IDENTITY CRISIS! – Chapter 1 – Pepperoni / Marijuana

Note: This was my 2011 attempt at NaNoWriMo, with edits for general spelling and readability. Chapters are in separate blogposts, and are all tagged under ‘Identity Crisis’.

I both love my job and hate my job. Wait, no, that’s not quite it. I’m both okay with my job, and hate my job. It takes a special kind of social fuck-up to come from reasonably decent education and money, and end up as a single 30 year old, living alone, and working as a pizza delivery guy. It also requires a special kind of fuck-up that decides upon the best way to use his marketing and business degree is to join a drug ring in his neighbourhood.
And the biggest fuck-ups of them all are left standing in front of a big suburban house not entirely sure if he’s there to drop off pizza or weed. It’s about 6pm, and the shadows from the house are looming high, throwing me into the shade. The lights are on, and I can see a bunch of people shifting around behind the curtains of the front room. So it’s a party, then. That doesn’t help – a large helping of pepperoni OR ganja would make a reasonable party into a great one.
The thing is, this wouldn’t even be a problem under most circumstances. I took the utmost care to keep my two modes of employ separate, right down to being in contact via separate phone numbers and e-mail addresses. But all this week, the phone that my supplier calls me on has been dead. Stone cold. Which is strange in itself – the boss is a pretty jolly guy, forwarding me pictures of cute kittens in ridiculous situations and all that inane shit. Despite that, at the moment, he hadn’t breathed a single word. That is until this morning. The ringtone that woke me up was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ – signifying that it was an ordinary call. A friend, or a family member or something – there’s no way the pizza place would want me to make a delivery at 9am.
Rolling over to reach for the side table (knocking off my alarm clock and a bottle of sleeping pills as I scrambled for the ringing phone), I answered in that deep and gritty tone of the man who has been sleeping off a hangover.
Yes, what is it?”
Hiya mate, I’ve got a big job for you today.” The voice wasn’t who I was expecting. It… couldn’t be my boss, could it?
Who else, mate? As I said – got a big job for ya. 4 packages of the good shit. A big spender in the suburbs, so it’s easy money.”
Uh, that much? Are you sure this isn’t a bust or something?”
Naw, naw. This kid’s apparently a regular, but normally has his buddies make the calls for him. You know Jeff?”
Yeah, sold to him before, scrawny kid.”
Turns out he’s this kid’s best friend. Can vouch for him and everything.”
Okay, sure. The kid’s legit. Where am I picking up and dropping off? You know I don’t keep that kind of quality stock.”
That was a white lie. I always keep a small amount in a sofa cushion, but that’s my own private stash. Skimming off the top of the expensive stuff is as retarded of an idea as you’d expect – but as I’ve said (and will probably say many more times, ad nauseam), I’m a fuck-up. I rub my temples and stare at the slightly peeling ceiling with a sinking feeling, and considering to get a cup of tea – chamomile or some shit. I could hear Mike on the other end of the line, rusting through papers, trying to find the details of where my ‘new customer’ is living.
Right, here it is, mate. You’ll be picking up from Colin – doesn’t really matter when, I’ll leave you to sort that out. Your drop-off is at 6. You got a pen to write this down?”
I’ll remember it.” He gave the address, slowly, twice. Asshole thinks I’m an idiot sometimes, I swear.
Right, I’m counting on you to get this one done right, we can make some serious bank here,” said Mike, and then his voice suddenly darkened, like a ominous storm cloud. “Don’t fuck this up. It’s important.”
N-no. Of course I’ll get it done. Have I ever done you wrong?” No response. I could hear the apartment creak softly in the awkward silence. And then a click and dial tone as Mike hung up.
What a trip – after not getting any business from that side of my life for a week; I finally get a call – on the wrong phone (how in the hell did he get that number?) – and for just a second it sounded like he was about to kill someone. Mike, as bosses go, isn’t that bad of a guy, but beyond the phone calls and the e-mails, I don’t really deal with him. He’s not the type to go out for a beer with his employees, and probably for good reason.
