"Give your career a boost," the ad read. "Tire and battery men
needed. No experience necessary. Apply in person."
"I don't know anything about cars and can't drive a stick," I told
"No problem," he answered. "There's no 'I' or 'you' here. It's
only 'us' back in the shop."
I nodded. I never saw him again.
I passed the drug test and reported to work the next day.
"You're going to get those dirty today," Anthony said, pointing to
my unscuffed shoes. "Wear boots tomorrow, if you got any."
Anthony was a handsome, bullet-headed black man in his 20's. You
could see the outline of his biceps through his shirt. I was a white man
10 years his senior and my arms hung like dried twigs. A week earlier,
I'd been laid off as a loan officer at a bank. My portfolio wasn't the
best, but it wasn't the worst either--not by a long shot. So when my
bank merged with a bigger one, I wasn't too afraid. But the day after the
deal went through, I was told to clean out my desk. I'd been on the short
list from the get go.
Anthony drove in our first ticket. It was a beat-up, rusted-out
SUV filled with empty soda cans and potato chip bags.
Anthony declared, "I tell you, man, the customer is dissing us.
He's the type who goes to the doctor wearing dirty underwear!"
"Let's break it down! Customer wants four new tires."
I yanked and stacked the tires as Anthony went around prying off
the hubcaps and air-gunning the lugs. He popped the valves and
demonstrated how to break the beads using a wicked piece of hydraulic
equipment called a tire machine.
"Watch it now, son," he said. "This damn thing will separate your
leg from your body if you're not careful."
I rolled the old tires to the back and came back with my palms
beading with blood.
"You got bit," Anthony said, grabbing my hands. "Watch out for
those old steel belts. The fibers catch flesh like Velcro. You gonna be
Anthony showed me how to use the tire machine to put new rubber on
the rims. The choreography was intricate and dangerous. Anthony assured
me I'd catch on.
He inspected the SUV's undercarriage. "Customer needs brakes," he
As if on cue, the customer walked over. He was a flabby
middle-aged guy in flip flops who looked like he spent his days in a
climate-controlled office somewhere selling something over the phone.
Somebody like me. He had his two little daughters with him. Anthony
showed him the worn pads.
"Duly noted," the man said. "I'll come back later."
"They're worn to the metal, mister," Anthony replied.
"Duly noted," the man said again.
I looked at his kids. They were twins and kept their hands
gathered at their chins. Joey was about their age. My wife turned into a
fat slob after having Joey and then suddenly she decided to get in shape
again. She worked at it like she used to work over a plate of spaghetti
and meatballs. She came from good stock and when she got to looking good
again she ran off with the dentist, leaving me and Joey behind.
I silently wished the twins luck. Maybe their mother drove them
around in a car with brakes--if she was still around, that is.
As the tickets came in, Anthony had me doing more and more on my
own, easing me into the job. My confidence was building and I was
actually beginning to enjoy myself. "Look at me!" I thought. "I'm gonna
be a mechanic! No more paperwork for me." I felt it was going to be my
first honest job.
But it wasn't an accident, my coming here. The man in the trench
coat told me to. He'd knocked on my door the night after I got tanked at
the bank. Joey was in bed and I was nursing a beer in front of the TV in
my bedroom with the sound off, watching porno. I opened the door and
there was this guy in a money-green trench coat with the collar turned up
against the drizzle. He wore a snap-brim fedora and wrap-around
He told me to turn off the porch light. I did--he exuded an
authority a person like me can't resist. He held out the newspaper ad for
tiremen and told me to go there and get a job. I showed a little backbone
and asked him who the hell was he. He whipped out a roll of ten one
hundred dollar bills and told me there would be more to come if I reported
to the tire shop in the morning. He dropped the wad at my feet and turned
around and left.
I spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning. He's a drug
smuggler, I concluded. He somehow finds out who's desperate and then
offers them a lot of cash to plant drugs in the cars of unsuspecting
people. Yeah, that's his game, I figured.
In the morning, I had no intention of asking for a job. But then
the paternity testing service called. It turned out little Joey wasn't
mine. I poured Joey a bowl of fruit loops and studied the little bastard,
remembering how my mom had gushed "he looks just like you" over and over
again when we brought him home from the hospital. Was she out to get me
too? Fuck it, I said to myself, I'm turning drug runner.
At 3 PM, Anthony announced our shift was up. I headed for sink to
wash the grim off my hands and forearms.
"What's that, bro?'
It was Anthony. His tone was different - menacing and mad.
"Listen, midget. Nobody tells me how to do my job. You got that?"
I looked over. Anthony was toe to toe with a small white guy I'd
seen working in the shop. His name tag said Paul and he had yellow-dyed
hair with dark roots showing. He looked about twenty.
