Part 3 of 3:
“Aw,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Why’d you close the door? I was gonna peek in real quick and give him a fright. Might’ve even got him to pee his pants. And as for the ‘help me’ nonsense, a fat lot of help he’ll be now that we’ve softened him up.”
“You call what you did ‘softening up?’ Do the words ‘train’ and ‘smash’ mean anything to you?”
“Look, I told ya, I know what you’re really thinking, ‘deep down.’ I can see your innermost thoughts. Even the ones you don’t know about.”
“Maybe I don’t want to know about them.”
“Sure you do. All this stuff about love is just what you tell yourself. Wanna know what you really thi—?”
“What do you know about love?” snapped Sophie. “You’re just a sock!”
For a moment, Mr. Sockforahead actually looked shocked – inasmuch as a sock can do so.
“So what? Sure I’m just a sock. There are plenty of people out there that love socks. You’re wearing a pair right now, aren’t ya?”
Sophie looked down at her hot-pink bobbysocks. “Wearing them is one thing, but you can’t have a meaningful relationship with one. You can’t hold it by the hand in the moonlight, kiss its cheek, or—”
“I’m sure there are a few weirdos out there who love their socks just a little too much, but let’s not go there. Let’s just say I once knew a man who whose best friend was a sock, and he didn’t know it.”
“Much like I didn’t know it?”
“See, you’re getting the picture. Now it’s time to step things up a notch. Come with me to the kitchen.” Mr. Sockforahead started off in that direction, no doubt expecting the rest of Sophie to follow. But, determined to resist these limb-borrowing tricks of his, Sophie stayed put. “Hey, come on, I said.” And this time her feet set off without her permission.
To her relief, she heard the sewing-room door open behind her. “Sophie?” said Trent softly. She gave him a pleading look before she was out of sight around the corner.
“Now let’s see, there must be one here somewhere. Start opening drawers.”
“Why don’t you do it? And I don’t mean by hijacking my hand.”
“Because it’s hard to talk with a mouthful of drawer-handle, stupid.”
“There’s no need for insults.” Sophie opened one of many junk-drawers installed in Granny Maureen’s kitchen. She was sure they’d been designated as such by whoever built them. They could be identified by their bottomless nature and lack of cohesive contents.
“Not that, whatever it is,” said Mr. Sockforahead.
“Your guess is as good as mine. Gran tends to bung any old thing in these, but insists there’s a place for everything.” Sophie opened another drawer.
“If that’s the place for whatever those are, they can stay there.”
The next one contained dismembered doll parts, and, bizarrely, some party hats and streamers. Mr. Sockforahead stared at these.
“There’s something wrong with your granny, and I don’t mean the back of her head’s caved in.”
I hope she’s okay. There was only silence from where Gran lay, out of sight behind the counter. Sophie felt powerless while this creature had its claws in her. Without looking, she opened another drawer.
“Now we’re cookin’,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “I knew she’d have one somewhere. It’s just the right size too, nice and menacing.”
Sophie’s hand plunged into the cutlery drawer, and she guessed what the sock puppet had in mind even before she picked it up. She held it aloft, and a chill tunnelled through her bones. The carving knife.
It had carved plump, golden turkeys at Christmas. It had sheared through roast lamb on summer holidays. In Granny Maureen’s hand it worked wonders with practiced precision. In her hand, it was wrong.
“Let’s see… ‘Girl Kills Brother, Blames Sock.’ Yes, that ought to look just dandy on grey paper in big black letters.”
Sophie did something she never thought she’d do. She screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Whoa,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Did you feel that? I think someone just puked over my maker’s grave.”
* * *
Sally drove her Volkswagen Golf as fast as she dared. She was a policewoman, after all, and wasn’t keen on having her license revoked. She glanced at Peter beside her. He was staring into his hand.
“What is that thing, anyway?” she said. “You’ve been staring at it since we left.”
“It’s a cat’s eye,” said Peter.
“No, it’s not what you think it is. It’s part of a periwinkle’s shell. It closes off the entrance like a little door. It has a spiral pattern on it and looks a little like an eye, see?” He showed it to her.
“What do you want with something like that?”
“It’s the only trace Mr. Sockforahead left when we met last. He’d come out of the sea – don’t ask me how – and it’d replaced one of his lost button eyes.”
“I see. So it’s your only link to him?”
“I’ve carried it with me ever since, from one end of town to the other. Whenever I feel I’m close to finding him, I get a sick feeling in my stomach.”
“Do you want me to pull over?”
“It’s not that kind of sick feeling. We must be close.”
Sally turned down a quiet suburban street. It appeared blissfully unaware something was amiss in one of its well-kept houses.
“This is the street.”
Peter’s fist clenched tight around the cat’s eye. The car pulled up outside an old house with a sign above its door proclaiming: ‘Granny Maureen’s Doll Hospital.’
“A doll hospital?” said Peter. “What madness is this?”
“You’re not scared of dolls, are you?”
They stepped out of the car and picked their way carefully up the path. Neither were carrying guns, but if Sally understood things correctly, they wouldn’t be much use anyway.