But whatever; a job’s a job, right? If this kid is as loaded as he sounds, I could make a tidy sum, even if the cuts I get from these deals are incredibly shitty. No longer tired, I rolled out of bed. Old boxer shorts aren’t the most glamorous sleepwear, but It’s not like I’ve had anyone stay overnight in ages. I accidentally crush one of the sleeping pills as I step out of bed, covering my foot in white dust. With some grumbling, I scooped the remaining pills back into the container, found my other, ‘drug deals only’ cellphone, and dialled Colin’s number. If I’m gonna be awake, then he gets to suffer with me.
Hiya Brett, what can I do for you today?” In complete contrast to my sluggishness and bleary-eyed demeanour, Colin was sounding bright and breezy. I had always known him to be energetic, but I didn’t realise that also extended to Sunday mornings.
Yeah. I just got a call from Mike,” I said. Gotta make a delivery at 6; said I was to pick up 4 packages from you.”
High or low grade?”
High.” I could hear Colin whistle through his teeth in surprise.
That… shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m not dealing that amount from my doorstep. I tell you what, show up to work later, and I’ll have ’em on hand. I can disguise it as a pizza delivery.”
Colin straddles the dividing line between the two lives I lead. While I try my hardest to keep them separate, I can’t do a whole lot if I share a work colleague between both jobs, can I? For what it’s worth, he’s the guy who got me into this whole deal, but that’s for some other time.
Later that day, I showed up at Speedy Mozzarella, the pizza place I work at. Independent store, obviously – but it’s still a pretty popular joint with the inner-city folk and the snobbier families out in the ‘burbs. Partially because the portions are generous, partially because we have a huge delivery range. Having to bike it (or drive, if I’m going to carry something so important as this drug deal) over to some of the further parts of town is a real pain – and if it wasn’t a great excuse to be in odd parts of town as long as I’m wearing the uniform, I would have protested.
Colin was working in the back, in the middle of putting the toppings on about ten different pizzas. His face was screwed up with concentration, like he was doing complex electronic work, or creating a very detailed painting. He didn’t notice me at all, until I tapped him on the shoulder. He bolted sharply upright sending a cascade of sliced olives over us like confetti.
JESUS CHRIS- Oh, it’s you, Brett. Don’t do that, you know I have a nervous disposition.”
It’s a pizza, Colin. Not a renaissance painting.”
The devil’s in the details,” said Colin, turning back to his work. Dude loved to multitask.
You always say that, but like anyone goddamn cares about the precise spacing of the anchovies on their pizza”
You forget I get paid by the hour. As long as these Pizzas arrive on time, I can take as long as I like.”
You sly bastard. Anyway, you know why I’m here.”
Right, well you’re going to be doing two sets of deliveries, I’m afraid. These pizzas are due to be sent off soonish, and you’re the closest free hand.”
You’re not serious.”
Delivering pizzas is a job too. I didn’t bust my ass to get you on staff just so you could use it as an excuse for, uh, other shit.”
Okay, okay, I get it. Two deliveries. So where am I sending this delivery then?”
Colin finished decorating one of his pizzas, and pushed it on towards the oven with a satisfied expression.
It’s over on the pinboard over there, under ‘Jeff’.” Walking over to the notice board, its cork surface was filled with notes, posters, and customer orders. It took a few seconds of scanning before I found Jeff’s order, wondering if was the same Jeff I knew. Probably not, the name wasn’t exactly uncommon.
The address was familiar. My rough knowledge of the town’s layout told me that it was somewhere in the suburbs… Oh damn, it was on the same road where I was meant to drop off the substance. Was it the same house? I racked my brain, thinking back to this morning. Everything came back as clear as the face of a loved one – everything except the house number. Fuck. This just made things a lot more complicated – and it was already 5.15 pm.
