I caught up to them two houses down.
“Okay George, spill it.” Not the best of openings for a guy riding a garbage truck, but I was getting fed up. “This is the fourth week now, why aren’t you taking my garbage?”
He looked nervous. “Uh, sorry Andrea, but I have instructions not to.”
“Instructions not to? Why? I pay my taxes and my trash collection fees. Don’t I have the right to a lawn uncluttered by refuse?”
“It’s... more complicated than that, Andrea. I’m not really the guy you should talk to. Mr. Akers at City Hall knows more.”
City Hall is a large modern office building laid out across two full blocks of downtown real estate. As for organization, I swear there’s a minotaur in there somewhere. It took over an hour of listening to ‘helpful’ attendants and following coloured lines on the floor to find Mr. Akers’s office. The fact that I’d already met Ms. Acres and Mr. Eichers today didn’t help my mood any.
“Are you in charge of garbage collection?”
“I am the city’s Chief Sanitation Architect, yes.”
I resisted the urge to grab him by his lapels. “Then why aren’t you picking up my garbage?”
“We have staff to do that.”
“Your staff say they’ve been ordered not to. Ring any bells, Quasimodo?”
“Hmm. What is your address, Madam?”
I could have reached down his throat and pulled his stomach lining out. I hate being called 'Madam'. Instead I answered civilly.
“Number 17 Morningshaw Crescent.”
He turned a very interesting shade of gray – somewhere between old pavement and cigarette ash.
“You’re Ms. Nelson?”
“Andrea Nelson, yes. What is this all about?”
“I’m very sorry, Ms. Nelson. But I have orders to suspend refuse pickup at your residence.”
“Orders from WHOM?”
“The Atomic Energy Commission.” He picked up a folder from his desk and opened it. “According to their instructions, your waste is emitting low-level gamma radiation and they have to send a special truck for it. The first pickup was supposed to be two weeks ago. Has that not happened?”
“No it hasn't! I now have four weeks’ worth of trash piled up at the foot of my driveway and the neighbourhood stinks like a dump! When are they going to get their collective bureaucratic asses in gear and DO SOMETHING?”
To his credit, he didn’t flinch under my verbal assault. Instead he picked up the phone and dialed a twelve-digit number that I didn’t quite catch.
“Hello, Steven. Gerald here. Ms. Nelson is in my office asking about her waste collection. ... Ah. ... Ah. ... Look Steven, I know it’s hard to get an appropriately-shielded truck, but garbage is piling up here. When do you expect to be able to pick up? ... Ah. ... Do you have any advice until then? ... Ah. Talk to you later then.”
“Well, it seems they’ve been having trouble...”
“... getting a shielded truck, yeah yeah. When do I get my garbage picked up?”
“Next Tuesday. And they had one other piece of advice.”
“What is it?”
“Don’t stack more than six bags together; otherwise you might achieve critical mass and irradiate the whole city, killing up to a quarter-million people.”
As I worked my way out of the maze I thought to myself, I’d better get the shielding guy in to check the reactors. It sounds like one is leaking again.