“Pop, that was the third call this week asking for no garlic on their pie.” Rosa sighed heavily knowing her father would not be receptive to the idea of changing his recipe.
“Baah,” Papa Zosnek dismissed his daughter’s words. “You see that sign out front? That’s my name in lights.” He stormed into the back waving his hands and muttering.
Rosa shouted in his direction, “It’s my name too! Maybe it’s time you change?”
Her father’s voice boomed through the bleached white tiled kitchen to sound as if he was standing next to her at the front counter. “I’m not discussing it anymore!”
Rosa knew her father would not change his mind on this point without some aggressive coaxing.
That night, Rosa spent hours cooking tomatoes for a sauce that did not have garlic in it. She had a sink full of dishes and threw away more food than she cared to admit with notecards recording the changes she made in the pot. Finally, when the sun was rising, she dipped a wooden spoon into a pan and tasted her blend of vegetables and red wine. Pleased with the result, she poured it into containers to refrigerate and lay down to sleep.
A bell rang out and Rosa shook her alarm clock without change to the noise chiming in the air. It wasn’t the clock she forgot to set; it was the landline hanging on the wall in her kitchen. She growled and covered her feet with slippers at the foot of her bed and walked with her eyes blinking hard to prod her brain with pin pricks of light.
Rosa sighed as she put her hand on the receiver knowing it was her father calling. He was the only one who used that number. He did not like the idea of mobile phones and would not contribute to the societal acceptance of constant availability and distraction.
Her father’s voice screamed through the receiver, “Where are you?”
Rosa spoke through her yawn, “You just called the phone in my kitchen.”
“I don’t care where your phone is!”
Rosa shook her head, “I’m home Pop.”
His voice grew louder with each word. “You know your shift started an hour ago. I’ve been calling! I can still fire you, even if you’re my daughter!”
Rosa’s eyes focused on the clock and saw it was five in the evening. “I’m coming. I overslept.” Rosa returned the receiver to its place on the wall while her father’s voice exploded with a barrage of declarations. She looked at the mess in her kitchen from cooking and shook her head in denial. In minutes she was out the door wearing a tee shirt reading Zosnek Pizza and with containers of sauce in hand.
“Sorry Dad,” Rosa said as she tied an apron around her waist.
He was still firing words at her and she wondered how long he had spoken before he hung up the phone.
“This is the last time you will come in late. We were busy at lunch time. Celeste wanted to leave on time. I had to answer the phones and make the pies. Our customers expect you here at four. I expect you here at four. You come in when you want to.”
Rosa listened at the silence behind her father’s yelling and looked to the kitchen where the cooks were slicing and preparing provisions for the dinner rush.
“Taste this Pop,” Rosa lifted the container of sauce she brought with her.
“What is this?”
“Just taste it,” Rosa said.
“Garlic again? In the history of pizza, no one makes it without garlic.”
Rosa opened the container and plunged a spoon into the bottom, stirring to ensure the flavors of herbs burst through the sauce. “Pizza can be made without garlic, Pop.”
He exploded, “Look it up!”
Rosa pulled her mobile phone from the back pocket of her jeans.
“You know I hate those things,” Papa said while he took the spoon from the container and tasted Rosa’s creation. He cocked his head and pursed his lips before nodding and saying, “It’s not bad, but it’s missing something.”
Rosa shoved her phone toward her father. “Right there. Can you see it?”
Papa Zosnek took the device from his daughter and asked, “What am I looking at?”
“Pizza. Definition. A dish typically made with flat bread dough, tomatoes, and cheese. It says nothing about garlic.”
“Put this away,” her father commanded. “I don’t like them out when you’re working.”
Rosa took her phone and stuffed it back into her pocket with a smirk on her face. “Pop, let me give you my recipe and you can try it. You can have two sauces.”
“Alright, alright.” The phone rang and Papa barked, “You gonna work tonight?”
Days later, two men walked into the pizza parlor and sat on the same side of a booth craning their necks to look over the counter.
