Pronghorn, Chapter 42: On the Run

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

From the end of the pizza oven–a mechanical monster belching hundreds of degrees of heat from its mesh-track innards–came a pie a foot across and just over an inch deep, thick dough piled with cheese and meats and mushrooms. One of the cooking crew, a young woman named Felicia, deftly snagged the pie from the end of the oven, shucking it from the pan in which it had cooked and onto a weathered wooden paddle. Stashing the pan under the table and taking a yard-long metal arc from atop it, she rocked the arc through the pizza, splitting it in half, into quarters, into eighths before sliding the pie into a waiting cardboard box. Twists of her wrists closed the box, and Felicia snagged a hanging ticket; she called out for a driver, and Manny nudged Asa Pemewan. “Go get it, Newbie. It’s our run.”

Asa nodded and hustled over to the waiting cook. “Get it faster next time, Newbie” oozed out of her mouth as Asa took the rapidly warming box and printed ticket from her. Manny said behind him “Put the pie in a bag, and check the address on the map.” Asa did as he was bidden, sliding the pizza into an insulated bag an peering intently at the address on the ticket–an address low on West Fourth–then at the map. Manny asked “How do we get there?”

Asa thought back on what he had been told not long before and what he knew of the town from having grown up in it. “Normally, we’d take Water to North Oak and cut up to Fourth. But there’s still cleanup going on on Oak between Second and Third, so we can either take North Main and have to make left turns, or we can take North Cedar and extend the trip by a couple of blocks. Cedar’ll probably be quicker.”

“What about coming across Fourth from College?”

“College has lots of stop signs on it. And there’ll be pedestrians, even with it being summer. Probably slower, unless Cedar’s got cleanup I didn’t see. Which it might; a lot of people are still trying to get back from the Tuesday Storm.”

“Don’t I know it. But, yeah, Cedar’ll do. We’ll time it. So, what you do when you take a run is look for the order. Number should be on top of the ticket.” Manny pointed, Asa noted and nodded, and Manny went on. “On the computer by the pizza rack, you look for the order, highlight it, and select it.” He did so. “Then the machine’s gonna ask which driver, by initials. All three. Ain’t got a middle name, use X where the middle initial oughta go.” He entered his own. “Then the order vanishes, ’cause it’s yours. And then you hustle your ass out the door and to the car so that you can drive to make the run. Should take about twenty minutes, check-out to cash-in, so let’s go!” He snatched the bag and ticket and rushed out through the door whence he had entered not long before. Asa hurried to follow and took the shotgun seat in Manny’s car.

Manny slung himself into his driver’s seat and handed Asa the bag. “Hold this” he said as he started the car, lurched it into gear, and headed towards the customer Asa was sure was tapping an impatient foot and glaring at the advancing second hand of a watch. And Asa was sure he was not going to survive to accept the customer’s abuse, for Manny wove around the other vehicles on the road, scooting through two yellow lights and slowing down just enough to count as a stop when turning onto Fourth from Cedar. All the while, through, Manny kept up a friendly chatter, more than once commenting on Asa’s white-knuckle grip on the pizza bag–“Keep that up, Newbie, and you’ll crush the pie”–and the door-pull afterward–“Gonna need a new one, you keep crimping that thing.” The tone was reasonably good-natured, and Asa recognized it as a joke, but he did not loosen his grip until Manny pulled the car to a stop and said “Hand me the bag.”

Asa did so, and Manny slung himself out of the car, hustling up the driveway to the house whose address matched that on the order ticket. Asa could see him knock, saw the door open, saw pizza leave the bag and go into waiting hands and money come from those hands into Manny’s apron pocket. Manny returned and slung himself back into the car, thrusting the bag back at Asa. “Come up with me next time, Newbie. I should’ve told you that this time, but you should’ve guessed at it, too.”

As the car started back up, Asa said “I will.”

“Good. You won’t learn unless you do.” Manny pulled back out into West Fourth street and turned onto Main. “Heading back’s not as urgent as heading out. Back keep you from getting new business, sure, but out gets you yelled at and calls to the store. Also gets you less money. Neither helps.”

Asa nodded and found himself gripping the door again. Manny laughed at him. “You’re gonna need to relax, Newbie. Give yourself a heart attack in my car, I’ll kick your ass.” He smiled as he said it, but Asa got the sense that he more or less meant it, and he replied dryly “I’ll try to wait until we get back into the restaurant.”

“Good! Then Jennifer has to fill out the paperwork, and I can make another delivery!” Manny laughed again, and Asa began to realize that low-level haranguing would be going on for a long time while he was working at the pizza place.

He thought I’d better get used to it.

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