The phone rang at two in the morning. I was asleep and consequently not thinking too clearly, so I answered it. “Jack?” The man’s voice at the other end was deep with a vaguely European accent, “Jack McKnife?”
“Mm-hm,” I said.
“We want two sausage pizzas, Mr. McKnife. Large, with extra cheese. Delivered. You have exactly two hours. Do not attempt to contact the police.” Click. The line went dead.
“Hello? Hello?! Who is this?! Hello!?!” Dial tone. The receiver slipped from my suddenly numb fingers and landed on my toe with a dull thud. But I barely felt it. My heart was pounding all the way into my head and I broke out into a cold sweat. My God, I thought, this can’t be happening.
Under the purple haze of flickering streetlights, I sprinted toward the Jewel on Ashland. It was 2:10 in the morning, but this is America where the constant demand for groceries means someplace is always open, and thank God for it.
As I hit the Jewel parking lot, I slowed to a walk to catch my breath and think about what I would need. I wished like hell I’d had time to make a list, but the clock was ticking so it would have to be seat-of-the-pants. Shredded mozzarella, sausage, and tomato sauce I would definitely need. Oregano, garlic salt and stuff like that I had at home. Crust. What would I do about crust? Did they have pre-made pizza crust? And should I get thick or thin? Or pan style? So many unanswered questions!
As the automatic doors automatically opened, I decided to get thin crust because it seemed most common. If they wanted a different style then damn it they should have specified it. I stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, then headed for the dairy case.
The pizzas were done at about 3:15. I left them in the oven on the warm setting and jumped into the shower. I was exhausted and hoped the water would help revive me because I was out of amphetamines and had no time for a nap. I had only 45 minutes left until the deadline and no fucking clue about where I was supposed to deliver these pizzas. The guy hadn’t left an address! What would happen if I didn’t make it? I was beginning to seriously regret my decision to cancel the automatic callback feature from my phone service. Then I stepped out of the shower smack into the business end of 9 mm automatic pistol. The stocking masked man pointing it at me asked, “You Jack McKnife?”
“Uh, yes, I am.” I said, putting one hand in the air. The other was covering my man stuff.
“Pizzas ready?” This was definitely not the man who had called initially. Or if it was, he’d decided to change accents.
“Hey, man,” I said, “I thought this was supposed to be a delivery.”
“Don’t fuck with me!” he screamed, “I’m a desperate man with an incompetent partner who can’t remember to leave an address! Now if the pizzas are ready I’ll just take them with me. Otherwise I can give you an address where to deliver them.”
“Why didn’t you just call back?” I asked.
“And have you trace the call?! Do you think I’m stupid?!”
“No,” I said, “of course not. Your pizzas are in the oven. They’re ready.”
“Thank you. Now I would ask that you please remain here in the bathroom while I gather them and leave.”
“Sure,” I said, and he closed the door. I waited ten minutes, then checked the house. It was empty.
The following night at 2:30 the phone rang. Instinctively I reached for it, but then I snapped awake remembering what had happened the night before, and my stomach dropped. Who the hell were these people and why were they doing this to me?!
But maybe it wasn’t them at all. What if it was a family emergency or, more likely, a drunken friend in crisis? No, just let the machine get it, I told myself. The phone rang a third time, the machine kicked in, and I listened intently.
“Hey, this is Jack. I can’t get to the phone right now, but leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Beep.
“Hey, Jack, it’s Stephanie—”
I grabbed the phone. “Hey, Steph, what’s up?”
“That’s right,” the vaguely European voice said, “we have Stephanie!”