Papa Zosnek started the question before he got to the table, “You two need help with something?”
The two looked at each other with eyebrows raised, “Menus?”
Zosnek sat down, silently examining the clothing and body language of the gentlemen.
“Maybe we should ask if you need help with something?” The man closest to the door spoke as he tapped his middle finger on the table.
Papa bellowed, “This is my parlor! You don’t help me with nothin’!”
Rosa rushed from behind the counter. “What is going on? Pop, go back to the kitchen.”
Papa’s face was as red as the tomatoes he used for his sauce. He looked at his daughter and she noticed that his fingers balled up into fists.
“If they give you trouble-“
“They’re not going to,” Rosa assured. “They just want menus.”
“If they do-“
“I’ll come get you, Pop.”
Rosa apologized to the men. “I’ll be right back for you.”
As she walked back toward the counter, her father called out, “Don’t turn your back on them!”
“I’m fine Pop.”
Papa Zosnek could be heard from the dining room. “I don’t trust men who come in and sit next to each other. Looking in my kitchen.”
“I am really sorry about him. He’s getting old.”
“I’m not old!”
Rosa looked at her father with a snarl. “And growing senile.”
One of the cooks put his hands on Papa’s arm and led him to a back exit.
Rosa placed menus on the table for the men and asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”
One nodded and said, “Root Beer.”
“Two,” his companion said.
Rosa nodded while the men looked at photos of food. “It’s just that-” Discomfort hushed her words.
The man closer to the wall said what she couldn’t. “Normally people sit across from one another.”
Rosa furrowed her brow.
The other one reached in his coat pocket, producing a badge and a business card.
“Police?” Rosa felt her knees weaken and her head dizzy.
Again, one of the men verbalized the words her mouth had failed to expel, “Why are the police coming into your father’s parlor to watch the kitchen?”
Rosa leaned against the booth to steady herself while they verbalized the thoughts in her mind.
“How do we know it’s your Pop’s joint?”
“How do we know you call him Pop and not Dad?”
Their words jousted and Rosa’s head spun trying to keep up with their insinuations.
“Maybe we just want a pizza pie?”
“But then why would we show our badges?”
“And why would we sit on the same side of the booth to watch the kitchen?”
Rosa closed her eyes and screwed up her courage to speak. “Can I get you something to eat, while you tell me why you’re here?”
“Why don’t you make it to go?”
“Of course. So,” she assumed, “A medium pie?”
“Medium will be fine.”
“Pepperoni,” one of them added.
Rosa smiled while writing the order onto a green notepad and then walked to the kitchen to slide it into the grip for the cook. She got two large root beers and returned to the table.
“Officers, why’re you here?”
“We’d prefer to talk to your father at the station.”
Rosa exclaimed and questioned, “The police station!?”
“After he calms down,” the gentleman closer to the door added.
“He’s not gonna calm down. When he stops being mad about where you sat, he’ll be mad at something else you do.” Rosa shrugged knowing that it didn’t make sense. “Maybe I can come to the station?”
“Pizza’s good,” an officer said to Rosa as he offered a slice.
She declined with a wave of her hand.
The other officer produced a stack of photos and said, “I’m warning you. This may be gruesome.”
“Imagine how the team felt walking in to this mess. At least you don’t have to smell the crime scene.”
Rosa flipped through photos that appeared to have a body covered in blood and lying on the floor of a living room. The furniture was covered in blood. One after the other, in each photo, Rosa could put together the movements of the person as they bled, finally winding up near a coffee table in a puddle of red.
Another living room. And then a kitchen. A patio with several teenagers. All in the same bloody condition.
Rosa felt faint. “What does this have to do with our shop?”
The officer put the slice of pie on a napkin and closed the box. “Your boxes have a green stripe with your name on it.”
“No mistaking a Zosnek pie,” the other officer confirmed.
Rosa looked at the box. “I’m not sure I understand.”
The officer pushed the stack of photos closer to Rosa. “Look in the background.”
