In theory, Swindle had spent the last two weeks scouting the western portion of the United States for a potential site for a new Combaticon base. Onslaught was particularly interested in the Southwestern U.S. due to its proximity to various secret military bases and its distance from Decepticon Headquarters. Vortex, Blast Off and Brawl were scouting other locations -- Vortex in Africa, Blast Off in Asia and Brawl in South America.
In reality, Swindle had spent most of his time robbing gas stations, used car lots and small banks.. It wasn't that he needed the money that he was taking, it was simply that he wanted it, he was bored and as long as he sent back reports about the lack of a suitable location, Onslaught didn't seem to care about his extra-curricular activities. Particularly not since the whole assignment had really been more or less busy work to keep the rest of the Combaticons busy while Onslaught attempted to beat a new strategy game from Cybertron that Swindle had "just happened" to manage to bootleg prior to its official release.
The problem was that snatch-and-grabs had themselves started to get boring. The whole operation was simply too easy: all he had to do was drive into town, locate the nearest target, hit said target, acquire valuables, neutralize local response and retreat before the Autobots could arrive on scene. Easy. He could do it in his sleep. No challenge at all.
He'd been seriously considering ignoring the charade of scouting and heading for another try at Fort Knox again when he'd come to Bobby Bolivia's Finest Quality Used Cars and Petting Zoo. The audacity of the place's name combined with the complete and total lie of its actual appearance had spoken to him.
And then things had gotten complicated.
Swindle had to give Bolivia credit -- even now, with Swindle's scatter-blaster charged and ready and a finger's width from his face, he was still trying to make a deal. It was almost admirably Combaticon-like of him.
"You an' me, we're businessmen!" Bolivia, a heavy-set male with skin a few shades lighter than Swindle's own face, was scared, but even still there was a predatory gleam in his eyes that Swindle found all too familiar. "Ain't no reason we can't work out an arrangement, right?"
Swindle's training said 'no' but his greed said 'listen' -- and it always spoke louder. "Depends. What kinda deal are we talkin' about?"
The human's smile was a brief flash of white in his dark face, like the first glimpse of star rise over a planet's horizon. "That's what Bobby Bolivia likes to see! A reasonable man -- car -- person! No sense not bein' reasonable right? No sense at all! You want a drink? We got it all, premium, diesel, might even have some kerosene out back. Manny! MANNY! Get your ass out here an' serve this gentleman!"
"Aww, hell no!" yelled a voice from inside the garage. "You crazy, Bobby! I quit!"
"You quit? You quit! You fired, that's what you mean!" Bolivia shot back. "No, wait, yeah, yeah, you quit! Good luck gettin' unemployment, you lazy good for nothin' quitter!" He turned back to Swindle. "So sorry you had to see that, you got no idea how hard it is findin' good help these days. Where were we?"
"You said something about a deal." Swindle prided himself on his fast-talking abilities, but Bolivia must have had a dual intake system of some sort, because Swindle wasn't entirely sure how the human was breathing since his mouth didn't seem to stop moving.
With another flash of a grin, Bolivia started talking again. "See, you came to the right place 'cause one thing Bobby B knows is cars. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, it's gotta engine, then Bobby B knows it like he knows his own Mammy." Bolivia pointed to an empty lawn chair where a surprisingly spry elderly human female had been sitting when Swindle arrived. "Where'd that crazy ol' bat get to now -- I swear, gonna chip her like a damn dog!" Bolivia shook his head. "No, no, don't matter, don't matter! What matters is this -- Bobby Bolivia knows cars an' he knows you! Knows you down to the ground!"
Bolivia started pacing, gesturing at Swindle. "Bet you've been told you're a Jeep, haven't you? Bet some smart ol' smart mouth told you you're just a regular ol' Army Jeep, din't he?" Bolivia didn't wait for an answer, simply continued on. "Well he was wrong! Dead wrong!"
