And Just Like That He Was Gone

This story was written to stand alone, but if you are interested in how we got here, you can read, The Christening, then Flying Pizza, then Position Vacant: Pizza Delivery Driver.

SCENE:

The holding cells at Ocean Grove Police Station. The custody sergeant is trying to explain the disappearance of a prisoner. The cells are colder than the rest of the station, and high windows are admitting light. The walls are painted in the public service green that seems reluctant to be an actual colour. The floor is old fashioned linoleum, and the custody sergeant keeps glancing down at it in the vain hope it will open and swallow him.

“I brought him to you for safekeeping. I could have stuffed him in the boot of my car and taken him back to the city, but no. I entrusted him to you,” said Inspector McBride, without a hint of anger in his voice. This seemed strange to both of the sergeants. The custody sergeant was used to being yelled at by his chronically constipated Chief Inspector.

“When did you last see him actually in the cell?”

“I saw him when he got his dinner, but constable Willis says he was still in there at lights out — ten-thirty last night.”

 “So somewhere between ten-thirty and six o’clock this morning, my suspect evaporated.”

“Well, yes. As far as we can tell. The cameras are old, and they don’t work in the dark. Never needed them to, until now. The cell door was definitely locked. No other way out.”

Sergeant Wilson peaked around the open doorway just to be sure. Definitely only one way out.

Sergeant Wilson and his Inspector had spent the night at the Seaview Motel which didn’t have a view of the sea, but you could hear it when it got quiet. The rooms were small but comfortable. Their rooms were next to each other — they both smelled the same — must have been something about the cleaning products they used.

Breakfast, which was included in the price, arrived on time. Bacon and eggs with tomato and avocado. Sergeant Wilson liked avocado, and he always pronounced it correctly.

Wilson was ready first, so he waited outside the Inspector’s room. He leaned on the car and listened to the ocean between the sound of passing traffic. Small birds were ignoring him as they rifled through the native bushes.

Sergeant Wilson didn’t like being away from home.

 

The two policemen knew something was up when the constable on the desk wouldn’t make eye contact.

“We’ve come to speak to our prisoner,” said the Inspector.

“If you could wait here a moment, sir, I’ll get the custody sergeant.”

“They’re a bit formal for a country station,” said Sergeant Wilson.

“Something’s up,” said the Inspector.

 

“So, did he say anything before he disappeared into thin air?” said the Inspector.

“I had a long chat with him last night before I clocked off. He seemed like a nice bloke. Told a good yarn, said he loved his job and I said that delivering pizzas seemed like a strange occupation. He said that it gave him time to think and he enjoyed meeting new people. Like I said — he seemed like a good bloke.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“He said he was hoping that they would forgive him. I assumed he was talking about your case, but the young constable who tucked him in said something similar, only he told it that the prisoner said he HAD been forgiven. The prisoner seemed quite excited. Said he was looking forward to getting back to work. The constable brushed it off — you hear all sorts of crazy stuff down here in the cells.”

SCENE:

A cafe on the foreshore which did have a view of the ocean. The two policemen from the city are having lunch, fending off ambitious seagulls, and talking about their next move.

“That big bugger has designs on your ham roll, Inspector.”

“Forget about the gulls sergeant. What are we going to do about our winged pizza deliverer?”

“Nothing we can do. We didn’t lose him. Just have to wait for him to resurface. Love to know how he got out of that cell though. Didn’t seem like the kind of bloke who could walk through walls.”

 

The two men drove back to Melbourne, going the long way, around the coast — The Great Ocean Road — one of Australia’s wonders and a huge tourist destination for the state of Victoria.

Inspector McBride’s wife was waiting in the driveway when he got home. She hugged him and risked crushing their baby son. McBride hugged her, and the baby played with his hair.

“Did you get your man?” said Helen McBride.

“Yes and no.”

The Inspector didn’t like to bring his work home with him, but Helen was interested, so he filtered out the heinous stuff and talked to her about the details around cases’ edges. Helen was fascinated with the hunt for the pizza delivery rider. The wings on his jacket and the chrome helmet sounded exotic.

“We caught him easily enough. He didn’t try to run. Came along peacefully. He seemed tired and worn out, and I believe he would have told us everything, except …”

“Except what?”

“Except that he disappeared out of his cell overnight. Not a trace. I would have said it was impossible, but the more I work on this case, the less likely I am to use that word.”

Helen had the dinner ready, and the Inspector played with his son until the child fell asleep in his arms. The parents watched a movie and turned in early. The baby would be awake at the crack of dawn, so sleep was a luxury.

