IN THE LAND OF KEYS
By Larry O. Grand
DELIVERING pizzas, Brent Jones-Wotentowski had seen a lot of strange stuff. Having been an employee at Perfect Pizza for three years, Brent had the distinction of being the Primary Driver, having worked his way up the ladder from the lowly rank of Onion-Peeling Boy (none of these ranks were official, of course, they were just names that he had created over the months to work off some of the monotony). And being the Primary Driver of Pizzas from Perfect Pizza, and with a wide variety of delivery areas in a town of that size, Brent had observed many, many bizarre and unusual things. There was, of course, the two times that he had been shot at, in that part of town, down past Eighth Street, where when you hit a red light you don't stop. Or the time when he was waiting at the red light on Oxford Avenue when this gang of low-level punks had jumped his car, and it was the summer and his window was rolled down. Fortunately, by then he had qualified for insurance from his place of employment, and he was well-compensated for the incident, both for the seven stitches in his scalp and the broken taillight. And he didn't have to pay for the three large deluxes that had been lifted in the heist. And being so close to Palestrina University ("good ol' P.U.") there were the many deliveries he would have to make to the campus, to the dormitories, to the fraternity houses, to the library, where once he was greeted by a sleepy-eyed female who took the pizza and proceeded to crawl through, at the side of the building, a window that was about two sizes smaller than her, and she got stuck and the fire department had to come over and break the window just to get her out, and she was really embarrassed because she was trying to get around the library's "no food or drinks" policy. Or the time when he delivered to Kronin Hall, the co-ed dorm, room 11-C, and when he knocked the door opened a crack and a hand stuck out a ten dollar bill and a rusty voice croaked "keep the change, pal," and Brent had handed over the medium green peppers special for $8.99, and through the slit between the door and wall he glimpsed, for half a second, a naked girl tied to the bottom bunkbed, a sweatsock in her mouth, and three shrouded men were sitting on the bed next to her knocking their cigarette butts onto her bare belly, and then the door closed and Brent had gone back to his car and driven on to the sorority house, which one he couldn't remember, and he had knocked on the door and the curtain drew back as the bow-headed blonde checked to see who was at the front, and as the curtain fluttered back into place he thought he saw (but wasn't one-hundred percent sure) two men, naked, tied to two chairs, their ankles and wrists bound with pantyhose, as four of the sorority sisters beat them across the chest with brown leather belts (which he assumed the men had worn at one time or another), and the girl who greeted him at the door said sorry, but the house that he wanted was next door, to the right, behind the green bushes, and as he walked across the lawn he thought he heard heavy breathing and moaning and thought he saw a white shoe and a bare female ankle connected to it sticking out from underneath the bush, but, he wasn't really sure. The television station, WLOG, not affiliated with any network, was always a constant site for deliveries, particularly at night, when the station switched over to local programming, having shown syndicated shows all afternoon long. Always there was an intern or some other low-ranking slob waiting at the front desk, although once he had to go into the studio, during a taping of "The Bob Blanding Show," the local after-hours talk show, to deliver a mushroom and green pepper medium to Mr. Blanding himself, inducing much irate complaints from the director, who kept screaming something about why no one had been waiting by the front desk to receive the delivery. And there were the many times that he had delivered down the block, in that rich neighborhood surrounded by the ten-foot high red brick fence and guarded at the gate by the crusty security guard whose name tag read "Burton," to the old Van der Poole house, the one with the circular driveway paved entirely in white marble and the huge fountain in the front lawn where old man Van der Poole had been arrested five years ago for taking a leak during a drunken stupor. Those Van der Pooles were always having pizza parties, always for their three daughters, two of which, the twins, were getting into their teenage years, and Brent was almost always there, delivering the ten extra-larges (and a small olive-and-extra cheese for old Mrs. Van der Poole) for a pack of what appeared to be a hundred fifteen and sixteen-year-olds, popping gum and communicating with high-pitched squeals, blasting the MTV or whatever pop poster star was hip that week. Once in awhile Brent had even glimpsed the oldest Van der Poole daughter, sometimes hanging out with her sisters but usually driving her red Ford convertible, with the top rolled down and her sandy brown hair drifting in the wind behind her as she exited the driveway, stereo blasting some indiscernible melody backed with a heavy bass beat, wearing those sleeveless mock turtlenecks that were her trademark. And old Mr. Van der Poole, reeking of really cheap whiskey, after giving Brent the money and always slipping in an extra twenty, would invite him in for a drink or a game of backgammon, and Brent would always have to refuse; he was on the clock, he had more deliveries to make, and then old man Van der Poole would get extremely pissy and start to wave his gnarled cane at Brent, screaming something about the bombs, "the damn Commie bombs," and Mrs. Van der Poole would rush inside and pull her husband back down to his wheelchair, apologizing in Brent's direction but never looking at him, and Brent would make his way out of the labyrinth hallways of the house, oftentimes aided by Willis, the bald butler who beared a striking resemblance to that captain on that Star Trek show, and would