captain asked.
‘It’s me, Carol,’ said Carol.
‘How did you find our secret base?’ he said with a whisper, leaning in and looking around the corridor.
‘I work downstairs on reception, and I do the knit and natter sessions on Tuesdays,’ she said, following his sideward glances to see what he was looking for.
‘I don’t like nits, they’re unclean,’ he said dryly.
‘Yes, well anyway, this parcel came for you, I had to sign for it. And there’s a few other bits too,’ she said, holding out a bundle of mail.
The captain held up his hand to stop her, before reaching over and picking up a bottle of anti-bacterial spray and spraying the mail. He wanted to spray Carol too, as she looked like she could do with a clean, but he resisted.
‘Thought I’d bring them up, save you having to come down and get them,’ she said with a smile.
‘Thank you, Carol from downstairs,’ he said, taking the mail. ‘Tell nobody of our location.’
‘Okie dokie, love. See you later,’ Carol said with a smile as she left to return to her desk in the reception area of the community centre. Captain Clean shut the door and brought the mail over to the main table, walking with a slight spring in his step.
‘One for you Mary,’ said the captain, handing her what was probably another invoice or complaint about the squad’s activities.
‘I keep telling you to stop having his magazines delivered here,’ he sighed as he put down a copy of Footy Fan Monthly.
Finally, he opened up his parcel with a childlike excitement. After tearing into the paper like a homeless person at a buffet, his face suddenly dropped as held up a small piece of yellow cloth, about the size of a small hand towel.
‘What is it?’ asked HyJean.
‘It’s too bloody small is what it is,’ the captain groaned in frustration.
‘Is that the cape you ordered?’ asked Mary.
‘Yes! I had it made especially and I specifically put 180 centimetres,’ he said, eyeing up the small piece of cloth that definitely wasn’t two metres in either direction.
‘Are you sure you typed 180 and not 18?’ asked Mary.
‘Of course I did… I think. Anyway, they should know that an 18 centimetre cape is too small.’
‘I think you should keep it,’ said HyJean as she tried to stifle a laugh. ‘It looks cute.’
‘I’m not keeping this,’ said the captain. ‘Mary, can you send it back to the tailors please?’
‘Yes Captain. If you leave it there, I’ll take it this afternoon and get one the right size. I’ve got to go that way anyway, to pick up Nelson’s mask and your new brush.’
‘Who’s that one addressed to?’ asked HyJean, gesturing to a small envelope that lay on the table. The captain picked it up and opened it, taking out a letter.
‘Nobody,’ he said. ‘It just says The Sanitary Squad.’
‘How strange,’ said HyJean. ‘What does it say?’
‘Dear Sanitary Squad,’ the captain read out. ‘I am writing to you on behalf of the Filtham neighbourhood watch group to see if you can help. Three people have gone missing from our cul-de-sac in the past month and have returned two days later beaten and bruised. My husband was the latest victim. We’ve spoken to the police, and they say they are looking into it, but whenever we chase it up, they say they’re busy with other things. Nothing connects these incidents, and we can’t think who would have any motives to do such a thing, but there is one detail that made us think of reaching out to you. All the attacks happen on a Wednesday night when they’re taking their rubbish out, and as well as the people going missing, their wheelie bins are vanishing too. We’re all scared to put our bins out now. Could you please help? Mrs Tara Herman. And there’s an address at the bottom.’
The three squad members all looked at each other, sizing up everyone’s reactions, which were all a similar look of bewilderment and intrigue. The sort of look you might have if you saw a rabbit playing a saxophone. Captain Clean was the first to break the silence.
‘So, somebody’s kidnapping people and their wheelie bins, beating them up and then dumping them back a couple of days later?’ he surmised.
‘That’s what it sounds like’ said HyJean, taking the letter to investigate it further.
‘Just a theory,’ said Mary, holding up his hand. ‘But could we be dealing with living wheelie bins?’
The captain and HyJean looked at her silently with the same jazz rabbit look and she shrugged, ‘What? Mick and I were watching an episode Doctor Who the other night and it had living plastic wheelie bins.’
‘I think it’s more likely that people are using the wheelie bins to transport the bodies,’ suggested HyJean.
‘But they’re putting the bins out on bin collection night, they’d be full, wouldn’t they?’ said Mary. ‘Not much room for a body.’
‘Good point,’ the captain said, stroking his chin. It was at times like this that he wished he had a beard, but he would never grow one as it was far too unsanitary. ‘It’s bin night tomorrow, so we’d best not waste any time on this.’
He folded the letter neatly and put it in his pocket, before walking over to the table and taking a seat, staring blankly at the wall in front of him.
‘What are you doing?’ asked HyJean.
‘I’m waiting for the others to come back so we can fill them in and go investigate,’ he replied. ‘There’s no time to lose.’
‘Evidently,’ said HyJean as she took a seat next to him and started flicking through Footy Fan Monthly to check out the handsome football players whilst trying to convince herself she really was interested in Filham City’s latest transfers.
About twenty minutes passed – the duration of which Captain Clean stayed staring at the wall expressionless, as if in some sort of trance – before Sergeant Suds, Faucet and Flush returned. As soon as the door opened, the captain snapped back to life, quickly showing them the note and filling them in.
‘Suds, we’ll go speak to them, see what we can find out. HyJean, have a look at their profiles online, see if there’s any clues. Flush and Faucet, you can come too, check out the area, ask around to see what people know.’
‘Ah, I can’t Cap, I’ve got work,’ said Flush sheepishly.
‘Fine,’ the captain said with a sigh. ‘HyJean, can you go with Faucet?’
‘I am a grown up, y’know,’ said Faucet. ‘I’m allowed to talk to strangers now.’
‘You haven’t completed your training, and yesterday you almost blinded a woman trying to wave at her yesterday. You need supervision,’ the captain pointed out.
‘Fine,’ Faucet sighed. ‘I’ll go with HyJean.’
‘You know I’m really trying not to take offence here,’ said HyJean as she clipped on her utility belt. She gave him a nudge and headed over to the door. ‘Come on, we’ll be like Mulder and Scully.’
‘Make sure you hold his hand when he crosses the road!’ Flush called out with a snigger as they left.
There was a knock on the door and Tara Herman made her way to the door. She was a short, rotund woman, with messy hair that seemingly repelled hairbrushes. She hesitated at the door, before cautiously opening it just a few inches.
‘Mrs Herman?’ Sergeant Suds asked.
‘Y-yes,’ she replied, timidly.
‘I’m Sergeant Suds from the Sanitary Squad, we’re here about the disappearances and beatings,’ Suds said with a sympathetic smile.
She opened the door a little more to let him in, but gave a curious look as she looked past him, ‘What’s he doing back there?’
‘Oh, that’s Captain Clean,’ said Suds, turning around to see the captain sweeping up the leaves with a broom he’d taken from the neighbouring garden. Suds coughed loudly to get his attention. The captain placed the broom to one side and quickly hurried over to greet the woman.
‘Mrs Herman, I’m Captain Clean from the Sanitary Squad, we’re here about the disappearances and beatings,’ he repeated.
‘Yes, I know, he just said all that. Come on in,’ she said, gesturing for them to enter and glancing around the cul-de-sac before she closed the door and joined them, ushering the two grime fighters down the tight corridor to the room at the end.
‘You say your husband was taken and returned beaten up?’ asked Captain Clean.
‘That’s right,’ she nodded. ‘Went missing last Wednesday night, turned up again Friday. He couldn’t remember much. Just in here.’
They entered the small kitchen and found Mr Herman sitting at the kitchen table. His face was covered in cuts bruises – from the deep purple bulges around his eyes to the red cuts along his mouth, is battered face looked like the leftover paint on an artist’s palette after they’d finished painting sunset. His body faired no better, with a neck brace, an arm in a sling and a leg in a cast. Captain Clean and Sergeant Suds recoiled a little when they saw the unfortunate man, who barely moved when they entered – mainly because it was too painful.
‘Mr Herman, I’m Captain Clean and this is my colleague, Sergeant Suds,’ said as he sat down opposite, inadvertently pushing the table into Mr Heman, who let out a little yelp of pain.
‘Please, call me Herman,’ he said with a wince.
‘Herman, we’re investigating this strange case,’ Suds explained. ‘Could you tell us what happened to you?’
‘I’ll try,’ Herman replied. ‘Last Wednesday, I was putting the bin out, when something hit me from behind and it all went dark. I woke up with my hands tied to a pole above my head and I was blindfolded. There were some people in the room, I don’t know how many, but they sounded like men. Every now and then they’d come and beat me, and I’d hear them laughing. They gave me bread and water to keep me going, but it was rough. A few days later, they knocked me out and I woke up outside my house.’
‘Interesting,’ said the captain. ‘Did they say anything? Give you any kind of clues why they did this?’
‘No, that was the strangest thing,’ Herman explained. ‘I don’t understand what they got out of kidnapping me and beating me up.’
‘Did you recognise any of the voices?’ asked Suds.
‘Sergeant Suds, please, I’ve got this,’ said the captain, holding up a hand to silence Suds. ‘Mr Herman, did you voice the um… did you recognise what voice the uh… whatever he said.”
‘Uh… no… I don’t think so,’ he replied, sounding a little unsure of himself. ‘I thought one sounded a bit familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.’
‘Was it your neighbour?’ the captain asked.
‘No, I don’t know who it was,’ Herman sighed.
‘Was it your boss?’
‘No, it wasn’t my boss,’ Herman replied. ‘I don’t know who it was.’
‘Your postman? Your dentist? Your butcher?‘ the captain persisted.
‘No, no! Look, I told you, I don’t know who it was,’ Herman snapped.
‘Alright, I was just trying to help you remember,’ the captain said, throwing his arms up. ‘I thought maybe if I listed some names you might… your old school teacher?’
‘Will you stop it,’ said Mrs Herman, smacking Captain Clean across the head. ‘He’s in no fit state for your silly games.’
‘Okay, I’m sorry. I think we’ve got a good picture of what happened now. I just have one more question,’ said the captain.
‘Alright, what is it?’ asked an exasperated Mr Herman.
The captain paused for a moment and then leaned in with a serious look on his face. ‘Was it your barber?’
Meanwhile, Faucet and HyJean were busy across the road, individually speaking to the neighbours to see if they had seen or heard anything. HyJean hadn’t learned much, but her gentle, friendly approach was working out better than Faucet’s, who had discovered that he now leaked a little water when he was nervous, and people were put off by a man who looked like he was melting on their doorstep. He had just had another door closed in his face when a little old lady ran over to meet him at the front gate.
‘Excuse me, dear,’ she said in a voice that sounded as frail as she looked. ‘Are you with the Sanitary Squad?’
‘Uh, yeah, I am,’ said Faucet, a little unsure how much he was supposed to divulge about the squad and his role within it. But the woman seemed to already know of the squad, so he figured it wasn’t that much of a secret.
‘My name’s Mrs Begonia. I wonder if you could help me, I live just around the corner,’ she explained.
‘I’m not sure how I can help with that,’ Faucet replied. ‘I can’t see any houses for sale.’
‘No, that’s not the problem, silly boy’ said the old woman with a slight frown. ‘It’s littering. Follow me.’
