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U3A Writing: A Meaty Problem

Suspicions arise when the butcher's wife disappears and meat with a curious texture arrives in the shop.

Meryl Nickels tells a choice tale.

Snow arrived early as usual. It was his job to open the shop and stock the display case on the counter. He enjoyed arranging the rissoles in neat rows at one end of the glass shelf and piling the sausages at the other. He took a pride in his work, hoping that one day he would be a partner in the business and, further along the track he would buy out Perc’s share and become the sole proprietor of Martin Street Meat Mart.

“Dreaming again, Snow? We’ve got a business to run.” Perc’s voice cut across Snow’s thoughts. He hadn’t heard him come in. Always sneaking around, Snow mumbled to himself.

“Brenda coming in today, boss?” She’d been away for the last three weeks. Snow didn’t mind the extra work her absence created but he did miss her cheerful presence. Perc never had much to say unless it was to complain about things. He was a good boss on the whole, he knew his business back to front, but he always seemed surly and taciturn.

His wife, Brenda, was just the opposite. Perched up on her stool by the till, she dispensed change while gossiping with the customers. She had a bubbly personality, treating everyone alike, exchanging cheerful comments and friendly banter with the regulars, and making pleasant remarks about the weather or the football to those who called in occasionally.

Snow knew that he would have to field the enquiries again today. “Where’s Brenda?”they would ask. “She’s not crook, is she?”

“She’s fine” Snow would tell them. “We’re just not that busy at present. She’s having a break.” Perc would say nothing.

Meeting on street corners or in the supermarket, customers commented on her absence, and wondered who she’d gone off with this time. She was known for her extra-marital activities and kept the locals abuzz with speculation. She’d be away for two or three days at a time, returning to her post when she was ready to resume her cashier duties.

She’d never stayed away as long as this before. Snow was worried about her but Perc seemed unconcerned. if Snow asked when she’d be back, Perc would tell him to mind his own business and get on with his work.

Eventually Snow took matters into his own hands and rang Trevor, Perc’s son. “I’m worried about your Mum, Trev,” he told him. “She’s been away for three weeks. She’s usually back within a few days. Have you heard from her?”

“No, I haven’t, Snow, but she’ll be OK. She’s a bit unpredictable but she’s not stupid. Tell you what, I’ve got a few days off due to me. I’ll come up and help out in the shop if you like. Don’t say anything to Dad. I’ll just breeze in.”

*

“What are you doing home? Don’t you coppers have anything better to do?” Perc’s tone was not welcoming.

“Nice to see you too, Dad. Where’s Mum?”

“How would I know? She comes and goes as she pleases. Doesn’t tell me what she’s up to. She’s probably gone off with that salesman bloke, the one that drives the smallgoods van. He’s been making up to her every time he comes in. She’ll come back when he gets tired of her.”

“The old man doesn’t seem too concerned about Mum, but I’m concerned about her. I’ll make a few enquiries round about,” Trev told Snow.

Trevor took Brenda’s place at the till and sought information about his mother when his father was not about. He searched their home while Perc was busy at the shop, hoping to find a few clues to his mother’s whereabouts.

“Most of her clothing is still there,” he told Snow,”and her jewellery and toiletries are still in their usual places. I rang my Gran in Perth but she hasn’t seen her. I’m beginning to suspect that she’s met with an accident.”

“There’s something I haven’t told you, Trev” said Snow when they met at the pub after work. “You know how Perc always goes out to the abattoir on Mondays to get the week’s meat? Well just after Brenda left he brought in this meat that he reckoned was veal. I said it didn’t look like veal to me, and besides, it was frozen. We always buy fresh from the carcass. Perc said it was really venison, but to say nothing about it to anyone because he’s not supposed to sell it.”

“Yes, I know about that lurk,” said Trev, “He’s been onto it for quite a while. Some of his deerhunting mates get him to store it at the meatworks. So long as he gets a share of the profit he co-operates.”

“Yes. I’m supposed to sell it to certain customers at a special price. Brenda found out about it and threatened to dob him in. They had a big row about it before she stormed out. Perc was making all sorts of threats to her, and she was screaming at him. I’ve never seen them like that before.”

“They’re always fighting, that doesn’t mean anything. Stop worrying Snow, I’ll sort things out.”

The last consignment of meat had a peculiar texture, not like venison, not like veal either. Maybe it was human flesh, Trev.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re letting your imagination run away with you.”

“Well, I’m not the only one. Some of his deerhunting mates that came in complained that their meat had an unusual taste, a bit like young pork, they told me.”

“Is there any of it left, Snow? I’d like to take a look at it.”

“There’s some in my freezer at home. My pay-off for seeing nothing and knowing even less.”

*

Trevor was puzzled, but he knew there must be some rational explanation. He went to the abattoir to talk to Jim, the manager, who was a close friend of his Dad.

“Comes from New Zealand. We had to get it in to keep the hunters happy. They had a lean season and they like their venison. It does taste a bit different but that’s because they’re domestic deer. Not bad once you get used to it. They raise them like cows over there. No complaints, were there?”

Trevor decided to do further checking. He was at the dock when the next shipment was due.

“Hello, Trev. Were you looking for me?” His mother stepped onto the dock. “I’ve been enjoying a nice holiday in the South island with George. His wife found out about us so here I am back again. The proverbial bad penny, eh?”

“We were worried about you, Mum. You could’ve let somebody know what you were up to.”

“Well, what are you doing home? Did you get kicked out of the force? How’s your father? Gee, it’s good to be back. And, for your information, your father knew what I was doing. I made some enquiries about the supply of venison while I was there. Apparently it’s legal to sell it here, so we are in the clear. I have some samples with me. I thought we could have some friends around tonight to sample it. We’ll fire up the barbeque. Be sure to invite Snow, please Trev. I’m sure he’s been doing a great job filling in for me.”

“OK Mum, I’ll ask him.”

But I bet he won’t come, thought Trev. He’ll be too embarrassed after airing his wild theories.

“Good onya, Snow.”

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