"What's that?" Paul asked.
"You go manage somebody else," Anthony answered. "You hear me?
Leave me alone."
I looked away.
Anthony and I ended up at a burger joint for a late lunch.
Anthony had a double decker with extra cheese and I had the chicken
"Is there a lot of turn-over at the shop?" I asked.
"You're the fifth new guy this month," he answered.
"No kidding? Why does everybody leave?"
"I dunno. The last guy said it was too stressful."
"I can see that. Every car is different. Different lugs,
different weight balancers."
"It's not stressful. It just gets boring, that's all."
"Are you from here?" I asked.
"Born here. Lived in the same house all my life."
I told him all the places I'd lived.
"I like Panama City, Florida," Anthony said, turning wistful.
"I'm thinking of moving there. After you're trained, I'm going down there
on vacation to give the place a real good look see."
"Really?" I said, apprehensively.
"Yeah, especially if things don't work out up here."
"What do you mean?"
"The position of shop manager is open and I'm hoping to get it.
If I don't . . . "
Anthony was my buddy, my pal, and I didn't want him to leave. I
resolved to cut him on my drug deal as soon as things got rolling.
Driving home, I stopped off at the bank. It was a branch of the
one I used to work for. I still had on my back-belt and I was covered in
carbon and sweat. Nobody recognized me standing there. I looked at the
tellers behind the counter and at the managers sitting at their desks. I
felt the air conditioning on my skin and noticed the clean carpet beneath
my feet. I straightened my posture, put my hands on my hips and thought
how weak and tepid banking was compared to the automotive repair/drug
smuggling racket. I felt good. I walked over to where the deposit slips
were kept. I grabbed one and penned in my name and the figure $1,000 for
the amount. But then I remembered outlaws don't use savings accounts. I
dropped the slip in the waste can and left. Good riddance, I thought,
smiling to myself.
That night, the man in the trench coat came back.
"Douse the light," he said, pointing at the porch fixture above
"Why don't you come inside instead," I suggested.
"Douse the light."
I did. He was carrying a duffel bag. It sagged with something
heavy. Drugs, I thought. A shit load.
"Is that the drugs?" I asked.
"Who said anything about drugs?"
"Nobody. I just assumed "
"You assumed wrong."
He unzipped the bag and held out something round and about the
size of a baseball. It looked like a vegetable of some sort, an overgrown
tulip bulb or something.
"I want you to put these inside the tires. One per tire. Four
"What is it?"
"Does it matter?" He pulled a roll of bills out of the front
pocket of his trench coat and gave it to me. "That's ten g's you're
holding. Ten more when you've planted the whole bag."
"What do you mean exactly--inside the tires?"
"Throw one in the air space between the rubber and the rim before
filling the tire with air. Use 35 pounds per square inch. No more, no
"What if the tire says 40 PSI instead?"
"35 PSI, no more, no less. Don't let anybody see you."
"That bag looks heavy."
"There's enough here to do twenty five cars."
"Won't they unbalance the tires? There's a machine where we spin
the tires to see if "
"No, don't worry about it."
"Won't those things make a racket when the customer drives away?"
"What are they?"
"Don't worry about it."
I looked at the bag. "Ten more thou when it's empty, huh?"
"That's right," he replied. "One more thing. Have it done by the
end of this week."
"What's the hurry?"
"What's it to you?"
"Who are you?"
"I'm the guy giving you the easiest money of your life."
I had no intention of following through, but the next morning I
was casually reviewing my mutual fund statement when I saw the bank had
withdrawn their contributions from my accounts. It seemed I hadn't yet
vested before they kicked me out on my ass. I was out a cool fifteen
I told Joey to hurry with his cereal.
"Why, daddy?" he asked.
I winced. "Because daddy has some important business at his new
job. He has a special assignment."
I ditched the duffel bag in my locker and studied the shop
schedule posted on the wall. Somebody had penciled through Anthony's name
and reassigned him to the afternoon shift. I walked out unto the shop
"Hey!" somebody shouted.
It was Paul, hanging out the window of a car. "You're working for
He got out and hoisted the car on the lift. "Take the tires off,"
I pried off a hubcap. He handed me an air gun.
Brrp! Brrp! The nut wouldn't budge. "It's stuck," I said.
"Look at what you're doing."
I looked at the nut.
"Don't look at the nut, look at the gun. The GUN for chrissakes."
I looked at the gun.
"Do you see anything wrong?"
"You have it on forward. FORWARD!"
By lunch, I was a nervous wreck. I tried to lose Paul, but he
followed me into the break room. "OK, lunch over," he announced. "Go
work with Paul now."