 

SCENE:

An unremarkable double fronted house in a nondescript street in suburban Melbourne. A man opens the front door to a pizza delivery.

“What are you dressed up for? Halloween’s months away mate,” said the young man in jeans and a singlet, “how much for the pizzas?”

“Fifteen dollars.”

The young man fishes in his jeans and brings out three five-dollar notes. He straightens them out before handing them over.

“No tip,” says the young man, “no-one tips me for doing my job.”

The pizza delivery driver stares at the young man, and the young man stares back at him.

The pizza delivery driver takes off his winged helmet and punches the young man in the face. The young man staggers back into the house and lands on the carpet — out cold.

A young woman emerges from the shadows and surveys the scene.

“Are you going to hurt me?” she says dispassionately.

“No. And neither is he, anymore.”

The young woman puts her hand to her face to cover the bruise she believes he is looking at.

“You have a choice. You can stay with this reprehensible person, and continue to be his punching bag, or you can pack a few essentials, get into your car and leave. He hides his money at the back of the bathroom cabinet.”

“How do you know that?” says the young woman.

“Your car is full of petrol, and I know that your sister will be happy to see you. It’s a long drive, so you had best get started. He could wake up soon, and he won’t be happy. Don’t come back, don’t look back. Just go. I’ve done all I can for you, now it’s up to you. Go, stay, it’s your choice.”

The woman notices the wings on the pizza bloke’s jacket as he turns to leave.

“Why are you helping me. I don’t know you at all,” says the woman, who sounds like she might begin to cry.

“It’s my job. It’s what I do. Everyone needs a job.”

The light streaming through the doorway made the feathers on his jacket glow, and the breeze made them flutter.

“If you do decide to go, which I hope you will, go back and finish the science degree you started. You have things to discover that will make a difference. People are depending on you.”

“What people? Who is depending on me? No one is interested in me. It’s too hard. How do you know all this stuff? Who are you? I can’t go back. I want to sleep for a hundred years,” said the young woman clutching at her stained dress.

“You can sleep when you get there. Now go.”

The young man put his shiny helmet on and disappeared through the doorway.

 

SCENE:

The breakfast break room at a suburban police station. One man is eating a chocolate croissant, the other is working his way through a ham roll.

“This looks promising,” said Sergeant Wilson.

“How so?”

“This report says that a pizza delivery driver in fancy dress beat the shit out of a bloke and stole a wad of cash. The young man who was assaulted is known to us through a series of domestic violence calls and his propensity for ‘borrowing’ other people’s cars. He’s in custody. Should get at least a year. The fourth time he’s been charged. The magistrate should have lost patience with him by now. Girlfriend has gone missing as well.”

“Yep. That’s probably him, but you know that when we get there, he’ll have vanished.”

“Yeah, I know, but we have to check it out.”

“I wonder if this young bloke knows how lucky he is to be alive? Busted nose and time inside still beats being dead.”

“Probably hasn’t got a clue. What do you say to me packing the giant butterfly net in case our suspect tries to fly away?”

The Inspector didn’t answer, but he thought it was a good idea.

Position Vacant: Pizza Delivery Driver

This story is designed to stand alone, and there is no necessity to read the first two stories in the sequence of stories, but if you would like to, you can read THE CHRISTENING and FLYING PIZZA, here and here.

“This is a very detailed CV. You do realise that you are applying for the job of a pizza delivery driver?”

“Yes, I do. I just thought that you deserved the ‘full picture’. I thought you might like to know who I am. Obviously, I haven’t put everything in there, it would take years to read everything,” said the tall young man with the chrome helmet under his arm. He hoped that the pizza shop owner would not ask about the nine-month employment time gap.

“Do you have a car?”

“Bike.”

“Motorbike?”

“Bike, bike.”

“Can you handle multiple deliveries on a pushbike?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Mike, the pizza shop owner, looked at the young man and marvelled at how long a long time seemed to the young.

Mike used to work ‘nine to five’ in an office in the city. Five days a week, home by seven, dinner and a few drinks, fall asleep in front of the telly. Rinse, repeat, with a bit of alcohol oblivion on the weekends. Rinse, repeat.

It didn’t feel like it at the time, but when the racks in the storage room collapsed and crushed Mike, it was the making of him.

Mike’s union (he was the only paid-up member in the office) went to bat for him and got him a huge settlement — including pain and suffering.

Part of the deal was that Mike would not come back to the office, which was okay with Mike.

It was never his dream, but when the local pizza shop went under (the third time a pizza shop had folded at that location), he took out a lease, which included all the fixtures and fitting.