‘Littering?’ repeated a surprised Faucet as he watched her walk off. He looked around to see if HyJean was nearby, but couldn’t see her, so he followed the woman who was already halfway down the road. She led him out of the cul-de-sac, onto the main road.
‘There’s a young boy, you see, keeps throwing his rubbish in my garden,’ she explained as they walked. ‘The first time he did it, I told him off and now he seems to be making a point of chucking his wrappers and cans into my garden every morning and every evening on his way to and from school.’
She stopped outside a house and pointed down to a small pile of rubbish on the other side of a small hedge. Faucet peered over the hedge and nodded.
‘Yep, that’s littering alright, no doubt about it,’ he said, confidently.
‘I can’t keep coming out and picking it up, it’s doing my back in,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve asked Mr Grudgely next door – he used to be a bin man you see, so he doesn’t mind picking rubbish up, used to it – but he’s not always in and it’s becoming a nightmare. It’s every flipping day. Can’t you do something? You and your lot deal with this kind of thing, don’t you?’
‘Well, yes, uh… we do. I think. I’m not sure if littering counts as sanitation… or a crime,’ Faucet said scratching the back of his neck as he tried to think what the captain would say for him to do. He looked down at the little old lady and saw the desperation in her eyes. ‘Okay. I’ll take your details and see what I can do.’
‘Oooh, thank you!’ she said, giving him a hug and then instantly regretting it as she pulled away and wiped the damp patch on her chest. She gave him her name and address and he jotted it down in a notepad that he’d started carrying with him to make a note of things he learned in his training.
‘You accepted a case without consulting us?’ Captain Clean asked in a tone that was angrier than Faucet had expected. ‘What were you thinking?’
‘I was thinking that I was doing a good deed helping a nice old lady,’ Faucet replied.
‘You should really have come and asked me,’ HyJean pointed out, her tone a little friendlier.
‘It’s okay, I’ll handle with this one on my own, you won’t have to do anything,’ said Faucet, desperately trying to plead his case.
‘No, that is not happening,’ said the captain, holding up his arms, crossed in an X shape to further emphasise his point.
‘Aww, c’mon Cap, you didn’t see that old lady, she needs our help,’ Faucet pleaded. ‘I thought that’s what we did, helped people in need?’
‘No, I’m sorry but you’re just not ready and it’s not an issue that we need to concern ourselves with,’ said the captain resolutely.
HyJean could see how much Faucet wanted to do this, and she thought it would be good for him, so she paused for a moment and then gave Faucet a subtle wink.
‘You’re right, Captain,’ she said. ‘It’s only a bit of littering, it’s not that bad.’
‘Not that bad?’ the captain repeated, his voice going a little squeaky in disbelief. ‘I’ll have you know littering is a very serious offence. It can lead to flies and foxes, contaminating the area with their germs, not to mention all manner of odour issues spreading around… People and animals can cut themselves on discarded sharp items… And have you heard how many car accidents occur due to cars trying to avoid litter that’s blown into the road?’
‘Hm, sounds like someone should really deal with it then?’ she said nodding her head slightly to gesture towards Faucet.
The captain was about to protest, and opened his mouth to do so, but after a couple of silent seconds, he merely let out a defeated sigh. ‘Fine, but he’s not doing it alone. And he’s not doing anything without me approving it first,’ he said sternly.
‘I agree,’ said HyJean. ‘Faucet, why don’t you and Flush come up with some ideas how to resolve the littering and we’ll go from there.’
‘Great!’ said Faucet, beaming at the idea of taking the lead in his first case. ‘Will do. Thanks guys, I really appreciate it.’
Faucet shook HyJean’s hand and turned to the captain, his hand hovering as he hesitated and decided to just give him a thumbs up instead. He rushed off to find Flush to tell him the news and get started on their plans.
‘I don’t like this Jean, he’s only been here a week and he’s already gone rogue,’ said the captain quietly as he watched Faucet jog out of the main room and into the kitchen area.
‘I know, but give him a chance. He’s just trying to make a good impression,’ HyJean replied. ‘Besides, someone going against the rules and authority to try and make things cleaner. Doesn’t that remind you of anyone?’
‘Does it? Yes, it does. Of course it does. It’s just like uh…’ the captain said, pausing to think of an answer to prove to HyJean he knew who shew as talking about. ‘Gandhi?’
‘Yes, he’s the next Gandhi,’ HyJean said, rolling her eyes.
Mary left the tailors after returning the captain’s tiny cape and dropped a sample of a new micro-fibre material she’d picked up into her tartan shopping bag, which also contained a new metal mask for Faucet and a replacement toilet brush mace for the captain. She walked down the street, heading back towards the community centre. However, as she passed an alleyway, she heard cries of help coming from inside the alley. She looked closer and saw that somebody inside was being mugged. Mary looked around for any sign of police or someone who could help, but the street was quiet. Then she looked down at her bag. There was a weapon inside. And a mask to conceal her identity. And a piece of fabric that was enough for a small cape. She looked around the street again. It was still deserted. She quickly opened her bag an took the mask out. It looked like a metal shower cap that also covered the eyes. She tried it on and was surprised to find it fit, squashing down her grey, curly hair. She took the fabric out and tied it around her neck, then took out toilet brush mace and threw the bag down next to a bin at the entrance to the alley.
‘Oi, you!’ she shouted, running into the alley and lifting the toilet brush up. As she got closer, she saw that it was a man in a balaclava tugging at a young woman’s handbag and brandishing a knife. Mary swung the toilet brush mace down at an angle and hit the man square on the back. He cried out in pain, dropping the bag. He turned to face Mary, but before he could use his knife, she’d swung the toilet brush back up again and knocked it out of his hand, breaking several fingers in the process. The woman who he’d been trying to mug just stood and watched in disbelief, still shaking and wincing with every hit that the man took. Mary gave him one last uppercut to the jaw with the toilet brush mace that seemed to knock him unconscious, sending him falling down into a puddle. Mary picked up the bag and handed it to the trembling woman.
‘There you go dear,’ she said with a smile. ‘Now you run along and avoid going down this way in future.’
The woman took the bag and clutched Mary’s arms, ‘Thank you. Thank you so much.’
She quickly left the alley and Mary looked down at the unconscious mugger on the floor. She was unsure what to do next, as she’d never done anything like this before. She felt a rush of adrenaline that she hadn’t felt in many years. All she could think was that it felt good helping someone and giving a criminal what he deserved. After a brief pause, she removed the mask and returned to her bag. Putting the mask, cape and brush back in, she took one more look back at the unconscious man on the floor and giggled to herself.
‘I can see why Mick likes this job,’ she said quietly, before continuing her journey.
‘Okay, we’ve done some brainstorming and we’ve got a few ideas to present to you,’ said Faucet as he and Flush stood before Captain Clean and HyJean in the main room of the base. The captain shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, while HyJean sat upright looking as keen as she could – though it was clearly not enough as Flush and Faucet still looked a little worried.
‘We’re all ears,’ said HyJean.
Faucet looked down at his handful of cue cards, which shook a little nervously in his hands. ‘Okay, so the first idea is to talk to him and try to reason with him, tell him what he’s doing is wrong and convince him to stop.’
He looked up half-expectantly and was disappointed to see that HyJean was biting her bottom lip and shaking her head slightly, whilst the captain had his head in his hand, sighing frustratedly.
‘That doesn’t usually seem to work, strangely,’ said HyJean. ‘Let’s move on. What about your other ideas?’
‘Ah, well this next idea is much more exciting,’ said Flush, stepping forward. ‘Okay, picture this. We get one of those German helmets with the spikes on the top, strap it to his head, and then pick up him and use him as a human litter picker.’
He demonstrated his suggestion with a mime, waving his hands about quite enthusiastically and hoping it helped them visualise it. Again, both grime fighters looked despondent, with the captain trying not to lose his temper and HyJean desperately trying to find something positive to say.
‘It… it’s an interesting idea,’ she said, ‘but I think we could get into trouble for doing that. Sorry boys. Have you got anything else?’
‘Yes,’ Faucet said with the slightest hint of a smile. ‘We thought you might not like those ideas, so we’ve got one more that – and I might be biased here – but I think it’s pretty awesome. Will, hit the music.’
‘Music? Oh no,’ groaned the captain.
Flush tapped his phone and music started playing. HyJean recognised it as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!, but the boys had their own lyrics.
‘Litterbug… litterbug, woooh!’ they sang in unison, swinging their arms and clicking their fingers in time to the music. ‘Pick me up, before you go-go. Don’t just throw me on the floor, no-no. Pick me up, before you go-go. Don’t you litter again.’
The music ended and they both struck a pose with jazz hands and broad grins on their faces.
‘I don’t get it, what’s the idea?’ asked the confused captain. ‘Are you going to sing to them?’
‘What? No, the litterbug,’ Flush replied.
‘The plan is to get lots of litter and make it into a costume, like a litter monster,’ Faucet explained.
‘Or a litterbug, if you will,’ Flush added.
‘Then we track the guy down and jump out on him wearing the costume,’ Faucet continued. ‘Scare him straight, y’know?’
‘Well… it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard,’ said HyJean with a little shrug.
‘I don’t even know what to say,’ said the captain. He sat there for a moment in silence, a stunned look on his face. Then suddenly he punched the palm of his hand with his fist and beamed with delight. ‘I love it!’
‘You do?’ asked HyJean, taking the emotional baton and adopting the stunned look that the captain had just disposed of.
‘Of course,’ said the captain. ‘The kid gets the message, nobody gets hurt, and as far as I can work out it’s not illegal.’
‘Oh… right… well, I guess that’s a yes then,’ HyJean said with a bemused thumbs up.
‘Bostin!’ said Flush.
‘Awesome!’ said Faucet, bouncing on the spot happily. ‘We’ll get to work on it right away. I’ll ask Carol downstairs if we can raid the bins.’
The two gave each other a high five and made for the door, eager to get started on their big project.
‘Make it outside! I don’t want any rubbish in here!’ the captain called after them, before turning back to HyJean. ‘And in the meantime, I think we should pay a visit to the council’s waste department, see if they know anything about these wheelie bin attacks.’
Mary returned a short while later, a spring in her step as she put the bag down on the large central table in the main room of the base. She was still pumped from her recent experience, and it was quite visible to the others.
‘What’s got you so excited, Marigold?’ asked Suds as he walked over and gave his wife a peck on the cheek.
‘Oh Mick, it was so thrilling,’ she said, barely able to contain her excitement as she took his hands. ‘There was a woman being mugged… he had a knife… nobody was around… I had the mask… and the cape… and the mace brush… so I put them on and… and I… I stopped him!’
You stopped him? The mugger? What do you mean?’ Suds asked, a little concerned.
‘I used the brush to beat him up and rescued the woman’s handbag,’ she said with a wide grin.
‘What? Mary, you could’ve been hurt!’ Suds replied, his voice almost angry. ‘And you can’t just go round beating people up, you could get arrested.’
‘I know, I know, but I just couldn’t help myself,’ Mary replied, her excitement fading a little as she didn’t get the reaction she’d been hoping for.
Suds noticed her disappointment and pulled her in for a hug. He kissed the top of her head and sighed.
