The grocery store bustled with all manner of activity: a small boy begged his mother for a new action figure, a man groaned as his girlfriend tried on another pair of shoes, and a small, elderly woman approached the meat counter.
‘I would like 300 grams of that pork,’ she pointed to a dish of thick, brown-marinated meat. Even from where she was standing an aroma of almost-BBQ filled the air. The man behind the large, well-stocked counter smiled at her. He had begun to dish her request into a small container, when he said out loud, so that all could hear, ‘That’s an excellent choice, ma’am. You know that our pork is the best tasting in the whole city?’
‘It is?’ The woman already knew this, but in her older age she longed for any sort of conversation and jumped at any opportunity to engage in more.
‘Yes, ma’am.’ He pointed to several certificates on the wall behind him as a machine weighed the meat to specification. ‘We’ve won a few awards. I do my best here. Nothing is too good for my customers.’
The old woman smiled at him again and adjusted her glasses. ‘Oh how lovely. I’ll be sure to tell all of my friends.’ She didn’t have any.
On the man’s clean and white uniform, read the name tag: Hi, my name is Bob. Bob handed her the package of meat, smiled and waved goodbye.
His next customer was already standing at the counter, a woman in her forties with an expression of sadness and weary. She stared blankly at the glass separating the products from her, and spoke, ‘Twenty kilograms of pork. Please.’
Bob always smiled at his customers. He asked, ‘Twenty? Are you sure, ma’am? That’s quite a bit of meat and ours is best eaten as soon as possible to make sure it’s fresh.’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘Okay then. I’ll just pop in the back and make sure we have enough for you. Are there any particular pieces that you’re interested in?
The woman appeared on the verge of tears by now. ‘N-no. Family gathering. Big f-family.’
Bob smiled again, this time softly. ‘Give me a moment and I’ll check if we have enough for you.’ He disappeared for a minute and then return. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough. I’ll be able to order some now and have it delivered to you tomorrow, if that’s okay with you?’
She stared again, but this time a little past him. ‘Okay. Yes. That’s fine.’ The woman started walking off.
‘Ma’am, wait a sec. I just need your address and contact details.’ He passed her a notepad and a pen. ‘If you could just fill this out for me.’
She wrote a few things down, forced a smile and left the counter while pushing her empty shopping cart.
Bob waved and shouted to her, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, bright and early.’
The butcher was about to turn away when someone approached the counter. ‘Did you hear?’ Morris was one of the casuals there; a grocery packer and greasy teenager.
‘Wha- Hear what?’
‘That’s Mrs. Delphy, her daughter went missing two weeks ago. They found her bloody clothes in a dumpster. Cops are still looking for her; think it’s murder or something.’ He played with his phone. ‘No leads, nothing. They’ve said they’ll be lucky to find a body. The family has pretty much given up hope of her ever coming back. Cops are friggin useless in this city.’
For once Bob didn’t smile. ‘It really is, poor woman, losing her daughter like that to some,’ he paused, ‘animal.’
‘Oh, right. I meant, in general. I was totally going to bone her.’
Bob asked, ‘Mrs. Delphy? Well, I don’t know what I’d do if my own kids vanished.’
‘Her daughter, Melissa. Then again the mom is attractive as well. MILF.’ Morris made a sort of purring sound. He stopped for a moment. ‘I thought you didn’t have kids?’
‘I don’t. I-It’s just a figure of speech, like “my kids need braces.” Ya’ know?’
‘Sure,’ Morris said.
The thin man turned his back, fumbled around for a fresh set of gloves and headed to the back rooms. ‘Get back to work,’ he shouted back. ‘Insensitive prick,’ he whispered.
* * *
Just before closing time a man in blue jeans and a crimson buttoned-up shirt approached the counter.
He looked around for a moment, then decided to call out, ‘Hello? Anyone there?’
Bob emerged from the back room, removed his bloody gloves and threw them in the trash.
