The Root of Affection
Brian was a little taken back by the note that the customer handed him. The customer was female, but he couldn’t make out much else as she was wearing a wide brimmed leather hat pulled down to almost touch her dark sunglasses. She was several inches shorter than Brian so the hat hid her face from his view. She had the collar of her heavy leather jacket pulled up hiding her jaw. Brian thought that odd, as it was a warm summer night. But she had given him a dollar tip just for handing the pizza to her so he opened her note gladly.
Having women give him their phone number after getting their pizza wasn’t totally unheard of but when they did they didn’t try to hide themselves from him, quite the opposite in fact. He always ignored notes that women gave him, but he was still flattered by them. The mysterious woman who handed him the note was somehow different. Even though he couldn’t see what she looked like, he thought it might be worth following up.
He opened the note expecting a name and a phone number but instead there were two sentences written in a male’s handwriting. “Believe in yourself. Don’t trust Dr. Hyams.”
That left him confused, he didn’t know a Dr. Hyams. He looked closer at the note and recognized the handwriting; it was his. He wondered why someone would go through the trouble to make this elaborate prank, carefully learning to forge his handwriting in order to pass him a note that made no sense.
Since the woman who passed him the note had already left Brian looked over at the man who had become his best friend over the last three years. He didn’t like the look on Bernie’s face when he hung up the phone. Brian knew from the night manager’s expression that he was about to give him bad news. He had been hoping to start cleaning up. The carryout/delivery restaurant for the night as it had slowed down enough for Bernie to let the two insiders and one of the delivery drivers go home for the night. He knew from the look on Bernie’s face that his plans for getting out early weren’t going to happen. All thoughts about the strange note were pushed out of Brian’s head.
“I’ve got a delivery for you.” Bernie forced a smile as he hit the finish button on the computer making the labels for the pizzas print out.
“Strange customer or out of our delivery area?” Brian asked throwing away the note and automatically doing the insider job of placing the labels on the pizza boxes. He knew from the expression of the younger man that it was one of the two.
“Both.” Bernie walked over to slap out the dough for the pizzas. “It’s out to the Brandon Estate. The place is owned by Edwin Brandon, the brother of the former mayor, he still has a lot of power on the City Council so when he orders we kind of have to go. You know how it is with small town politics.”
“Brandon?” Brian asked hesitantly after hearing the last name.
“Not the Police Chief, Reggie Brandon, his uncle Edwin, the old mayor’s brother,” Bernie said. “Is that a problem?”
“No, It was a long time ago,” Brian said. “I doubt he’ll remember me.”
“That’s good, Brandon lives several miles outside of town and orders pizzas from time to time, I’m surprised you haven’t had to go out there yet.” Bernie continued as he put the sauce on the pizzas. “The other drivers say he’s a bit strange…”
“Us, get a strange customer?” Brian laughed. “That’s unheard of.”
“Well, he might not be the strangest customer, but he’s right up there.” Bernie laughed with Brian before continuing. “Anyway, if his instructions aren’t carried out to the letter he doesn’t tip. He’s real anal about that.”
“That’s an image I didn’t need in my head,” Brian said.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Bernie said. “No tip would be worth that.”
“Tell me about it.” Brian agreed.
“Seriously though, this time he wants you to go all the way back to the greenhouse rather than the main house, who the hell knows how far back that is. So when you add the two together it’s a bit of a time waster, but if we don’t deliver he tells Chief Brandon and then Brandon starts pulling over our drivers out of spite,” Bernie said.
“You’d think the City Police would be like the Sheriff and Troopers and like the Delivery Drivers,” Brian commented. “Just think of all the drunks with munchies we keep off the streets.”
“Chief Brandon doesn’t look at it like that,” Bernie said. “To him we’re just one more group he can kick around. That guy must have been seriously tormented in school or something to get his kicks off abusing his power against delivery drivers.”
“Yeah, he was for a year,” Brian told Bernie as he got in position to place the pepperonis on the pizza.
“You went to school with him?” Bernie asked throwing the cheese on the pizza and sliding it over to Brian.
“Yep,” Brian said without elaborating as he put the pepperonis on the customer’s pizza.
“But you’re not going to talk about it, right?” Bernie asked knowingly as he started slapping out the crust for the next Pizza.
“Well I could, but it makes me look like a total dick.” Brian finished up the pizza and put it in the oven before Bernie could ask more questions.
“You couldn’t have been that evil before you started here.” Bernie started putting the toppings on the second pizza. “With all the stuff you won’t talk about someone would think you were an evil mastermind before giving up your criminal empire to deliver pizzas.”
“It wasn’t that exciting, more like a vengeful administrator than a fully accredited evil mastermind, most of the time anyway.” Brian joked in order to avoid his best friend’s probing, “but it’s better to stand in silence and let people think you’re a fool than open your mouth and prove it.”
“Okay, suit yourself.” Bernie smiled then got back to business. “You should be back right around closing time. I’ll have Kyle stay late and clean up for you. Hopefully he won’t be too mad. He told me he has a quest party for one of his video games at midnight, but I’ll help him and hopefully get him out of here in time for it. Unless there you think going on this run is a problem in which case I can have Kyle take it, but then he will definitely miss his quest party.”
“That’s okay.” Brian took a deep breath. “I doubt he’ll recognize me in my uniform and I know how Kyle is about his video games.”
“It’s bad enough I’m going to have to listen to him complain about not having time to get ready for his quest party,” Bernie said. “If he missed it he’d be moping for the next week.”
“Thanks, tell him I’ll make it up to him,” Brian told him even though it was unnecessary as the delivery drivers always backed each other up.
The customer lived pretty far out of town and even taking some of the shortcuts that he had learned over the past three years of delivering pizzas it still took Brian 20 minutes to get out to the large mansion.
“An exquisite pre-war mansion with definite curb appeal.” Brian couldn’t help evaluating in his old real estate vulture mode when he pulled up the circular driveway and stopped in front of the wrap around porch, which had an elegant second story balcony.
In the dark it was hard to evaluate the property, but Brian’s trained eye could make out how the windows had low profile storm windows over the old leaded glass windows and he had spotted the large cable and telephone lines on the pole outside the mansion. It had decent Internet inside that would make quite literally a million dollar difference on the value of a mansion like this.
If the inside were as well maintained as the outside the place could easily flip for over $10 million. If Brian were still in the game he’d run a soft hit on the owners credit to see if it was possible to force him to sell. He had worked deals that size in the past, but not often.
Brian put aside all his old real estate thoughts and looked around for the greenhouse. He spotted a lit path going to the back of the house and saw the greenhouse a few hundred feet behind the main house. The outside was well lit, but oddly all the inside lights were out. It didn’t feel quite right but Brian thought about all the trouble this family could cause for the Pizza Joint and headed down the path anyway. When he got to the greenhouse he knocked on the glass door and tried to look in but could only see vague shapes.
“Come right in, boy.” Brian heard a voice come from inside the glass structure.
Normally Brian would just yell, “Pizza” and wait for the customer to come out, but tonight his mind was on how Bernie told him the customer was very strict about drivers following instructions, so he went into the dark building. He walked about 5 paces when the lights came on blinding him.
“Dinner, Audrey.” He heard the man yell.
Brian looked to his right to see an enormous orchid with a stem over 6 feet tall, the flower bulb on top was larger than Brian’s head.
Brian was too shocked to move as the orchid wrapped a root around his shoulders and the enormous flower bulb shot towards his head. It moved towards him too quickly for him to react and all he could think was that becoming plant food was a fitting end to his strange life.