‘I’m sorry. You did a good thing and I’m proud of you for helping that woman. It just worries me you could’ve been hurt,’ he said.
‘I know, but that’s how I feel about you doing this every day,’ Mary replied quietly. ‘But now I can see why you do it, the thrill of the fight and helping someone.’
‘The difference is I’ve had training and I can handle myself,’ Suds pointed out. He paused for a moment, thinking, and Mary knew what was going through his mind. Finally, he pulled away and looked at her face for a while, then gave her a loving smile. ‘Maybe I could speak to Cap about getting you some training, learn to defend yourself if anything ever does happen. You probably need it the way this city’s going.’
‘Oh Mick, that would be lovely! Thank you!’ she cried, pulling him back in for a hug, this time squeezing him and shaking slightly from side to side like he was a metronome, swinging in time to the joyous song in her heart.
‘But this isn’t so you can start going out fighting people,’ he said sternly. ‘It’s purely defensive, understand?’
‘Yes, yes! Whatever!’ she said as she danced back to her office cheerily.
Meanwhile, Captain Clean had taken out his new brush, which he swung in the air to test – whilst making the wooshing and smashing sound effects with his voice – and then Faucet’s new mask. He took it over to Faucet, who was sitting at the computers and definitely not playing an online game no he was just checking his emails and clicked on that by accident honest. He held up the mask, which was made of a thin metal that glistened with pride.
‘This mine?’ asked Faucet excitedly as he looked at the metal mask.
‘Your name’s Faucet, isn’t it?’ said the captain in an irritated tone.
‘Yeah, but… it’s so cool,’ Faucet replied, taking the mask and trying it on. It covered the top of his head and curved over the bridge of his nose, with two holes for the eyes. It fit perfectly, and he was able to turn his head and see out of the sides of the holes with great ease.
‘This is so cool! I love it, captain. Thank you so much,’ said Faucet excitedly. ‘Hey, how come mine’s the only one that’s metal?’
‘HyJean suggested it to match your bracelets and prevent it getting wet from any leakages you might have,’ the captain explained. ‘Plus, I’ve noticed you’re quite clumsy and keep bumping your head on things, so it’ll help with that.’
Flush and Faucet were hiding across the road, trying to be as inconspicuous as two people in home-made superhero costumes could be. As Faucet peered over the hedge, Flush felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned round to see an old, grumpy-looking bald man wearing a purple cardigan that matched the hue of his face.
‘Excuse me, what on Earth do you think you are doing, apart from trampling on my roses?’ he growled.
‘I’ll have you know, we’re here on a very important mission investigating a dangerous criminal,’ Flush explained, bending the truth a little in the hopes that the neighbour would be more obliging. ‘
‘What… but… who are you?’ he asked, still struggling to understand what two strangers were doing lurking in his front garden.
‘We’re from the Sanitary Squad,’ Flush explained. ‘Look, we’re just looking for a guy, we’ll be out of your hair in a few minutes,’ adding with a mutter, ‘What’s left of it.’
‘Mrs Begonia said he usually walks by this time every day,’ said Faucet.
‘And what does this person look like?’ the neighbour asked.
‘Young, white, usually wears a tracksuit, black cap, often seen littering,’ Faucet replied.
‘You mean like him,’ the neighbour said, pointing across the road to someone who matched Faucet’s description exactly walking down the road.
‘Yes! That’s him!’ said Faucet, as he realised he’d been looking at the wrong house.
He clambered over the hedge, followed by Flush, who called back, ‘Sorry we hurt your roses, mister!’
They ran across the road and hid behind a tree. They watched as the boy unwrapped a chocolate bar and tossed the wrapper into Mrs Begonia’s garden. Right on cue, the old woman came out and started shouting at him, waving her knitting needles around. The boy just scoffed and pushed her, sending her toppling over into the hedge. Faucet went to run out, but Flush held him back. The boy snorted and carried on down the road. Once he was far enough away, Flush and Faucet ran over to the woman and helped her up.
‘I told you not to interact with him, Mrs Begonia,’ said Faucet. ‘Leave it to the professionals.’
‘I bloody hate that kid,’ the woman grumbled.
They encouraged her to go back inside and continue her knitting, then quietly and carefully followed the young man all the way down the road and farther until he arrived home. They watched from behind another tree as he entered the house and then turned to each other to plan their next move.
‘Okay, so we knock on the door, speak to his parents and try and get inside so we can work out which room is his bedroom,’ Flush explained.
‘Got it,’ Faucet nodded. ‘But what’s our story going to be?’
‘Hm, I don’t know. If only there were some group we could pretend to be from that investigated things like toilets and sinks,’ Flush replied sarcastically.
‘Oh yeah, right,’ Faucet replied. ‘Good point.’
They waited a few awkward minutes so as to not look too suspicious, then walked up to the door confidently and rang the bell. A middle-aged woman with bushy, curly hair answered it, frowning as most people did when they saw members of the squad for the first time.
‘Yes?’ she asked in a slightly disgruntled tone.
‘Hello ma’am, we’re from the Sanitary Squad,’ Faucet began.
‘Are you from the council to do with the water? They said they were going to send someone out, is that you?’ The woman asked in the sort of tone that someone might use if they’d been arguing with their local council for weeks about issues with the water supply.
Faucet was about to correct her, but Flush stepped in. ‘Yep, that’s us. Council water people. Can we come in?’
‘Well, you’re not going to be able to check the water from out here, so I think that’d be a good start,’ the woman said with a roll of her eyes. ‘I must say though, you came quicker than I expected. Usually have to wait weeks for a response. Do you always wear these ridiculous outfits.’
‘Yes ma’am, standard issue these days,’ said Flush. ‘Focus groups found it made people feel more reassured.’
‘Not the word I would’ve used,’ she replied as she led them inside the house and down the narrow hallway, past the living room where the young boy they’d just been stalking was watching television, and into a small kitchen.
‘Nice house you’ve got here, Miss um…’ Faucet said, hoping to catch her name.
‘Throwett, Mrs,’ she replied. ‘Isn’t that on your file?’
‘Oh, we don’t have a file on you,’ said Faucet without thinking.
‘Uh, what he means is we don’t have the file on us, it’s out in the van,’ said Flush quickly after seeing the her suspicious reaction.
‘Maybe you should read it before you come in next time,’ she muttered.
‘Are they here about my glasses?’ came a screechy old voice from behind that made Flush jump.
He’d not noticed a little old lady sitting in the corner eating a bowl of soup. She looked like Mrs Throwett, but with more wrinkles and whiter hair.
‘No mom, they’re from the water company,’ said Mrs Throwett.
‘I don’t care who they are, as long as they fix my glasses,’ the old woman replied. ‘Can’t see a thing without my glasses.’
Her point was evidenced as she dipped a fork into her soup and tried to use it to drink the contents.
‘Ignore her, she’s staying with us for a few days,’ said Mrs Throwett. ‘The toilet’s through here. It flushes, but the water doesn’t go down.’
‘Okay, Mrs Throwett, we’ll take a look,’ Flush said, giving Faucet a wink to signify he knew what he was doing. ‘In the meantime, my colleague needs a tour of your house.’
‘A tour? Why?’ she asked, her frown reappearing even deeper, like the microbes on her face had been digging a cave on her forehead to mine for treasure.
‘It’s uh… so we have a layout of the house. It can affect the water, depending on what’s in each room,’ Faucet said, thinking on his feet.
‘Fine, whatever. If it gets the job done,’ she said with another roll of her eyes. ‘Come on then, this way.’
Faucet followed Mrs Throwett around their small, semi-detached council house. As they passed the living room, she poked her head inside and said in a frustrated tone, ‘Kiefer, I told you to sort that sofa bed out.’
The boy just sucked his teeth and ignored her, so she shut the door with a huff and continued the tour. She pointed out each room as they went – the dining room, bathroom, hallway – and made their way upstairs. This was where the bedrooms would be, where Faucet was most keen to go – but not for the reason most young men are keen to follow women to bedrooms for. When she started pointing out the bedrooms, Faucet pressed her for more information.
‘And who sleeps in here?’ he asked, walking into the first bedroom.
‘Um, is that important?’ she asked.
‘Could be,’ Faucet nodded, now getting used to the character. ‘Younger generations tend to use more electricity, which could affect the polarity of the neutron flow in the house.’
‘I… see,’ said Mrs Throwett, giving in and deciding it was easier and quicker just to answer. ‘That’s my son’s bedroom.’
‘And these other rooms? Who sleeps in those?’ asked Faucet, so it didn’t sound suspicious that he was only interested in the one room.
‘That’s the spare room,’ she said pointing to the next room. ‘And that’s my room at the end of the hall.’
‘Right, got it, thank you,’ Faucet said as he drew a little diagram and scribbled down a note of each room on the back of his hand with a pen.
‘Can’t afford notebooks, hm?’ asked Mrs Throwett.
‘Council budget,’ he shrugged.
Captain Clean and HyJean sat on uncomfortable plastic seats in the reception of the council building. HyJean often theorised that they used these chairs to make visitors feel uncomfortable and inferior, purposely leaving them waiting as long as possible to baste them in a layer of desperation that only they, the council, could remove. She now sat and wondered if it would make more sense to make their visitors comfortable in nice, soft armchairs so that they were happier and less irritable going into the meeting. They’d both come dressed in their grime fighting outfits, hoping it would give them more authority, but the dull brown chairs seemed to have the power to strip anyone of authority, as they were sat awkwardly squeezed together and slightly too low down. When the head of waste management, a Mr Derek Tritus, appeared, they wasted no time in getting to their feet. Derek was a rotund man – and that was putting it politely. He spent all day at his desk and all evening on his couch, happy to roll through life with the minimum of effort, which made him a model employee for the council. He had a thin layer of greasy ginger hair on his head and a bushy moustache that twitched as he moved. The captain instantly recognised the mouth movements as someone trying to dislodge a bit of food from between their teeth. As Derek walked towards them (although “waddled” might be more appropriate) he adjusted his name badge, which had gotten lost in the folds of his skin.
‘He should go to the gym and try a different kind of waist management,’ HyJean muttered to Captain Clean.
Despite being a generally kind person, HyJean had very little time for the council. Although they funded the squad’s operations, they often proved themselves to be more of a hindrance, refusing them permissions to do things or taking forever to get back to them when they needed anything. Most of the employees knowingly mocked them too, believing they shouldn’t be getting paid to run around in silly costumes pretending to clean up the city.
‘Ah, Captain, HyJean. Good to see you both,’ Derek said as he put out a hand that could’ve been easily mistaken for a bunch of sausages. The captain flatly refused the gesture, as he always did, so Derek turned his attention to HyJean. She reluctantly shook the porky protuberance, discretely wiping the sweat off her hand after.
‘Mr Tritus, thank you for arranging this so quickly,’ said the captain.
‘Well, here at the council, we pride ourselves on working quickly and efficiently,’ he said as gestured them to follow him down a corridor.
‘He means it. He actually means it,’ HyJean whispered in amazement to the captain from behind as they walked down the dimly lit, drably painted corridor.
