Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
Boris B the Butcher would never hurt a fly. That’s what everyone used to say. Even as a kid, I knew running around his shop full of blades and saws was safer than our backyard Slip N’ Slide. But of course, when Boris B was convicted of murder, the town changed their tune. “I knew he had it in him,” or “I should have seen it coming,” tsk-tsked around every dinner table for decades to follow. It didn’t help that our town was small, small enough where you could ride your bike from one end of town to the other and do it three more times before lunch. Here, everyone knew everyone, and anyone was someone. Privacy was limited to the bathroom, and secrets were secret with no one. The Grwinski’s painted their fence? It was news. The Williams’ boy got caught drinking beer? It was scandalous. Nothing happened in our town that didn’t see the front page.
So when the local butcher was accused of killing a kid…
The world stopped turning.
Boris Bezrukov, or Boris B as the town called him, used to own the old red-and-white brick butcher shop on fourth street. Back then, if you were to ask someone what Boris B was like, the first word that you would likely hear was “Big”. Everything about Boris B spoke in size. Six foot eight, tough as a tractor, and with a jawline so thick it’d shatter your punch.
But despite being built like Goliath, Boris B never got rough. Sure, he’d slap you on the back as he roared with a joke, and sure it probably felt like you were just kicked by a horse, but once the bruises had healed, you were just thankful he chose to be friendly. And friendly, he was.
You never haggled with Boris B, partially because you never had to, and partially because you feared his voice could break your nose. Regardless, he’d always throw in a free half pound of whatever you asked for. Whenever you walked by his store, he’d roll out a welcome in a thick Russian accent, stopping whatever he was doing just to wave and shout. And if it came close to close, he’d invite you to stay for a drink. Of course, a drink meant a bottle and a bottle meant two. And by the late hour of 8:00 or 8:30 you’d be halfway to heaven while Boris B was still going strong, bellowing so loud he kept the streetlights on.
As it was, Boris B was friends with everyone, but not everyone was friends with Boris B. In more ways than one, the butcher was different. And unfortunately, for some, different means bad. Certainly, his size was an intimidating factor, but there was also the way he spoke. Folks judged him more by the way he rolled his R’s than the way he rolled his meat. They looked at how fast he could pour a drink and guessed at the “guilt” he had hiding in his head. And then there was the matter of his hand… or the lack thereof.
You see, Boris B was an amputee. His right hand along with half his forearm was gone, and in the space where it should have been were all the rumors and speculation as to where it went. The parents were less imaginative in this case, assuming a meat saw and vodka made for a terrible pair. But that’s where us kids came in. Getting creative, twisting rumors, we had all sorts of stories to tell about “Boris B The One-Handed-Giant”. Some of the more popular tales said Boris B used to work for the Russian mob and that they sawed it off after he tried to run away. Another one said he lost it in a fight where he killed his own brother. But my personal favorite was that in which aliens took it after abducting the giant for his super-physical DNA.
Yes, there was no shortage of myth when it came to the butcher. Yet despite all the curiosity surrounding his hand no one dared consult Boris B himself, not even the parents, citing “it’d be rude to ask a cripple about his injury.”
Somehow, I doubted they would call Boris B a “cripple” to his face.
But I asked him once when we were alone in his shop.
Boris B held out both arms. “This is my good hand,” he said, waving a cleaver in one meaty paw. “And this?” He lifted his stump. “Stump” was an accurate word, for his forearm was the width of a tree. “This hand was very bad… So, I had to CHOP it off!” He THWACKED his butcher’s knife so hard into the table, it made the building jump. He rolled back in laughter, while I just sat in shock.
Believe what you want about Boris B and his missing hand, it doesn’t make a difference. Or perhaps it does. In any case, if Boris B was anything, he was a local curio. Besides the Junkyard or Devil’s Ditch, the Butcher’s Shop was one of the only attractions we kids could enjoy. And Boris B was like a second father to us. He loved us kids, Jess and I most of all.
And yes, if you’re already familiar with the tale of Boris B the Butcher, I do in fact mean that Jess. The Jess that died. The Jess that was found strangled and left in a dumpster. I would know a lot about Jess as he was my best friend.