How do you kill a sock?
“Should we knock?” said Sally.
“Better to keep the element of surprise. Stand back.” Peter squared his shoulders, and prepared to throw himself at the door.
“Just a minute,” said Sally. She took hold of the doorknob and turned it with painstaking care. There was a soft click. “Not locked.”
“On three, then.”
Peter signalled with shaking fingers. In they rushed, Peter with his baton raised, and Sally with her taser drawn. Inside, plastic faces met them at every turn. Sally dropped and rolled as she’d been taught at the academy. She’d been no good at it then, and was just as useless now. She bumped her shin on the coffee table, and clutched it in agony while Peter had a quick peek around the doorway into the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” came a man’s voice. Well, it was sort-of-a-man’s voice. It sounded more like a clown that’d had too much sugar. “Come and join the party!”
Peter glanced at her and drew a deep breath. Sally could see a body on the kitchen floor in front of the counter. She pointed to it and put her finger to her lips. Peter nodded, and, steeling himself, stepped into the breach.
“All right, Mr. Sockforahead, give it up!” Peter managed, without too much conviction.
“Do I know you?” was Mr. Sockforahead’s reply.
“Do you know—? Of course you do, it’s Peter. Peter Gumption.”
“You don’t say? Peter Gumption, the man who can out-blimp the Hindenburg?”
“Well, technically, the Hindenburg was a dirigible…”
“Semantics have no place in put-downs! What have you done to yourself?”
“Sorted myself out is what I’ve done, despite your efforts to cripple me for life!”
“Pete, Pete, Pete. You’re but a shadow. Neither fat nor thin. Like Christmas without pudding. What’s the point of going on if you can’t out-dirigible things? I’ll tell you what. Since we’re old buddies, how ’bout I put you out of your misery? It just so happens my assistant, Sophie, is holding the tool for the job.”
While listening aghast to this exchange, Sally had moved to the old lady’s side. A pulse, though faint, was found; also a nasty bruise on the noggin. She looked around for something to make her comfortable, and saw the broken doll. It looked like it was priceless, or had been before being used as a weapon. Its body was stuffed with wool. She dragged it over and propped Maureen’s head upon it.
Having done all she could for her, she crept along to the end of the counter and risked a peek at the perpetrator. A girl, of sixteen or so, stood terrified at the sink. In one hand, a knife; on the other – well, it was a sock puppet, nothing more. Yet the disturbing manner in which it spewed insults at her fellow officer seemed to elevate it beyond a simple sock with buttons sewn on.
If he’s as dangerous as Peter said, she thought, I’ve got to act fast. But how do I disarm animated cloth?
Her gaze shifted to Peter’s truncheon. Of course! It wasn’t the most preferable course of action, but if the girl was unconscious, there was a chance the puppet would be too. She strained to see the kitchen bench, and spotted the perfect weapon: a large jar filled with cookies.
If the girl would look the other way…
She tried to attract Peter’s attention. He looked at her cautiously, trying not to betray her presence. She mouthed the words: “Distract him,” and he just stared blankly. She repeated the phrase with more emphasis, pointing to the other side of the room.
“Pete, pay attention while I’m insulting you, won’tcha?” said Mr. Sockforahead.
“Uh, sorry,” said Peter. “Which type of vegetable were you comparing me to this time, a potato?”
“No— Hey, you might have something there.”
“Don’t let’s go on hearsay alone, I’m sure there’s a pile of potatoes in one of these drawers here. One’s bound to be Peter-shaped.” Peter went to the drawers in the far corner of the kitchen. To Sally’s relief, Mr. Sockforahead and the frightened girl turned to watch him as he opened one after another.
With a glance back at the grandmother, who seemed comfortable enough in the circumstances, she abandoned her shoes and slid around the corner of the counter. Carefully, she reached for the cookie jar.
“Please,” said Sophie when she could get a word in edgewise, “aren’t you going to help me?”
“Don’t bother the man when he’s trying to find a spud worthy of such a roasting,” said Mr. Sockforahead.
“This is pathetic. The potatoes are over here if you must—”
She couldn’t have turned around at a worse time. Sally had the cookie jar poised ready to strike.
“Drop those cookies!” said Mr. Sockforahead, remembering the knife and reminding her to fear it.
Sally did as instructed, half through fright and half through obedience. The jar shattered, spreading glass and cookies all over the floor.
“Shame on you. Raiding the cookie jar at your age. That’s the sort of thing Pete would do.” As he said this, he jabbed the knife towards Peter, who, in the middle of an attempt to grab Sophie, stopped short to avoid being skewered. “And shame on you, too, Pete, trying to take advantage of a young girl. Why, she’s half your age, not to mention half your size.”
“You know what I was trying to do, Sockforahead.”
“Tsk-tsk. It’s Mr. Sockforahead, remember? Where’s the respect? Maybe I need to remind you?” Quick as a flash, Mr. Sockforahead and the girl had Sally in a headlock, and the large and very sharp knife pressed to her throat.