After a long, slow walk, they finally reached the waste management department, walking past a few rows of desks and into Derek’s office. It was a small room, with rows of folders all lined up on high up shelves, while cardboard boxes stuffed full of papers, workwear and other equipment were strewn along the floor. Derek slumped down into a chair behind his desk, which was had a slightly curved indentation to accommodate his large belly. HyJean wasn’t sure if this was how the desk was made or if it had just been warped over time. Meanwhile, the captain looked around at the thick layers of dust on the shelves and thought about what a field day he’d have if he were let loose in this office with a vacuum and feather duster. Their thoughts were interrupted as they were swiftly joined by three men, all of whom were well built, with their impressive muscles showing through their shorts and fluorescent jackets. Once they were all in and the door was shut, there was barely room to move. One of the muscly men had to perch himself on the desk to avoid being squashed. The other two – one with a stubbly beard, which the captain was trying hard to ignore, and another who was very tall and had to bend a little to avoid hitting his head on the low ceiling – stood behind the captain, pressed up against the wall.
‘Captain, HyJean, these are my three top senior waste operatives,’ Derek said, gesturing to the three men in fluorescent jackets. ‘If anything’s going on, they’ll know about it.’
‘Shouldn’t you know about it, being their boss?’ asked HyJean, who couldn’t help but take a jibe.
‘I’m a very busy man,’ Derek replied sternly. ‘I can’t be everywhere at once.’
‘You’re having a good go at it,’ HyJean muttered under her breath as she looked down at the edge of the desk disappearing into his stomach.
‘Gentlemen, thank you for coming,’ said the captain, addressing the three waste operatives. He filled them in on the letter from Mrs Herman, the testimony from Mr Herman and they listened with some surprise. ‘So, have you heard or seen anything that might shed some light on this?’
‘I’ve not noticed anything,’ said the waste operative who was perched on the desk.
‘Are you sure this is true,’ said the operative with a stubbly beard. ‘I mean those lot on Whitehouse Way are always complaining about something, they’re a right pain.’
Derek cleared his throat loudly and gave a piercing stare at the operative.
‘Sorry, I mean they liaise with us regularly and provide useful feedback to help us improve our service,’ the operative said, correcting himself.
‘Yes, it’s true,’ the captain nodded. ‘We’ve spoken with them ourselves and seen the damage.’
‘Have any of the other bin men reported anything?’ asked HyJean. The seated waste operative visibly winced at the term “bin men” and the tallest of the three puffed his chest out a little.
‘Waste operatives,’ he corrected her from above.
‘Of course, I’m so sorry,’ HyJean said with a slight hint of sarcasm in her voice. ‘Have any of the waste operatives reported anything?’
‘Nothing,’ said the stubbly waste operative. ‘Although… my guy Brian did mention about seeing a wheelie bin moving down the road on its own last Wednesday. Could that be anything to do with this?’
HyJean struggled to contain her frustration at this revelation, now speaking with unreserved sarcasm. ‘Ooh, I don’t know. Let me think. Could a wheelie bin moving on its own on the night of the kidnapping be relevant? Gosh, I just don’t know. What do you think captain?’
The captain frowned behind his mask and gave a disapproving grunt, before turning back to the stubbly waste operative.
‘Yes, that definitely sounds suspicious,’ he said. ‘Do you know where abouts it was?’
‘I think he said… um… where was it now?’ the operative muttered, tapping his head as if trying to press a refresh button on his brain. ‘Ah! Walker Street, that was it.’
The captain made a note of the name in a little notepad. He then turned to the tall waste operative who loomed over him like a faulty streetlamp. He was busy looking down at the desk, so the captain gave a little cough to get his attention.
‘Ahem. You… you have you seen anything, have you?’ he asked a little timidly.
‘I don’t know nothing,’ the operative replied, giving the captain a hard stare as if he were trying to read his mind. The captain just smiled awkwardly.
‘Right, well, you’ve been most helpful, thank you,’ he said, turning to leave. ‘Please keep in touch if you hear anything else.’
‘Happy to be of service, captain,’ Derek called out, with his moustache masking some of the sarcasm in his tone. ‘Always willing to support your worthy cause.’
It was a tight squeeze to turn around and leave, and when Captain Clean tried the handle, the door wouldn’t open. He grunted as he pushed and pulled on the door.
‘That blinking handle,’ said Derek. It gets a bit stuck sometimes. You have to twist and push… no, twist and push. Barry, give him a hand will you.’
The stubbly waste operative leaned over the shoulders of Captain Clean and reached down to the handle. The captain winced and cowered away from the beard that was inches from him. The door eventually opened and they tumbled out into the main office. The grime fighters brushed themselves down and promptly left.
‘We’ll be out in a minute, just putting the last few finishing touches on,’ Flush called out from the shower room, in which they were building their litter monster costume.
Captain Clean, HyJean and Sergeant Suds were sat at the main table, unsure whether to be excited or worried about what was going to be presented to them. Suds had been told only that the boys were working on something to stop a serial litterer, so he was in the dark as to the true nature of what was going to be presented to them. He sat reading through the captain’s notes on their earlier investigation at the cul-de-sac and the meeting with the waste department whilst HyJean got him up to speed.
‘It took some convincing, but I assured the other residents that we’d keep them safe and a couple of them have agreed to put their bins out as normal,’ HyJean explained. ‘One at 7pm, the other at 7:30pm. So we’ll go there and keep an eye on them.’
‘It’s definitely the tall one,’ said the captain, staring blankly into the distance.
‘The tall one?’ Suds asked, looking up.
‘The waste operative, he knows something,’ the captain explained. ‘You heard him, he practically confessed.’
‘Did he?’ asked HyJean. ‘He hardly said anything.’
‘He clearly said “I don’t know nothing”,’ Cap reminded her. ‘That’s a double negative, so that means he does know something.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Suds. ‘It’s just the way some people speak. People use double negatives all the time, doesn’t mean it’s some kind of code.’
‘But these are smart men,’ the Captain said, folding his arms and resting his chin in his hand in thought.
‘Cap, they’re bin men working for Filtham council,’ HyJean said with a roll of her eyes. ‘They’re hardly the Sopranos.’
‘They are waste operatives, Jean,’ the captain corrected her. ‘And you underestimate them. I think I’ll go check them out later.’
‘We’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the bin tonight, it’s Wednesday remember?’ Suds pointed out.
‘You two can do that,’ said the captain, brushing it away. ‘This requires some serious investigative skills.’
‘You’re getting someone else in then?’ said HyJean with a smirk.
The question went unanswered, as Faucet poked his head around the corner with an excited grin on his face.
‘Okay, we’re ready,’ he said, before disappearing back around the corner.
The lights were dimmed, with only a single light in the middle of the room acting as a spotlight. Captain Clean, HyJean and Sergeant Suds sat up, drawn in by the theatrics and eager to see what they’d made.
‘Gathered grime fighters, welcome,’ said Faucet in a deep, commanding voice. ‘We are proud to present to you… the litterbug!’
From out of the shadows stepped a large, bulky figure, completely covered in crisp packets, sweet wrappers, crumpled paper, bits of fabric, banana peels and all manner of rubbish. Captain Clean gave a little shriek and fell off his chair as he jumped back in fear of this collection of rubbish. He crouched down behind the table, peering over the top to look at the monster before him. For someone who had dedicated their life to being clean, this was a nightmare for him. HyJean, meanwhile, sat with her jaw dropped, shaking her head and laughing in disbelief, while Suds was frowning with complete bemusement.
‘I am the litterbug!’ Flush boomed in his unmistakable Brummie accent. ‘The remnants of all you have littered! You shall pay for your crime against cleanliness!’
‘Is this for real?’ asked Suds, turning to his fellow grime fighters. ‘Can you two see this?’
‘Oh, I can see it alright,’ HyJean muttered as she watched Flush’s litter monster stomping around on the spot. ‘But I don’t believe it.’
‘And remind me, why is he covered in litter again?’ asked Suds.
‘They’re going to try and scare the kid straight by… uh… being the ghost of their litter? I’m not too sure.’ HyJean said, pausing to down at Captain Clean, who was still cowering behind the table. ‘But as crazy as it sounds, I think it might actually work.’
‘G-get it out!’ whimpered Captain Clean, who was still cowering behind the table. ‘And get me a sponge!’
‘Yep, that’s a definite thumbs up from him,’ Suds told Faucet, who was standing to the side watching.
‘I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but nice work lads,’ added HyJean.
‘You might want to work on the voice a bit though,’ said Suds. ‘The accent kind of spoils the effect.’
‘You shall be thrown away into the bin of doom, you selfish miscreant!’ continued Flush, pointing at Suds with a glove made out of Happy Happy Burger wrappers and cigarette butts stuck to a bin bag.
‘Alright, enough trash talk,’ HyJean chuckled. ‘Go get ready to scare your kid. We’ve got to get ready.’
‘That’s it, it’s been over an hour, I need to stretch my legs,’ Sergeant Suds grumbled as he turned to stand up.
‘No you don’t,’ said HyJean, grabbing his vest and pulling him back down behind the bush. ‘If we’re seen, it might compromise the whole mission.’
The two grime fighters were sat on tree stumps behind a large bush that almost covered them. The Driver had dropped them off, but was unable to wait around with them, as he was going out on the town with his mates, where he would get very drunk and go home with a woman to… well, you don’t need to know that bit. Anyway, HyJean was sat looking through a pair of binoculars, scanning the street for any signs of movement. There had been very little movement all evening, save for a drunk couple returning from a party and a suspicious looking cat – Suds had argued that all cats looked suspicious in general, so they let it off the hook this time. HyJean, being a mother, had naturally packed some snacks, but they had foolishly gorged early on and were now left with just an oat bar that neither of them really wanted to eat. Finally, HyJean’s phone beeped, signalling it was 7pm and time for the first bin to be put out.
‘Look, there he is,’ HyJean said as she spotted a nervous-looking woman leave the house with two bin bags and tentatively put them in the wheelie bin.
They leant forward, watching, waiting for something to happen. The woman dragged out two black bin bags, lifted the lid on the wheelie bin, put the bags in and closed the lid once again. She gave a little shrug and went back inside. It was a distinctly disappointing turn of events and made for quite boring viewing.
‘It’s not often I find myself disappointed when a woman doesn’t get attacked by a wheelie bin,’ said Suds with a sigh. ‘But I do feel a bit short changed.’
‘Don’t worry, there’s still one more to go yet,’ said HyJean as she sat back on her stump.
They were in for another long wait, as the two grime fighters took it in turns to keep watch for the next half an hour.
While Sergeant Suds and HyJean were keeping an eye out for any strange wheelie bin activity, Captain Clean wanted to confirm his suspicions. Carrying a large ladder with him, he made his way to the council offices, which were now closed for the night. The outside looked just a drab and uninviting as it did during the day, with its brutalist architecture and windows that were almost opaque with dust and dirt. It took all of the captain’s strength to resist cleaning them, though even if he had it would’ve taken all night. He made his way quietly around the back of the building, knowing the layout by heart after he’d memorised it years ago for something to do. He found the window where Derek Tritus’s offer should be and propped the ladder up against the wall. He climbed up and peered through the window, which was hard to see through, as it had a layer of grime on that was thicker than any PE teacher. But he could just make out the rows of folders and the slightly curved desk. Taking a little tool out of his utility belt, the captain picked the lock and edged the window open. As he swung his leg over to climb in, his weight shifted and pulled the ladder across, which slowly tilted and then collapsed onto the ground. Captain Clean was left dangling from the windowsill holding on for dear life.
