The Origins of the Mystical Death Valley Pizza Parlor, Home of the World-Famous Roadkill Pie

As told to the Grand Universal Scribe of All Creation, During an All-Night Poker Game

Part II: Hansel B.

Chapter 1: In Which Hansel B. Contemplates His Demise

He now understood the assertions of countless cats, that it was really safer to be indifferent to the comings and goings of humans.

They were probably all laughing at him, Hansel thought gloomily. After all, he'd died a pretty dumb death.

But how was he supposed to know that jumping of a recliner would be the death of him? Really, it was rather unexpected.

Hansel B. stared down at his prone, red-brown body. The baby was crying, he thought vaguely. Well, he wasn't going to miss that. It seemed like the baby was always crying.

Meghan had picked him up, and was crying, he noted. Well, he supposed it was pretty depressing. He was dead, after all.

He was sort of numb about it, and that was less than expected, considering he'd always been a dog who'd lived his life in great burst of emotion. Food! Walk! Pizza! Home! Yay! Now, he didn't feel much of anything. It was disturbing.

"Dude, It's, like, an insurance policy. Can't have you bein' all depressed and stuff, y'know."

Hansel B. looked up at the speaker and felt a definite feeling of impending dread. In a way, he was relieved, because he wasn't standing there by himself staring rather morbidly at his own death scene, plus he was feeling some emotion.

These positives were outweighed by one big negative.

The speaker had shaggy blond hair, blue eyes, and wore clothes that were so big he was surprised they stayed on.

He was carrying a skateboard emblazoned with flaming swords and feathers and such.

A skater boy. This didn't bode well for his Afterlife.

Chapter 2: In Which Hansel Tries to Avoid His Guide to the Afterlife As Much As Dog-ly Possible.

The solution, Hansel decided with no small degree of nervousness, was to stay away from the skater boy as much as he could. Maybe he'd be forgotten, and he could figure out everything on his own.

No such luck.

"Yo, let's get a move on, weiner boy. I've got places to be and mountains to ally-oop over."

Hansel didn't move a muscle.

Derrick rolled his eyes. He knew what the problem was, having had to deal with it several times. Dogs of the lap variety, in particular, seemed to share a terror for teenage boys on wheels.

"I'm not getting rid of it, just so you can pass peacefully into the next Life. Deal with it, dog boy."

A booming voice sounded from behind Derrick. "Well, him passing peacefully is your job."

Hansel B. had the distinct pleasure of seeing the rude, nasty skater boy yelp in surprise.

"B-But, sir!" Derrick protested. "It's my soulmate! I can't get rid of it!"

Bob rolled his eyes. If there was one thing more annoying than Bible- toting fundamentalists, it was teenagers who insisted the subject of their abject adoration was an inanimate object.

"Get a move on. Your work here is done. Go board the Himalayas, or something."

"Right on, dude!" And with that, Derrick disappeared into the eastern horizon, his precious skateboard held over his head like a trophy.

Bob shook his head. It was impossible to get decent help these days, and he didn't have the time to spare to bring everyone the entire way.

And now he had another dachshund to deliver somewhere.

He felt a headache coming on.

Chapter 3: In Which Hansel B. Learns the Dubious Joys of Public Transportation

"We're taking the bus," stated Bob shortly. He did not want to be doing this. The last time he'd escorted an animal, very strange things, even considering the general strangeness of the Afterlife, had occurred. And he'd ended up eating Roadkill Pizza.

Which, oddly enough, was actually good, and he ordered it every time he stopped in.

But now, not only was he escorting another dachshund but the Fate Document stated that Hansel B. was to go to the same place that Otto had. Which meant two dogs running a pizza place in the middle of Death Valley.

The very idea sent shivers down his spine.

Bob's thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the Bus of Eternity. Which, really, was just the most rickety retired yellow school bus in existence. With the words "Bus of Eternity" painted rather sloppily on one side.

He got on without a backward glance, and muttered a greeting to the driver. It took him a moment to realize that Hansel hadn't followed him.

Bob stuck his head out the window. "Are you coming, or not?"

"I hadn't planned on it," replied Hansel B. stubbornly. He'd had some experience with buses. None of it had been particularly positive.