In the first photo she saw it. The Zosnek box. Another photo, another box. Over and over, there was the green stripe or her family name staring at her in the middle of blood and death. A tear formed in her eye and her throat was dry.
“We need your help.”
Unable to speak, Rosa nodded.
“This is a calendar showing the nights of the murders.”
“We need to know who was working.”
“You don’t think-” Rosa stopped talking. She didn’t know what she wanted to say. If the food was rancid, people would have gotten sick. Not bloody. How could someone from our parlor do this?
“We’re thinking it’s a delivery boy.”
Rosa gasped. “It can’t be.”
“We need to know who was working.”
“I have the schedule on my phone.” Rosa pulled up an app on her mobile and showed it to the officers. They matched up the evenings of the crimes.
“Three of five, Gary worked,” an officer noted.
“That’s only half. It can’t be Gary,” Rosa insisted.
“Until we know for sure, we’re going to bring him in.”
“What about-” Rosa began and then covered her mouth before incriminating someone else.
“What about the other two?”
“We can bring your whole crew in and question them until someone breaks.”
“Is that what you want Miss Zosnek?”
“No,” Rosa whispered choking back tears.
Gary was brought in with his hands behind his back and a bruised gash over his eye dripping blood down his cheek.
“He’s bleeding,” Rosa pointed out.
The officer with whom she sat, pushed the photos toward her again. Rosa saw her father walk in to the station and ran to his arms. “Pop, you have to get Gary out of here!”
“No. I can’t have a criminal working for me!”
“But Pop, he-”
“No,” Her father’s voice was stubborn. “Not just a criminal. A murderer! No.”
Rosa cried silent tears.
As Papa Zosnek drove Rosa home and muttered angry grunts, she saw flashes of the photos behind her eyelids.
“Take me to the parlor,” she demanded.
“You need to go home and rest.”
“I just want to see the receipts,” Rosa pleaded
Her father asked, “So you’re a detective now?”
Rosa wrote down the names she could remember from the corners of the crime photos. She fanned through credit card receipts and the phone logs of numbers to find the names. She sat the better part of an hour, until the letters and numbers blurred on the pages she viewed.
“I called your brother to come get you.” Papa Zosnek’s voice was soft. “I told him to stay with you tonight.”
Rosa leaned back in her father’s office chair. “I’m fine.”
She had never heard him ask something so important with so gentle a tone.
She nodded and shuffled the papers back into a pile.
“I’ll clean up. You go with your brother now.”
“I can stay at my house,” Rosa said when her brother Jared stopped his car in his driveway.
“Pop said the police dragged you through bloody crime scenes today.”
“He exaggerates,” she growled.
“You were taken out of work by the police,” Jared said.
Although she didn’t want to admit it, Rosa needed someone to stay with her after the traumatic day she had.
“Pop gave me a pizza,” Jared said as he led Rosa inside.
“I don’t even want to look at pizza.”
“Let me see what food I have for us,” Jared said and walked toward his kitchen.
Rosa dropped her body onto the sofa and stretched her neck. She was exhausted, and the sudden lack of movement caused a yawn that reached from the throat to her toes. She called out to the kitchen, “What is this?”
“All this on your coffee table,” Rosa said as she moved pages around.
“Research for my thesis,” Jared said. “I have ice cream, orange soda, a can of tuna fish, and a half pint of fried rice. I guess I need to go grocery shopping”
“I don’t want food,” Rosa said. “I thought you were a biology major. You change your mind?”
“People don’t change their mind in grad school,” Jared said as he shuffled the papers on his table into a pile.
“This isn’t biology,” Rosa flipped through pages of a book labeled, Roman Art.
Jared sighed. He was tired too. He had also been working earlier and was trying to give time to his schoolwork until his father called him. He looked at Rosa and thought she had it much heavier than he and to take her mind off the day’s events, he could talk about his findings. “Okay, so you know how yeast is a fungus, right?”
Rosa furrowed her brow. “Ew; no.”
