Ebeneezer Twist was the meanest butcher in all of Brentford. During the war he'd been shot in the left hand: His thumb had been blown off and replaced with an artificial one, made of lead. Customers noted with sadness how the scales was permanently tilted to the left.
It was the morning of Christmas Eve. A half-dozen long-dead turkeys hung from as many hooks in the window, their prices — in a mad fit of pre-Christmas spirit — only increased by sixpence a pound in preparation for the rush.
Twist stood behind the smeared glass counter, his striped apron stained with the offal of last-week's half-pigs, his mock-straw boater tarnished and ratted. An old-aged pensioner wandered into the shop, absently mistaking it for the post office, and was guilted into purchasing three pork chops, eight mince pies and a sprig of holly.
That's how determined a salesman Twist was. The old man shuffled in bewilderment out of the shop, his skull-cap now set at a more depressed angle than when he entered, his locks dripping limply in the heavy rain.
"Mister Twist?" asked a timid voice from the back of the shop. "Do you remember that I asked you for a half-day today? On account of it being Christmas, and all?"
"Christmas!" Twist said to his assistant. "Christmas! Bumhug!"
The young man swallowed nervously. "Well, do you remember? You said you'd think about it."
"Bob," Twist said, his voice a reasonable facsimile of pleasant tones, "Bob, you've been with me for twenty years now, man and boy. And have I ever failed to give you a half-day at Christmas?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"So I'm not going to start now. You'll work until six, Bob. I mean, you're getting the whole bloody day off tomorrow! One whole day in a row! For God's sake, do you want to bleed me dry? If you want to take the rest of your life off, without pay, feel free to do so. Is that what you want."
Bob swallowed again. "No, sir. Sorry I mentioned it."
"It's Friday, Bob. Stock-take tonight, remember? Christmas Eve or not, the stock must be taken. You'll be home by eight thirty at the latest. Plenty of time."
Tears welling in his eyes, Bob turned his attention to his current duty: carefully levering off the tops of the mince pies and scooping out half the filling.
Twist watched him carefully, lest the man attempt to steal a few spoonfuls for himself. He wondered if he could get away with cutting the man's wages again. Probably could, he decided. Bob's wife, Mrs Pratchett, would argue like mad as usual, but her husband was a wimp, and he deserved it.
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