I burst into the pizza place. The rest of the crew look up like caught criminals when they hear the door chimes. My shirt’s torn, my visor’s clinging to my head solely on the adhesive power of my own cold sweat. I think maybe I was bleeding from the bump on my head I got ten minutes ago.
No one says anything. They wait.
I give a thumbs up.
The restaurant becomes an orgy of exhales.
I toss my empty red delivery satchel at Chief. Chief tosses a loaded one to me. He debriefs.
“Single pie. 1221 Upper Imperial Way. Now at Fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes? What the hell? Where’s Carl?”
“Came and left sixteen minutes ago.”
I was ready to throw Chief in the furnace myself. We already had the pizza ovens. Save the C.E.O.s the trouble. He was lucky I still had a sense of self-preservation.
I jump back in the Camaro, Hazard style with my red satchel. Fifteen now fourteen minutes to get to Upper Imperial Way. I gun it.
Slice through traffic. You are a surgeon. Cut and weave, just like your stuntman days. Why are you slowing down, Station Wagon? I miss stunt driving, but screw that nowadays... the mortality rate was heinous. Get over! Get over! Cruel Extraterrestrial Overlords don’t believe in extra takes...extra takes meant failure. Failure meant furnace.
I play my horn like I’m Dizzy Gillespie. “Get out of the way, I’m delivering pizza here!” One finger salute to you, buddy.
Eight minutes. I get into the oncoming traffic lanes and start slicing through that. Most people get out of my way when they see the sign and slogan for Pie Masters barreling down at them. Except this big rig hauling ass at me; it didn’t even feign like brakes were an option. I think big rig floored the gas to pick up more momentum so it could burst through our imminent crash and keep on truckin’.
I hit the shoulder. Took off my mirror and started a cavalcade of sparks. I noticed the truck was Hanson’s Overnight Freight, their slogan: “Tomorrow. Guaranteed.” The haggard lady driving the rig saw my slogan. We both shared the same sympathetic look as we passed and kept hauling ass.
Least we both had a chance. The C.E.O.s slow roasted the guys at Energizer when their battery stopped going. Nike didn’t make it either; C.E.O.s took their words as a taunt. The most unfortunate was the United Negro College Fund; they took them for mind experiments to prevent a terrible waste. Sucked being an athlete too. Furnace was full of losers and jerseys. It was a bad year for the Bucks.
Four minutes. Cop on my six. Protect and Serve my ass. Red light up ahead. Traffic already flowing across. I kiss my cross.
E-brake, hard right, drift, merge into the traffic flow. The guy behind me bumps me hard, but that’s only more momentum as I hit the gas. Point is I keep on moving. Cop stops.
Cops don’t call it in anymore anyway. Not worth the risk if they fail to apprehend.
Three minutes. I take the next left with authority. And it’s a buck five down this suburban lane. I may flatten a pet, but I doubt there’d be any kids. The little kids were cutting grass to symmetrical perfection. High school kids would be studying for college as if their life depended on it.
Two minutes. No dead pets yet. I wish I could quit. But without a new job to go to, that was the express lane to the furnace. Unemployment was lifestyle confirmation of failure to the C.E.O.s.
One minute. I e-brake in front of the door. I ring the bell. Silence.
Doesn’t matter. I’m here. They can take all day now. It’s their fault. The record will show that I’m at 1221 Imperial. I look at the mailbox.
It’s seven. 1227.
I bolt. I hurdle shrubs like I have angel wings. Past five. Past three I feel my heart skipping beats to keep up. I hit one and dive at the doorbell.
The C.E.O. opens the door. Four of its tentacles protrude from the toga. Two grab the satchel. One points at me. The last is already on the communicator.
“You are thirty-three seconds late, human. Your failure means deletion of you and the staff of Pie Masters in less than forty-eight Earth hours. I am currently on hold with the Authority. Do you have words that can sway this matter?”
I pant air back into my lungs and look around his perfect lawn like the answer was there. I go with the first thing that sounds good.
“Your pizza is still piping hot and...uh, by the time you finish your complaint it will be cold.” It was more a question than a statement.
The C.E.O. considers and hangs up the communicator. “Your failure did not extend into the next minute. Still technically adheres to stated mission. Consider it tip.” It tentacled twenty zirkles into my pocket.
I stumble back to the Camaro. Even after scraping the side the slogan for Pie Masters was plainly visible.
“Thirty Minutes or We’ll Eat It!”
Maybe there’ll be no more orders when I get back and I’ll have time to check the job boards for something safer. Like school bus driver or garbage man. Lucky bastards.
Maybe there’ll be a stackload of orders. I can hope for otherwise while I’m blazing a trail back to Pie Masters. I gun it.