“Well, it is.” He pushed the papers around to find a picture and show Rosa a view through a microscope. “I’m trying to see if there is a difference between cancer cells and healthy cells and if so, at what stage of reproduction it occurs.”
Rosa interrupted and questioned, “What does that have to do with yeast?”
Jared explained, “When yeast experiences mitosis,-”
“Splitting cells to reproduce.” Jared looked at his sister’s eyes that seemed puzzled. “So, the air bubbles that are in bread are basically yeast burps.”
“Stop saying ew.”
“I can’t help it. I never thought of yeast as little creeps eating, burping, and making new creeps in my food,” Rosa shivered with disgust.
Jared continued, “Yeast is a single cell that consumes sugars and then effuses a gas when it splits.” Jared pulled another paper from the stack with two photos side by side. “This is a healthy skin cell that is splitting so that the old cell can be sloughed off the body.” Jared pointed to the other side, “And this is a malignant melanoma.”
“Skin cancer cell,” Jared replied. “Skin cells reproduce and cancer cells look a little different, but behave the same as healthy cells. Instead of rejecting them, the body nourishes them. And because they are pulling sugars, which converts to energy, from the healthy cells, they die, and then cancerous cells are the ones reproducing to cause the body harm.” Jared saw the blank look on his sister’s face. Still he continued knowing she would stop him when she grew too bored to listen. “Although all yeast is a fungus, it’s not harmful until there are mutations in the cell growth during reproduction.”
“What causes the mutations?”
“I don’t know. And for my purposes, it doesn’t matter. I’m looking to see if I can determine the moment in reproduction when these changes become present. Yeast, just like cancer cells appear to be the same and behave the same, but the mutated cells have rapid growth and can be seen destroying the original yeast.”
Rosa pushed the book in her hands toward Jared. “Alright, so what are these paintings you are looking at?”
“Historically, there may be some information I can find to help aid in the work I’m trying to do. Some of this art depicts people getting sick from yeast. And then others,” he pointed at a chaotic print showing many things happening in the foreground and background, “are smashing the yeast with a pestle.”
Rosa was looking deeply into the detail. “What’s this?”
“I think it’s a flower bulb. I’m trying to figure out what it is. Apparently, that’s used to cure the sickness,” he said while showing another picture.
“These are just paintings though,” Rosa said and leaned back.
“Art is a reflection of society. If I can figure out what flower bulb this is, I may be able to figure out a way to halt the growth of the infected yeast cells. And then, because they’re so close to human cells, possibly theorize about cancer?”
Rosa sat up and looked again at the last picture that Jared showed her. “These kind of look like garlic bulbs.” Rosa’s phone rang, and she answered it seeing the pizza parlor’s number flash on the screen.
“I’m at Jared’s house.” She paused and looked at Jared with the color washing from her cheeks, finally saying, “thank you.” As she disconnected the call, she said, “Two more.”
“Who was that?”
“Celeste from the shop. The police took Pop in. There were two more murders.”
“I thought Gary was in jail,” Jared questioned?
“He is,” Rosa said and looked into her brother’s eyes.
“Someone has to be following our delivery-”
Jared interrupted, “That’s what Pop said.”
Rosa suggested, “Why don’t we follow them?”
“No,” Jared declared. “I said I would keep you safe. You’re staying here.”
“Pop’s gonna wind up in jail,” Rosa said with a slight manipulative tone.
“How? He didn’t kill anybody.”
“He’s gonna fight with the cops,” Rosa said with eyebrows raised. “They’re not lettin’ him out tonight.”
Jared sighed knowing she was not giving up. He instructed, “You don’t get out of my car.”
Rosa raised her hand and said, “I promise.”
“I don’t think we should do this,” Jared said and shook his head in negation.
“I take responsibility,” Rosa said. “You have binoculars?”
Jared’s voice revealed unease, “Binoculars?”
“We have to see into someone’s window. Binoculars.”
Jared asked, “You don’t think that’s a bit much?”
“People were slaughtered after getting our pizza.”