Fast forward to the present – standing outside this party mansion, weighing up my options. I have an address set in stone, and it won’t be hard to make that delivery. If it looks like they’re gonna take the drugs, then my problem is already solved. But what kind of rich asshole has a loud party and looks like they need marijuana? Then again, if I call back to the boss, I am going to get the biggest bollocking for forgetting. My pride’s way too fragile to handle that. But oh god, delivering the weed to the wrong house – or even worse, not delivering it at all – is pure goddamn suicide. I won’t just get yelled at by Mike, I’d expect something along the lines of removed fingers… or flaying.
One of my phones vibrates in my pocket – the drug dealer phone. It’s an alarm to remind me that it’s 6pm, and I really should have made the drop off by now. I stare at the front door and sigh, heavily. At the very least I can go drop off this huge fuckin’ stack of pizzas before they go cold, and if they don’t look like stoners, I can go for a plan B – face the music can call up the boss again.
On the doorstep, I could hear the music coming from inside. Unlike all the house parties I’ve ever been to, the volume levels were eerily polite. From the sidewalk I could barely hear a drum beat or bassline; but up close I could hear a lot more. It sounded a whole lot like dubstep; although not quite. Possibly some subgenre of a subgenre that had the precise combination of monotonous beats and social obscurity that only this dude’s friends could get off to.
I pushed the doorbell, expecting the harsh electric buzzing that I’m used to hearing at my apartment. Instead, I hear the sound of loud and hollow tubular bells, so grand I initially assume there’s a bell tower embedded in the roof somewhere. The regular thumping of the music doesn’t change, but a sixth sense tells me that someone’s coming to answer the door (how could they not know, with a doorbell that heinously loud); and before long I could hear footsteps clacking against hard flooring, quickly approaching.
The door opened to a woman, about middle age. She’s attractive in the way that any style-conscious broad living comfortably in the upper middle class would be attractive – looking like the adverts, TV shows and gossipy neighbours next door want her to; but not quite reaching the zenith of society-imposed beauty. The clacking sound was of her dark purple stilettos against the cream tiled floor. The expression on her face didn’t quite read as “I’m, surprised to see you here”, but at the same time, I had my doubts that she was going to be eating any of the pizza. Moreover, I was starting to doubt that anyone would wear stilettos within their own home, unless there was an underlying complex she was compensating for.
With little subtlety, she eyed my up and down, and raised an eyebrow.
Uh, I’m with Speedy Mozzarella,” I said dumbly. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly bad at dealing with women, but the surprise at not dealing with a Jeff, scrawny druggie or otherwise, and the pressing notion at the back of my mind that I most definitely do not want to add another item to the long list of fuck-ups my life has been; meant that I had been completely thrown off-guard. “I’m here to deliver 10 large pizzas – various toppings.”
I see. Hold on a second.”
At which point she shut the door in my face. The sudden action made me jump, and then flail around a bit as I tried to stop myself from dropping the pizza boxes. After way too much time of me standing on the doorstep like an idiot, I had just about resigned to go home, pizza and drugs undelivered, when the door opened again. It was Jeff; in fact, it was the Jeff I was familiar with. Despite obviously being told there was a deliveryman at the door, his eyes widened a little in surprise.
O-oh. Hey,” Jeff stuttered, fidgeting with his shirt sleeves. All the previous times I’ve seen this dude, his sense of style reminded me heavily of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But tonight it seems like he’s put the effort in, and is wearing a slim-fitting purple shirt and suit trousers. It definitely matched well with the location, but mostly what stood out was how damn skinny he was. He definitely needed to eat a pizza or three. I nodded my head in recognition and proffered the boxes forward.
Yo Jeff. Your Pizza. That’ll be sixty dollars.” At this, he looked a little confused, like he was waiting for me to offer something else.
