It was a bad idea to piss off the pizza boys. Undertipping, not tipping, kidnapping; prank calls, bear traps, mean dogs: all terrible plans. The pizza boys talked. Not just amongst themselves, but to the Chinese delivery guy and the florist and the cable techs, and the postal workers and paperboys, too. Having things brought to your house was a privilege, the pizza boys thought. Thousands of years of human history rolled along without the ability to summon dinner–as if by magic!–to your front door. Louis XVI was a rich and powerful dude, but even he couldn’t get a half-pepperoni/half-onion delivered. And if he could, the pie would not be hot when it got to Versailles, as the materials needed for the insulated bag hadn’t been invented. Little Aleppo, the pizza boys thought, was living in a Golden Age of convenience. And it had better be fucking thankful of the fact.
Cagliostro’s, Vafunculo’s, and the Santa Maria. Home base. Touch the bag and turn around, do it again, do it again, do it again. A dozen runs on a slow night, twice that again every 18 days when it rained. Going to the Downside stood a chance of getting robbed; all the rich people on the Upside were weird perverts, and sometimes cheap. The pizza boys did not pick their customers. You took the next order up, and that’s it. It was zen. Or stoicism. One of those. Bit Player was not versed in foreign philosophies. She didn’t give a shit about domestic ones, either.
Tiburon. Ooh, that was her shit. Not into the mainline. Intramuscular and then it would spread through her, radiating out from the injection site even though that’s not how it works. She didn’t care, she could feel it, she knew her own body better than any damned textbook (textbooks were tools of the patriarchy, anyway) and the neighborhood would shrink-wrap itself around her occipital lobe like vacuum-packed plastic, her brain would take the shape of the streets and the stairwells and running down the middle like a skunk stripe was the Main Drag in flaming red and green and blinking blinking blinking right in between the balls and lids of her eyes. Bit hated the name. Tiburon.
“It sounds like a fake drug from a hack novel,” she said to Lucy Twigg, who sold it.
“No discounts,” said Lucy.
Stay on the bike. In and out of Cagliostro’s on Robin Street. If you got hooked into their bullshit, that kitchen bullshit, that grabass bullshit, then you weren’t making money and you weren’t moving forward. Stay on the bike. Avoid the dining room; there are large gentlemen in there having discussions you should not hear. Stay on the bike. Don’t go in the bar; it was full of out-of-work henchmen and twitchy supplicants. Stay on the bike.
It was a Stalwart N60, which was a rebadged version of the Zhanghui L40, which was a ripoff of the Honda Super Cub. Years before, the large gentlemen who frequent Cagliostoro’s happened upon a truckload of them. But they couldn’t sell any of them: the Stalwart is an underbone, with the engine and gas tank tucked up under the seat, which you stepped through the body to access. Little Aleppians knew a scooter when they saw one. What if someone on a real motorcycle saw you? They would point, locals thought, and laugh. What if people started called you Scooter? That was completely out of the question. It was a hard pass for the Stalwarts, and so the large gentlemen gave them to the pizza boys, and dumped them for pennies to the other pizzerias.
The frames remained. The gas tanks were the first to go–they tended to leak and then catch fire–replaced by rubber bladders that would not puncture in a crash; the shocks were upgraded after that. Stalwart N60 did not naturally climb stairs or take curbs at 30 mph, so the shocks were upgraded. Of course, the brakes needed improvement and then the 48 cc single-stroke engines were swapped out for 62 cc inchers–that’s raw power, baby–and thick knobby tires were required to climb the Segovian Hills and do donuts in the Verdance . But the frames remained.
PUTTAPUTTAPUTTA all around the neighborhood all day and late into the night. The pizza boys on their bikes were crickets. They were the noises we turn into silence.
Bit Player did not remember what she had been before she was a pizza boy. She felt herself birthed for one task. Get it there hot; take the cash; do it again. And the bike. She took care of the bike. Degreased certain parts, greased others. The timing on the engine was 4 degrees below top dead center. She installed an electronic ignition and bought a keychain with a bitchin’ skull on it. The chain was exposed and the brake lines were, too. No splash guards or facings were left on the bike at all; it was its own skeleton. One day, someone else would ride it. Pizza boys can be replaced, but bikes cost money. Bit would fuck off to jail or grad school, but the bike would shepherd pies up and down the Main Drag until the wheels came off, but until that day it was hers. And it was a she.
And she was named Throttlebottom.
“Ride on, Throttlebottom,” Bit whispered to the bike every time she started her up. The other pizza boys were starting to whisper about Bit.
She took the next order up. You take the next order up, and you take care of your bike. Rules to being a pizza boy. She took the next order up: five pies for 8763 McAllister Avenue, which was not an avenue at all but a tiny little nook of a street halfway up Mount Fortitude, which was the second of the seven Segovian Hills. (If you were counting left to right.) She took the pile of boxes and Banticcio grabbed her ass. She ignored him and walked out the kitchen door to the back alley where Throttlebottom leaned on her kickstand. Banticcio slid a mushroom calzone into the wide-mouthed oven and waited for more ass to grab.
