A Nice Piece of Tenderloin

A police officer questions the rights of a street musician working to support his family. New flash fiction by Django Mathijsen.

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Coins are jingling in my hat as I blow the first note of Moonlight in Vermont.

I hold my saxophone askew and wink at the little girl bending over my hat.

She smiles at me. Sunrays are reflecting like gold in my saxophone.

The little girl skips off. A lady with a shopping bag takes her by the hand.

The reverberation is beautiful in the pedestrian underpass to the shopping mall. I’m making more money than I expected. Almost 30 Euros yesterday.

The F-valve is sticking. I’m going to have my sax repaired if I have to do this much longer.

“… permit, I said!” I hear.

I look up.

A police cap!

An ugly tremolo resounds in my note.

“Do you have …” he says. And again something about a “permit.” He gives me a grumpy, impatient look.

I’m in the middle of the bridge; I can’t stop now. It would ruin the song!

He’s speaking again. He’s looking so angry.

So I stop after all. “What?”

“I asked if you have a pavement artist permit … Holy cow, Burt?”

If I imagine him without the cap … “Right!” I point at him. “A nice piece of tenderloin.”

“Of course.” He smiles. “Suddenly, you were closed last week.”

I sigh and shrug. “I couldn’t pay my suppliers anymore.”

“The new shopping mall?”

I nod. “Since they opened it, my turnover has more than halved.”

“Are you bankrupt?”

I nod.

“Why didn’t you move there, just like the bookshop and whatnot? The town council reimbursed moving expenses, didn’t they?”

“Moving expenses?” I shake my head. “That was a joke. Tim from the bookshop doesn’t have a cold store. Cost me a hundred thousand Euros 15 years ago. The council didn’t want to compensate me for a new one.”

He frowns. “Why not?”

“It was written off five years ago, so it’s officially worthless. According to the council, I had to invest in a new one anyway.”

“And did you?”

“Of course not. A cold store will easily last 40 years, till past my retirement.”

“But what are you doing here?”

I shrug. “I have to put food on the table for my kids. And their tuition has to be paid.”

“But if you’re out of work, you can get welfare, can’t you?”

“Not if you’re self-employed and a homeowner. I’d have to sell my house first and live off that.”

His jaw drops.

“I used to gig around in jazz clubs as a student. So I thought …”

He’s looking at the ground. “Jesus, I didn’t know the council tore people down like that.”

“They won’t bring me down. I’m healthy and fortunately I can do more than being a butcher.” I pat my saxophone.

“But you can’t play here. And you need a pavement artist permit.” He puts his hand onto my shoulder. “Do you know the Impasse?”

“That alley behind the art gallery?”

“We check street musicians only if we get complaints and that bicycle repair guy here hates music. But we never get any complaints from the Impasse. So if you go there …” He winks.

“Thanks!” I unfasten my sax. “And if you come to my place tonight around eight … I still have a nice piece of tenderloin.”

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