Is… is that all?” Jeff asked. “I thought there was, um…”
Don’t get any bright ideas,” I said, with confidence regained and waning patience. “If you want any other deliveries, I wanna speak with the guy who placed the order, not a lackey.” Jeff winced at ‘lackey’, but he understood what I was getting at. This wasn’t your ordinary deal – these packages were likely to go for several thousand – you’d think we were dealing in crystal meth. Still, Jeff wasn’t leaving just yet.
I uh, I don’t think Quentin really wants to come to the door right now. I could take the packages off your hands and-“
Are you deaf, or just stupid? Get this rich boy out here now so I can get this over with and go home.” I was talking big, but I full well knew that going home without delivering would be suicide. If this guy was such a big spender, pissing him off would screw the business over in the long run. These types can spread gossip fast, very well-connected. Still; the strong words did the trick – Jeff turned tail and headed up the elaborate staircase in the hallway, not shutting the door in my face, thankfully.
It gave me the chance to give the interior a good looking over. Gotta know your enemy and all that. The place was… remarkably neat. Not just tidy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a team of cleaners give the place a once-over this morning, so everything would be immaculate for the party. My mind then drifted over to the woman who answered the door. Who was she; and how did she relate to this Quentin kid? Or moreover, how did she know Jeff? She’s definitely out of Jeff’s league – and a good 20 years older, at least. If Quentin was the same age as Jeff, then does that mean that this woman is Quentin’s mom? Who on Earth has their parents in the house during a party? A party featuring packs of incredibly expensive drugs?
I was still staring off into the middle distance and musing over just how messed up the family relations of this place must be when someone walked down the stairs. He was a lot healthier than Jeff – that is to say he definitely looked like he never missed a meal. He was wearing an immaculate white suit that looked custom tailored – and yet the bulge of his stomach still showed through loud and clear. His brown hair was gelled back and was so shiny it looked like melted toffee. He reached the doorway, and looked me up and down in the exact same manner as the woman from before, and I had no doubt in my mind that they were in some way related.
I have your deliveries here. You Quentin?”
Who gave you my name?” His voice was a little petulant. The way he said ‘gave you’ had this funny stress on the vowels that made him sound like those American actors on TV who force a British accent. He’d clearly worked hard on his image of ‘new money’.
Your boy Jeff told me.”
Ugh, that little shit, I’d told him a thousand times…” Quentin muttered under his breath. “I don’t like it when the suppliers and deliverymen get too familiar with me. But it doesn’t matter. Do you have what I asked for?”
Other than the pizza? You’re going to have to pay up front. This isn’t me just dropping off a baggie of z-grade.” Quentin frowned a little, this clearly wasn’t what he had imagined the drop off to be like.
Do you really expect me to just hand over all that money right now? Like, a briefcase straight out of Pulp Fiction? Don’t be an idiot – just give me the packages and your boss will have the money summarily.”
No can do, kid. I’m not about to trust–“ I hesitated mid-sentence. Yeah, this kid was being a little shit, but pissing him off and losing his business would be fucking up just as much as not getting the money for this one deal, but several times worse. I sighed. “Whatever, just let me make a phone call first. But do you at least have the sixty bucks? I’m sick of lugging around these fuckin’ pizzas.”
He gave me a hundred dollar bill, and told me to keep the change, with a smug grin plastered on his chubby face. Ugh. I stuffed the cash into my pocket, and pulled out the general use phone. It’s not what I normally do; but right now I don’t have the time to mess about with my own dumb rules. Plus, I have Mike’s number memorised.
The phone rang three times, and Mike picked up. He sounded a little harrowed.
Who’s this?” Considering he called me on this number this morning, it was a little strange that he didn’t recognise the number, but I didn’t think much of it.
It’s Brett, dude. I’m calling about the drop off.”
Is this you telling me you’ve made the drop and we’re in good money, or are you telling me we have a problem,” said Mike. It was pretty clear that this deal had been on his mind.