‘It’s never as easy as it looks in films,’ he grumbled, before scraping his feet against the brickwork and pulling himself up and through the window. He turned and looked down at the ladder on the ground and muttered, ‘Bugger.’
Nevertheless, he was here now, and he had work to do. He ran his finger along the labels on the row of files – wincing as it collected dust on his tip – and looked for employee records. He found the right file and took it out, placing it down on the desk and opening it up. Inside the ring binder, there were several plastic wallets with sheets of paper in. He flipped through them until he found the records for the tall waste operative. He took the papers out and started to read through them.
‘Perry Sole… thirty four… started four years ago…’ he muttered as he read the file. He flicked through the pages to find the notes on any sickness, incidents or customer complaints. But just as he was reading about a time when Sole had mistaken a garden ornament for a bin bag, he heard a noise coming from behind him. He turned his head quickly, listening hard to make certain he had heard something. Then he heard it again. Footsteps. Gradually getting louder. He panicked and stuffed the papers into the ring binder, without putting them back in the plastic wallet. He looked at the shelves on the wall to see where he’d taken the file from, but the neighbouring file had fallen over and now he couldn’t remember where he’d got it from. They all looked the same, he thought. In a panic, he threw the file in the bin and ran to the window. He climbed out of it, but when his feet hit nothing solid, he remembered about the ladder. He clung to the window frame, one leg dangling in mid-air as he watched the door slowly open. A figure walked in, ducking slightly to fit through the doorway.
‘You!’ the captain gasped. ‘I knew it. Come to destroy the evidence, have we?’
‘Evening, Captain. I thought you might come back here,’ said Perry Sole, the tall waste operative, as he walked over and helped the captain back into the room. ‘I am here to destroy evidence, you’re right. But not for the crime you were on about earlier.’
‘What?’ said the captain, a little surprised at the man’s honesty and his lack of surprise at his being there.
Sole merely crossed to the desk and picked up a letter from the inbox tray. He showed it to the captain before stuffing it in his pocket.
‘An old man claimed I was stealing his plants the other day,’ he explained. ‘A right nutter, but you can’t be too careful these days. Another complaint and I’ll be out on my ear. I saw this had arrived earlier and recognised the handwriting. Luckily you turned up, so Mr Tritus didn’t have chance to open it.’
‘I see,’ said Captain Clean, though he didn’t really see. ‘So, that was why you were acting all shifty? You really didn’t know anything about the wheelie bin case?’
‘Nope, sorry,’ he said with a little shrug.
‘But… you said you don’t know nothing… the double negative… it doesn’t mean anything?’ said the captain, stumbling over his words as he tried to come to terms with the reality of the situation.
‘What? Of course not,’ said Sole, frowning slightly. ‘Why would you think that?’
‘I don’t know, look it doesn’t matter,’ said the captain, waving his hand to brush the topic away. ‘Look, I need your help to get back out of here. Can you run down and put my ladder back up, please?’
‘Yeah, sure. Or you could just come down with me?’ Sole suggested.
Captain Clean chuckled and patted Sole’s arm, ‘See, I told HyJean you were clever.’
‘Eighty-four. Eighty-five. Eighty-six.’
Sergeant Suds had resigned himself to counting the leaves on the bush in order to pass the time away. It was a poor choice of things to count, because the dark green leaves that made up the bush all looked almost identical. He’d already had to restart twice, but when he was interrupted this time, he was glad.
‘There he is,’ said HyJaen in an excited whisper, nudging Suds’ arm. Sergeant Suds sat up and spotted the man that HyJean had pointed out. He was quite a short, stocky man, barely taller than the wheelie bin that he was approaching. Whilst HyJean kept a close eye on the man through the binoculars, Suds scanned the cul-de-sac for any other signs of movement. There had to be someone sneaking around waiting to pounce. But there was nothing. No suspicious movement, no eerie noises. They thought they were in for another false alarm, but as the man lifted the lid of the wheelie bin and peered inside, HyJean was surprised to see a puff of gas shoot out, causing the man to drop the bags. She was then horrified to see something from inside pull the man down into the bin.
‘Suds, look! There’s something in the bin,’ she said, slapping his arm as she stood up and dived out from behind the bush. As they ran out and over to the road, something very strange happened. The bin suddenly started to roll away, slowly at first, but picking up in speed as it made its way out of the cul-de-sac, the man’s feet poking out from under the lid.
‘How’s it doing that?’ asked Suds as they stood, stunned.
‘I don’t know, but we need to follow it,’ said HyJean.
They set off in a hurry, running after the rogue wheelie bin. It was surprisingly fast, considering its size and contents, and of course, it had the advantage of knowing in which direction it was going. As the bin escaped the confines of the cul-de-sac, it veered violently left, turning onto another road and whizzing down at the same speed. HyJean and Suds ran along after it, neither being particularly fast runners.
‘That bloody Driver!’ Suds cursed as he thought of their taxi driver, who could’ve easily caught up with the bin and blocked its path.
‘It’s times like this I regret wearing heeled boots!’ cried HyJean, as her feet grew uncomfortable with every stride.
‘At least you’re not wearing big, heavy army boots!’ Suds grumbled.
Their bickering quickly died out, as they struggled to speak through heavy panting and needed to conserve their energy. The bin careered down the road, turning this way and that as it weaved through side streets and passageways. They almost lost it at one point as it turned a couple of corners before they could, but to their relief, when HyJean and Suds span around the corner, they saw a wheelie bin stood in the middle of the road. They didn’t question why it had stopped, they were just glad to have caught up with it.
‘There it is,’ said HyJean, clutching her chest as she caught her breath. ‘This must be where they pick it up.’
‘Let’s get it,’ said Suds, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
They ran towards the bin, half-expecting it to launch into another chase at any moment, but oddly it stayed still. When they reached it, they flung the lid open and were surprised it was empty.
‘What?’ gasped HyJean.
‘How is that possible?’ asked Suds. ‘We were right behind it.’
‘It’s clearly not the same bin. It’s a decoy,’ said HyJean slumping down onto the bin. ‘We’ll never catch it now.’
‘We should’ve put a tracker on it,’ said Suds.
‘Yeah, well, if Cap hadn’t stuck it on that pigeon last month, we’d still have one left,’ HyJean replied grumpily. ‘Come on, we’d better head back to the house. Let’s see if we can get some food on the way.’
Later that night, Flush and Faucet were preparing to enact their plan and bring the litterbug to life.
‘So it’s that window,’ said Flush, pointing up to one of the windows.
‘I think so, yeah,’ said Faucet holding up his hand to look at the map he’d drawn, which was now very faint and smudged. ‘Stupid water in my body made the ink run. But I’m pretty sure it’s that one. Look, you can see the cross there.’
He showed Flush the map and his fellow grime fighter nodded in agreement. As the ladder from the base had been taken, they had to rely on their ingenuity to get up to the second floor of the house. The wheelie bins were out for collection, but fortunately Faucet spotted a large storage box, which, with some effort, he was able to drag underneath their target’s window. Still not quite reaching, they topped it with a garden chair. Faucet climbed up first to open the window, which was already open a little to let in some air. He heaved it up as quietly as he could and then surveyed the room inside. It was almost pitch black, so it was hard to make anything out, but he could see the outline of a person sleeping in the bed. He turned back and gave Flush a thumbs up, before climbing back down.
‘Okay, he’s in there,’ he said. ‘Let’s do this.’
Faucet gave Flush a boost to help him up onto the storage box. He found it was tricky to move in the costume and almost fell off more than once.
‘Dude, be careful,’ hissed Faucet. ‘We’ve gotta keep quiet.’
‘Sorry, this thing ain’t exactly made for ease of movement y’know,’ Flush replied, brushing away a crisp packet on his face so he could see a little better.
He climbed up onto the garden chair and finally through the window, which was the most difficult task as it was quite a narrow gap to fit through and the costume rustled loudly with each movement. Fortunately, the bedroom’s occupant must have been quite a heavy sleeper, as they barely stirred. Flush crept over to position himself beside the bed on the side nearst the window, while Faucet went to the other side, holding the torch ready. They silently counted to three, and then Faucet switched on the torch. It emitted a blindingly bright light that illuminated the litterbug and woke the startled sleeper.
‘I am the litterbug!’ boomed Flush. ‘You shall pay for your littering!’
The plan had the desired effect, and there was a loud, terrified scream coming from the bed. However, Faucet couldn’t help but noticed it sounded higher in pitch than he’d expected. And a little croakier. He lowered the torch slightly and was horrified to find that instead of a young man cowering in the bed, there was a little old lady. Not Kiefer, but his grandmother! The pensioner continued to scream, letting out shrill, piercing wails as she cowered under the sheets.
‘Crap, it’s the nan!’ said Flush, suddenly making the litterbug look much less intimidating as he stood quivering in a panic.
Faucet heard movement from the other rooms and quickly ran around the bed.
‘Come on, let’s get out of here,’ he said as he grabbed Flush and practically pushed him through the window. He climbed through after and they just about managed to get out and hide before the bedroom door burst open. The family rushed in to see what the matter was, and while they comforted and questioned the old woman, Faucet dragged the storage box back to its original position.
‘Mom, what is it?’ said Mrs Throwett as she pulled the sheets down.
‘A m-m-monster!’ the woman cried, pointing to where Flush had been standing.
They looked around, but the room was in darkness again and there was no sign of any monsters.
Kiefer crossed to the window and looked outside, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
‘It sh-shouted at me… about l-l-littering,’ the old woman continued.
‘Littering?’ said a stunned Mrs Throwett. The mother and son exchanged baffled looks and Kiefer shook his head. Mrs Throwett turned back to her shaking mother. ‘I think you just had a nightmare mom. Probably because you’re staying in Kiefer’s room. It’s strange being in someone else’s bed.’
‘I don’t like this room. The bed’s too small and he’s got all those creepy posters,’ the grandmother muttered, pointing to posters of rappers and RnB artists on the wall.
They took the old woman downstairs and made her a mug of hot chocolate, sitting with her until she’d calmed herself down. Eventually, she agreed it must have been a dream and they all went back to bed. By this point, Flush and Faucet were long gone, having had to walk back to the base since The Driver refused to pick them up again after the mess they’d left his car in on the way there.
It was early the next morning when the members of the Sanitary Squad gathered around the central table to discuss their night’s adventures. Captain Clean was repeatedly spraying Flush with disinfectant, despite the fact he’d taken the litterbug costume off the night before and stored it at his own home.
‘Will you stop it!’ Flush said finally, swatting away the spray bottle. ‘I told you; I had two showers before I came here, there’s nothing on me.’
HyJean snatched the spray bottle of out of the captain’s hands and put it to one side.
‘So, who wants to go first?’ asked Suds, hoping if he asked the question then it wouldn’t be him.
‘Well, ours was a total disaster,’ Faucet sighed. ‘We broke into the wrong room and scared the kid’s nan by mistake.’
