Pizza Run This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     It hadn't been a good day. The mail had brought more bills with big red "overdue" stamps on them and I'd been lectured by my roommate, Jonesy, who also happens to be my cat.

"If you keep losing jobs, we'll be out on the street again!" Jonesy howled.

But now it was time to put that out of mind and go to work. I shoved the thoughts of my tubby old tabby holding the bills to the back of my mind as I pulled up to Big Tony's Pizza on my bike. Yeah, I said bike, not bicycle, there is a difference. In the fast-paced world of time-limit pizza delivery, you need speed, and that's just what I had. This was the only job I'd been good at for quite a while. They called me "the pusher" because of the way I moved through traffic like the city was mine.

I strolled in, early as usual. Big Tony's had done quite well since he opened 15 years ago, but he had never remodeled and the place was starting to show its age. People didn't care, Big Tony's pizzas were what people write myths about. And Big Tony was just the kind of guy you'd expect to be running the place, too. Standing a full seven feet, four inches and weighing 275 pounds, Big Tony was aptly titled. His workers loved his generous nature, but when he got mad, people cowered. Mothers used to tell their children to be good or it would make Big Tony mad, and he would come for them.

About five years ago, business started to slow and Big Tony was developing money problems with the wrong people. So, he introduced Pizza On Demand. This plan promised that Big Tony's would deliver a pizza to anywhere in the city within 30 minutes, or it was free. Big Tony is a man who hates losing money. The only thing that sends Big Tony into a bigger rampage than paying taxes is when a delivery is late.

When I walked in, Big T himself was waiting for me at the counter.

"Hey, Kid, I been waitin' for ya," he said, giving me his friendly businessman smile. He knew I hated it when he called me kid.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Got a delivery for you, 15 pizzas."

"Why me?" I stammered. "Shouldn't Jack take this? He's got more room ..."

"Won't work, Kid, not fast enough. I need speed." He pulled the hot box out. "Let's get this thing strapped to that rocket of yours."

I barely had room for 10 on my bike, much less 15. Why did he need so much speed? Why was he already tethering the pizzas to my bike? I hadn't even clocked in yet!

"Where am I going?" I asked.

"St. Pedro," he said. I looked at my watch: it was rush hour. St. Pedro was a high-class neighborhood on the other side of the city, 30 miles away.

"Listen, Kid, these pizzas aren't going to just anyone. There are certain people I still owe money to who have requested these, and if they aren't there on time, they'll break Big Tony's thumbs." He slapped me on the back. "That's why I need you. Kid, you're the best I got."

"Yeah, well, I won't let you down, Tony," I said, climbing onto my bike.

"I hope not, Kid, because if they take my thumbs, I'll take your legs." He smiled. I've never to this day seen such a humorless smile.

"Oh, and Kid? One last thing," he said as he set the timer. "These people aren't as patient as our usual customers ... they want 'em in 15 minutes." He tossed me the timer. "Now get outta here."

I tore off down the street. I had to think this through. It was 30 miles to St. Pedro, I had 15 minutes to get there, and it was rush hour. I could feel the bike gaining speed as I thundered down the street. I glanced at the speedometer. What's the limit here, 65? I wondered, but that didn't matter. Speed was the key, and I didn't have time to bother with the law. I noticed traffic up ahead and pulled the bike into a parallel alleyway, speeding up. No time for the law, I thought again, as I hit 98. I had to be careful in this alley, the last thing I wanted was some rat's entrails clogging up the engine. Reality seemed to be slowing as I sped up. Dumpsters and steam vents crept past as I flew by at 115. I checked the timer; only a little more than 30 seconds had passed. I allowed a tiny speck of hope to creep into my mind. Maybe I would make it.

To get to St. Pedro I would have to cross the midtown river. There were only two ways: the 20th Street bridge, and the First Street tunnel; both would be jammed with traffic. But the tunnel had a pedestrian walkway suspended above it. That settled it. I screeched around the corner turning north toward First Street. I watched the speedometer hit 115, 117, 125. Easy, turbo, don't want any unnecessary attention, the logical part of my brain tried to calm the crimson rocket. No way, speed is the key. Besides, what cop is going to catch you? the crazy side whispered.

As if on cue, I caught a glimmer of flashing lights. To make sure, I reached down and switched off the noise-reduction system in my helmet. Instantly, a thousand sounds flooded my ears. Lots of sirens. A helicopter in the distance. Behind all this was the symphony of urban life: car horns, crying babies, gun shots, and nearly drowning it all out was the thunder of my bike. I switched the NRS back on and the chaos dropped to a dull drone. I need some tunes, I thought and switched on some jazz, the only kind of music I could stand.