Bob smiled. ‘Hi there. What can I do for you?’ His broad face looked tired after the day’s work, but he always put on a sincere smile for the customers.
‘Hey, um I’m looking for Bill? No. Ted? No. Bob? Yea, I’m looking for Bob.’
‘I’m John. I’m from Food for Thought. We’re a blog that pretty much covers everything food related in the city, and sometimes beyond. Some of our users mentioned this place having some of the best meat in the city. My boss sent me down here to check things out.’
Bob’s smile turned into a grin; his mouth now seemed to stretch from ear to ear at the sound of this. ‘Really? That’s fantastic! What do you need to know from me? We’ve won awards, you know?’
John was already writing in a notepad while they talked.
‘Well, just about you, the butchery, your pork and maybe some ingredients? Pretty much anything you’d like our readers to know.’
‘I’ve won several awards for the pork here. I only pick the finest in the country, and each night I give samples out to make sure it’s perfect. Then I-‘
John stopped and looked up at Bob and asked, ‘Samples? To whom? Don’t you test the meat yourself?’
‘Nope.’ He smiled. ‘I don’t really like meat all that much. Actually, I’m just not a fan of pork and I really prefer fish. I know a few people that I drop off samples with; they’re pretty much my critics, apart from official ones.’ He smiled.
The reported scratched out something in his pad, and wrote some more. ‘Oh? That’s a little strange. Tell me about this secret ingredient sauce as well. It’s not just the meat the people rave about.’
Bob folded his arms, looked up, and then looked back down. ‘Now that I can’t tell you, but trust me it’s by far one of the most unique things out there.’
He winked and this unsettled John.
‘I think that’s pretty much it for now. I seem to have everything I need, but I’ll be back if there’s anything else. The article should be up within the next week.’
The award-winning butcher smiled again and said, ‘Wait just a sec,’ he went to the back room. He came back with a small container and handed it to John. ‘Here, it’s on the house for you to sample. I was doing some cuts for tomorrow, but this is free.’
‘Oh wow, that’s a lot. I love trying new food – it’s the best part of the job. You have a bit of – ummm – on your forehead.’
The butcher wiped his face with the back of his right hand. ‘I’m so sorry. Sometimes it just gets everywhere.’
He shook Bob’s left hand and then left.
Bob smiled again, mumbled to himself, returned to the back room and locked the door.
* * *
The next morning Bob found Mrs. Delphy’s house with ease. Everyone has a GPS these days.
He loaded everything onto a flat trolley and wheeled it to the front door.
The doorbell wrung.
Mrs. Delphy answered it. The woman looked as if she hadn’t slept in days; her face was ghost white and she appeared scruffy.
‘Here you go,’ Bob proudly exclaimed as he wheeled the containers inside. ‘I put in a bit extra for you, but didn’t list it. It’ll be our little secret.’ He winked.
‘Thank you.’ She smiled weakly at him, as she stood next to him and watched Bob unload everything. Her arm knocked the cart and one of the containers’ contents sloshed a little.
‘That’s our secret marinade. We’ve won awards, you know.’ Bob beamed at this. ‘We’ve also won awards for the meat, our delicious pork and marinade combo.’
Mrs. Delphy looked down at the box. ‘Yea, I’ve heard so.’ She was deep in thought and not really concentrating on him.
Bob put a hand on her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry about Melissa. She was a good girl. She didn’t deserve the ending she got. Good day, ma’am. Bob pushed the flatbed trolley out and smiled.
Mrs. Delphy stood there for a moment and then opened one of the containers. Something shiny caught her eye. The woman reached in and pulled out what appeared to be a marinaded necklace. She froze, looked up and asked, ‘How did you know Melissa? Ending?’
It was too late for the butcher to hear her. He was already gone.
As Bob drove down the street he thought about where he should go to next. This city was no longer safe for men like him, but he was learning. He was young. He still had plenty of time.