Bolivia seemed to realize that he'd made a poor choice in wording. "...not to say 'dead' wrong but...well, it's wrong, just wrong, that's all I'm sayin'. Just plain ol' wrong!"
"So?" Swindle felt his audials ringing -- the human was trying to con him, that much was obvious, but he spoke almost too quickly for Swindle to see where the con was coming from.
"So? So?! Are you listenin' to me, son? People are tryin' to tell you that you're just some ordinary Jeep when you are not! They're tryin' to tell you that you're boring! Everyday! That you're nothing special, just some worthless hunk o'junk! An' you say 'so'? Ain't you got no pride? Ain't you got no self-respect? Ain't you got no sense of how much you are worth?"
"...how much I'm worth?" Swindle felt a tingle start in the tips of his fingers. That tingle that said there was something worth grabbing onto and absconding with. "What's my self-esteem gotta do with anything?"
Bolivia looked confused. "Self-esteem? Self-esteem? Son, do I look like Dr. Phil to you? Do I look like Oprah? You think I wanna hug it out with you an' make you feel good about yourself? I'm talkin' about money, baby! Moolah! Cash! Benjamins!"
The tingle got sharper; Swindle lowered his scatter-blaster but kept it powered up. "That's different. I'm listenin. What's the deal?"
"We're gettin' there, now this is gonna take some 'splainin', like Ricky said t'Lucy," Bolivia said. "But you just pay attention an' I can make it clear as a bell for you."
"See, like I was sayin' -- people think you're a Jeep, but you're not. Bobby B, he knows cars an' I know what you are ain't a Jeep, you're an FMC XR311 combat vehicle, built by Chrysler as a new model light utility vehicle. You what they called a G.I. Hot Rod, son!" Bolivia beamed up at Swindle as if he'd just given him the secret to breaking Megatron's private security codes.
Swindle scowled. "Yeah, so?" he says. "Big deal."
"Big deal?! Big...big..." Bolivia looked around as if searching for someone else to verify what he'd just heard, then stared at Swindle in disbelief. "Are you listening to me? Clean the peanut butter outta your ears, boy! You got ears, dont'cha? You can hear me, right? You understan' English? Or do I gotta get Gremlin out here t'talk sense t'you?"
"I can hear you just fine but all I'm hearin' is a buncha noise -- where's the signal, squishy?" Swindle raised his scatter-blaster again.
Bolivia crossed his arms over his chest and snorted. "Well, sounds t'me like maybe you need a hearin' test. Or maybe I should talk slower -- got a Pinto in th' back that'd understand me at any speed."
"Or, maybe I should stomp you flat an' turn this place into a scrap yard. Not that anybody could tell the difference."
"You do, you ain't ever gonna hear how you an' me can make a whole pile of money, boy." Bolivia's grin was fierce and familiar. It was a greedy look, one that he'd seen on his own face, reproduced here in miniature. Swindle felt the tingle start up in his fingers, stronger now.
"Tell me -- how much?" Swindle asked, not caring that Bolivia's expression shifted almost immediately to 'gotcha'.
X X X
Swindle had to admit, it was a good scheme. Like all scams, it was simple and relied almost entirely on the greed and stupidity of the potential mark. And if there was one universal constant Swindle lived by, it was that marks were always greedy and stupid.
Bolivia had explained more about the XR311 -- how it was a military prototype, how only ten were made and delivered to the United States Army less than half a vorn before and how for humans this was a ridiculously long time. And how the important thing was that this meant collectors would pay a lot of money for an XR311 of their very own.
"Here's what you gotta understand, son," Bolivia had said, pinching the bridge of his nose and speaking to Swindle in the slow and careful tones Swindle ordinarily used with Vortex when he was being deliberately obtuse. "Me an' Manny an' Manny's idiot cousin? We can fix you up, make you look just like a XR311 supposed to an' then? We sell you to a collector, then you stick around for a day, maybe two an' then? You get stole."
