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The street lamps did their best to hold back the night, casting feeble pools of light onto the block-paved high street. A homeless man stirred in the doorway of an abandoned shop. He peered out, lifting his woollen hat away from his eyes just long enough to assess the time, then he rearranged his filthy sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

The only other sign of life came from the butcher's shop where a light from the back room shone through to the front. Raised voices could be heard and something that sounded like a cleaver being swung into a wooden block.

'How much?'

'Look, it's prime beef. I can't do you a fairer price than that.'

'I'm an honest businessman! How am I supposed to make a living? You're bleeding me dry!'

'You want top quality, you have to pay for it. Your customers know that.'

There was an abrupt snort and another slam of the cleaver. 'That's what you think! My customers are already complaining about the prices. I can't pass on any more increases.'

'Well, that's the price. You want prime beef, that's the deal.'

The shop fell silent as the butcher considered his options.

'I can do you a deal on something else, well reared, well hung, good tender meat.'


'I mean, these days folk aren't so snobby. It could be a good seller. Or you could get a little,' there was a pause, 'creative.'


'Now, now! Nothing illegal. Just a craftsman blending ingredients.'

'What are you talking about?' demanded the butcher in a dangerous tone.

'Just quality meat. This stuff would fetch good money in France, for instance. It's just that the English have some strange ideas.'

'I don't like where this is going.'

An ominous silence descended once more. Outside, the homeless man shifted position and slipped off the step with a curse. A stray dog trotted down the street with his nose to the ground. He sniffed at the homeless man prompting a string of obscenities, then scurried on with his tail clamped between his legs.

The atmosphere in the butcher's shop appeared to have undergone a slight thaw.

'I suppose there's nothing wrong with it.'

'Adds an extra beefiness to burgers, and in sausages there's nothing better.'

'It's pretty dishonest though.'

'No! You make sure the quantity of actual, real, proper beef is greater, then there's no problem.'

'I don't know. I don't like it. I've built up an honest business here. People trust me.'

'Well, you could pay for the prime beef.'

The cleaver struck the block again. 'I can't afford the beef!'

'Well there you go then. So, shall we say, one box of the beef and two of the other?'

The butcher appeared at the front window of the shop. He peered out, looking up and then down the street. He rubbed his bald head, then stomped back through to the back room.

'Alright. But I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this between us.'


The high street woke, the homeless man shifted to an upright position and laid his hat on the ground, begging for spare change from the people hurrying by. The shops clicked into life, doors swinging open in defiance of the chill, and shoppers filled their baskets and hunted for bargains.

A passerby might have thought the homeless man made little from his endeavours throughout the day, but the more observant would have seen him carefully maintaining just a few coins in the hat. A study of his pockets would have revealed surprising wealth. He shuffled off as the shops closed for a hearty meal at the nearby pub, then returned to his step and climbed into his sleeping bag. It was a subsistence living, undemanding, stress free, cold and uncomfortable.

The street lamps blinked on, taking up guard against the night. The homeless man slept. The stray dog passed through, avoiding the homeless man this time. A stray dog has to be a fast learner to avoid becoming a dead dog.

And so the life of the street continued. Another shop closed for the final time, giving another homeless person a step to sleep upon. People shopped. Street lamps blinked on and off again, on and off again.

On the fourth night the lights flickered into life in the butcher's back room.


'I need more.'


'They're coming back for more.'

'Told you!'

'Well, I happen to think I've created something rather special, actually. Word's getting out. People are coming from miles around for my gourmet burgers.'

'If it's good enough for the French …'

'I decided not to trade on that.'

'Probably wise. So, how much?'

'Three boxes.'

'Any beef?'

'No, that box has gone further than I expected.'

'Good man! So, three boxes, at …' there was a pause and the faint sound of scribbling, 'that should be right. I'll leave you with the invoice while I unload.'

'Here! Just a minute! That's a 12% increase!'

There was a stunned silence.

'This is prime stuff, mate! You want prime meat, you've got to pay the price!'


© 2013 Kay Lawrence.


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