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by Neil Campbell

Corned Beef lived under the Mancunian Way, in a tent alongside other tents, close to the campus for Manchester Metropolitan University. There was a conference on homelessness coming up, where well paid academics came from all over the world for two days of seminars and free meals. In preparation for the conference, Corned Beef and his neighbours had their tents removed from under the Mancunian Way. After each day of the conference, the academics sojourned to the Sally. The university owned the pub. But that hadn’t always been the case.

When Corned Beef used to go in, there was a mix of students and Hulme locals, and never an academic in sight. Corned Beef and his porter pals from the town hall went on pub crawls in various directions outwards from the centre of the city, and the Sally was near enough on Oxford Road. Sometimes there was a poetry night on and the pool table got moved out of the way. If that happened they wandered over to the Footage and Firkin. After a few beers Corned Beef was steady handed at pool and darts; a confident break builder and a quick minded calculator of doubles.

One night in the Sally there was a cocksure student in there taking the piss at the pool table. He waved around a sloshing pint and bragged, “I haven’t paid for a frame yet!” Corned Beef’s colleagues stepped up and got beat and then it was Corned Beef’s turn to rack them up.

This kid wasn’t any good. He was just some bullshit toff “keeping it real” and slumming it among the working class. He never potted one off the break. So Corned Beef let him break. He split the pack nicely. Corned Beef eight-balled him without even chalking the cue. The kid wanted a rematch but Corned Beef fucked him off, announced to his porter pals that it was time to be moving on.

Corned Beef had played pool since school, back when Mike Dell had first given him the nickname. Keith, a.k.a. Corned Beef. Rhyming slang. No more to it than that. And now he had it in marker pen on the wall of his tent, in a new spot outside the central library.

Neil Campbell is from Manchester. New flash fiction collection Fog Lane out now. ncampbellwriter.wixsite.com/website.