The Three Piemakers
June 20, 2020.
The bell over the door rang as the heavyset man in a gray suit sporting a pencil-thin mustache walked into the small restaurant. The logo on the door read, "The Three Piemakers." He looked over at the dining area where a dozen children were seated around several tables moved together. They were all wearing party hats and screaming and laughing at the short, rubber-faced man with slick, black hair who was dancing around them. Two women stood nearby, monitoring the festivities. The children chanted, "Shemp! Shemp! Shemp!" as the man began to pull a seemingly endless scarf out of his mouth, hand over hand, as the fabric piled on the floor at his feet.
The man at the door smiled and walked through the store to the counter. There he was greeted by another short man, this one with a bowl haircut. He was smiling broadly. "Yes, sir," he said, "how can I help you?" He then recognized the man. "Oh, Mr. Morgan. How's our favorite landlord this fine day?"
"Fine, Moe, fine." He looked back at the dining room. "It looks like the kids are enjoying the party."
"Yeah, some a little more than others." Shemp was tossing a disk of pizza dough in the air, and Moe watched as it got closer to the ceiling fan above him with each toss. "Pardon me, Mr. Morgan," he said, then called out, "Hey, knucklehead, watch out for the fan." Shemp tossed the disk again and it hit the fan, wrapping itself around the fan blades.
"Of all the..." Moe mumbled under his breath, then turned and shouted into the kitchen, "Larry!" He waited for a moment and, after not hearing a reply, he said, "Hey, Porcupine, shut off the fan. That melonhead did it again."
"I'm takin' an order here," Larry called back harshly, his hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone on the counter. He then leaned over with his elbows on the counter and spoke into the mouthpiece. "Now, you were saying you wanted two pies with extra sauce..."
Moe walked into the kitchen, looked Larry on the phone, shook his head and said, "Lollygagging, huh? I guess I have to do everything myself." As he reached for the fan control, he glanced into the dining room and saw Shemp standing on a chair, swatting at the dough as the fan spun around. The kids were laughing but it appeared that Shemp would fall off the chair at any moment. "Hey! Wait a minnit, wait a minnit." Moe called, and, without looking, twisted the fan control clockwise, in the direction marked Faster.
Larry saw him do this. He put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and said, "Say, Moe..."
"Shaddap and take that order," Moe said, then he looked into the dining room. The fan was spinning much faster and pieces of dough were flying off onto the walls of the shop and onto anyone standing nearby. A gooey glop of dough hit Morgan in the back of the head.
"Nyaa-ah-ah," said Moe, who hurried to turn the fan knob counter-clockwise to shut the fan off. He looked at Larry and said, "What'd you let me do that?" before slapping Larry in the forehead with the palm of his hand. Larry teetered on his chair, stunned, as Moe headed out the dining room. He walked up to one of the women, who was pulling bits of dough off her blouse, as Shemp was wiping the faces of the laughing children with a towel. "I'm terribly sorry, lady," Moe said. "We usually don't let him out of his cage when there's customers around."
"It's okay, I guess," she said. "We kind of expect this. I think that's why the kids love coming here so much."
Moe said, "And here, I thought it was the pies...," as Shemp walked by and stepped hard on Moe's toe. "Ow! Get offa me, lamebrain." he said, shoving Shemp away, nearly upsetting one of the empty tables.
"I'm sorry, Moe," Shemp said. "I didn't see you there."
"You won't see nothin'," Moe said and aimed his two fingers at Shemp's eyes. Shemp put his hand up to block the eye poke and laughed, so Moe pulled his hand back and balled his fist. "You asked for this!"
"Now, now," Shemp said, wagging his finger. "Not in front of the children."
Moe looked at the kids, then at the chaperones, and smiled contritely. "Oh, yeah. Pardon me," he said to one of the women. He leaned close to Shemp and said, "Remind me to murder you later."
"Sure, but you gotta take care of the customer first," Shemp said, pointing to the man waiting at the counter.
"That's no customer, you idiot. That's our landlord." Moe walked behind the counter and stood in front of Morgan. "I'm sorry, Mr. Morgan. You get these kids all jumpy with sody pop and things like this happen. Here, here's a towel." Moe handed the towel to Morgan, who snatched it away and wiped the mess off the back of his head. Larry walked out of the kitchen to stand next to Moe.
