Hershel’s Specialty Meats

A man visits an unusual butcher shop

Photo by Kyle Mackie on UNSPLASH.

The usual suspects are all there, quail, snake, boar, venison, and even buffalo. Each is neatly wrapped in brown wax paper and carefully sealed shut with strips of white butchers tape.

The man’s olfactory senses are on overload. Most people, unaccustomed to the dizzyingly wide array of divergent scents, would describe the sensation as repulsive. To Steve, the shop smelled like heaven.

The butcher enters from the back, wiping his hands on a once white, now pink towel.

“Help you, sir?” the butcher says, pronouncing sir as suh. His arms are like tree trunks, and his white coat is tight across the man’s enormous chest.

Step one, ask about the quail.

“Hmm, let me see. Is the quail fresh?”

The butcher looks Steve over carefully between glances at the parking lot out front.

“It was… when it came in four days ago.”

The butcher’s name tag says VIC in a bold, black font.

Steve is shocked by this bit of honesty. He’s hopeful the rumors he heard about this place are true.

“Ask if the quail is fresh,” the man who was a friend of a friend of a friend had told him.

“And then?” he had asked the man with the lip ring, who never offered his name.

“Then, make some comment about the snake, not a question, a comment.”

“Such as?” Steve asks while resisting the urge to smash the man’s face.

“Such as anything. Talk about the price, how it looks, anything just as long it isn’t a question. Got it, slick?”

Steve found this obsequious form of address irritating, but his hunger kept him motionless and as behaved as he could be around such a slimy sycophant.

“Quail question, snake comment, and then what?”

“Tell him Barney told you about this place; you’re visiting him, Barney, for a few weeks.”

“That it?”

“Cool your jets, Sonny,” the man had warned.

Jesus. Sonny was even more annoying than Slick, Steve had thought

“Next, you make a joke about what you’re there for.”

That had been four days ago.

The air here is electric. It’s been so long since Steve had indulged. If this turns out to be a prank, he’s going to return and have a nasty talk with the man with the lip ring – just him, the man, and Steve’s favorite wooden baseball bat.

He takes a deep breath, then exhales slowly.

Steve catches Vic’s eye then, without blinking, he says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a human baby!”

Vic doesn’t laugh; Steve hopes the man at least realizes it was supposed to be a joke.

Time seems to stand still for several tense minutes. Steve becomes hyper-aware of all his senses. He feels a droplet of sweat roll down his chest as a loud car drives slowly by on Parker. Doubts and fears assail him, but Steve is desperate to scratch his itch today. He hears the oscillating rotary fan, reaches one end of its arc, slowly reverses itself, and begins its trip back. Steve sees a single napkin fluttering under the gusts of the fan, slide to the edge of the counter and float down to the floor.

Vic walks out from behind the counter, passes by Steve, locks the front door, flips the WE’RE OPEN sign, and pulls the shade.

When he turns back toward Steve, Vic is brandishing a cleaver.

“So you’re in the club, I gather. I guess you heard about the price of admission?”

Steve slowly raises his right hand. He slowly peels the prosthetic glove from his hand, displaying three ugly scarred stumps from his amputated middle, ring, and index fingers.

“Put the cleaver down, Vic; I was informed the fourth one was on the house.”

Vic sets the cleaver on the counter, walks to the back. When he returns, he is carrying a medium-sized, shapeless package wrapped in pink wax paper.

“Bonne Appétit,” the butcher says as he sets the package on the counter.

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