Why Mike thought he could succeed where so many others had failed, was never explained.

Mike decided that the personal touch was required, so he obtained a list of all the property owners in the area — it was a long list. He personally invited each homeowner to sample his wares — handwritten invitations.

Mike remembered names and faces, and so his business grew — quite a bit faster than he initially thought.

Home deliveries were a must for a pizza shop to thrive. Mike’s delivery drivers were loyal and hard workers.

“The job doesn’t pay much, but our customers are generous tippers if you deliver promptly. I’ll give you a week’s trial — okay with you?”

“Yes, sir. Okay with me.”

For some reason (Mike had not been sleeping well lately) Mike didn’t notice the wings stuck to the young man’s leather jacket until he turned to walk away.

Nice gimmick, he thought. The customers will love it.

Christopher Dawson (he liked to be called Raphael) had taken the last nine months off work. His previous job working for Fallen Angel Pizza had ended badly.

He was, in effect, hiding out. Two potent forces were looking for him. One force was the state police, which wasn’t as big a problem as you might think. If needs be, Raphael could deal with that problem.

The other force was the one that worried him.

Like all good, well-structured stories, Raphael’s life had always had a subplot — sometimes more than one.

In reality, the subplots were the central narrative of his life. His role as a pizza delivery driver was a cover, as the spy world would have it.

Raphael wasn’t a James Bond, he was more of a Simon Templar. Damsels in distress were his forte.

In the old days, the name and address of a woman in danger would be delivered to him, and he would do his best to save her.

Free will was his biggest enemy. He could not force anyone to leave a dangerous environment. In fact, he wasn’t allowed to.

Raphael didn’t mind these restrictions — they added an impressive ‘degree of difficulty’ to what could have become a tedious job.

All this changed when a customer of Fallen Angel Pizza was murdered by her live-in lover.

This was one death too many for Raphael. He thought he had more time to convince her to leave. He was wrong.

What Raphael did next meant that he was now on his own — no support, no new names and addresses.

He was a little surprised that they hadn’t come for him. It would have been better if they had. Being cast adrift was infinitely worse.

Raphael had spent the last nine months living in an abandoned cottage by the ocean, waiting for a knock on the door.

When the knock didn’t come, he left his comfortable hideaway and decided to reenter his old life, albeit without his usual supports.

How hard can it be to find a woman who needs help? He thought.

His chrome helmet, with the wings riveted to the side, was gathering dust on a shelf near the front door. It glinted in the light every time he walked it. His bike was in the shed at the side of the house. The old wooden doors were no match for a determined thief, but when he went out to look at his reliable steed, it was just where he’d left it. A tiny spider had built repeated webs on the frame. There were new rust spots and a lot of dust, all of which was quickly repaired.

Raphael wheeled his bike out into the light and got to work.

Raphael’s trial week went by uneventfully. His new boss never officially told him he was employed, but Raphael knew he had a new home.

By week three, he noticed that many of the delivery dockets had his name scribbled on them. He overheard the girl who took the orders, “Raphael is very busy, if you want him to deliver your pizza, it will take a bit longer — okay then as long as you understand.”

By week five, Raphael was beginning to doubt his initial confidence about finding a ‘damsel’.

One delivery address kept popping up, but the door was always answered by a male. He was gruff but always tipped. Not generously, but tipped nonetheless.

These deliveries always left Raphael feeling uneasy.

The man who took delivery always had a beer in his hand, but so what? Lots of people drink beer after work and pizza seems to demand either red wine or beer.

The uncertainty of not knowing where to look was playing on Raphael’s confidence.

On dark days he considered going back to hiding out at the oceanside cottage. It was full of books, and there was enough wood in the shed to last several winters. He never needed to go out. Maybe he could write his memoirs?

The dark days passed, as they always do, and Raphael settled into a routine. He liked his boss and enjoyed his regular customers.

He was becoming quite a celebrity in his community. People would toot their horn when they saw him zooming along on his bike — chrome winged helmet, leather jacket (in all weathers) and pristine white wings fluttering in the breeze.

Raphael’s instinct about the ‘beer in hand’ customer, was spot on.

When a human interest article appeared in the local paper, it got picked up by the national daily.

Page five had an article about a seaside town with an unusual pizza delivery rider. The report had an action shot of Raphael riding his bike — gleaming helmet, wings and all.

“I think our murder suspect has surfaced Inspector,” said Sergeant Wilson holding a copy of the newspaper that someone had left in the lunchroom.

“Get your coat, Sergeant. It gets cold down by the ocean at this time of the year,” said Inspector McBride.