"Thanks," Morgan said, handing the towel back to Moe. "The reason I'm here is to remind you that your lease is up at the end of the month, and to ask you if you're going to renew, seeing as how that new pizza place on the next block is opening up today."
"What new pizza place?" Moe asked, as Shemp walked up to join his partners.
"The new pizza place on the next block," Larry said.
"That's what the man said, but where is it?" asked Moe.
"On the next block," said Shemp, chuckling.
Moe looked at the two of them, and slapped them simultaneously on the cheeks. "Why didn't you tell me there as a new pizza place opening up?" He turned to Morgan. "No, that's okay, Mr. Morgan. There's plenty of room in this town for two pizza shops. And our customers are loyal."
"Uh-huh," Morgan said flatly.
"While you're here, why don't we make you a pie?" Moe asked. "It's on the house."
"Okay," Morgan said, looking at the list of ingredients listed on the wall. "I'll have anchovies, onion, and garlic."
"Oh, date night," Moe said, then turned to Shemp. "Halitosis special on one!"
"Right!" Shemp said, and headed to the kitchen.
- - -
A week later, the restaurant was empty. Moe stood behind the cash register, talking to the teenage boy leaning on the counter. "I don't believe it, Billy," Moe said, shaking his head. "It's Saturday night and we haven't had an order in over an hour. By now, you're usually delivering our pies as fast as we make 'em."
"It's that new place on the next block," Billy said. "It's taking all your business."
"But what's so special about their pizza?"
Billy shrugged. "I don't know, but lots of people seem to like it. Maybe it's just 'cause it's new. They'll be back."
"Yeah, but we can't go on like this much longer." Moe walked to the window in the kitchen and shouted, "Hey, you mugs! Get out here." He jumped as he heard a crash from the kitchen, as if a stack of metal pans had been dropped on the floor.
Larry and Shemp ran out of the kitchen and up to Moe. "What're you yelling about?" Shemp asked. "Larry and I were brainstorming new recipes."
"Yeah, I heard the snoring. Look, we need to find out what's so special about that new pizza place." He pointed at Larry. "Larry, you watch the counter." He pointed at Shemp. "And you, dough boy, come with me." Moe took off his apron and tossed it under the counter, grabbing his hat from the same place. Moe and Shemp left the shop and started down the sidewalk. "So where why are we going there?" asked Shemp.
"We're going to get a pizza and see what the fuss is about."
"That's great! I haven't had a good pizza in ages."
Moe turned and looked at him. "We work at a pizza place, numbskull. Why don't you just make one for yourself?"
"Ah, I wouldn't eat that junk. Do you know what goes into it?"
Moe was about to reply when they reached the corner. Ahead of them, across the street, was a three-story glass and chrome building, with a large, mostly-full parking lot in front. A large neon sign on the front of the building flashed the name "Baravelli's."
"Will you look at that?" Shemp said, smiling. "It's so pretty."
"Ah, that's all looks," Moe growled. "It's what their pies taste like that counts. C'mon."
- - -
They crossed the street and Moe followed Shemp into the building. Shemp stopped just inside the door, so that Moe had to step around to avoid knocking him over.
"Whattya think you're doin'?" Moe said angrily. Shemp had a silly smile on his face, and Moe turned from him to see that he was staring at a pretty blond woman in a bright dress standing just inside the door. Reflexively, each man reached up and smoothed his hair.
"Welcome to Baravelli's," the woman said. "Dine in or pick up?"
"Pick up, indubitably," Shemp said, and reached out his arms toward the woman's waist.
Moe grabbed him by the hair and pulled him back. "Spread out!" he barked, then said to the woman, "Dine in, please."
Unfazed, the woman said, "Then please step forward and place your order at the counter." She pointed straight ahead, where a curly-haired man in a green velvet jacket and Tyrolean hat stood behind a stainless steel counter. Moe still had hold of Shemp's hair, so he lifted and led Shemp to the counter.
"Welcome-a to Baravelli's," the man said, flipping a page on a menu pad and licking the tip of a pencil. "Whattya like for this evening?"
"Are you Baravelli?" Shemp asked.
"Atsa right, and this is my place."
"Swell joint you've got here," Moe said, looking around.