I flicked another of the 25 switches on the bike and a tiny video screen flickered in the corner of my visor. Who needs mirrors? The microcamera on the tail of my bike gave me a perfect view of my pursuers. As I weaved through traffic, I counted at least three enforcers keeping pace maybe 30 yards back. If worse came to worse, I always kept my buddy Benny the Magnum in the side compartment. After all, it's a big dangerous city, and a guy needs to protect himself. But I wished it wouldn't come to that.

I glanced at the watch, 12:10. I could see the tunnel ahead, its mouth open like a monster rearing its giant head to swallow all the hapless drivers who entered its darkness. I could lose the pesky enforcers in there. In the center of the road was a ramp six feet wide.

This may be tricky, I thought. You're trying to escape the enforcers by getting onto a pedestrian walkway while traveling at 135 miles per hour. Yeah, it could be tricky ... Gosh, ya think so? The logical side of me was talking again. I glanced back; four enforcers now, plus a helicopter. It looked like a news heli though, nothing serious.

The entrance was only a block away, and at 135 m.p.h. it was coming fast. Everything slowed again. I feinted to turn right, raced forward instead and screeched onto the ramp. It was a close fit, that was for sure.

All right, easy, slow down, you don't want to hit anyone, do you? This time it was both sides of my mind speaking. I dropped to 50 m.p.h. An old woman hobbling to the top of the ramp didn't hear me until I was about four feet away, which was when she dove off the walkway. I felt sorry, but had to continue.

I looked at my dash and realized that I had forgotten to turn on the proximity sensors that would tell the computer when I get too close to something, and the steer accordingly. This helps greatly when swerving through traffic at high speeds. I thumbed the button and as I did, the tunnel lights went out.

All I could see were my dash lights glowing softly. Blackouts in this city were not uncommon, but this was a little too coincidental. I reached down and thumbed another button. As the night-vision appeared on my visor, the blackness was bleached a ghostly green. I glanced down and realized I had slowed to 10 miles per hour. I didn't have much to worry about now that the proxy sensors were on, so I throttled back up to 75.

As the tunnel curved across the river, a pinhole of blinding light exploded into view. To keep from losing control, I switched off the night vision. I came around to the last straight away and caught sight of a red and blue flash just beyond the exit.

I flipped on my visor's long-sight thermal scan. The world was then stained blue with all life burned red in sharp contrast. At the far end of the tunnel I spotted the outlines of two burning figures standing in my path.

These guys wanna play rough, eh? Well, we'll show 'em rough! Strangely enough this voice spoke as if dictating my actions. I reached down, flicked off the long-sight and thumbed the button labeled "off-road tire/rock guard." It felt like I was only an observer now. A micro-thin sheet of metal slid down around the tire while the clear plastic rock visor slid over me.

This stuff was meant to protect riders from rocks and mud, not bullets! my logical side reminded me. But I wasn't listening. I was too busy watching my bike speed up past 100 m.p.h. These fools want to play chicken? Ha! Come and get some! There was that crazy voice again. As I drew closer, everything went hazy. I was only aware of the classical jazz playing in the background. Benny Goodman ... good stuff, I thought. Then I perceived bullets bouncing off my plastic bubble.

Dazzling light flooded my vision. I turned off the rock guard and glanced behind me. The two enforcers had lunged off the exit ramp and were standing dumbfounded. I realized I couldn't feel the ground; that was when it came back to meet me with a bone-jarring jolt. I had shot out of the tunnel at 215 miles per hour and caught a good five seconds of free fall before landing with a crash.

Are you crazy? Do you want to get yourself killed? said my logical side, back in full force. I obeyed and slowed to 120 m.p.h. I glanced at my watch. I was right on schedule.

The phone rang. I flicked the switch on the dash.

"Hello?"

"Do you have a death wish or something?" It was Jonesy.

"Hey man, just delivering some pizza. What's new?" I asked innocently.

"Just delivering some pizza? You're all over the news! You just nearly killed two enforcers! What on earth is going on?" He sounded upset.

"Listen, I don't have time to explain. I need you to find me the fastest route to St. Pedro, and make it snappy."

"What?" he asked, sounding confused. Poor cat, he should be sleeping or eating tuna, leading a more typical cat lifestyle.

"You got it?" I deliberately added impatience to my voice.

"Yeah, there's a closed section of freeway just past Oak Avenue."

"Perfect, call back in four minutes."