The driver lifted black eyebrows behind dark sunglasses. "You want some assistance?"

Bob considered for a moment. "Yeah," he said finally. "I think that might be in order."

The driver slid open his window, and leaned out. "I suggest that you board the bus," he smiled. "You won't like the consequences if you don't."

Hansel wondered why it suddenly got so cold. Then, realizing that it was the ice-cold fear overtaking him, he gulped, and decided it might be in his best interests to just get on. He curled up across from Bob on one of the hot brown vinyl seats and prepared for whatever was to come.

Nothing happened.

Then both Bob and Hansel B. heard muffled, but vicious curses coming from the front of the bus. And then a blast of power, followed by a smooth movement forward.

Not even the Bus of Eternity has the guts to defy the Driver.

Chapter 4: In Which Bob and Hansel B. Get Off at Their Stop and Hansel Learns His Fate

"We're here." A flat voice roused Hansel from the nap he'd uneasily fallen into in the course of the journey. He blearily stood up on his hind legs and peered out the window.

He blinked. No, it couldn't be. He'd been a good dog, faithful to his owners. He hadn't chewed up too much furniture.

Surely his destiny couldn't be a pizza adobe in Death Valley. He hadn't done anything to deserve it.

"Destiny isn't about deserving it," stated Bob from behind the shell- shocked dachshund. He was about to start waxing philosophical about the subject, as it was one he'd had some definite insights on. But Hansel B. interrupted him.

"Don't bother. I'm going to go bury myself in the sand." And Hansel trudged off the bus and into the hot desert.

"How long do you figure it'll take him to realize suicide doesn't work on this plane?" asked the Driver in a soft murmur, as both he and Bob watched Hansel B. wander off to a suitably distant location.

"Not too long, I shouldn't think," stated Bob. "He seems to be fairly intelligent."

"But will he be able to deal with Otto?"

"Can anyone deal with Otto?" returned Bob dryly. "It's something he'll just have to learn how to do in time. Perhaps he and the Pizza Oven can join forces and incite a rebellion.

The Driver raised dark eyebrows over equally dark glasses. He smiled very slightly.

"That's something I might pay to see."

Chapter 5: In Which Hansel B. Recognizes the Futility of Suicide And Meets Otto and the Oven

It seemed like a very long time before Hansel realized he wasn't going anywhere, and that the sand was getting itchy and hot.

He poked his head up above the pile he'd buried himself in and squinted in the direction of the adobe hut. He could clearly see some figures in the distance. The Driver appeared to be calmly smoking a cigarette, and Bob was talking to a third person.

Scratch that, a dog. One who appeared to be gesticulating wildly and erratically.

Hansel felt an inexplicable drop of fear trickle down his spine. Maybe, he resolved silently, crawling back in the sand would be a better idea.

Unfortunately, the decision was taken out of his hands.

"Hey, Hansel! Come over here!" Bob called rather desperately.

No, there was no way out of this now.

He crept forward until he found himself face-to-face with another dachshund. Now, normally this would comfort him, but this particular dachshund was wielding a whip expertly. Not the type of dog he wanted to cross, if he could avoid it.

Otto stared. Hansel gulped.

Finally, Otto relented with a hefty sigh. "Well, come on then. I suppose I should introduce you to the Oven."

"Your courtesy continues to overwhelm, Lord Otto," boomed a voice from inside the hut.

Hansel's trepidation increased tenfold. Nevertheless, he followed Otto inside.

After all, it wasn't like he had a choice in the matter.

In a few moments they had made it through the dining area and into the kitchen.

"This," Otto said poking the metal surface. "Is the Pizza Oven. It's sarcastic and lazy, but for the most part I've got him whipped into shape."

Hansel had a feeling that "whipped into shape" was not a figure of speech in this instance.

"Now," stated Otto briskly, "You can get to work on stirring the pizza sauce. It's all mixed right, so just stir it. I have to go arrange deliveries with Bob."

Hansel heaved a sigh and started stirring. Then he cast a puzzled glance at the Oven.

"Deliveries with Bob?" The guide hadn't struck him as the type to make unnecessary trips.

