It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you wiggle your ears?

The Mule

The garbage truck rumbled over the worn out tarmac of the Williamsburg Bridge as it crossed the slate grey water of the East River. It was an unremarkable vehicle and no one gave it a second glance as it turned into Roosevelt and slipped into the Lower East Side. Four big guys rode inside the cab, packed in like sardines. Hard rain drove against the windshield and their collective breath fogged the glass. The whole set up was making Tyrone Olmsted feel claustrophobic and crabby. He was riding on the front row, wedged between the driver and a colossus called Big Frank. Tyrone was nineteen years old. It was his first day on the job. His first day working for the legendary Jake Leisler. So far, the whole set up had been a disappointment.

“Put your gloves on,” a voice behind him said. “That’s rule number one. Always wear your gloves.”

It was Leisler. He hadn’t introduced himself. Hadn’t needed to. Tyrone knew exactly who he was. Everyone knew Jake Leisler, and the whole world knew his boss, Jimmy Penh. Jimmy was top of the pile. He ran a bar on Amsterdam and another just off MLK Boulevard, but everyone knew he made his money chopping dope. It made him a million dollars a week, according to the rumours. He wasn’t doing the chopping himself, of course. He had plenty of people to chop for him. Plenty of people to distribute. Plenty of people to keep things running smoothly.

Tyrone put on his gloves just like Leisler had told him as the garbage truck rolled north through Harlem. The truck never did more than forty miles an hour. They took the whole trip slow and steady.

“Always wear the sanitation mask when you’re outside the cab,” Leisler said from the back seat. “And never take it off until you’re back.”

The young man stayed quiet. This was all pretty basic stuff. He’d been expecting something a little more demanding. A little more exciting.

“Never attract attention,” Leisler said as the truck rolled into Washington Heights. “Don’t run. Don’t shout. Don’t drop things. Don’t do anything unusual. That’s important.”

Tyrone said nothing.

“Do you understand me Tyrone?”

“Sure,” he said. He thought about turning around and eyeballing Leisler, but decided against it. He was brave, but he wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t about to rock the boat. Not on his first day. And not if the rumours about Jake Leisler were true. The brakes hissed as the garbage truck came to a stop in a quiet residential street. The rain was getting worse and there were big puddles forming on the uneven sidewalk. Tyrone spilled out along with Leisler and Big Frank. The man driving the truck stayed put. He kept the motor running, just like garbage truck drivers always do. Jake and Big Frank hustled across the street towards the red brick apartment block. Tyrone followed close behind. All of them wore gloves. All of them wore masks. They took their time, just like Leisler had instructed.

Leisler himself had a clutch of black bin liners in one hand and a roll of duct tape in the other. Frank had stuffed something under his coat and was clutching at it with a shovel sized hand, but Tyrone couldn’t make out what it was. The three of them walked slowly up the stairs to a corridor on the second floor. The apartment block was tired and in need of a lick of paint. Maple leaves and faded litter had gathered in the corners of the walkway. Tyrone’s nerves were beginning to grind and he was tempted to kick the leaves into the air and relieve some tension, but he remembered what Leisler has said about not doing anything unusual, so he reined it in. When they got to the door, Leisler knocked twice and then turned to his new recruit.

“I almost forgot the third rule,” he said. “Always double bag.”

“Double bag?” Tyrone asked.

Before Leisler could answer, the door opened at crack and a pale woman with blonde hair peeked out. She was a timid looking thing in her early twenties. Leisler watched as Big Frank smashed into the door and knocked her off her feet. She yelped in pain, as Frank ducked through the doorway and disappeared into the apartment. Leisler held up the black plastic bags and the duct tape.

“You double bag because the plastic’s never as strong as you imagine,” he said. “And people always weight more than you expect.”


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