"...how does that work?"
Bolivia sighed. "Son, you can drive yourself home! Or walk out! I don't care! Once their check clears, you can fly on back t'the' Island of Misfit Toys for all of me!"
"Not without my money, I won't."
"Well of course not!" Bolivia threw up his hands. "'Course you're gonna want to come back here an' get your money! What kinda fool would you be if you din't get paid!? But first, you gotta get yourself transformed so we can go to work on you, right?"
"Okay, but you try anything funny, deal's off an' I give all of you to my brother Vortex. He wants t'run some tests on how high humans bounce." Swindle transformed his vehicle mode and allowed Bolivia to lead him into his garage, his neural circuits singing in anticipation of a good con. "Y'know...I got a brother who's a Leopard 1 main battle tank. Think we could get a buyer for him? We wouldn't even have to cut him in for much, he doesn't understand finances like I do."
"See, I like how you think, son," Bolivia said, pulling the garage door behind him and shooing his assistants out from their hiding places behind some oil drums. "But let's see how this works first, huh? Don't wanna bite off too much too soon. G'wan get up on the rack, we'll get started."
"No, no, I guess not." Swindle positioned himself on the garage's lift. Already, his mind was running through the possibilities of how to continue the scam. His brothers were definitely out -- suggesting that he sell them, even as a scam, would probably get him nothing but grief. Well, grief and a beating. But the Stunticons. they were expensive looking cars, it wouldn't take much to clean them up a bit and he wouldn't have to split the money with Bolivia. Change their paintjobs periodically and he could probably keep the scam going for months.
As Bolivia and his lackeys got started, Swindle slipped into a partial recharge and wondered how much a jet would go for on the open market.
X X X
"Did I deliver or did I deliver?" Bolivia sounded as proud as Starscream with Megatron in his sights. "C'mon, now, own up! I said I could do it an' I did!"
At first, Swindle thought Bolivia was talking to him. He was about to point out that he hadn't seen the work Bolivia had done when someone else answered. "Yeah, Bobby B., you delivered -- I'll never doubt you again."
The speaker sounded openly, honestly awed with Bolivia's abilities, there was a level of gosh-wow sincerity that was just on the edge of being over-the-top. The sound of the voice struck deep into Swindle's core.
Hubcap. Of all the Autobots on Earth, it had to be that goody-goody, "I've seen the light and will only use my skills for good -- mostly...okay, some for good, some for me but mostly good!" turborat Hubcap. Another time, another place, they could have been partners. Not friends, never friends, they were both too self-serving for that but together they could have owned Cybertron within a vorn.
Well, at least he'd have the pleasure of blowing a hole in the smarmy glitch's face before he stomped Bolivia into a mud hole. Swindle sent the command to his scatter-blaster, powering it up as he attempted to transform into robot mode.
And nothing happened. He tried it again and again, nothing. He was stuck, unable to transform, unable to power his weapons, unable to move. He'd been locked. The oozing goo-sack and the smarmy glitch had locked him! "What's goin' on!?"
"You've been busted, Swindle," Hubcap said. "See, remember how you guys captured Slingshot last month? Well, we figure if we grabbed a Decepticon gestalt component, we'd be able to negotiate for him back. Or if not, we could at least balance things out. So, when we got word of you playing shoot 'em up, we figured who better to go after than the greediest and stupidest Decepticon on the planet? And Mr. Bolivia he was kind enough to volunteer to help us."
"For the reward," Bolivia explained. "Fifty thousand dollars. An' I get th' satisfaction of knowin' I punked your metal ass."
Hubcap grinned. "You sure did, Bobby -- wish I was a tap on the Decepticon com-lines when your brothers hear about this one, Swindle. D'you think they'll come rescue you? You want in? I'll give you good odds..."
Swindle fought not to dignify Hubcap's taunt with a response -- but still the words came out. "..two cubes, they leave me here."