Yellow Mama Archives II

Beverle Graves Myers

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Do You Know the Pizza Man?

 

by Beverle Graves Myers

 

Madison had walked a lot of blocks, down sidewalks hemmed in by vape shops and check cashing joints, through alleys lined with reeking dumpsters and overgrown with weeds sprouting through cracks. She liked woodsy areas better—not out in the boonies, but big parks or orphan land between freeways and factories. Quiet places where jerks didn’t try to mess with her, but close enough to a city where she could get supplies when her belly and the cash belt she kept cinched around her waist under her T-shirt were both totally empty.

With the sun nearly overhead, she paused in the shaded doorway of an empty storefront to wipe sweat off her face and hitch her backpack up on her shoulders. Earlier that morning a guy who didn’t look too mental had told her about a church in the old part of the city that served lunch every day. Good food and snacks to take with you. The catch was you had to get there by one o’clock sharp before they locked the doors for the day.

She shifted her weight from foot to foot. It was getting late, and she still hadn’t found St. Whatever. Where the hell was it? Had the guy told her wrong? Had she missed the right street? When Madison’s rumbling stomach pointedly reminded her that she’d had no food since yesterday, she aimed a vicious kick at a discarded can that spewed pop as it flew across the sidewalk.

Get a grip, girl.

Madison thought back over the guy’s directions as she ran a thumb along the scar on her cheekbone. Curved and still pink, it could’ve been a trace of her mother’s last kiss. The kiss Mom had planted as she ran off with her new, young lover and her own bulging backpack. “Be back soon, hon. There’s food in the fridge,” she’d said with a giggle.

But soon never came.

Madison had stayed at their place until the rent was way past due and the landlord started talking about social services. With no other options in sight, she hit the road.

Life had been hard, but she got her street smarts real quick. Had to. One thing she’d learned: don’t let yourself get so hungry you’re tempted make a food grab from a grocery. Sure, you might get away with it. They also might set the cops on you and you’d end up in a hellhole of a detention center. She’d been there more than once. The foster homes were no better, just easier to walk away from.

She sighed. Better get going. It must be damn close to one o’clock. But which way? This grungy street was totally deserted—plywood or brown paper covering most of the storefront windows. No one to ask directions. She thumped her fist on the wall in frustration.

Madison jumped when the door clicked opened behind her. Oops! Not so empty after all, this building.

A skinny guy with a scowl surrounded by a greasy beard stuck his head out. The aroma of hot food seeped through the opening. “Whaddya want?” he asked.

          “Uh, nothing, Mister. Just resting.”

“Well, get outta here.” He gave her backpack a pointed look. “This ain’t no homeless shelter.”

“Sure, sure. Just … do you know what time it is?”

“Almost one.”

“Okay.” She raised her best smile. “So do you know where that church is where they give out free lunch?”

He opened the door wider, leaned against the jamb, and sent her a leering grin. “Why? You hungry, little cutie?”

Alarm bells started going off in her chest.

“Not really,” Madison lied. She took a deep breath and started walking. Fast. To get out of the guy’s line of sight, she made a quick right into a narrower street, but soon slowed her steps.

She needed a Plan B. Okay, Madison thought as she trudged along. If she managed to find the church and the front doors were locked, she’d try around the back door. She’d look for a do-gooder volunteer who might have a kid about her own age, maybe …

Well, well. She stopped short.

A big slice of pizza—double pepperoni by the looks of it—lay on the sidewalk at the mouth of an alley.  Somebody had poked a hole in it and tied a piece of twine around the thick crust.

Really? She snorted out a chuckle. The skinny dude wanted to play that game.

It reminded her of the old nursery rhyme they’d sung all through second grade. Do you know the muffin man? Who lives on Drury Lane? A Victorian baker that looked a lot like Santa Claus, all curly white beard and rosy cheeks, illustrated the songbook’s double page. Wearing a snow white apron instead of a red suit, he was sliding plump, steaming muffins out of the oven on a wooden board. On the facing page he was strolling down an urban lane with a basketful of his wares balanced on his head. Seemed cute at the time.

Several grades later, Madison had discovered an internet site that told the real stories behind the nursery rhymes and fairy tales the teachers liked to stuff their heads full of. Now some of that shit was really interesting.

Turns out this muffin man was a perv who lured street kids into the alley behind his bakery with muffins on a string. As starving kids grabbed for free food, he’d reel the muffins in bit by bit until he could get ahold of them. After dragging kids into his kitchen, he’d do whatever got him off, then beat them to death with a huge rolling pin. Though the site didn’t spell out what happened to their bodies, Madison thought he probably burned them in the hot oven a baker would have going all the time. That’s what she would have done.

The pizza slice twitched enticingly, making her mouth water.

Her heart was pounding beneath her stained T-shirt, but Madison smiled in spite of it. Was she hungry and broke enough to go for it? Guess so. Her fingers slid into the side pocket of her backpack before she made a dive for the pizza that was now skipping into the shadowy alley on its string.

The man at the end of the string wasn’t expecting her lightening quick reaction.

Just like in one of the gorier versions of Hansel and Gretel, Madison kept a sharpened bone within easy reach. Her bone had probably once been a deer’s shin bone. The one Hansel used had belonged to one of his witch captor’s earlier victims. He’d found it in the cage where the witch was fattening him up. Little by little he’d sharpened it against a gritty stone until the tip was as lethal as a dagger. When the witch reached through the bars to feel the meat accumulating on his ribs, the boy grabbed a hank of her long hair and slit her throat. Gretel stood ready. While the witch’s blood pumped onto the flagstones, the girl ripped the keys from her belt and freed her brother.

Madison didn’t need any help. She was Hansel and Gretel all in one.

As she squatted over the pizza slice, the guy grabbed her backpack strap. Perfect. Propelled by thighs strengthened by months of walking, she shot upwards, aiming her bony shiv at the soft spot where his chin met his neck.

She felt the point pierce flesh and pushed it in harder. The guy’s body stiffened as blood gurgled from his mouth, soaking his scrappy beard and running down her arm.

Yuck! Madison released her grip on the shiv and let him fall back. His head hit the asphalt with a loud clunk, and his body twitched a couple of times. Madison watched, barely breathing, her ears alert for any unwanted attention.

Nothing. All was quiet and finally the jerk was still.

With a relieved sigh, Madison bent to pull her weapon free. She wiped it and her arm clean on the guy’s filthy sweatshirt, then took a quick look around.

Oh, good. There it was, perched on a city trash bin. The asshole hadn’t finished off the pizza. Most of it was in the box.

Five ooey-gooey slices. Still warm and all hers.


Beverle Graves Myers is a mystery writer based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her stories have appeared in Woman's World, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, and many anthologies. 

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