"Sure thing, stay safe. Someone has to feed me." He hung up. I veered south and headed toward the freeway. Maindrag Road was the city's largest commercial boulevard and housed the largest stores, clubs and other businesses. As I came up on the busiest section the traffic was bumper-to-bumper. I had to get off the road or I would end up driving on top of these sardines. The sidewalks weren't much better, packed with shoppers. I didn't have a choice, so I joined the symphony and used my horn liberally, letting people know that no one was going to stop me.

I felt like Moses, with a great sea of people parting before me. I was almost off the drag when I spotted a grossly overweight man plodding down the sidewalk. I passed him with an inch to spare. He staggered aside, dropping a large grocery bag. I felt bad and told myself that after this was over I would apologize to the man.

With eight minutes on my watch, I blasted through the construction signs and on to the freeway. There were four enforcers in close pursuit. To make things worse, these were the legendary chase unit of the seventh precinct. They rode motorcycles much like mine and were heavily girded in armor. They had scepters covered in spikes for shredding tires. The greaves they wore were strapped to their bikes so that they didn't have to hold onto the handles as hard as I did. They looked more like demons than men, and were the most feared and respected division of the enforcers. In short, these were the last people I wanted to mess with.

On top of all this, it was getting dark, and starting to rain. Great, that's all I need now, slick roads, I thought. The last shreds of the sun vanished. I could see St. Pedro looming ahead, still 14 miles away. They were flanking me, trying to get my tires. My only sanctuary was the road laid out before me because as fast as they were, they still couldn't keep up with all that armor weighing them down.

The road was a straight shot from now on, so I decided it was safe to turn up the speed a little more. I reached down and engaged the bike's high-speed calculation system. This turned on the computer's sensors that measured the air velocity and drag around the bike. The bike's flexible skin molded around my legs and a thin plastic bubble slid around me, which reduced the drag to almost zero. The engine roared, using all its might to catapult me up to 240 m.p.h. The world became a blur.

About three minutes and 12 miles later I noticed a black blob moving alongside me. I could only make out the red glowing eyes on his visor. The effect was terrifying. In my mind I could see this demon reaching out with his spiked scepter to destroy my bike. I didn't know how he'd caught up to me, but I couldn't let him come any further. I was too close and had too much to lose to be stopped now. Everything depended on this run. Thoughts of Jonesy, my job, Big Tony, and my legs shot through my mind.

Are you gonna let this psycho take you out? It was the crazy voice again. I forced it out of my mind, I couldn't afford to lose control again. I calmly reached down and unlocked Benny the Magnum. If I was going to do this, I would do it my way.

Slowly, inch by inch, I brought Benny up to my side. The demon cop swerved in close and swung at my tire with the scepter. He missed by inches. Close one, buddy, I heard the lunatic voice again. You gonna show 'em who's boss?

It was now or never. If this didn't work he would slash my tire for sure. When he was only a couple feet away I aimed my buddy Benny the Magnum, struggling to steady the gun and drive at the same time, and fired. The muzzle roared, and the demon's front tire exploded. The mighty chase cop of the seventh precinct was hurled to the ground like a doll. With all that armor, I'm sure he's fine, I assured myself.

I could see the off-ramp, and as I slowed, St. Pedro came into view. It had been built, along with the original town, atop a grassy knoll. That was probably a thousand years ago, and any remnants of its once-tranquil appearance had disintegrated like the fall of the Roman Empire. This place housed the city's elite: politicians, bankers, lawyers, and even the enforcer's head commandant.

The place was doused in the stench of corruption. Beneath its regal exterior was a plethora of pay-offs, bribes, shady deals and rotten operations. Even the commandant was in on it. An imposing wall towered around its perimeter, and I could see the gate was well guarded. My destination towered above all else, and there was no way I would just waltz in, not with the enforcers on me. The phone rang.

"You truly have gone insane, haven't you?" It was Jonesy again.

"Not now, buddy, how can I get into this place?" I glanced at the timer.

"Try the gate," he answered with his usual sarcasm.

"Very funny. Listen, I've got three minutes to get these pizzas inside, so are you going to help me or not?" I hadn't meant to snap at him, but the stress was getting to me.

"All right, there's an aqueduct 80 yards west of the entrance."

"Thanks, Jonesy, you're the best friend a guy could have."

Good ol' Jonesy, I could always count on him in a pinch. I spotted the aqueduct right where he said it would be. It was a downsized version of the kind you might find in Los Angeles, meant to carry run-off water. Two and a half minutes left. I turned and blasted down the narrow channel. Hey, maybe my luck is getting better, I thought when I noticed there was no fence guarding the passage under the wall. Then a hailstorm of bullets rained down around me.