Jared sighed heavily. “Bring that cop’s number.”
“It’s on speed dial,” Rosa smiled. Her exhaustion was gone. She was going to find out who was responsible for these tragedies.
“You know if you put this energy into-,”
Rosa interrupted, “I’m not smart like you. I’m not going back to school.”
Rosa looked through binoculars as Jared squinted to see the delivery boy ring the doorbell and hand off the pie. She turned her head to the left and right looking for an interloper to ring the doorbell again. There was no one.
Jared questioned, “What’s going on?”
Rosa replied, “He’s just sitting there watching tv and eating pizza.”
“How long after it was delivered before did the people die?”
“I don’t know,” Rosa said slowly. “It looks like he’s holding his throat and coughing. We have to go in there!”
Jared pushed the electric lock and pulled Rosa’s arm. “You said you would stay in the car.”
“He’s choking! This isn’t a bloody murder. This is someone choking.”
Jared clicked the lock again and the two ran to the house. The front door was locked. A garden window was open and Rosa climbed in. “I’m gonna help you. Just relax.”
Just as she ran over to him, he swelled up like a balloon. His skin stretched out as far as it could. She thought he would burst. His nose started to bleed. Then his eyes. Blood poured from his ears, and when he gasped for air, blood dripped from his lips. Rosa stepped back. Jared pulled his sister away from the blood pooling up on the floor. And within minutes, his pores opened, the swelling subsided, but blood flowed out of his skin. His hand gripped the slice of pizza with one bite eaten.
“Where’s your phone?”
Rosa stood looking blankly at the room with confusion as her brain pieced together what she had just seen.
Jared screamed, “Rosa!” He spun his sister to look into his eyes. “Rosa! Where’s your phone?”
“I think it’s mushroom.”
Jared was puzzled. “We have to call the police.”
Rosa pulled her mobile phone from her pocket and handed it to him. “I think he ordered a mushroom pie.”
To Jared’s horror, Rosa walked through the blood and stepped over the body to get to the receipt stapled to the box with the signature green stripe.
Jared recounted what he saw to the detective on the phone and gave the address.
Rosa said quietly, “Hey Jared, are mushrooms fungus?”
Jared nodded as he disconnected the call. “Yeah, fungus.” He walked around the bloody mess on the floor. “We have to stay here until the police come.
“We have to get to the shop,” Rosa demanded.
“We have to wait for the police.”
“Okay,” Rosa conceded. She put her head in her hands and paced.
Jared asked, “Can you stop walking in the blood?”
Rosa looked at her feet. He white sneakers were soaked and her ankles were splattered with sticky red goo.
The police arrived, separated Rosa and Jared, then questioned them.
“Both you and your brother are what we call parties of interest.”
“Keep your phone on you,” the detective said before he dismissed the two.
“We’re going home,” Jared said as he engaged the ignition of his car.
“No,” Rosa pleaded. “We have to see what everyone ordered.”
Jared pulled out of the driveway and questioned, “They ordered pizza.”
“That picture you have in your house has someone sick with blood dripping from their mouth.”
“So if everyone ordered mushroom. We may have gotten a bad batch of fungus that’s infecting-” Rosa sunk in her seat frustrated. “I don’t know. Maybe the fungus in the mushrooms were like the cancer that you showed me?”
“I’ll drive back to the shop, but I don’t know what you’re getting at,” admitted Jared.
“I don’t think I know either.”
Rosa found the paper she wrote the victims’ names when she was in the office earlier. “We sell maybe fifty pies a night,” she explained to Jared. “Five people died.”
“And that party,” Jared reminded.
“Right, and that party.” Rosa continued to shuffle the papers until she found what she was looking for. “Here are the receipts.” She pushed the others aside. “Dammit.”
“None of them ordered mushroom.”
Jared put his arm around his sister. “Let’s go home and get some rest.”
Rosa nodded. She put the receipts in her pocket and turned off the light.
“I’m going to bed,” Jared said when they returned to his house. “If you need me, wake me up.”