Jessie Adams was a year younger than me. Short, scrawny, but wild like a box of matches. He always wore his dad’s baseball cap, and though it never fit him, in some ways it did. He was faster than the other kids, braver too. You couldn’t challenge him to anything unless you thought it’d be cool to actually see him do it. And I was quite creative when it came to different dares, so together we made a dangerous duo.
We were constantly picking fights with the older kids and always on the run from whichever adult we happened to spurn that day. But whenever we were caught in a chase, we knew where to go. Boris B’s shop was safe. It was the tree you’d climb to get away from the wolves, because the wolves knew better than to mess with the bear.
We also figured out that if we came by at noon Boris B would make us a baloney and ham sandwich. If we stayed till dinner it’d be turkey and cheese. He was always serving us food, teasing that we had to eat lots of meat so we could carry more boxes.
Because you see, when we weren’t eating or hiding in Boris B’s shop, we were often helping with odd jobs. He’d pay us a dime for every box we’d cut down or a few dollars to deliver a note. We also got to help out with Genie.
Genie was Boris B’s #1 customer. He always saved her the best cuts and in turn, she’d show up at his store at least twice a day. Boris B could talk you ear off but with Genie it was different. Genie always stayed and stayed for hours. With how much time they spent together, you’d think they were having an affair.
However, Genie… was a cat.
But boy oh boy, did Boris B love that cat.
She was one of those hairy, fluffy cats with grey and gold hair. Not the kind with short fur. No, she was made to be a pillow. But you didn’t dare touch Genie without her permission, and that she only gave to Boris B.
He always made sure she had a fresh bowl of water. “Cold!” he would remind me, as I sometimes filled it up. She was also served a deli plate with every kind of meat. And Boris B would set up a stool in the middle of his shop just so she had a perch to bask in the sun. When it was time for her to leave, Genie would patiently wait by the door for someone to open it, then strut outside, waving goodbye with a tail that looked like smoke. “There goes my proud lady,” Boris B would say.
Of course, other cats caught on to the “secret spot” and soon the whole alleyway was packed with a line. Boris B fed them too, but there was only ever room for one feline in his shop, and his stool was taken.
Jess and I got to name some of the regulars. There was Prince, the golden boy with pearly white paws, Trucker, the cat that looked more like a matted old dog, and Zazz, who’s eyes were crossed and walked all slow. There were probably half a dozen others, but their nicknames were more frequent to change.
But then there was one other cat, one few ever saw. Jess called him “Beast” as the few times we caught a glimpse of him darting around the alley corner, he looked hairless and sick. When we told Boris B about Beast, he didn’t believe us, but from then on he wouldn’t let us feed any of the cats unless he was there. Jess said Boris B was just jealous that some of the cats liked us more than him.
You might think it was odd for a couple of kids to be pals with a guy four times their age. Today folks shake their heads. They throw out words like “grooming” and expect them to stick. But back then, no one batted an eye. Despite what my dad would say, I know my parents never cared. They were just happy I was staying out of trouble. Jess’ dad was a little more iffy, fearing Boris B might turn his son into a commie, but even he had to admit the butcher’s shop was a safer place to be than say the gravel pits or Devil’s Ditch. Or at least, it was…
So, there we were most days, a couple of regulars with Boris B. Though for how much time we spent together, we still knew very little about him.
He grew up in Ukraine, that much we learned, and he had family, but where they were I couldn’t tell. Most of his past we had to piece together through his long-winded tangents. But trying to follow one of Boris B’s stories was like going down a water slide. It moved so fast and turned around, you forgot where you started. One story began with the time he carried three goats, but ended on legends of witchcraft and curses. He said he worked as a driver for some time but the way he described it, he did very little driving. He said he “hated the traffic” so he left while he could. I asked him if that’s why he cut off his hand. He laughed at that, harder than I’d ever seen.
