On the Milieu of Overpriced Veg

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…well he was out of his depth wasn’t he? If he’d really been into all that stuff, he’d have got away with it. But he wasn’t. He was only into the money it made him. He was good at it though, I mean you’ve got to give him that. Very thorough. He couldn’t just do something, he had to do it in style. Come to think of it, that didn’t really help his cause either. I mean he should have just chucked the damn thing over the nearest wall, got out of there while the going was good. But no. By the time the police arrived it was still there, on the side, covered in soil and hair and bits of brain, and he was just stood there, staring at it, as if to say ‘so what do I do now?’ So they had him, didn’t they? Bang to rights, I believe the phrase is.

Still. He didn’t have a bad run, all things considered. Six months, he was in business. And even with the economy the way it is, there was plenty of cash round there. Then again, that was the point, I suppose. There’s always plenty of cash round there. It’s just how you get to it.

And he had that bit sussed from the off. He started by doing an all-day breakfast, bacon, sausage, egg, mushroom, beans, the works. Not exactly a niche market, I know. But the devil was in the detail. The beans were organic, the eggs were free-range and the bacon and sausage were from ecstatically happy pigs, the sort that tapdance all the way to the abattoir. Serve that up with peppermint tea or redcurrant juice or nettle squash and you can charge 15 quid a throw. Which was exactly what he did. I know. I know. It would be if it wasn’t so funny. It worked though. The yummy mummies round there, they lapped it up. It wasn’t just the food they were buying you see, it was the lifestyle. Eco-this, sustainable that, the whole nine yards.

Anyway. Before long the place was heaving and the only thing to do was expand. So he opened up a shop next door, started doing fruit and veg, ‘artisan’ breads, bars made of birdseed, the whole caboodle. Even hired a pot washer to help out in the kitchen. A serious fella by all accounts. One of those humourless eco-types, you know the sort. The sort of fella who’d have been happy to pay 15 quid for a breakfast, but couldn’t because he was on minimum wage. Anyway, so this chap’d been there about a week when he saw that your friend and mine was up to no good.

It was the organic shop, you see. Now the fruit and veg were kosher. Funny-looking things, covered in dirt, rich in mineral and pension deposits. The sort of thing that turns up and dies in a delivery box. But the dough-goods? Well. He was buying them in from Robinson’s Bakers wasn’t he. Oh yeah. Absolutely. That Robinson’s Bakers. Organic? No, no, no! Of course not! The flour may be unrefined, but that’s as far as they go. But that’s the point. They were cheap too, you see, at least compared to the price you’d pay in an up-market hippyshit shop. Which is where the scam came in. By the time Mr Ethical Businessman’s worked his voodoo magic, baked-in his ‘Organic’ labels and slapped on his mark-ups, the hemp-wearing classes were paying three times the going rate for a cottage loaf, four for a farmhouse. I don’t even want to talk about the muffins.

So here’s what happens. One night, after hours, the pot-washing boy has a moment. Comes over all conscience-stricken, all ‘I don’t know which side my bread is buttered on’. ‘Isn’t that illegal?’ he says and threatens to blow the businessman’s cover. Bad move. The businessman’s got a temper you see. Needs to protect his investment. Picks up the first thing that comes to hand and clobbers him one.

Before he knows it, the pot-washer’s lying on the floor in the past tense. Dead. He claimed he only meant to hit him once, but as I said, he’s a thorough sort of chap. At least he was. Now he’s a thorough sort of chap with a problem. Because the whole thing’s made a terrible racket and someone’s bound to have called the police.

So what’s the first thing you do in a situation like that? That’s right. You get rid of the murder weapon. But how? Bearing in mind he’s stood in the kitchen of the caff… That’s right! The old ‘eat-the-evidence’ routine! I know, I know! Foolproof! Or so you’d think. But there’s a problem. Like I said, although he liked to do things in style, he was out of his depth. He wasn’t really one of them, you see. So by the time the police got there he was still working out how to cook the damn thing. What’s that? The murder weapon? Ah, well. First time in recorded history, they reckon. Now, let’s get this right. A locally-sourced, GM-free, organically-grown kohlrabi…

Charlie Hill left school at sixteen to work in Birmingham’s locally renowned fish market. Since then he has helped set-up and run a vegetarian restaurant, learnt more about beans than anyone should (Aristotle hated ’em) and written for the TLS, New Statesman, Independent on Sunday, Time Out and many others. His first novel – The Space Between Things – has just been published. Visit his website.

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