"Thanks, we like it just fine. So, what'll ya have?"
"We'd like a pie," said Shemp.
"Shoo, we got that," Baravelli replied. "We got-a apple, we got-a cherry, we got-a peach, we got-a tootsi fruitsi,..."
"No, no," Moe said, "he means a pizza pie."
"Oh, why didn'cha say so? We got-a those, too. Whatta ya want on it?"
"Oh, I don't know," Moe said. "What'cha got?"
"Oh, the usual stuff. Sausage, pepperoni, swordfish..."
"Did you say 'swordfish'?" Baravelli asked, raising one brow and eyeing his customer.
"I thought you said swordfish."
Baravelli laughed. "That'sa right, I did. I thought you were someone else. Never mind. So name your poison."
"I was always partial to a little arsenic..." Shemp said.
Moe stomped hard on Shemp's toe, and Shemp hopped away, holding his foot. "What he means is, we'll have the house special."
"Comin'-a right up." Baravelli turned to the window into the kitchen and shouted, "Hey, Pinky! One large special, on-a the run." Moe saw a head of blond, curly hair moving quickly back and forth past the window. Some whistling was heard in response, and Baravelli turned back and said, "Be about fifteen minutes, boss."
He rang up the sale and gave Moe a card with the number 11 on it. "Put-a this on your table, and the waitress will bring out you pizza."
"Thanks," Moe said, and walked into the dining room to find Shemp already sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer and two glasses. "The man says fifteen minutes."
"Gee, this is a nice place," Shemp said, "and look at all the people."
"Yeah, but the pie'll be th' thing. If the food's no good, people won't come back."
A few minutes later, a server arrived with their pizza and a couple of plates. The two men smiled art her until she walked away, then each pulled a slice from the tray, Moe using the spatula and Shemp just grabbing it with his bare hands. Shemp took a big bite, then sat with his head cocked to the right, staring into the distance as he chewed open-mouthed. Moe held the plate up and smelled the topping, then nibbled a little from the end. He then nibbled a little from the crust end. Then he nibbled a little from the side. He furrowed his brow, then put the piece down and took a slice from the other side of the pie and sampled it the same way.
"Whatta ya think?" Shemp asked, picking up another slice and taking a big bite.
Moe had three half-eaten pieces in front of him. He looked up at Shemp and frowned. "We're sunk," he said grimly. "This is some of the best pizza I've ever had."
Shemp smacked his lips. "I like it, too. Whatta ya think's in this sauce?"
"I don't know, but we need to find out. Let's take this back to Larry for further analysis."
"Just one more slice," Shemp said as he reached to the pizza. Moe slapped the back of Shemp's hand with the spatula. "Hey!" Shemp said, rubbing his hand.
"I said: we'll take this back to Larry."
"Fine. You go get it wrapped up. I'm gonna finish my beer."
Moe picked up the tray and walked back to the counter. Baravelli was not there. In his place was a man with glasses wearing a white shirt and tie and chewing an unlit cigar. Moe paused a moment when he noticed that the man's eyebrows and mustache appeared to be painted on. He shook his head and said "Hey, excuse me pal."
The man behind the counter removed the cigar from his mouth and said, "Pal? So I'm your pal now? What makes us pals, huh? After everything we've been through, we should at least be on a first name basis. Not any of this 'pal' stuff."
Moe looked confused. "But I don't know your name."
"Well, did you even bother to ask, did you? No, you just went ahead and assumed we're pals. What if I don't like you? I can tell from your beady little eyes that you're already planning to stab me in the back. Metaphorically, or course. Because that's what friends do."
Moe frowned. "Now, wait a minute, mister..."
"Wagstaff. Quincy Adams Wagstaff. Now don't you feel silly?"
"Wait a minute, Mr. Wagstaff. I got this pizza here." He held out the tray.
Wagstaff looked over the tray. "That's not one of mine. You can't pin that on me. I swear I've never seen that before in my life. But if you have a complaint, you need to submit it to the head office in triplicate."
"No, no, there's nothing wrong with it," Moe said. "I'd just like it wrapped to go."
Wagstaff grinned. "Well why didn't you say so? I'd be happy to accommodate such a loyal customer." He took an empty pizza box off the back counter, then took the tray from Moe. As he slid the pizza into the box, he said, "So you really liked it, huh?"
