You probably couldn’t distinguish his little deli from a hole in the wall. That’s because that’s what it might as well be. Good old Buck Butchery is stuck between two buildings twice its size. But despite its lackluster placing, Buck makes out ok for himself. With the business on the first floor and his living quarters directly above his shop, Buck saves a great deal of money on commuting. 

The setup is pretty simple, really. There’s a long counter that runs the length of the store with a flip-up door at the end for easy passage from the back to the front. Buck has a couple of small tables by the storefront window for the customers who decide to stay and eat. Besides the space for the register, the rest of the counter holds all of the meat. 

While the shop is small, the variety of products is varied enough to bring in a rather diverse customer base. There’s everything from pre-cut (if you’re in a hurry) to meat cut-to-order; which helps alleviate the need for certain individuals bitching about the thickness. There are also big chunks of mostly uncut meat for restaurants or the adventurous chef who wants to practice their fillet skills.

The back half of the shop—the part the customers don’t see—is where all the dirty work gets done. None of Buck’s stuff is pre-butchered; he cuts up everything himself. Thanks to a guy he knows, he can get a good deal of product in bulk. And when it comes down to it, it does feel good to go in the back after work and start preparing meat for the next day. Something about cutting and chopping out chunks of meat can wash away all the stress of the day. It’s honest work that kind of reminds Buck of his old life.     

The best thing about putting an actual name in the title of the shop is that people think it’s the owner’s real name. No one bothers to ask. They just assume because of the name on the outside, the place is run by a man named Buck. Oh well, that’s fine by “Buck the Butcher.” He only used that name because it sounded more American, anyway. The fact people don’t know his real name saves him the hassle of dealing with bigoted nationalist and uncultured morons. Not that Buck considers himself a cultured man by any means. But he at least knows how to speak more than one language. Which is more than could be said for 80% of Americans who are monolingual.

When it comes down to it, the less people know about Buck’s past, the better it is for everyone. He had what you could call a hard life. Growing up in the former Soviet Union wasn’t a pleasant experience by any means. Even as he gets older and the relationship between the US and Russian continues to degrade, Buck’s time in America has been a cakewalk compared to living in the “Motherland.” Those early years would’ve broken most men. It would have broken Buck, too, if not for his special “skills.” 

The lunch rush is probably the busiest time of day. Today was no different. Even though it only amounts to about seven customers. The only real daily regular Buck has goes by the name of Jim, and he’s been coming to the shop almost as long as it has been open. So as you can imagine, any extra people who happen to stop by is a bonus.

Buck doesn’t know why Jim likes to stop by so often, but the man pays and tips well so he doesn’t mind having him around. But other than Jim, the customer base is a revolving door of hipsters, out of towners, and independent restaurateurs looking for “locally sourced meat” to market to their customers. Though recently it seems the hipster crowd has been growing and coming in more often. These demanding people have been pushing the quiet butcher to the edge of madness as of late. He knows he really shouldn’t complain—money is money after all—but dealing with these nitwits makes one wonder how people have become so soft and needy. It’s almost as if the most minor of inconveniences is enough to render them helpless. Hipsters definitely wouldn’t have made it a week in the old USSR. Hell, they can’t even manage to trim the fat off their own steaks!

For people who think so highly of themselves, they sure can act like real shitheads, Buck thought. One time a hipster even asked him if he sold tofu pepperoni. It took everything he had not to physically remove the faux lumberjack from the store. What kind of respectable butcher would sell fake meat? Then again, if the demand grows high enough and he does start carrying that stupid shit, he could make them pay out the nose for it. Even so, the idea of having some painted gelatinous bean curd garbage sitting next to fine slices of brisket made him cringe. When did American men become so delicate? Were they becoming this way back home, too? Buck sure hoped not. 

“The customer is always right” has been a difficult concept for the weathered Russian to grasp. No matter what, these people are never happy with what they have. Even with the best quality meat in front of them, they still always ask for the so-called best product from the back. Like he hides some top-tier, cruelty-free, magic lab-grown meat back there. Nothing at the counter is ever good enough for these hipster assholes.

Despite the ridiculous demands of these irksome patrons, they still manage to keep their transactions relatively short. But there’s one who is worse than all the others. His name is Toby. And if a name like Toby doesn’t give away the type of asshat he is, his clothes and smug attitude certainly do. You know the type. He’s the trendy guy that whatever the new hip thing is, he has to hijack it and ram it up to eleven. When skinny jeans came into fashion, he started wearing skinny capris. When hipsters began wearing flannel shirts and grew lumberjack beards, Toby took it up to the next level by sporting New England fisherman garb and rocking 19th-century mutton chops. The worst part is how painfully obvious it is to everyone else that he doesn’t think for himself. Even all the other hipster douchebags know he constantly searches for the next cool thing to be a part of and tweaks it to make it look like he started the trend. But no matter how hard he tries or how much of his dad’s money he spends, he’ll never be cool. Especially to a hardened Russian butcher who dry shaves every morning with the same straight razor his father once used to cut off a thieving beggars pinky.

That being said, Toby never fails to get under Buck’s skin. And unknown to everyone, perhaps even unknown to Toby himself, he seems to make sure to piss the butcher off at least three times a week. Buck tries to play it cool whenever Toby stops in. but it’s like the trendy ignoramus has a knack for making his blood boil. And making the tumultuous relationship tenser, Jim loves to point out each time Toby seemingly goes out of his way to piss Buck off—which isn’t hard to do. Especially since the annoying man-child doesn’t even live in the area and purposely goes out of his way to shop at this particular shop. Out of all the countless butcher shops and delis in the city, why he chooses to shop at one so far from his home is beyond anyone’s comprehension.