It was a helicopter. Not a news one this time, but a full-blown enforcer warbird. I throttled the bike up to 175 m.p.h., flying off the ramp and soaring over the barbed-wire gate. I could see my destination half a mile down the road. If I get close enough to the mansions, they won't dare fire. There was only one problem. Standing at the entrance was a heavy steel gate. For the first time, both the logical and the lunatic voices in my head whispered the same thing. I smiled.

I had to get in there, and to do it, I might have to sacrifice my bike. I twisted the throttle as far as it would go, and the bike bellowed as it rocketed down the street at a blistering 245 miles per hour. I not only became aware of the road melting away, but also of the residents on their porches with expressions of shocked amazement. I checked my watch - 45 seconds left. When the time was right, I kissed the dash for good luck, and hit the bright red button labeled "emergency." An instant before I slammed into the gate with the force of a freight train, an ultra-hard titanium alloy shell slid around the entire bike, encasing me in a cocoon built to withstand a collision with trucks and trains. The heavy gates slammed against the inner wall with a titanic crash as I hammered through. I couldn't see, so when I felt the colossal smash ripple through my body, I reached down and yanked the emergency brake.

The bike cried in protest, its tires squealing on the cobblestones. I was sure it would flip, but it gracefully slowed to a stop at the foot of a long flight of steps. I leaped off the bike that had brought me so far, and gazed lovingly at my prized possession. Better hurry, only a few seconds left, logic calmly reminded. I tore the hot box off the back, praying to any deity who would listen that the pizzas were intact. I vaulted up the steps with my timer counting down from 15 seconds. At the top was an elegantly carved door. As I was about to lift the knocker, an old man in a tuxedo slid it open.

"Good evening, sir. You are the messenger from Tony?" He had a friendly smile and a docile manner.

"That's me, and with five seconds to spare, too!"

"Do come in, the master awaits."

I was a little confused. What did this "master" want? I was just the delivery man. I gaped in amazement at the staggering elegance of this place. The crystal chandeliers, statues, fountains, art and fantastically carved everything surpassed even that of kings. The butler led me into a large parlor. The far end of the room was dominated by a small orchestra softly playing. The parlor was crowded with people, all in tuxedos, who watched as I entered. A tall, broad-shouldered man walked over to meet me.

"I must say, I'm impressed," he said loudly so everyone could hear.

"I have your pizzas here, sir," I answered, not sure what he meant.

"Dear boy, never mind those. We've been watching your progress, and you did better than I could have dreamed. You arrived on time with style and grace. It was most entertaining."

"Are you telling me I did all this for your amusement?" I asked, furious.

"Oh, my good man, no need to get upset. You will be fully reimbursed for the damage to your motorcycle, and as a token of my gratitude, I'll look past the damages you've done to my gate, and throw in a little bonus." It was all becoming clear to me now as I noticed a giant television on the wall behind me.

"So, you're saying my journey here was the entertainment for your party? What about the enforcers and Big Tony?" A short man in what appeared to be a military uniform walked up.

"Don't worry about the enforcers, Kid, I just had your name cleared." It was the Commandant. "My boys could take some pointers from you."

I started to feel sick. I had endangered my life, and the lives of those around me, so a bunch of bored rich people could have a few laughs. I wanted to leave as fast as I had come, but the master spoke.

"It was necessary for your performance to threaten Big Tony, but he can consider his debt repaid in full." He glanced at the pizzas. "How much do I owe you?"

"That'll be $149.73, sir," I muttered.

"Very well, here you are." He handed me a check. "And here is a little something for your troubles." He handed me another check, this one for $75,000. He was trying to pay me for a "performance," but I was just doing my job, trying to save my skin as well as Big Tony's. I politely handed it back to him.

"No, thank you, sir, I cannot accept this." He stared at me with a curious expression. Then smiling, he took it from me and said, "You truly are a rare breed. May the future find you well, young hero. I wish you a safe journey."

They all started to applaud. I'd had about as much as I could take and left. I called Jonesy and told him the whole story. He couldn't understand why I had refused the money. How could he? Except for the Internet and television he knew nothing of the world outside my apartment. I also spoke to a greatly relieved Big Tony who gave me a two-week paid vacation. I took my time the rest of the way home, stopping to apologize to the large man still walking down Maindrag Road.

I didn't sleep well that night. I was busy thinking over my day, and wondering what might happen with the

next.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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bookworm266 said...
Jul. 13, 2009 at 6:32 pm
i love it! it wass good u should turn it in to a book serios or something
 
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