"Yeah, it was good," Moe said, then he leaned forward conspiratorially. "I was wondering if you could tell me what's in the sauce."
As the pizza settled in the box, Wagstaff dropped the empty tray on the floor and jumped back. "What? Where? Is it moving? If it is, it didn't come out of our kitchen. In fact, if it was edible, it probably didn't come out of our kitchen." He picked up a pizza cutter and held it menacingly over the box.
Moe pulled the box toward him and closed the lid. "You know, never mind." As he walked back to the table, he looked back and saw that Wagstaff was standing on the counter, gesticulating wildly.
"C'mon," he said to Shemp, "let's get outta here. That guy's crazier than you."
- - -
Late that evening, after all the stores on the block had closed for the night, three figures dressed in black moved from shadow to shadow as they approached the back door of Baravelli's.
"Okay, here's the back door," Moe said. "Let's get in there and see what's in the kitchen. We'll figure out what's in that sauce."
"And I want to know how they got the crust so crisp without burning it," Larry said, and he bent down to try to pick the lock.
"I just want to see if there are any waitresses still hanging around," Shemp said, then howled, "Harroooo."
Moe slapped Shemp in the face. "Knock that off, numbskull. You want to get us caught."
"Hey! Nix, nix," Larry said softly. "I got it open." He pulled the door open wide, revealing blackness inside.
"Great job, porcupine," Moe said, patting Larry on the forehead several times. "Maybe your youth was not so mis-spent after all."
Larry grinned. "Gee, thanks. Now let's get inside."
The three men walked through the door and closed it behind them. In the darkened restaurant, each pulled out a flashlight and they made their way to the kitchen.
"Say, this is a pretty small kitchen for such a big place," Shemp said, as the beam from his flashlight illuminated a door in the back. "I wonder where this goes?"
"You check that out," Moe said. "Me an' Larry'll take a look out here."
Shemp opened the door and peered inside. The small room there had shelves along the walls, all filled with cans and boxes. In the middle of the room was a pallet of bags of flour stacked on top of each other. "Just a supplies," he muttered, then turned to join the others. As he did, what looked like the top bag of flour rolled over and a head with blond curly hair popped up. A man stood up from the pile. He rubbed his eyes and walked to the door.
"That's the pantry," Shemp said as he walked into the kitchen. He panned his light to the back wall and stopped it on a large pizza oven. "Will you look at this? A TurboFire 9000! You know this thing'll cook a pie in six minutes flat." He pulled open the door and peered in to see a small pilot light at the back of the oven.
"I'll flatten you if you don't get over here," Moe said. He was flipping through some papers he found in a drawer, while Larry was poring over an array of spice jars that were on a metal shelf.
"Look at all of this stuff," Larry said, taking a jar off the shelf and shining his flashlight on the label. "What the heck is turmeric?"
Shemp walked up and said, "My aunt had a turmeric on her neck once, but she had it removed."
Moe slapped him across the face and said, "You should have your head removed. Help us find a recipe." He went back to looking at the papers.
None of the three saw the blond-haired man sneak out of the pantry. He stopped short as he saw the intruders in his kitchen. He sneered and slid his shirtsleeves up to his elbows, striking a boxing stance. He started to walk toward the three, but then dove back into the pantry as Shemp turned around.
"I'll take another look in the pantry," he said, but he stopped as Moe called him back.
"Look at this, you guys." He held up a paper filled with handwriting.
Larry snatched it away from him. "This looks more like a chemical formula than a recipe."
As the three looked at the paper, the blond-haired man crept out of the pantry and up to the pizza oven. He looked from the oven to the backs of the three men, then turned a knob on the side of the oven all the way on one direction and pressed a button. There was a hiss of gas and a click, and a stream of flame shot out of the oven and lit the back of Moe's pants on fire.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Moe shouted.
"Hang on," Shemp said, "I'll get you." He grabbed a bottle of clear liquid from the counter, popped the top, and splashed it at Moe. The flame flared brightly and as the liquid splashed past Moe, it carried the flame to ignite a pile of towels that were under a nearby counter.
"I'm losing my mind!" Moe yelled as he dropped to the floor and slid around to try to extinguish his pants.