We… we have a problem, sorry to say. Your wonder boy isn’t gonna pay the money up front. Can we let him do that?” Mike sighed in an exasperated manner, and the sound crackled a little though the phone’s earpiece.
Well no shit he’s not gonna pay that kind of money up front, what were you expecting – a briefcase?”
No, I just-” I tried to keep things calm, but Mike cut me off.
Does this even look like a mobster movie to you? Are you really that-”
Okay! Okay, jeeze I get it.” Everyone was getting on my case today, and I was starting to get a throbbing headache. The things I do to pay the bills. “He doesn’t have to pay up front. But can’t we at least take some collateral?“
Well no shit. These kind of negotiations are in your job description, mate. Get to it.”
And then the dial tone. Mike’s telephone manner has always been awful. I turned back to Quentin, who had heard only fragments of my conversation, but seemed pleased that I was so whipped my my superior. I had to think hard about what I was going to do here. If I play my cards right, I can get the deal done and get a reasonable amount of gangsta cred.
The woman who answered the door, who is she?” I said, putting on the calmest but menacing voice I could manage. It didn’t phase him a whole lot.
She’s family. What’s it to you?”
‘S what I thought. Bring her out here – she’ll hang out with me until you have your money ready. Boss’ orders.” Quentin slowly raised an eyebrow, and put on a face so pensive I could almost hear the gears grinding away inside his skull. Then he shrugged.
Sure, whatever.”
At which point he then slammed the door in my face. It must run in the family. Two minutes later , the door reopened and Quentin was gripping the arm of his… mom? Sister? Who cares, it doesn’t matter – she was being thrust through the doorway in my direction. She was breathing hard, with a hastily packed handbag under her free arm, and an expression that just about concealed the horror at the idea of her being human collateral. Quentin let go, and she moved into the driveway, stilettos clacking, and looked at the floor, saying nothing.
A part of me felt awful about the situation, but this was looking like an airtight game plan. I was on the home stretch.
Awesome, I’m glad you’re co-operating. She’ll be with me, and I promise I won’t ham a hair on her head. You have 24 hours to come up with the cash, kid. Raid your dad’s bank account for all I care. If we don’t hear from you after that, you’re gonna have to worry about a lot more than hair damage. You get me?”
Now it was Quentin’s turn to look at the floor.
Sure. 24 hours. Got it.”
Do you have a way of getting in contact with us?”
How do you fucking think I ordered the drugs in the first place?”
Oh, good point.”
So yeah. Get lost, and I’ll get you your money.”
The third door-slam of the evening. I turned around to my… hostage I suppose, who was now starting to shiver in the evening air. From the comfort of her own house she looked strong and in control – but being treated like property by a family member who’s balls have barely just dropped would mess anyone up. That said, I kept my distance. I may have just successfully made the delivery, but having to keep a person captive is a whole different kind of complicated.
I pulled my car keys out of my pocket; and remembering an old trick I was once taught – by whom I don’t even remember any more – put the wireless fob to my temple, like I was putting a gun to my head. I pushed the ‘car unlock’ button. Bang. From across the road, out of range of the fob normally, the car’s headlights flashed to signify it was unlocked. That trick never stopped being cool – it felt like a superpower.
Walking to the car and opening the passenger seat, I gestured to my… I really don’t want to use ‘captive’ here, but what choice do I have – and said:
Get in the car.” And then hesitated for a second and added:
And do you have a name I can call you? This shit is awkward enough already.” She stopped looking at the ground at this, and met my gaze. She had an unfocused look, like she was acknowledging my presence, but only as some kind of mist – nothing corporeal. I can’t decide whether that’s a coping mechanism, or a gesture of absolute contempt.
Brittany,” she said simply, walking past me and getting into the car, quickly and quietly closing the door. With nothing else to be said, I got in the other side, started the engine, and started the drive back to the inner-city. Dropping her off at my place seemed more sensible than taking her back to the Speedy Mozzarella.
Only I could turn delivering pizzas into the most complicated job.