‘Oh, the poor thing,’ said HyJean sympathetically. ‘Was she okay?’
‘I dunno, we scarpered as quickly as we could,’ admitted Flush.
‘But don’t worry, we reckon we know which room it is now, so we’ll go back again tonight,’ said Faucet confidently.
‘You will not,’ said Captain Clean sternly. ‘I think you should leave that family alone for a while or you’ll end up arrested.’
‘Can you be arrested for scaring people?’ asked Faucet.
‘You can if you give them a heart attack,’ Suds pointed out.
‘Well, I guess we’ll just have to tell that poor old woman we’ve let her down and just let the kid litter every day,’ said Flush in a tone of mock defeat.
‘Now hold on,’ said the captain, and everyone knew what was coming. Flush had hit a nerve and, as just as he’d planned, changed the captain’s mind. ‘If you’re sure which room it is this time, then I think we could still let the plan go ahead.’
‘Bostin!’ Flush grinned. ‘Thanks Cap.’
‘So how did you get on with your investigation?’ asked HyJean, trying to change the subject before he could change his mind back.
‘Ah, well it didn’t quite go as planned either,’ said the captain, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly. ‘It turns out I was right to be suspicious about that waste operative, but for the wrong reason. He’d had some trouble with a mad citizen and was trying to cover it up. He really does know nothing about the wheelie bin case.’
‘I could’ve told you that,’ HyJean muttered quietly.
‘Well, at least that’s one thing cleared up I guess,’ said Suds. ‘We didn’t fare much better. Nothing happened with Mrs Mallard at half seven, but then at eight, Mr Nobble was um… kidnapped by a bin.’
‘Kidnapped by a bin?’ asked Flush as the squad all looked at each other with a look of confusion.
‘Something pulled him into the bin,’ explained Suds. ‘And then it uh… it drove off.’
‘Drove off? On its own?’ asked the captain.
‘Well presumably someone was driving it, either from inside or via remote control. I’d say remote control seems more likely, as there’s not much room in those things,’ HyJean surmised. ‘We pursued it on foot the best we could, but it got away.’
‘And what about the bin bags? Where did they go?’ asked Faucet.
‘Well, that’s the strangest thing,’ said Suds, choosing that moment to take a sip of water and prolong the suspense. ‘When we got back, they were inside a wheelie bin outside their house.’
‘Mrs Nobble said it just appeared there when she wasn’t looking,’ said HyJean.
‘So, we’re back to square one then,’ the captain sighed.
‘Not really, we know how they’re being taken away now and that someone’s probably piloting it remotely,’ said Suds.
‘Okay, square three then,’ said the captain. ‘And it’ll be a week before they strike again. Any ideas where we go from here?’
The squad sat in silent thought for a moment, taking sips of water and scratching their heads, until finally Faucet broke the silence.
‘What about Mrs Begonia’s neighbour?’ he suggested. ‘She said he used to be a bin man, maybe he could have some insider knowledge?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said the captain. ‘If he’s retired then he won’t know anything.’
Faucet looked a little disappointed, but HyJean wasn’t quite so quick to dismiss his suggestion.
‘Actually, I think that’s quite a good lead,’ she said with a smile towards Faucet. ‘It’d definitely be worth talking to him. Like Nelson said, he knows the area and he knows bins.’
‘Well, you go and speak to him if you think he’s that great,’ said the captain like a schoolboy who’d just lost an argument.
‘Do you want your disinfectant back?’ HyJean replied sternly.
‘Fine, I’ll go,’ the captain replied with a groan, like the schoolboy was now being forced to do extra chores.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Faucet keenly.
‘Oh no, you’ve still got training to complete,’ said the captain. ‘You’ve been falling behind while you’ve been doing these jobs. I want to see the whole base vacuumed and a thousand-word essay on the importance of flushing on my desk before you leave tonight.’
Now it was Faucet’s turn to groan like a disciplined teenager, which made Captain Clean feel a little better about his own situation.
Captain Clean looked at the note with the scribbled address that Faucet had given him and then looked up to check the number on the door. He rang the doorbell and waited, staring at the smudge on the little pane of glass on the door and trying to ignore it. As the seconds passed, a desire burned inside him and eventually he gave in. He leaned in to discreetly breathe on the glass, but as he did, the door open and he found himself breathing into the face of an old lady.
‘Can I help you?’ she said as she moved her face in disgust and brushed him away.
‘Oh, yes, sorry,’ stuttered the captain, ‘I’m from the Sanitary Squad.’
‘Oh! Well, it’s alright, I’ve got one of your team looking into it, thank you,’ she said and began to close the door.
The captain stepped forward, pressing a hand against the door to hold it open, ‘No, no, it’s not about that. I’m looking for your neighbour.’
‘Try the house next door, dear, that’s where neighbours usually live,’ said the old woman.
‘No, I know that, but my colleague hasn’t said which house he lives in, he’s just given me your address’ the captain explained. ‘It’s the former waste operative I’m looking for.’
‘Waste operative? What are you talking about?’ asked Mrs Begonia.
‘Bin man,’ the captain clarified. ‘The former bin man.’
‘Oh! You mean Mr Grudgely. He lives at 91, just on the left there,’ she replied, pointing out the house.
‘Brilliant, thank you,’ said the captain. ‘And uh, sorry again about the… y’know… breathing on you.’
‘It’s quite alright dear, lots of people struggle with introductions. Maybe just a hello next time though, hm?’ she said with a sympathetic smile before closing the door.
Captain Clean took the opportunity to quickly clean the smudge off the glass, but was dismayed to find the smudge was on the other side of the glass. He cursed under his breath and contemplated ringing the bell again, but resigned himself to leave it for now. He made his way around to the Mr Grudgely’s house and rang the bell. He waited for a while, controlling himself and standing still, but there was no answer. He knocked on the door and even tried knocking the window. After a few minutes, he gave up and went back to Mrs Begonia’s house. When she answered, she seemed a little surprised to see him back.
‘He’s not in,’ said the captain.
‘I know. He’s never in on a Thursday morning,’ she nodded.
‘Then why didn’t you tell me that?’ the captain asked in a frustrated tone.
‘You never asked if he was in, you just asked where he lived,’ she retorted in a similarly frustrated voice.
‘Well, can you tell me anything about him?’ the captain asked. ‘You said he used to be a bin man; do you know why he left?’
‘Ooh, I’m not sure,’ said the old woman. ‘It might’ve had something to do with all the complaints made about him.’
‘Complaints? About him directly?’ asked the captain.
‘Yes, well he was always a bit standoffish with people, you see,’ she explained. ‘Didn’t suffer fools and wasn’t afraid to have a go back. I think that’s why they got rid of him. But he’s always been very pleasant with me.’
‘I see, that’s’ very interesting,’ said the captain. ‘One last thing, could I come inside for a moment?’
‘What for?’ asked Mrs Begonia, a little suspicious.
‘Well… I’d just like to clean that smudge off your window,’ he said, pointing out the mark on the glass.
‘You cheeky sod, there’s nothing wrong with my windows. Get out of it, go on,’ she said, pushing him back and closing the door. As Captain Clean turned to leave, the letterbox flapped open and Mrs Begonia’s voice shouted out, ‘And pick some of that litter up on your way out!’
The captain picked up the sweet wrappers and put them in the bin a few yards away. As he deposited them, he looked at Mr Grudgely’s house, then looked around to see if anyone was watching. There was something off about this neighbour, he could feel it. But he needed more evidence. He made his way over to the Herman household and knocked on their door. When they answered, he wasted no time in questioning them.
‘Did you or your husband ever make a formal complaint about Mr Grudgely’ he asked.
‘Oh, Captain Clean, I wasn’t expecting you. Would you like to come in?’ Mrs Herman asked.
‘Did you or your husband ever make a formal complaint about Mr Grudgely’ the captain repeated in exactly the same tone.
‘Um, I think we did, yes,’ she nodded. ‘Why? Has he said something?’
Captain Clean said nothing, but simply turned on his heels and walked away. Mrs Herman called after him, but he ignored her. He was onto something now. He asked did the same thing at another of the houses who had reported a kidnapping. They too had complained. The final victim admitted that they too had complained about Mr Grudgely in the past. It was all adding up now, the captain thought. He made his way back to Mr Grudgely’s house and down the alley between the two houses. At the back, he was met with wooden gates and fences either side. Wishing he’d brought a ladder with him, he clumsily climbed up the gate and over the fence, landing with a thud on the other side. When he turned around, he was only half-surprised to see no less than four wheelie bins in the small back yard.
‘Either he really gets through rubbish, or I’m on to something,’ the captain muttered to himself. He opened the lids of one of the wheelie bins and looked inside. It was dark inside, but he could make out some wires and machinery at the bottom, including what looked like a hose pipe and a metal claw.
‘Gotcha,’ he said with a satisfied grin.
‘I was thinking the same thing,’ came a voice from behind. But before Captain Clean could turn to see who it was, he felt a blow to the back of his head and everything went black as slumped unconscious into the bin.
The next evening, Faucet was helping Flush into the Litterbug costume once again, when there was a knock at the door. HyJean stood in the doorway, looking a little worried.
‘Hi boys, um… have either of you heard from Cap?’ she asked. ‘I’ve not seen him since he went off to speak to Mrs Begonia’s neighbour, and I can’t seem to get hold of him.’
‘Not a sausage, sorry,’ said Flush, the crisp packets on his shoulders rustling as he shrugged.
‘Does he usually go off the grid like this?’ asked Faucet.
‘Not really, he’s too egotistical to stay quiet for too long,’ HyJean replied.
‘Tell you what, it’s on our way, so we can drop you off in our taxi and you can find out what’s going on,’ said Flush.
‘Thanks. I just need to do one thing first though,’ said HyJean. She left the room and returned seconds later with a can of air freshener, which sprayed all over a surprised Flush. ‘I’m not sharing a car with you smelling like that.’
‘Aww man, that’s part of the effect!’ Flush groaned.
‘I’ll go let Suds know. Give us a shout when you’re ready,’ said HyJean as she left the room.
A short while later, the Litterbug was ready and the four grime fighters gathered outside the Filtham community centre waiting for a regular taxi, since The Driver refused to pick the up. This time they had the benefit of the ladder, which Faucet was carrying, to make the climb up to the window easier.
‘You know what we need?’ said Flush as they waited.
‘A shower?’ Suds suggested.
‘No, a car,’ said Flush. ‘Then we wouldn’t have to rely on The Driver or public transport all the time.’
‘You mean like the Batmobile?’ said Faucet excitedly.
‘Exactly, all the best superheroes have their own vehicles,’ Flush nodded. ‘The Batmobile, Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles van.’
‘So, we’re on the same level as mutant turtles now?’ chuckled Suds. ‘Nice.’
‘Forget it, there’s not enough in the budget for a bicycle, let alone a van,’ HyJean pointed out.
‘And if there was, Cap would probably point out how bad for the environment they are,’ added Suds.
‘We could get an electric car,’ suggested Faucet.
‘Oh yeah, that’d be great,’ said HyJean sarcastically. ‘Halfway through chasing a criminal we have to pull over to recharge. And who’s going to drive this car anyway? Can either of you drive?’