However, every one of Boris B’s stories read the same, like he had left a bad job, or bad life. He said he came to America because it was “the land of opportunity”, a fresh start. He moved to town before I was born. Folks claimed he showed up with nothing and kept nothing for years. But after a while, he laid roots, buying rather than renting the building on 4th street. And slowly but surely, he became like a part of the town.
So where did it all go wrong? How did Boris B turn from friendly giant to bloody butcher? Some say Boris B snapped, some say he was rotten from the start. I’m not sure it was any of those things. But if I had to pick a day, a moment when everything changed, there’s one that comes to mind.
It was early in the morning. Boris B had just opened shop, and it was feeding time for our friends out back. Jess and I made a B-line for the back door with Boris B just behind. We pushed the metal door open and then… everything froze.
There lying in the alley amongst a tangle of fur, and broken, was Genie. She was dead. I thought an animal might have done it. A dog or coyote maybe? But there was no blood, no wounds, just a mangled corpse discarded right where we could see. Jess and I were in tears, but Boris B wouldn’t cry. He only stared silently at poor Genie before getting down on his knees. Then with his one good hand he gently scooped her up, cradling her close to his chest but softly as though giving her room to breathe.
Boris B asked Jess and I to go home. We wanted to stay, to help bury Genie, but he spread his shoulders tall as a tree and repeated, louder, “Go. Home.” So we did…
After that day, Boris B wasn’t himself. He spoke quieter, moved slower, and in some ways even seemed… scared. It was an odd sight to behold to see someone like a lion slink into a shell. Whereas before Boris B could barely be bothered to lock up the store, he now had the place under lock and key. No door was left opened, no window was cracked, not even on hot days where you wore three layers of sweat. And though he was drinking more, it was no longer in the company of merry friends.
Why was Boris B so nervous? No one knew. Sometimes I’d catch him in one of his drunken spouts mumbling about “revenge”. I wasn’t sure what he meant. Did he think someone killed Genie? But why? Or was he looking to get revenge himself?
All of the other cats stopped coming around. Well, all of them except for Beast. We were seeing him more and more. Not more of him, exactly, he was still only a blur in the corner of your eye, but now we were seeing that blur all throughout the day. Once or twice I thought I caught him tapping on a window or scratching at a door, almost as though he was prodding for a way inside. Afterwards, Boris B put out several traps, though he would never admit what they were for. But it seemed like Beast was a wound. The worse Boris B got, the more we saw it. Or maybe, it was the other way around.
Boris B wouldn’t let us go into the alley anymore and would rarely let us stay in his shop for more than an hour. He was distancing himself from everyone and for a while it seemed like the clouds over Boris B’s shop couldn’t get darker. Then it all came to a head one late summer day…
It was maybe seven or eight o’clock. Preferring the isolation of his own home, Boris B had already closed shop, leaving the old red-and-white brick building dark and empty. Jess and I were milling about as we passed by. As I said, there was no one around so I was startled when I heard a crash…
My eyes barely caught it, a blur at the end of the alley.
A wicked smile grew on my face.
“Hey Jess,” I began, “I dare you to catch Beast.”
What a stupid dare. The animal could’ve had rabies or three-inch claws, but it wasn’t unlike me to propose a precarious challenge. And it wasn’t unlike him to accept. Still, I saw Jess wince at the thought. “I don’t know,” he said, “Boris B has traps everywhere. If he found out…”
So, I pushed him further, “What? You chicken?”
And like a couple of magic words, Jess was transformed. He puffed up his chest, straightened his oversized cap, and marched right for the alley.
I watched from a safe distance as Jess stepped into the shadows, sticking his nose around in search of the infamous Beast. He stopped before a dumpster and brought his ear close to the side. His eyes lit up and he pointed at the rusty tomb as if to say, “in here.” Riding off of some of his confidence, I moved closer. Jess wiped away sweaty palms before climbing over the ledge and landing with a splash.
It was quiet… only the wrinkle and rustle of trash echoed inside. And then…
I heard him shriek! Garbage was thrown everywhere! Then he toppled out of the dumpster so fast, he nearly knocked it over! I caught him as he tumbled off the side.
“What?! Did you see him?! Did you?!” I asked. I tried holding him still as he backed away. He was shaking, his eyes trained on the open dumpster like something might fly out.
