I got this thing for butter. Real butter. Not the mass-produced stuff out of Rochedale but the boutique, Sorrell melt in your mouth handmade creamy delight. It’s expensive and the job don’t pay well but I’m careful. I budget to the last few cents, take out the home loan, utilities and petrol before I see it. All’s left is my drinking and grocery money.
Well, truth be told the one hundred forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents drinking money’s not all for drinking, fact is it’s exactly the fine for public disturbance. Uncle Owen’s a fair and reasonable public official even if he’s on the bench. Got to the point last year I just sent the fines straight through in advance. I’m a bit calmed down now, not much sense in using drinking money to fight anyway.
But no matter what I always have my eight dollars ninety-five for my butter, butter for my toast, baked potatoes, veggies, anything on the plate.
So last thing Thursdays, car full of groceries and eight ninety-five in my pocket I stop by Eli’s Deli and pick up the butter. This time it’s the last one on the shelf.
“Hey Eli! You got anything fresher?”
He waddles out the back in his sweaty t-shirt. He likes his butter too but at least bricklaying burns it off me.
“Hell no, can’t you read?” pointing to the sign, knowing full well I can’t. I’d bust him then and there but I’ve got plans. “It’s the last, Sorrell’s gone belly up.”
I’m gutted, now I gotta find something else. I’m not the only one, the short guy near the door seems heartbroken. It’s great butter, try it half an inch thick on your brioche and try to tell me the heart attack’s not worth it. What the heck, at least I got mine so I toss my money at Eli and head out the door.
“Hey mister, how much you want for the butter?”
I turn around and there’s shorty. Must’ve followed me out and snuck up behind.
“It’s not for sale, go get your own.”
“I’ll give you twenty dollars.”
“No, no dice.”
Guys nuts, if he wants it that bad I’m not giving it. “Nope, not for sale.”
“How ‘bout one forty-nine ninety-nine? Hear you could use it.”
I give him the evil eye and figure out if it’s worth wasting one forty-nine ninety-nine on him. I figure it’s not, Uncle Owen’ll count me an idiot and a fool. “I told you it’s not for sale. Why you so interested anyway?”
He gives me a sigh and a smile. “Let’s just say the taste’s out of this world. Tell you what, let me buy you a drink and show you something. If you don’t want to sell after that, fair enough.”
What the hell, I’m broke ‘till next Thursday so a free drink’s a no brainer. We walk half a block and settle into a corner at the Biker Bar. It’s a familiar place, I know most of the barmaids and a fair few feet of the floor I’ve been laid out on.
“You know I’m not from round here?”
“Yeah, it’s getting easier to pick you lot out.”
“All I ever come for was that Sorrell butter and I promised a friend I’d bring her some. I got something to trade, something you might like.”
“How’d you like your Uncle Owen never to see your ugly face in front of him again?” He winks, takes a wristband out of his jeans pocket and slips it on. “This’ll let you start, make and get out of trouble with no one ever knowing.” He folded his cardigan neatly on the table. “If you like it, I’ll trade. Now pick someone, anyone.”
It’s crowded and right in front of us propping up the bar is Big Dave. Big Dave and I go back a long way, I lost my virginity to one of his girlfriends and he gave me my first broken nose. Over the years he’d got bigger until his six two height was being approached by his waist. Better than most I knew that ninety-five percent of that wasn’t fat. I leaned across the table to shorty.
“See the guy in the Comanchero colors? How about him?”
“No problems, you just sit back and watch. First, I just press the red part of the band.”
He wanders over to the packed bar and elbows himself between Dave and some other guy. I can see Dave thinking of hitting him right off the bat but he stops himself, he’s seen Uncle Owen too often lately. He just turns, slowly, looking down.
“Excuse me?” growled and grunted at the same time.
“Oh I’m sorry petal. Let me buy you a drink.” Turning to the barmaid he yells “Two strawberry daiquiris sweetie!”
The bar goes silent, the barmaid’s blowing the dust off an old cocktail leaflet and Dave’s glowing red under his bandanna.
Shorty turns to the other guy. “I apologise if I’ve upset your girlfriend, is it her time of month?” Then turning to Dave “It’s quite ok you know, I understand how delicate and fragile you must be feeling.”
Dave’s neck disappears into his shoulders and he gives me a withering gaze. I shake my head and hold up my hands. I’m here to watch the show not star in it.
“So anyway,” my butter besotted companion continues, one hand on Dave’s leg and one finger to his lips “didn’t I see you at Mardi Gras last year … oh no, that’s it, you were handing out how to vote cards for Hillary weren’t you?”
That was the limit. Dave grabs shorty by the neck, lifting him off the floor. I went straight for my phone’s paramedic speed dial.
“Oh we are trifle prickly aren’t we?” and in a blink he’s got Dave’s hand off, thumb broken and head smashed into the bar. Dave crumples to the floor. He collects the other guy with a rapid left-right combo dispatching him just as quick.
No one moves except the barmaid who places two perfect strawberry daiquiris down. Shorty picks them up, sets them on our table, then sits.
“Now for part two.” pressing the blue section of the wristband. Everyone shivers then looks around as if it’s all news to them. “What the hell?” and “How’d this happen?” is all I can hear, nobody’s got a clue not even Dave who’s lifting himself by a barstool off the floor.
Shorty leans back, smirking.
“Now you tell me that’s not worth a pat of Sorrell butter!”
I had the butter on the table in a jiffy. “Sounds fair to me,” as I slid it across “you must really like this stuff.”
“You don’t know the half.” taking the butter and handing across the wristband. “Oh, there’s one other thing,” keeping hold of one side and pressing a yellow section “you can substitute someone else in if they’re dumb enough to hold the other part.” with which he, the butter and the wristband winked out of existence.
“Well aint you the gutsy one?” I hear as I turn around, the bar closing in on me.
There went another one forty-nine ninety-nine and a week in hospital.
Another Thursday, another trip to Eli’s Deli. I’ve gone right off butter now, but bacon’s another thing.
“Oh come on Eli!” I complain, pointing to the display “You gotta have more than that!” The space for the highland Fitzroy bacon was nearly empty.
“The hell I do!” he booms back. “Fitzroy’s folded, that’s all there is.”
I just buy it all, maybe I’ll grow my own pigs.
“Excuse me sonny, how much do you want for the bacon?”
I turn around to see a little old lady, maybe seventy or so, kindly eyes looking up from under her Sunday best bonnet.
I collect her with a right uppercut, laying her out cold in the pickle and sausage aisle.
Damn aliens. I know just where that was headed and I don’t get paid till Thursday week.
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