"I'm not the only one Otto has whipped into shape."

He'd landed in a very strange place, Hansel decided. He wondered how he was going to fit in. Chapter 6: In Which Hansel B. is Assigned a Truly Harrowing Duty

Otto hummed to himself as he watched Hansel shove another pizza in the Oven. Something wasn't quite right here.

It wasn't as if Hansel B. didn't make pizza well, it was just that he made it with such precision. Only the most exact amounts of basil and oregano made it into the sauce, only the most precise numbers of vegetables topped the pizzas. The crusts were carefully rolled into circles with geometrically exact circumferences.

Such talents were wasted on pie making.

Otto peered into the dusty, seldom-used Other Room, and piled high with bills and receipts. They were, however, quite perfect talents for bookkeeping.

"Hansel, you can leave that for now," Otto winced just slightly as he eyed the absolutely perfect dough circle that the other dachshund had just slathered with exactly the right amount of sauce. It was disturbing, really. "I've got another job for you to do."

Despite the Oven's hissing warnings, Hansel B. trotted after Otto. One didn't want to disobey the dog with the whip, after all. And the construction of pizzas was beginning to bore him a bit.

Otto led him into a dusty and dark room dominated by humongous, disorganized piles of white paper, some of which were clearly stained with pizza sauce.

"This is where we do our accounting," Otto said brightly. "I think it would suit you much better than pizza-making." Starting to back away, Otto continued. "Well, have fun, work hard, I'll call you for dinner."

And with that he fled. Slamming the door rather ominously behind him.

Hansel wondered distantly whether the sheer amount of paperwork necessary would choke him, or if the clouds of dust would claim him first.

With a heavy sigh, he began digging a tunnel towards what he assumed to be the desk. There was no time like the present, after all.
Chapter 7: In Which Hansel B. Tabulates A List of Necessary Items

A scant three hours later, Otto peeked cautiously into the Room. It had been transformed.

No longer was the floor a sea of paper; in fact, it seemed to be the standard terracotta tile, and Hansel had covered it with an Indian blanket he's unearthed from somewhere. The papers had been shifted into neat little piles labeled with bright neon stickies. Hansel himself was seated atop the Room's only chair, boosted by a pile of books with titles like "Bookkeeping for Dummies". Otto vaguely recalled Bob bringing them by once.

"What are you doing?" inquired Otto of the other dog. Hansel appeared to be scratching something out on a scrap of blank paper.

Hansel looked up from beneath the green visor he'd located somewhere. "Making a list," he replied simply.

"Of?"

"Things I need for the Office," Hansel said, as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world. "A couple of filing cabinets, a financial calculator, a feather duster." He coughed as another wave of dust floated up. "Oh, and another computer. This one is little more than a twisted hunk of metal and plastic."

Otto eyed the offending piece of machinery, and couldn't help but agree. He should have never allowed Bob to dump a Gateway on him.

"I don't think," Otto said slowly, carefully, "that we can get all that."

Hansel blinked innocently at him. "Well, that's what Bob is for, isn't it?"

"Don't think that just because I could coerce Bob, that you'll be able to. It's a talent."

Hansel B. got a distinctly evil gleam in his eyes. "Then I guess it's just one I'll have to cultivate, isn't it?"

Otto made a mental note not to cross his new accountant very often.

"If you're done with your list, dinner is ready."

"Oh?" asked Hansel as he laid down his pen and hopped off his chair. "What has the Pizza Oven prepared for us this evening?"

"He's apparently in an Italian deli sort of mood today," answered Otto. "It's proscuitto and green olive pizza. With mozzarella and provolone cheese."

"Sounds.interesting," said Hansel B. uncertainly as he tossed his visor onto the desk.

"Undoubtedly," replied Otto dryly. "But I made sure that we had a nice red wine to wash it down with, just in case. It's always best to be prepared."

Both dogs shuddered as they recalled some of the Oven's previous masterpieces.

"Quite," noted Hansel in reply.

Chapter 8: In Which Bob Finds Himself Cornered at the Bar

Bob tossed back his scotch and soda uneasily. There was something about his companion that made him wary.