The pies just fit into the insulated carrier on the back of the bike. Red on the outside with Cagliostro’s number on the sides, grey and shiny on the inside. Time went slower in there, Bit thought. The return to homeostasis was more drawn out. Inside the carrier was a glide; outside was a plunge towards lukewarmth. Reality will insist on entropy unless you pull a knife on it.
The keychain had bitchin’ skulls all over it. The key’s berth was below her right ass cheek; she slid it in by feel and the Stalwart went REEEEEeeeePUTTAPUTTA when she gave her gas with her right hand, slowly; the bike had a two-speed transmission that took its orders from her left foot. She could go low or she could go high. The tiburon slapped her head around, it said “go, go, go” and there was a magpie eating rotten olives from the dumpster. 8763 McAllister. Bit Player knew where that was.
The black cab drivers in London had The Knowledge; the pizza boys in Little Aleppo knew where everything was without the need for pretentious capitalization. Bit saw the whole neighborhood from above, and she could zoom in and out by blinking. There was a blinking route in her eyes. Not the shortest distance, but the most efficient. She felt like Pac-Man. Ms. Pac-Man. The pellets go that way, so follow the line of pellets. Bit Player could not tell Colorado from Wyoming, and she always got the little dinky states Back East confused with one another, but she knew every brick of her home. She did not know Little Aleppo’s history, and she did not care: Bit knew where everything was, and that was more than most. In general, people don’t know where they came from or where they are. Bit Player knew where she was.
The alley led to Robin Street; she wheeled out carefully onto the sidewalk and then the street. The sun had fallen and Throttlebottom had an oversized light on her front fork, wide as a catcher’s glove, as Bit cranked the handle which made the two-stroke stroke faster and she hit 20 mph in 500 feet SHVEEEE she braked and threw her tail out to make the left turn onto the Main Drag. She rode into opposing traffic for a block, two, and then there was an opening and she VREEEE squirted into the right lane all the way to the side, skimming the mirrors of the parked cars with her handlebars. Mile up, two, to the Upside where the lawns were so green and dogshit-free. She passed The Tahitian. Bit didn’t like movies; they took too long. Sharp right onto Dudley Way. Town Hall was on her left and she squeezed the throttle downwards and accelerated along the empty pavement. No one parked on the street on the Upside except tradesman in their vans and it was nighttime so the vans were not there. The Upside kept its cars in the garage. Bit Player whizzed by basketball hoops and abandoned toys that would be there in the morning. Down to first gear for the climb up Fortitude. Mount Fortitude had a 100-foot tall antenna at its apex: it blasted out the sounds of KHAY and the sights of KSOS; Dudley Way went all the way up. The Main Drag to the antenna. A charity road race ran the route once a year to raise money for Childhood Threnody until locals looked up threnody in the dictionary and figured out it wasn’t a disease.
The road ripped and bubbled, switchbacks and hairpins and needle-sharp turns. Bit was wearing a football helmet. The colors were officially cerulean and gold, but she knew they were blue and yellow. Go Blue Oxen. It was a punter’s helmet, with only the one crossbar in front of her face. Her jeans ended right below her knees and her boots were big and black. Lean left here, and the road goes up. There are evergreens and pine; there is sage and brush; the sky is eaten up by the trees and so is the light. She sees it all in her head, behind her eyelids when she blinks. She knows the route. The bike knows the way to carry the sleigh. Bit leans into her, reduces her drag, her elbows are in and Throttlebottom fights against gravity and the grade and propels the pizzas upwards. There is no more north, east, south, whatever: just up and down, left and right, and so she turns right.
A movie star turn: hard on the brakes, and then her right foot down on the blacktop while the bike makes the 90 degree swivel below her and she’s back on and PUTTAPUTTA up McAllister, which is pitch-black. There is a sheer drop to her right and a broken cliff face to her left. People have carved their homes into the mountain. 8763 was the fifth house. Bit had counted back at Cagliostro’s. She counted now as she drove by the semi-hidden driveways and squealed her wheels upwards onto the fifth driveway. There was no gate. Some of these fuckers had gates. She hated the fuckers with gates.
The house was modern and had too many windows. A man was standing in the open front door. He was smiling the smile rich people use with the help. Bit Player slid the five pies out and brought them to him, along with the bill. Seventy bucks. He handed her a hundred and said,
“I always expect you guys to have samurai swords on your bikes.”
“No. That story’s a technological dystopia set in the future. You’re in an idealized past. With magic.”
“Keep the change.”
She did. The Stalwart was still running; she was named Throttlebottom and Bit stepped through her and onto the seat and revved the engine with her right hand. She planted her big, black boot in the gravel of the driveway and spun the bike around and she was back on McAllister with the cliff on her right and a drop on her left. Touch the bag and turn around, do it again, do it again, do it again. Take the next order up. Stay on the bike. Bit Player was a pizza boy, and she knew where she was in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.