“I- I-,” he stuttered, “I don’t know what I saw. C’mon, let’s go home.”
“Oh c’mon! What’d you see?!” I asked him.
Looking back and forth between me and the dumpster, his voice flinched as he spoke, “It- It looked like a hand…”
Instantly, I put on a face that said “BS”.
“What? No way.” I had to see it for myself, but as soon as I made a step towards the dumpster Jess grabbed my arm. He pleaded with me, looking for any and every excuse to get out of there. He said Boris B would get mad, he said he was tired, joking, didn’t know what he saw, that it stunk worse than Huey’s baseball socks. Whatever, I shrugged. And so, I followed as we made our way home.
But we were only halfway home when Jess stopped, his face had gone pale. I asked him what was wrong. He looked at me, panic swelling in his eyes, and said, “My hat!”
That was when I noticed Jess wasn’t wearing his dad’s baseball cap. But I knew he had it on before, right before…
“I think I dropped in the trash!” he exclaimed.
“Can’t you just grab it tomorrow morning?” I asked, “We’re nearly home.”
“Tomorrow morning is trash day!” he said, “We have to go back!”
I rolled my head, “I don’t wanna walk all the way there and back! Can’t you get it yourself?” Jess mumbled to the ground while kicking the dirt. “What? You afraid a hand’s gunna get you?” I puppeted my arm into a monster mouth and growled. Jess hit it away with a grimace.
“Whatever,” he groaned, “I’ll… go by myself.”
I shrugged and waved goodbye. Then we went our separate ways saying we’d meet up tomorrow…
What happened next no one knows. Well, no one knows for certain. All we know is the next morning Jhonas Wriggly, the trashman, pulled up to Boris B’s shop for his usual routine. As he lifted the dumpster into his truck there dropped a heavy BANG, like something he’d never heard. He stopped, got out of his truck, opened up the back, and saw…
It took the police an extra half hour to finally show up. They dismissed Mr. Wriggly’s call as a drunken joke. But when they arrived, no one was laughing.
I heard the news from my parents. The word “dead” passed right through me. I couldn’t understand, couldn’t even speak the word next to Jess’ name.
“Strangulation,” spoke Sheriff Shawn Yule at the town’s press conference.
“Around 8:26 PM.”
“Suspect in custody, Boris Bezrukov…”
The evidence was damning. Not only was Jess found on Boris B’s property, but they had his fingerprints and DNA all over the scene. There wasn’t a single soul who could support an alibi, and his recent erratic behavior only hardened suspicions.
A boy was dead, and folks were hungry for blood…
Boris B cried at trial.
“Crocodile tears,” Dad called them. I didn’t comment. It was still too soon.
They threatened Boris B with the chair, said he was guilty either way. Folks spat and frowned when they heard he got the deal. “Life in prison ain’t worth the death of a boy,” they yelled. Whether they wanted it or not, and they certainly did not, the town had their killer behind bars.
With a petition, the town tore down the old butcher shop. No one wanted to see it. No one wanted to think of it. It was just a scar reminding them that their once humble little town was tainted, ruined.
And though over the years their rage distilled to disgust, no one ever forgot the sinful tale of Boris B the Butcher. He was a part of the town, but now in a way they hate to admit. And while I’ve told this story a thousand times, never once has it been heard. So let me tell it again, but in a different way, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear what I have to say.
Boris B the Butcher would never hurt a fly. And yet, he was convicted for murder.
True, people can change but so can people’s opinions. And sometimes one thing can look another while being neither altogether. So how do we sort out what’s right, when right and wrong go hand in hand? How do we trust the truth when it feels like all trust has been broken? And what do we do with the blame when it’s nowhere to go.
Only a week after his conviction, Boris B was found dead in his cell. He was strangled in his sleep. Folks didn’t care who did it. They called it “justice”. Even the other inmates agreed.
Strange thing is, Boris B was in a cell all alone. When guards found him that way, his door was locked. Only the air vent was loose. But it was small. So small, only a hand could fit inside…