The Bus Driver could have told him that it was common reaction. But he didn't; instead, he calmly sipped his vodka martini.

He seemed to be expecting something.

"Ahem." Bob looked up at the waiter who had been trying to catch his attention. He lifted his eyebrows from beneath his floppy hat.

"Yes?"

"There's someone insisting upon seeing you, sir." The waiter had the wild- eyed look of someone trying to suppress laughter. On the other side of him, the Bus Driver smirked just slightly.

Bob felt a shudder of dread go through him. He wondered if it was too late to run for cover.

Tug. Tug.

It was. He looked down, fully expecting to see the whip-wielding Otto with another demand. He saw Hansel B. instead.

Hansel B. had a determined glint in his eye, and was carrying a very long list.

Bob blinked. He blinked again. No, it wasn't an alcohol-induced illusion. Unfortunately.

"Do you mind if we adjourned elsewhere? I'd like to be able to come back here without being met with guffaws, and I don't think giving in to the demands of a very small dog would help my image a whole lot." After the last incident with Otto, Bob was under orders to acquiesce with any "requests" the pizza dogs might come up with. Within reason, of course. Meaning so long as the demands didn't give the bean counters heart failure.

"Fine with me," said Hansel calmly. Once comfortably ensconced in one of the private rooms at the bar, and once Bob had fortified himself with some more of the excellent scotch, he read over the list. The requests were actually all quite reasonable, with the exception of one.

The computer. There just weren't that many in the Afterlife. Apparently, there was a recent trend on the mortal plane for rebuilding them. So it was the rare CPU that made it further.

There certainly weren't any to spare for a small pizza place in the middle of the desert.

"I can't get you a computer," Bob stated firmly. He saw Hansel's brown eyes go huge and wobbly. "Don't look at me like that, I seriously cannot get you a computer."

"I can get you a computer." The voice that came from the doorway was warm and dark, and above all, unexpected. Neither Bob nor Hansel had realized that the Bus Driver had followed them.

"You can?" asked the small dachshund. "How?"

The Bus Driver shrugged slightly. "It's just something I came across; I have no use for it."

"I'll take it."

Bob reflected as he eyed the smile on the Bus Driver's face that he was going to try and stay away from the pizza parlor for some time. Until he figured what nature of computer Hansel B. had just tied himself to.

Chapter 9: In Which Hansel Learns What Manner of Machine He Has Gotten

Hansel smiled beatifically at his new machine. This would help him considerably with the massive amount of paperwork that apparently had been neglected since Otto took over the parlor.

He switched it on and began working up a very basic spreadsheet.

He'd been working quietly for about fifteen minutes when he heard a vaguely electronic voice complaining at him.

"Is this all your going to use me for? I'm a state-of-the-art machine with the fastest modem in the known universe. If you were just going to create financial statements, that crappy Gateway you had would have sufficed."

Hansel narrowed his eyes, and quickly looked around the room, to see if it was some trick of Otto's or the Oven's. It wasn't, more's the pity.

He glared at the computer screen, glowing a pale blue. "Computers aren't supposed to talk."

The Computer somehow managed to give the impression of raised eyebrows. "And Pizza Ovens are?"

He had a point there, Hansel conceded. And it wasn't as if he could do without the computer; the very idea of managing the financial side by hand was harrowing, to say the least.

"Do you have a name?" the dachshund inquired defeatedly.

"Herbert," answered the computer promptly.

"Okay, then, Herbie. I need to at least get the preliminaries done before we.discuss this relationship further?" asked Hansel as he adjusted his visor and prepared to go back to work.

The dog was knocked off his chair in a brilliant blast of blue light. "My name is Herbert," intoned the computer angrily.

As Hansel picked himself of the floor, he grimly decided that something simply would have to be done.

Chapter 10: In Which Hansel Visits the Bus Driver And Gives Him a Piece of His Mind

As the Bus Driver sipped another of his vodka martinis, this time alone, he mentally was doing a countdown in his head.

4.

3.

2.

1.

"What in the name of hell did you give me?!"

And zero.

The Bus Driver turned to the dog that had attached himself to his leg, and lifted a black eyebrow over his sunglasses.