The man is a constant pain-in-the-ass and today is no different. As soon as Toby walked into the butcher shop he started with his shit; getting on Buck for not having grass-fed this or all-natural that. 

“How do you expect me to eat this garbage?” Toby asked with his usual smugness.

“Why must you always come here if all you do is complain?” Buck fired back with a question of his own. “You don’t like my stock, go somewhere else.”

With a quick glance, Toby scanned the meat on display and realized he had tried everything in the shop. “I’m going to put together a petition,” Toby threatened out of the blue. “You can’t treat loyal customers like this,” he added, turning toward the door, “and I’m going to make sure this dump gets shut down for good!” 

“Good luck, asshole,” Buck said under his breath. He was good at keeping his accent in check, but when he got flustered it became much more pronounced. So he always did his best to avoid yelling or getting animated. No need to bring unwanted attention his way, he thought.

Buck knew nothing was going to happen, There’s no way a lazy jerk like Toby was going to put together a petition. And even if he did, nobody would care. But the audacity of the threat—the fact somebody could be so self-centered and rude was enough to fuck up the rest of Buck’s day. The people back in Russia wouldn’t treat the local butcher like that. They would be grateful there was meat for sale at all. They would come in with a warm greeting and be more than happy to purchase whatever the butcher recommended. At least, that’s how it was in the old days.

After the last customer had left and Buck closed up for the night, he found that Toby was still on his mind. Even though the troublesome “meat connoisseur” angered him so frequently, there was something extra bothersome about this latest encounter. Maybe it had something to do with the wave of nostalgia he’d been experiencing recently. The strange longing for his old life. The life he fought so hard to escape from all those years ago.

Instead of going straight upstairs to get some rest, Buck decided to have a couple of drinks down in the shop. Opening a hidden cabinet under the cash register, he pulled out a bottle of vodka. It was so caked with dust that even after he wiped it off with a rag, the brand name was still unreadable. With a strong twist, he unscrewed the sealed lid and took a whiff of the contents. It smelled like bad decisions and years of poor judgment calls.

It was the drink that ended his career in the old country and forced him to America. Only, that wasn’t quite true and he knew it. It was he who screwed things up. It was the actions of a young, stubborn hothead who was at fault. But things were different now. He was older, wiser. Buck had learned to control his impulses and manage his emotions. Alcohol was just alcohol. His former countrymen have been drinking it for generations and by all rights, it was in his blood. There was little doubt in his mind that after all these years he could handle his booze. Right?

He stared at the dusty bottle for some time before finally putting it to his lips. And when he did take a swig, the burning sensation brought back all the memories he had pushed way, way back in the dark corners of his subconscious. It exposed all the hidden secrets and regrets of his past. But no memory was more prominent than the day he was fired from the “family business.”

Flickers of memory turned into whole pictures. But before a replay of the day of his firing could come back to him in its shameful entirety, Buck polished off more than half of the vodka and let inebriation take him. Though, he wasn’t quite able to shake the mistakes of his past. Chiefly, the way he had broken his father’s trust due to his dependence on the drink. And if you couldn’t be trusted in that line of work, you wouldn’t be around long. Which meant you were of no use to the family. Buck knew firsthand what happened to those who were no longer useful. After all, his family business was to make “useless” people disappear. A job that was passed down from father to son like some kind of grimy family heirloom. Only, it was rare in that business for a prominent son to end up being one of the people who disappeared. 

Waking up covered in blood that’s not your own is never a good sign. The next shipment of meat wasn’t scheduled to arrive for a few days, so there shouldn’t have been any late-night work that could’ve been done. But it still looked as though Buck had spent the night drunkenly butchering up a good deal of meat. Meat that he didn’t have in stock. With such a large mess at hand, it’s difficult to tell what had happened last night. The nauseous butcher can’t remember much and what he does remember is mostly a blur. Like sitting on a spinning top that keeps on spinning until you pass out, he can only make out small bits of memory if he focuses extra hard. Trying to piece together what had gone down in the shop only causes the throbbing in his head to intensify.

When Buck looked up at the clock and saw that there were only two hours until the shop was set to open for the day, his stomach nearly jumped out of his throat. Then again, that might’ve been the hangover. There’s no time to think about what might have happened last night; he just hopes he didn’t do anything too stupid.

The first task was getting the shop cleaned up without losing yesterday’s lunch in the process. The smell alone was enough to gag a maggot: a combination of blood, intestines, and room temperature meat. Coupled with wicked nausea brought on from the unusually strong alcohol and the-not-puking part of this morning’s task was made that much more difficult. Why was that vodka so strong? Buck thought.

“There better be some goddamn coffee left,” he muttered to himself. There’s no way he can make it through the day without it. Not with this hangover.

The most important thing, even more important than coffee, is cleaning the back room; it’s a fucking mess. But where to start? It looks like something was slaughtered in the prep room. Something that was recently alive before it was butchered. 

There’s a huge puddle of blood in the center of the room with a trail leading to the back door. The floor drain is clogged with what looks to be skin and perhaps shards of bone, which has caused the excess blood to pool like so. Buck figured that in his drunken state, he must’ve half-hazardly dragged and tossed the remains of whatever animal he butchered into the dumpster. For the life of him, he wished he could remember what had happened last night. He can’t think of a logical explanation to explain how he came across fresh meat so late.  He knows he should check out back to see what he had thrown in the dumpster, but there were more pressing matters to address at the moment.

If the floor wasn’t bad enough, the sink had been transformed into a prop straight out of a low budget horror flick. The amount of blood that had been sloshed about is almost comical. It’s a good thing the sink is solid steel or it would be a nightmare to get the stains out.

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