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
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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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