make it out to where the Van der Poole's prized greyhounds were sniffing at the car door. Or the time he had delivered to Crystalline Apartments, and the skinny man who answered the door, the one who didn't have the shirt on, began singing in German (or Italian, or maybe both) and began dancing with the other skinny man, the one who threw his beer can, still containing liquid, out the window where it hit the top of Brent's car but didn't leave a dent but did leave a frothy brown mess across his windshield, while a very nourished cat sat on the sofa and licked itself the whole time Brent wasn't there, and the television set was on but not tuned in to any specific channel, sort of wavering between two different channels and delivering mostly static, and both men were extremely agitated when they learned that Brent had not brought the breadsticks (it was entirely Alison's fault, the new telephone answerer, and besides, she had quit that evening to take a job at an all-night blood bank). Yes, Brent had seen many, many strange things. But two such instances stuck in his mind as being the strangest, most weirdest event that he had witnessed, in his marginally long career as a pizza deliverer. It was about four months ago. He was slightly lost and had pulled into the parking lot on the taco joint off Random Avenue to try and get his bearings; mainly the street number of the building behind the taco place. He had stepped out of the car and was scanning for any painted number, any indication of where he was, since he was looking for 486 Random and the last street number he had seen, two blocks down, was 881, and he wanted to make sure the numbers were decreasing, not increasing. That was when he had heard the music. Or what was passing for music. Faint, out-of-key twangings of a guitar, punctuated by the beat of something banging on something metallic. He approached the apartment complex behind the taco joint, a five-story gleaming white monstrosity that had been built over a former marijuana field, that was eventually revealed to be owned by the mayor, the ex-mayor. As he walked towards the apartments, the music, the noise, became louder. It appeared to be coming from the dumpster that was behind the apartments, adjacent to the law offices of Beecher, Beecher and Black, which were closed for the day. Puzzled, Brent had altered his path and began approaching the dumpster, the rusty green metal cube approximately eight feet high and ten feet wide, nested into a fenced-in alcove no more that forty yards away from the apartment buildings, in the corner of the parking lot. As he approached, he thought he heard some tuneless singing, a rough male vocal, croaking something about candy bars and small lumps of mold found between the toes. The twanging he had heard earlier was definitely that of a guitar, although it was very out of tune, and the banging was definitely someone striking something against the sides of the dumpster. Now, standing in front of the dumpster, he could make out some words: "Mars bars, cookies and mint, I eat the stuff between my toes, oooooh, baby, it goes down, down, down, my toes are happy, see they are, I can see the happiness oozing, between my toes, toe toe toe, see my toes, oh they are happy, yes they are, toe toe toe, with a Twix and a Milky Way, I am happy, so are my toes, hose hose hose" this was all sung as if a five-year-old was vocalizing, and very badly out of tune. Brent glanced around the side of the dumpster; the sliding door on the right was open. Brent silently crept to the door and cautiously peeked inside. Two men, both wearing blue overalls (and nothing else) were inside. One, the taller of the two, had a five-day beard and his overalls were covered by an indescribable stain. He held the guitar, which used to accommodate six strings but at this point held only four, and he was strumming them with what used to be a banana, but was now just a fistful of mush. Next to him, sitting down, was a smaller man, wearing a straw hat and smoking a cigar. His overalls were clean but more faded that the others. He held two cast-iron skillets in his hands and was banging them against the sides of the dumpster, definitely not in time with the other's guitar riff. He was not singing. Around them was an assortment of organic and inorganic garbage, mostly table scraps but also a couple of broken lamps, a ripped-open bag of used kitty litter, and several empty beer cases. "Ooohhh, pee poo poo baby, dah dah dah dah, Milky Way, Mounds bar, toenails from my belly . . . . unh?" The taller man stopped singing and looked up. He stopped strumming the guitar. "Well, lookee here George." he grunted with a heavy Southern drawl, smiling a very toothless smile as he gazed right up into Brent's eyes, "looks like we gots ourselves an audience!" "Fab, Gumbo!" said the smaller man, taking a puff of his cigar as he made eye contact with Brent, "So, pizza boy . . . what's can we play fer ya?" The taller man, Gumbo, strummed his guitar with a dirty hand, wiping the rest of the banana shit on his overalls. "We kin play whatever you want us to, mah boy. C'mon, what can we do to entert'n yuh?" Brent had turned around and run as fast as he could towards his car, almost tripping twice and ripping the knees out of his new slacks. As he ran, he heard the two men laughing and beginning a new song, which sounded a lot like the previous one, except they were both rhythmically chanting "Pizza boy, our pal pizza boy, our pal pizza boy, come and play with us ..." Brent was out of breath when he reached his car, but he flung the door open, jammed the key into the ignition, and pulled out of the parking lot of the taco joint so fast he forgot to look down the road, and almost careened into a pickup truck containing several drunken fraternity boys, who threw their beer cans at his car and missed. Afterwards, back at Perfect Pizza, Brent had put in a request never to make a delivery to Random Street. That was one incident.
All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.
Back to Chapter One
Back to main page