* * *
“Okay, just take it easy,” said Peter to the girl. She was sobbing while her mouth was free to do so. “Look, I’ll put down my truncheon.”
“Good, you look silly with it,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Now back up, I’d hate to get all splattered with blood again. It’s hell to wash out; worse than grass stains.”
Peter backed up.
“Say, this plucky blonde your girlfriend, Pete? Oh, my mistake, she’s not a hippopotamus with poor eyesight that left her home in the African wilds because she mistook your bleating for a mating call. It’s an easy mistake to make.”
Sally laughed, and nearly got her throat cut.
Peter looked the girl in the eyes. “Sophie, was it?” he said.
Sophie sniffed away the tears, and nodded.
“Listen, Sophie, as you can tell by this sick sock’s capering, I’ve met him before – twice, and beaten him on both occasions.”
“Pfft, only because I let ya,” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Just ignore him, Sophie. You and me, we’re a snug fit.”
“You have to concentrate, Sophie. Concentrate and we can beat him together. All it takes is a little willpower. Drop the knife, Sophie, that’s all you have to do, and I’ll do the rest.”
“I… I can’t!” said Sophie, and the tears started anew.
“Yes you can! Just picture yourself doing it – close your eyes if you have to. Concentrate!”
“That’s enough of that, Blimption. Stop putting ideas in the poor child’s head. Not another word, or it’s slice and dice time.”
Peter put up his hands in desperation, but daren’t take his eyes from Sophie’s.
* * *
Maureen had heard a crash. She groaned and felt her head. Her hand brushed something jagged, which in a moment of panic she mistook for pieces of her skull. Then she felt the bump that’d welled up on her crown, which was thankfully intact.
She eased herself into a sitting position, and saw the pieces of painted porcelain littering the lino. A masterfully-painted eye stared up at her from among the pieces. Images flashed in her mind, and she became alert with a sudden flood of adrenalin.
“You can do it, Sophie,” she heard a woman say.
She got to her feet, using the kitchen counter to steady herself. What she saw beyond made her gasp. She stepped into the fray without a second thought.
“Sophie! Drop that knife this instant!”
To everyone’s surprise, Sophie did.
“Rats!” said Mr. Sockforahead.
There ensued a scuffle as the two police officers vied to restrain the scuppered sock puppet. Maureen, feeling the backlash of her efforts, heard a door creak open.
Out of the sewing-room came Trent, wielding a pair of scissors – the large kind for cutting cloth. “I’m coming, Sophie!” he cried.
I’m out of commission for a while, and see what happens? thought Maureen.
“Trent! Haven’t I told you not to run with scissors?” She snatched them away from him.
“Nana, you’re not dead!”
“No, I’m not, thank heavens. It would seem I woke up just in time. Hold the rascal still, you two!”
“What’re you doing?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Keep that old bat away from me! Aaargh!”
Maureen impaled Mr. Sockforahead on the scissors, and pulled him free from Sophie’s hand. The girl collapsed with exhaustion, and the two officers supported her between them. Maureen knew just what to do with the inert tube of material on the end of her scissors. She went to the sink.
“Be careful with that sock, Ma’am,” said Peter. “Whatever you do, don’t touch it!”
“I won’t, don’t you worry.”
Into the receptacle she dropped it, giving it a gentle prod with the scissors. She flipped a switch and there was a sudden whirr followed by a tearing, grinding noise. Peter joined her at the sink just as the last shred of white material disappeared down the garbage disposal.
“Where does that go?” said Peter.
“Straight into the sewer,” she said. “‘Mr. Sockforahead’ is gone for good.”
* * *
“There, that’s the last of it,” said Sally, dumping a dustpan-load of glass fragments and broken cookies into the rubbish bin. “I’m sorry Peter couldn’t stay. He was set on getting the City Works people down to check the sewers.”
“Oh, that’s all right. Thanks for the help, dear,” said Maureen, who sat in her corner chair with a bandage on her head.
Sophie brought a steaming cup of tea on a saucer and placed it on the end-table.
“You haven’t any biscuits left, Gran. They all went in the bin.”
“That’s okay, Sophie, dear. Are you sure you’re all right after that ordeal?”
“I’m better now that you’re better.”
“I didn’t graze your hand too badly with the scissors?”
Sophie showed her the faint red mark on her unbroken skin. “It’s nothing, it barely hurts.”
She sat on the sofa with Trent and gave him a hug. He was half-asleep, but she doubted he’d object even if he wasn’t.
“If there’s anything more you need, just give me a call,” said Sally. “I’ve left my cell number on your fridge.”
“Yes, thank you. You know, I’ve been fixing dollies for as long as I can remember, and that’s the first time I’ve ever willingly destroyed my handiwork. There’s something of the Frankenstein story in that.”
“You’ll go on fixing them, though, won’t you?”
“Of course. I’m not superstitious enough to stop because of one ‘failed experiment.’ Besides, I have a patient waiting; an old friend who’s counting on me.” She nodded at the box on the kitchen counter containing the fragments of Madeline.
No one seemed to notice the tiny scrap of white material clinging to a jagged piece of porcelain…