Flush shook his head, but Faucet thought for a moment, ‘You know, I can’t remember. I mean, I could try, but I think that might be a bit risky if it turns out I can’t drive.’
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get a driverless car,’ said Flush. ‘They’re all the rage now.’
‘No, I don’t trust them,’ said Suds, shaking his head.
‘Do you trust it more than Cap driving?’ asked HyJean
‘Good point,’ said Suds.
The conversation continued in much the same fashion until the taxi arrive, and by the time it pulled up, they were all discussing the pitfalls of having a company helicopter. The taxi driver wound down his window to get a closer look at Flush. The others had gotten used to the sight of his litter-covered outfit, but the taxi driver, seeing it for the first time, was simultaneously astonished and baffled by it.
‘Is this some kind of Lady Gaga fancy dress thing?’ he asked.
‘No, we’re going to scare a kid to stop him littering,’ Flush explained as they climbed into the passenger seat of the taxi.
‘Oh… okay,’ said the driver as he gave Flush another look of disbelief through the rear view mirror. ‘Just make sure you take away anything that drops off.’
They set off on to their destination, with the driver constantly glancing across at Flush, taking in every piece of litter on the costume. Meanwhile, HyJean, Suds and Faucet were squeezed into the back with the ladder across their laps and hanging out the window.
‘Excuse me, can you keep your eyes on the road please,’ said HyJean, leaning forward and tapping the driver. ‘If you want to look at litter, I can direct you to a particularly popular bin on Marlow Street.’
The driver apologised and stayed focused on the road for the rest of the journey. They dropped HyJean and Suds off on the main road just outside the cul-de-sac, and then continued down to the Throwett household. They paid the driver, giving him a generous tip to keep quiet about what he’d seen, and then they found themselves once again climbing into the back garden of their victim’s house.
‘I was so sure it was that room,’ whispered Faucet, looking up at the window they’d climbed through the night before. ‘I must’ve drawn it wrong. It was that one he sleeps in.’
He pointed to the window to the right of the one he’d thought was Keifer’s bedroom, and they propped the ladder up against the wall.
‘Okay, you go up first and open the window, I’ll follow when you’re in position,’ said Flush.
Faucet climbed the ladder and was disappointed to find that this one was shut. It made sense, he thought, given what had happened the night before, they probably wanted extra security. He had no tools to open it, but he had an idea. He pressed his fingers against the seam between the window and the and tensed his wrists. Water shot out against the slight gap and he felt it hit against something. He wiggled his fingers up and down and the pressure of the water managed to catch the locking mechanism and the handle moved with a little click. He was then able to pull the window open, before looking down at Flush and giving a thumbs up.
‘When did you learn to do that?’ asked Flush in an excited whisper.
‘About ten seconds ago,’ Faucet whispered back.
He climbed inside the room and made his way carefully across the room, the moonlight highlighting the furniture and objects in the room. Flush then made his way up the ladder and awkwardly through the window, while Faucet took out his torch. They looked at each other and nodded. Faucet mouthed counting up to three and then shone the torch on the Litterbug.
‘I am the litterbug!’ boomed Flush once again. ‘You shall pay for your littering!’
There was a loud scream from the bed that sounded worryingly familiar. Flush’s eyes widened and Faucet shone the light on the bed to reveal Keifer’s grandmother looking terrified. Fortunately, the torchlight blinded her and she covered her eyes as she continued to scream.
‘Run!’ cried Flush and they both darted across the room, out of the window and down the ladder, pushing the window shut as they left. They had just made it to the bottom of the ladder when they saw the bedroom light come on and heard the sounds of people rushing to the old woman’s aid. Wasting no more time, they ran from the garden, carrying the ladder and jumping over the fence to hide in the trees behind the house.
‘How does this keep happening?’ asked an exasperated Faucet.
‘I dunno,’ said Flush, through heavy panting. ‘Let’s just get out of here.’
Meanwhile, HyJean and Sergeant Suds were busy investigating their boss’s disappearance. They surveyed the neighbour’s house from behind the hedge in the front garden. The lights were off and there were no signs of movement.
‘Looks like they’re asleep, or out,’ said HyJean.
‘Reckon you could pick the lock on the front door?’ asked Suds.
‘Easily,’ HyJean nodded. ‘But I’m not going to.’
‘What?’ Suds replied in some surprise. ‘Oh, come on. It’s not like we’re robbing the place. We just want to have a look around. And besides, Cap might be in trouble in there.’
‘Yes, I know all that,’ said HyJean with a roll of her eyes. ‘I mean I’m not going to because we don’t need to. The living room window is open.’
She pointed to the bay window on the house, and sure enough, one of the windows was still open just enough to fit a small rat if it had recently been on a diet. They crept up to the window and HyJean pulled it open, before giving Suds a smug look. He gave her a boost up and she climbed in through the window and into the living room, her feet landing on a side table, which acted as a step down into the room. The lights were off, so the room was lit only by the streetlamps outside. It was a typical living room, with a sofa, television and large fireplace. Even in the dark light it looked cosy and inviting. HyJean began to look around, but she suddenly winced with shock as she heard a crash behind her. She looked around and saw Suds, halfway through the window, with his leg stuck in a hole that he’d just made in the top of the side table.
‘Sorry,’ he mouthed.
HyJean let out a little groan and helped him into the room without damaging anything else. They quietly and carefully looked around the room, not really sure what they were looking for – perhaps some clues as to Captain Clean having been here? Some note on a scrap of paper about a kidnapping plot? A torch that they could use to see better? Sadly, they found none of these things, and as they moved into the kitchen, that room faired no better either. Everything looked frustratingly normal. But then, just as they were about to exit to the back garden, a light came on. They gasped and span around to see a large, shadowy figure behind them. The face was shrouded in the darkness of the hood of a long, black robe. One hand was hidden under the sleeve, but the other was clearly visible. It was pale white and holding onto a scythe, with a long, wooden shaft and a rusted metal blade at the top, glistening slightly in the light. The two grime fighters let out a scream and HyJean quickly burst into a barrage of excuses and pleas.
‘I’m sorry! We’re not burglars! Please don’t kill us! We were just lost and wandered in!’ HyJean babbled.
Sergeant Suds, however, was more proactive, and ran towards the reaper, shouting at him wildly, ‘You creep, you kidnapped our boss!’
He swung a punch at the man, who didn’t seem to block it. Instead, he took the hit and stumbled back, dropping his scythe. As the man stumbled back against the wall, the hood of his robe fell down, revealing a young man with a bleeding nose.
‘Wait… stop… who are you?’ he asked frantically.
Suds grabbed him by the robe and pushed him back against the wall, lifting him up off his feet.
‘We’re from the Sanitary Squad,’ growled Suds. ‘And we’re here to find our boss, Captain Clean.
‘He came to talk to you yesterday and he’s been missing since,’ added HyJean from behind, dancing around on the spot unsure whether to help Suds or the man in the grim reaper costume.
‘What are you talking about? Came to talk to me? Nobody’s been to talk to me,’ stuttered the man, who seemed genuinely confused and more than a little frightened.
‘He said he was coming to talk to you about the recent kidnappings,’ said Suds, still holding him firmly.
The man let out a little cry of pain and HyJean finally acted, rushing forward, trying to pull Suds off the whimpering reaper. ‘Okay, Suds, I think we should let him go now.’
‘I agree with her! Let me go!’ cried the man.
‘He said you used to a bin man, so you might know something,’ Suds continued, ignoring HyJean tugging at his arms.
‘A bin man? I never used to be a bin man,’ the young man replied. ‘I’m an accountant!’
‘But… Mrs Begonia said… she said her neighbour…’ HyJean said, momentarily letting go of Suds.
‘That’s Mr Grudgely, he lives two doors down,’ the man explained.
There was a brief silence in which HyJean and Suds looked at each other awkwardly, then back to the terrified young man.
‘Ah,’ said Suds, slowly loosening his grip and letting the man slide back down so his feet were on the floor. ‘I think we may have broken into the wrong house.’
Suds brushed the man down, as if trying to wipe off the pain and upset he had caused.
‘I think you have,’ said the man, pulling himself up.
‘Then what are you dressed like this for?’ asked Suds.
‘I’m going out to a fancy dress party tonight,’ the man explained. ‘Or at least I was.’
‘Well, not to worry. No harm done, eh?’ said HyJean with an awkward chuckle as she tugged Suds arm as a signal to leave. Suds patted the man’s chest and gave an apologetic smile, then they both swiftly left through the front door without another word.
‘That was so embarrassing. That poor man,’ said HyJean as they walked quickly down the garden path. ‘Why did you hit him?’
‘Did you not see his dirty great scythe?’ asked Suds as they passed Mrs Begonia’s house.
‘Oh come on, I doubt he would’ve used it,’ said HyJean as they made their way into the right neighbour’s front garden. They walked up the path and rang the doorbell. They waited for a minute or so, but there was no answer. HyJean peered through the window, but could not see any signs of light or movement. Meanwhile, Suds had spotted the alleyway at the side of the house. He walked down it and peered through a gap in the fence, through which he was just able to make out the row of wheelie bins. He eyed up the fence and gate to see if he could climb it, and noticed a few scuff marks on the wooden fence. Inspecting it closer, he noticed a bit of yellow fibre that had stuck to the wood. It was the same shade of yellow as Captain Clean’s microfibre cloth cape. He whistled to get HyJean’s attention, but got no reply. He tried again, but still nothing. With a huff, he walked back down the alley to the garden, poking his head around the wall. He whistled again loudly.
‘Oh, that’s you,’ said HyJean, looking up from the gnome she was holding. ‘I thought this was one of those novelty whistling gnomes.’
‘Whatever, just come on. I think I found out where Cap went,’ he said, gesturing for her to follow him down the alley. He pointed out the marks on the fence and the small thread of fabric.
‘Let’s have a look inside, shall we?’ said HyJean. She lifted her leg to get another boost from Suds, but her fellow grime fighter merely shoulder-barged the gate and smashed it open.
Their first course of action was to inspect the contents of the wheelie bins, inside which they saw the mechanics that had grabbed the victims. She leaned in close and took photos of the devices on her phone so that she could look at them closely.
‘So, this arm piece grabs them and pulls them in, but what’s this box with the light on for?’ she mused. ‘There’s a flashing light on it. Aha! This must be the signal for the remote control. So, he is controlling them remotely, but not from here. So where is he? Maybe we should try and get inside and look for-’
She was cut off by the sound of glass smashing behind her. She looked around and saw that Suds had knocked out a pane of glass from the window with his soap gun.
‘Way ahead of you,’ he said with a grin as he unlocked the back door and opened it.
HyJean rolled her eyes and followed him inside. They moved around the house, looking for anything that might give them more answers. The kitchen looked normal, as did the living room, but down a small corridor there was a door that was slightly ajar. HyJean opened it and saw a small study that could have been mistaken for a broom closet. The tiny room housed only a chair, desk and an old-looking laptop.
‘Suds,’ she called out in a loud whisper. ‘Come see this.’
She sat down at the laptop and opened it up. She was surprised to find that it wasn’t password protected, and she could access the files with great ease. As Suds joined her and looked over her shoulder at the screen, she pulled up a page that showed a map with several flashing red dots on it.