"Having problems, Hansel B.?" he inquired innocently.

Hansel simply growled in response.

The Bus Driver sighed and signaled the bartender for another martini. "I imagine that he's being obstinate and refusing to do anything that he feels is unworthy of his superior technology. He always has had a bit of a problem with arrogance."

"Have any suggestions?" asked Hansel B. desperately. After nearly a week of trying everything he could think of to cajole, threaten, or blackmail Herbert into just doing what he wanted, the dachshund was very nearly at the end of his rope.

"I've always found that violence is the only thing he pays any attention to. And not just the threat of violence, but the actual application of it," remarked the Bus Driver coolly as he sipped his drink.

"I suppose I could borrow Otto's whip.." began Hansel uncomfortably.

The Bus Driver snickered. "I highly doubt that Otto would be willing let go of it. And it would have next to no impact on Herbert."

"So what would?" groaned the small dog. "Nothing works."

"Something heavy and blunt, I should say. A sledge hammer, perhaps."

"And where am I suppose to locate one of those?"

The Bus Driver smile mercenarily. "I just happen to have an extra one in the bus."

Hansel felt a headache coming on as he estimated how he was going to be able to fit what the Bus Driver would undoubtedly charge into his already tight budget.

Chapter 11: In Which Herbert Learns A Lesson

Hansel was not going to think about the cost of the sledgehammer he was dragging behind him. He was not.

No matter how prohibitive the Bus Driver's price had been.

There were just some costs that could not be avoided. This was one of them.

He stormed into the pizza parlor, and both Otto and the lone supernatural entity that was in for a lunchtime pizza got out of his way. Hansel made a beeline for his Office, still dragging the hammer behind him.

He loomed in the doorway. At least, as much as a very small canine can loom.

"Come back for some more?" asked Herbert with ever-increasing arrogance. "I'd taken your absence as your first intelligent action ever."

"Not really," said Hansel quietly. "I was just taking a bit of a vacation."

Herbert snickered to himself, and decided that he'd allow the pathetic little red dog a little control before he took over again.

The time period was apparently ten minutes. Then Herbert switched on the web browser and began his search for new and improved software.

There was, Hansel figured, no time like the present.

BAM.

"What the hell was that for?" snarled the pained and irritated computer.

Calmly, Hansel B. returned the window to his spreadsheet program, where he was organizing the parlor's accounts receivable. "I told you, your web- surfing does not take precedence to my work."

Herbert snorted, and promptly switch the screen back to his downloads site.

BAM.

"Did you think I was kidding the first time?" asked Hansel icily.

The computer almost visibly drooped.

"No, sir."

"Then we won't be having any more problems, will we?"

"No, sir."

"Excellent." And with that, Hansel B. returned to the far more reasonable work of bookkeeping.

Chapter 12: In Which Bob Makes His Tentative Return to the Pizza Parlor Bob peeked inside the small adobe hut he normally spent a great deal of his spare time at. It seemed to be perfectly normal. But one could never tell.

"Just go in," an exasperated voice came from behind him. "I want my pizza sometime in this millennium."

Bob stumbled into the parlor and scowled up at the person who entered after him. "And what are you doing here?"

"I like pizza too," said the Bus Driver.

"Sure," returned Bob darkly as he slid onto one of Otto's bar stools.

"So what will it be, gentlemen?" Otto, eyeing Bob's already dangerous expression, wisely said nothing about the guide's lack of patronage in the past week.

"Italian sausage and portabella mushroom, I believe," stated the Bus Driver. "If that's alright with you, Bob?"

Bob merely grumbled in response. Otto turned away to send the order into the kitchen.

Bob looked around the place; everything seemed to be normal, but.

"No!" came a strident voice from the back of the parlor. "You promised I could have the afternoon!"

"Well," came a much more rational voice, "something's come up. I need to make a couple of modifications to the balance sheet."

"No!"

Bam.

"Oh, fine," sulked the first voice.

"Thank you."

"Here's your pizza!" called Otto. He plopped the steaming pie in front of the two men. Bob and the Bus Driver looked at each other. They shrugged. They ate their pizza.

It seemed that even the addition of two new spirits didn't change much in Death Valley.