“Sure,” Rosa said as she turned on a kettle.
“I know you’re gonna stay up all night thinking about this.”
“It’s only eleven,” Rosa smiled and pulled a mug and tea bag from the cabinet. She sat and looked at the receipts spread out on the kitchen table. She questioned silently, What is the common thread? In the very moment she poured a spoon of sugar in her tea, she saw the words on all the receipts. No Garlic. She ran to the coffee table and pulled the picture she was inspecting earlier. “Jared! Wake up!” Rose threw open the bedroom door and called out, “I knew it was a garlic bulb! We have to go to the pizza parlor!”
“I just got to sleep.”
“Well, wake up!”
Rosa grabbed the receipts and held onto the print of the painting while she and her brother climbed into her car. She called the detective. “Meet me at the pizza parlor. I have some information.” She disconnected the call before he could ask her any questions. She called the parlor. “Pop? I thought you were in jail? It doesn’t matter. You have to throw my sauce away. I’m on my way to the shop.”
“Are you on that cell phone? I don’t like you talking on that thing.”
“Pop, there’s not time right now. We’re on our way.”
“And you’re driving? Put that phone down and just call when you get home.”
“I’m not going home, I’m on my way to you.”
Minutes later, the car pulled into the parking lot and before the engine stopped whirring, Rosa burst into the dining room. Her eyes darted around at the tables. Pizza with peppers and onions. Pepperoni. Cheese. Mushrooms.
“Don’t eat the pizza!”
Papa Zosnek wobbled from behind the counter. “What you mean, don’t eat the pizza?” He motioned around the dining room, “My daughter is crazy! Eat, eat!”
“No! Pop, throw out the sauce! Tear up the recipe! You have to use garlic!”
Zosnek waved his hands at his daughter while he conceded, “You were right. People want no garlic-”
The police walked in.
A man in the corner booth gasped for air. He pulled his body from the bench. His legs were swelling. Then his belly, his arms, and his head. He started bleeding just the way Rosa and Jared watched earlier. People in the other booths dropped their food.
“Nobody move.” The detectives pulled their guns from their holsters. One held steady in front of Rosa and one toward her Pop.
“Pop look out!” Rosa saw dough emerging from the kitchen. Muffled sounds from the cook could be heard.
“Jared, get the garlic,” Rosa instructed while she stood still.
Rosa called out, “The yeast is killing people!”
Jared nodded his head in illuminated agreement and whispered, “On a microscopic level.”
Rosa nodded. “From the inside out. Shake it everywhere! Shake it on the dough!”
The detectives looked at each other bewildered. “Do it,” one detective said. “Slowly.”
Jared shook the jar until it was empty. The dough retreated. He went into the kitchen and kept pouring garlic onto the monster made of flour, water, and yeast. Fresh garlic, garlic powder, garlic bulbs, roasted garlic in olive oil. Any garlic he could find, until it was small enough to put into a trash bag to suffocate the yeast in plastic.
Jared fell into a booth sweating. “How did you know Rosa?”
Rosa explained, “The yeast was mitosing,”
“That’s not a word,” her brother mumbled.
“It was eating sugar and multiplying itself. Even after it was pizza, it kept going. You said it releases gas? It must have swelled up the people with the burping and their blood got pushed out.”
“Why didn’t it happen with all the pizza? Or with all bread?”
“Because,” Rosa explained, “Tomatoes are all sugar. I had Pop stop putting garlic in some of the sauce.”
“I told you pizza needs garlic,” Papa Zosnek said.
Rosa continued to speak ignoring her father. “I saw in the picture; garlic’s the cure. There has to be something in garlic that stops that mito-,” she looked at her brother who was smiling at her. “That splitting thing that happens.”
Although the story was printed in newspapers and Zosnek's never put tomatoes on pizza without garlic, somewhere in the middle of a small town, a phone call was made to a pizza shop by adolescents intending to play seven in heaven, asking for a pizza with no garlic.