"The other Paul in bay 10."
The other Paul was twice the size of yellow-haired Paul. He had
shortly cropped light brown hair with zits peppering the outline of his
face and lazy slits for eyes.
"Paul said I should help you," I said.
He looked at me and sighed. "Go ahead and lift that truck."
Big Paul's bay used a drive-on hoist. I bounced down on my hams
and studied it.
"Whatz wrong?" he asked.
"What keeps the truck from rolling off?"
"How the fuck would I know? Just lift the damn thing!"
I looked at him.
"You haven't been around tools before have you?" he asked.
"You can't be tentative around them. If you hang back, they'll
He sauntered off and went outside, lighting up a cigarette. I
hoisted the truck against my better judgment and began taking off the
tires. I stacked them in a nice, neat pile. My heart skipped a beat when
I saw Paul fling away his cigarette and come running back into the shop.
"This is a rotation job! Didn't you check the ticket? Which tire
came from where? Go get the ticket!"
I got the ticket, but he ignored it. "The customer is sitting in
the waiting room. Tell me what you're gonna do now! Huh? What? You're
fucked, that's what!"
My vision grew red, adrenaline spritzed into my veins. "No,
you're fucked," I shouted back. "Fuck you and the yellow-haired midget
I walked across the shop floor and went into the locker room to
get my things. I changed my shoes and was going to abandon the duffel bag
but decided against it. I grabbed it and pushed through the swinging
doors back unto the floor again.
Big Paul hadn't moved. He shouted, "Hey, cunt hole! Over here,
Customers scattered. I kept walking. I walked outside and headed
for the dumpster. I spotted yellow-haired Paul slashing the tires on my
ten year old Toyota Tercel. I was three steps before tossing the bag into
the dumpster and bugging out, when I felt a meaty hand grip my shoulder.
I dipped from under it and spun around.
"Whoa there, bro." It was Anthony.
"Shit," I said, exhaling a bolus of air from my lungs. "I thought
you were one of the Pauls."
"They're not going to mess with you anymore."
"You know what's happening?"
"Yeah. I just came in and was clued in, but I knew it was
"The midget is out there slashing my tires, Anthony."
"He'll replace them."
"What's their problem, Anthony?"
"You landed in the middle of a little office politics, that's all.
I showed interest in you and well . . ."
"This is a fucking tire shop, Anthony. This isn't the west wing
of the White House for chrissakes!"
He shrugged his shoulders. "You're a banker. Some people might
say you're slumming, taking somebody else's job."
"I'm an ex-banker, Anthony. I was fired. I have my kid to feed."
I winced at that one--somebody else's kid, that is.
He shrugged. "I know. I'm just telling you how it might look to
some people, that's all."
Anthony cracked a grin. He pointed at my duffel bag. "What's in
there?" he asked.
He knew all about it and had a bag full of bulbs, too. The man in
the trench coat had visited him as well. We planted five cars that
"Panama City, Florida," Anthony kept extolling. "Oh Lordy, take
me to Panama City!"
He never made it. A week later the apocalypse dawned.
I saw my first early in the morning. I first heard it on the
patio outside my bedroom window. Looking out, I saw what I thought was a
seven foot praying mantis eating a dog. I was wrong on both counts: it
was a space alien eating my landlady's bloody torso. In any case, I knew
coming up with the rent wasn't going to be a problem anymore--for
It turned out Anthony and I weren't the only patsies. Tiremen
around the world had been recruited to help the aliens gestate. Their
embryos needed heat, motion, hydrocarbons, 35 pounds per square inch, and 7
days. Then they came out. It didn't matter if the car or truck was
parked in the driveway or barreling down the highway at 85 miles per hour,
they came out. And began stalking. It was carnage, a real horror show.
I didn't feel guilty. I'd given up on the world beforehand. In
fact, I felt a little proud--I'd been a player in the most significant
event in human history. Not bad for an ex-junior loan officer out on his
My day of reckoning came soon enough though. Joey and I had
barricaded ourselves inside the apartment, living on rations of fruit
loops and tap water. The first one came crashing through the sliding
glass door. The thing glistened with puss and stunk like shit. Its
antennae shot around the room like bull whips, overturning furniture and
smashing the TV console. It boiled down to this - if I shoved Joey at the
thing, it would buy me time, maybe only 5 minutes, but time nonetheless.
Otherwise . . .
I guess you know what I did. Don't you?
X X X
Used to work for a company that tested the rubber used in tires. Never saw any bulbs. Saw a whole bunch of badly-made tires, though. Those could be as dangerous as the aliens mentioned here. One hint: buy Michelin; they're expensive, but worth it. And post your comments on our BBS, please. -GM