Larry grabbed the bottle from Shemp and sniffed it. "That's brandy, you idiot." He slammed the bottle down and went to help Moe. He tried to pat out the fire on Moe's pants with an apron from a hook on the wall. The apron caught fire and he threw it away, spreading the fire to another spot in the kitchen.
As the flame traveled along under the table, Shemp said, "This kitchen has got to have one of those whatchamjiggers."
"Extinguisher," Larry said.
"Gesundheit," Shemp said and turned, only to be hit in the face with a stream of water, knocking him to the floor. He looked up to see a wide-eyed blond-haired man hugging a brass fire extinguisher, its hose randomly spraying water around the kitchen. Shemp shouted, "Moe! Larry! Run!" then took off through the kitchen door.
Moe got off the floor, his pants still smoldering, and when he and Larry saw someone with a fire extinguisher in front of the flames, they both shouted, "Nyah-ah-ah!" and followed Shemp through the door.
The blond-haired man looked around at the fire. He threw the extinguisher at it and ran from the kitchen.
- - -
Later the following morning, Moe was standing at the counter of the Three Piemakers shop, reading the early edition of the newspaper. The lead story was about the fire at the Baravelli pizza place, and how the building was a total loss. "You know, it's too bad about that Baravelli joint," he said as Larry walked up behind him. "They made some pretty good pies."
"Yeah, but we could do without the competition," Larry said. "I wish I'd grabbed that paper you found. We might have been able to improve our pies."
They looked up as they heard the bell over the door ring. Two men had walked in. One of them Moe recognized as Baravelli. The other wore a patchwork overcoat and had curly blond hair sticking out from under a crumpled black top hat. The latter looked around child-like at the dining area as they approached the counter.
Moe quickly tucked the newspaper under the counter and said, "Mr. Baravelli. I'm so sorry to hear about your restaurant."
"Oh, that's-a alright," Baravelli said, shrugging his shoulders. "They say it was a gas leak. Nothin' we can do about that. It's a good thing we were insured."
"So are you going to rebuild?" Larry asked.
"No, I don' think so. The restaurant business is too dangerous. I was thinking of going into something a little safer, like horse-racing."
"That's fine," Moe said. "So what can we do for you gentlemen?"
"Me an' Pinky wanted to show our appreciation to the firemen who put out the fire," he said, pointing to the blond-haired man. "Could you deliver a half-dozen of your largest pies to the fire house?"
"Sure, we'd be glad to," Moe said, flipping open his menu pad and licking the tip of a pencil. "What kind of toppings would you like?"
"Lemme look. C'mere, Pinky." The two men walked over to the ingredient list on the wall.
Larry leaned close to Moe and whispered, "You know, there's something familiar about that quiet guy."
"I was thinking the same, but I can't place him."
Baravelli and Pinky walked back to the counter. "Let's-a keep it simple. Three cheese sausage and three cheese pepperoni."
"You got it," Moe said, scribbling on the pad. He tore the page and handed it to Larry. "Get this started."
"You bet," Larry said, and turned to the kitchen. "Six on one," he called through the window.
Shemp's face appeared as he called back, "An even half-dozen." He started as he looked past Larry to see Pinky. He stuck his face in the window and whispered, "Larry! Larry! That's the guy. That's the guy."
At the same time, Pinky saw Shemp through the window and his eyes went wide. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and started whistling furiously.
Moe was handing Baravelli his change as this happened, and he asked, "What's the matter with that guy?"
"Oh, he's-a crazy. C'mon, Pinky, let's go." He grabbed Pinky by the collar of his coat and led him out the door, with Pinky gesturing and whistling loudly. "Yes, we can get you some ice cream on the way." The bell over the door rang again as they left.
"Can you imagine being in business with a lunatic like that?" Larry asked.
"Yeah, I have no idea what's that's like," Moe snarled. He flicked Larry's nose with his thumb and said, "Get in there and help that knucklehead with that order". Larry scowled and rubbed his nose, then walked into the kitchen. Moe took the newspaper out and spread it on the counter. He pulled over a stool, but yelped and rubbed his behind after he tried to sit down.
This story © Matthew Bieniek, 2020. Moe, Larry, Shemp, Baravelli, Pinky, and Wagstaff are all trademarks of their respective owners. All rights reserved.