‘It’s the cul-de-sac, look,’ she said, pointing out the circular road near three flashing red dots. ‘These must be the three bins out back.’
‘There’s two more, look,’ Suds said, pointing to a red dot higher up on the map. ‘It’s a few blocks away.’
‘Maybe that’s where he’s keeping his latest victim,’ said HyJean.
‘And I bet you anything the other dot is Cap,’ added Suds.
HyJean picked up the laptop and stood up. ‘Let’s go save our boss.’
The two grime fighters quickly made their way down the road, checking the map on the screen every now and then to make sure both that they were going in the right direction and that there were still two dots flashing. The night was dark and the streets were empty – it was a mugger’s dream. There was a certain eeriness to it, as the wind whistled softly and an owl hooted in the distance, which was odd because owls weren’t usually found in suburban streets like these. It may well have been a different bird, imitating the cry of the owl, or a human with a very unusual choice of ringtone. Sergeant Suds contemplated all of this as he directed HyJean over a patch of well-trodden grass that led to a set of storage facilities.
‘Oh great, now we’ve got to figure out which of these boxes he’s in. It’s like Deal or No Deal,’ groaned Suds.
‘And you’re no Noel Edmonds,’ muttered HyJean as she walked along bent over, scanning the rows of metal shutters for any signs of light or movement.
‘Have you tried calling his phone?’ Suds asked.
‘No point, he never has his phone on him,’ said HyJean, but a sudden thought made her stop dead in her tracks. ‘But we could call Mr Grudgely’
‘How? We don’t know his number,’ Suds replied, looking confused.
‘Hm, if only he had a computer to store that kind of information on,’ said HyJean, walking back to Suds and handing him the laptop to hold, using his hands like a makeshift desk. She tapped away and soon enough she’d found the number they needed. She took her phone out of a pouch on her utility belt and dialled.
‘What are you going to say?’ asked Suds. ‘We’re here to foil your plan but could you give us some directions?’
‘Shh,’ HyJean said, holding up a finger.
‘Hello,’ came the voice of Mr Grudgely, although since they’d never met, HyJean had to assume it was the right voice.
‘Hello, is that Mr Grudgely,’ she muttered quietly. Suds frowned, wondering why she was being so secretive.
‘Hello, who’s this?’ Mr Grudgely Said. As soon as he started speaking, HyJean put the phone to her chest and looked around, hoping to hear his voice coming from one of the storage units, but she heard nothing.
‘Hello, is that Mr Grudgely’ she repeated in the same muted voice.
Mr Grudgely said something down the phone, which she didn’t hear as she listened.
‘I’m calling about your pension,’ she said quietly still.
‘What? Speak up! I can’t hear you!’ Mr Grudgely said loudly. This time HyJean was able to pick up roughly where the voice was coming from. She pointed down a row and led Suds down there.
‘I’m sorry mister csshkrssshk I can’t quite pssshkrsh you, there seems to be csshkrssshk connection,’ she said, this time louder so he could hear her. This confused Suds even further, but Mr Grudgely’s reply made things very apparent.
‘Ugh, I can’t hear you, there’s a bad connection,’ he replied frustratedly. ‘Hang on, I’ll come outside.’
Seconds later they saw one of the shutters rising up and a shadowy figure stepping out.
‘There! Go get him,’ HyJean said triumphantly.
Suds ran and was close enough that Mr Grudgely had very little time to react when he noticed Suds running towards him and aiming his soap gun. He turned to run back inside his unit, but Suds fired and a large blob of pink gloop landed just in front of his feet, causing him to slip as his foot landed. He fell down face first and Suds was quick to jump on him and pin him to the ground. HyJean meanwhile ran inside the unit and saw two men sat on chairs with bags over their head. Both looked weak and beaten, but only one was wearing a long yellow cape and marigold gloves.
‘Captain!’ HyJean exclaimed as she rushed over and took the bag off his head.
‘HyJean,’ he cried weakly. His face was covered in several cuts and bruises, making his smile of relief somewhat painful. ‘I knew you’d find me.’
‘I’m here too y’know!’ came a sudden voice from the other chair. HyJean had forgotten all about the other man.
‘Oops, sorry,’ she said as she reached over and took the bag off his head.
‘Call the police,’ the other victim snapped.
‘There’s no need for that, I’m already here!’ came a confident voice from behind that the grime fighters recognised immediately. They all turned and saw the shutter on one of the storage units opposite slowly and dramatically rise up, revealing a pair of shiny black shoes, then a pair of smart black trousers, and then… it stopped. The door had jammed with a worrying clunk, stopping at waist height.
‘Bloody thing,’ came the echoing voice from behind. ‘Keeps on licking… uh, sticking.’
They watched as Officer Sidney Down wrestled with the shutter, but to no avail. In the end, he resorted to bending down and trying to squeeze his portly body underneath the door. There was a clang as he hit his head off the shutter, at which the grime fighters winced. Finally, the familiar ginger-bearded police officer appeared, standing up straight and brushing himself down.
‘Not quite the entrance I was hoping for, but still. Here I am,’ he said, patting the metal shutter, which clicked and then rolled back down shut with a rapid drop, making the police officer jump a little. Although Officer Down would have been none of their first choices for an authority figure to be conveniently present, they were still somewhat grateful to have him there. HyJean, the most affable of the group, stepped forward.
‘Officer Down, this man is the one who has been kidnapping people in wheelie bins and abusing them,’ she explained, pointing to Mr Grudgely.
‘The what?’ Officer Down asked, looking a little confused.
‘He’s the one… the kidnappings on Whitehouse Way, with the wheelie bins… it’s been all over the local news,’ she said, trying to jog his memory.
‘Nope, sorry,’ the officer shrugged. ‘I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks, you see. I went to heaven… uh, Devon. Lovely place, lots of nice beaches-’
‘Okay, okay,’ HyJean said, interrupting him before he could tell them any more about his holiday, which he was clearly about to do. ‘Well anyway, we just need you to arrest him. You’ll find all the evidence in that lockup and on his computer.’
‘Evidence for what?’ asked Officer Down.
‘For the kidnappings, you moron!’ shouted Suds, who had become increasingly irritated by Officer Down’s lack of understanding.
‘Oh, sorry,’ Officer down chuckled. ‘I thought you were on about Devon. I was going to say, there was no trouble there. I mean I paid £6 for an ice cream, but I don’t think we can arrest anyone for-’
‘Just come and cuff him up before I shove you in a wheelie bin,’ Suds grunted.
‘I’ve got one spare in there,’ said Mr Grudgely, gesturing to his storage unit.
‘Don’t tempt me,’ Suds muttered.
‘Right yes, I’ll just get my… oh, where are they,’ said Officer Down, patting his jacket and fumbling around in his pockets, looking for his handcuffs. ‘Oh bother, I think I left them in there.’
He turned back towards his storage unit and crouched down, trying to lift the shutter back up. The door had clearly become just as fed up with its owner as the people around, as it put up quite the fight to be opened.
‘Come and give me a hand will you,’ the officer asked with a clear hint of desperation in his voice.
HyJean rolled her eyes and walked over to the storage unit, turning the key that the absent-minded officer had left in the lock on the wall next to the shutter and pressing a button that made the shutter slowly rise all the way up.
‘Oh, would you look at that,’ Officer Down chuckled. ‘It’s alternated… uh, automated.’
They retrieved the handcuffs, and the grime fighters were quite relieved when Mr Grudgely was finally apprehended. Mr Grudgely himself was obviously not as relieved, but criminals are rarely pleased when they are being arrested. Although some are, of course, as they commit crimes with the intention of being caught and becoming infamous, but that’s more for things like murder or robbery, not kidnapping people in wheelie bins. The police were called (once Officer Down remembered the number) and soon Mr Grudgely was being driven away to a nice warm cell. Well, a nice cell. Well, a cell. Despite Captain Clean’s many protests, the living conditions in Rotenhell Prison were not the most hospitable. If they were, maybe more criminals would be pleased to be arrested.
The following day, the squad arrived at Whitehouse Way to inform the residents who the culprit was behind the kidnappings and to let them know that he had been arrested. In a police interview, Mr Grudgely had revealed that he had suffered years of complaints from the cul-de-sac while he had been working as a waste operative, and had spent his retirement planning a scheme to get revenge on those who had been so petty and unforgiving.
‘I guess we do complain a lot,’ said Mrs Herman, looking slightly ashamed as she stood amongst the small crowd of locals that had been gathered to hear the news in the middle of the cul-de-sac.
‘But they still don’t take all my rubbish,’ an old lady in the crowd grumbled.
‘It’s probably because you pile all the bags up in your back garden instead of putting it in the wheelie bin out front,’ an unseen voice called out.
‘I can’t be carting that big heavy thing back and forth every week,’ the lady protested. ‘I’ve got arthritis in my legs and my hands.’
‘Then maybe you should ask someone to help you,’ HyJean suggested.
‘I’ll help you, Mrs Pottage,’ said a younger woman in the crowd.
‘Oh no, I don’t want her helping me,’ Mrs Pottage grumbled, ‘She’ll be rifling through my bins trying to find my pension cheques.’
‘How dare you!’ the woman shouted. ‘Cheeky old hag, no wonder nobody wants to help you.’
‘Who are you calling an old hag, you nosey mare?’ Mrs Pottage retorted.
While the neighbours argued and Captain Clean tried in vain to defuse the tension, Mrs Begonia came tottering down the driveway and over to the squad. Flush noticed her and gave Faucet a nudge. When she got to them, Faucet was quick to react.
‘Don’t worry Mrs Begonia, we’re still working on your case,’ he said in a hurried voice. ‘There’s just been a few complications that we-’
‘No, no, it’s okay,’ Mrs Begonia interrupted. ‘It’s all sorted now.’
‘It is?’ asked Faucet and Flush in a surprised unison.
‘Yes, the boy’s mother came around this morning and told me that her mother, who had been staying in her grandson’s bed, had been scared half to death by something in the night. They moved her to another room and, would you believe it, the same thing happened again!’ she explained. ‘And when she found out the boy had been littering, the grandmother swore she’d beat him to a pulp if he ever littered again. He’s been round and apologised and everything,’
‘Oh,’ said Faucet. ‘Well, I guess that’s good then.’
‘I don’t know what you boys did, but I’m very grateful,’ Mrs Begonia said with a warm smile. ‘Thank you, both.’
She patted them both on the arm and then returned to her home with a noticeable spring in her step. Flush and Faucet smiled at each other, satisfied with their work, but also stunned at how it had resolved itself.
‘Nice work, you two,’ said HyJean, who had overheard the conversation.
‘Never doubted you for a moment,’ added Captain Clean.
HyJean gave him a look of resentment, but then her eyes grew wide and a look of slight panic covered her face as she spotted someone over the captain’s shoulder.
‘Oi, you! I want a word with you!’ shouted Mrs Begonia’s other neighbour, who still had a bandaged nose from where Suds had punched him.
‘Oh crap,’ HyJean muttered, tugging Sergeant Suds’ arm. Suds spotted the angry neighbour and he too panicked.
‘Quick, leg it!’ he whispered, and the two grime fighters ran off down the road and out of the cul-de-sac.