At his desk in the evidence room, Peter Gumption stared at his cryptic crossword. An hour had passed, and all he’d written was `beetroot’ in the five-down column. He frowned, and reached for the white-out.
He would typically spend many of his hours at work in this manner, even on busy days. Sometimes, if he really got bored, he’d venture into the forest of shelves behind him and rummage in the dusty boxes. That at least gave the impression he was doing something important.
The door in front of him opened, and a thin cop loaded down with boxes walked in.
“Here you go, Peter,” the man said. “The latest collection.”
“Excellent! Thanks, Terry.”
He stood up. The boxes made a satisfying `thud’ as Terry dropped them onto the desk. He lifted the lid off one and made a quick survey of the contents.
“Anything interesting in here?”
“I expect so,” said Terry, “but I ain’t gonna spoil it for you. I know how much you enjoy this sort of thing.”
He sat in the chair by the door.
Peter had the lid off each box now. He flipped open the log book and took up his half-chewed pen.
“This place seems more… cluttered than usual,” said Terry, wiping his brow.
Peter pointed to a waxy green mass in the corner.
“Plastic rubber-plant,” he said.
“Plastic? What’s the point of that?”
“Gloria, the self-proclaimed `workplace beautification technician,’ brought it in to brighten the place up.”
“I don’t know about that, but it certainly enhances the dinginess.”
“There’ll be one in your office next.”
Peter held up a bloody knife sealed in a Ziploc bag, and wrote the particulars in the log. He repeated the procedure for some hair samples, jewellery, and a filthy scarf. Then he pulled out the next item, and dropped it with a start.
“Ha-ha-ha!” said Terry. “That would’ve been worth a ten-spot if I’d had my camera.”
Peter composed himself, picked up the bag, and examined the grotesque contents.
“What on Earth is this?” he said.
“Have a guess.”
“It looks… like a sock puppet. An evil, evil sock puppet… mangled almost beyond recognition.”
“Spot on,” said Terry. “If you think that’s nasty, you should’ve seen what happened to its owner.”
Terry leaned forward in his chair.
“It happened about three days ago, down at Montaine Mental Institute. I thought you’d heard about it? It was all they talked about in the canteen…”
Peter shook his head, agape.
“Oh, that’s right, I forget that you’re cooped up in here most of the time. Anyway, first this guy shoots himself in the hand, then he puts the gun to his head, and bam! I was on duty when homicide got the call.”
Now peter saw the knuckle fragments still clinging to the shredded and blood-soaked sock. One broken button-eye stared out at him through the plastic. He shuddered.
“It was a mess,” Terry continued, “one of the worst I’d seen. Blood, brains, and people losing their breakfasts left, right, and centre.”
“It sounds like this guy should’ve been admitted sooner.”
“He was being released.”
Peter looked up.
“They called it a suicide, but everyone I talk to says it was the sock that did it. Peter… what in heaven’s name are you doing?”
Peter heard the crinkle of plastic. His left hand had reached into the evidence bag, and slipped itself into the horrible tattered mess of the sock.
“Jesus! What the…? I can’t move my arm! What the hell is going on?”
“Hey, stop that now… you’re… you’re creeping me out.”
Peter watched in horror as his possessed hand raised itself to shoulder height. The grotesque, cadaverous, foul-smelling sock stared at him with it’s cracked button-eye. He felt a stirring in his vocal chords, and a voice left his throat — a voice which wasn’t his own.
“Hiya, Fatso. Thanks for lending me a hand. I have to say, it fits nice n’ snug compared to the last one I had up my arse.”
When he had control of his jaw again, it dropped open. Terry burst into a fit of knee-slapping laughter.
“Peter, I didn’t know you were a comedian!”
The sock-puppet jabbed towards Terry.
“What’re you laughing at, Baldy?”
“Hey,” said Terry, touching his gleaming scalp, “that’s hitting a little close to home. You know how I am about my hair, Peter.”
“Hair?” said the sock, giving Terry’s head a quick rub. “I don’t see any hair. Don’t know what you’re worried about, except perhaps growing some.”
In the awkward silence that followed, Peter tried to find his own voice.
“I, uh… Terry, the sock… It’s not me, I swear!”
“Of course it’s not you, Jumbo. I’m my own sock — Mr. Sockforahead, to be exact.”
“Peter, you’ve been working back here too long. If I was you, I’d put in for some time off.”
“That sounds like a laugh. C’mon, Sir Eatsalot, let’s quit this joint.”
Mr. Sockforahead busied himself in Peter’s pockets, leaving Peter’s vocal chords somewhat sore from the high-pitched, maniacal voice they’d been forced to produce.
“Terry, listen, you have to help me. I’m deadly serious — this Mr. Sockforahead thing has taken control of my arm; even my voice!”
Terry narrowed his eyes, and Peter grabbed him by the shirt.
“Okay, okay, I believe ya!”
“Bingo!” said Mr. Sockforahead, so suddenly that both men jumped.
The puppet had found a set of keys.
“These are for a car, right?”
“Uh… yes?” said Peter, hoping it was the right thing to say.
“The man has a car! You’re doing great. My previous handy man, may he rest in constant torment, only had a scooter. Pathetic!”
“Hey, that’s right, he did have a scooter,” said Terry. “Saddest thing I ever saw.”
“You see?” said Peter. “How could I have known that? It proves this sock has a mind of its own!”
“You should listen to Blimpy here, he’s pretty smart.” Mr. Sockforahead turned to Peter. “Let’s go for a drive.”
“Oh no, no way. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Mr. Sockforahead stared.
“Do you like being able to walk by yourself? Cos I can do it for you if I have to.”
Peter felt a tingling in his legs, and his eyes widened.
“No, wait! Please, uh, sure, a drive. Whatever you want.”
Mr. Sockforahead thrust the keys into Peter’s free hand.
“I’ll, uh, get the door for you,” said Terry, tapping his left hand discreetly.
“Move those legs, Pudgy.”
Peter did as he was told. When he reached the door, Terry leapt at him and latched onto the evil sock.
“Hey, what’re ya doin’? Nyeearrgh!”
There was a brief struggle, and Mr. Sockforahead thrust forward. Terry’s polished noggin smacked into the wall, where it made a deep impression in the plasterboard. Terry slumped, unconscious, to the floor.
“Jesus!” cried Peter.
“Hmmpf. Sorehead. Come along.”
Peter stumbled into the hallway, and felt suddenly naked. The invisible man had nothing on him for passing through crowded rooms unnoticed — which was quite a feat, considering his size — but wandering around with the spawn of Satan on his hand was bound to attract attention.
All was well until he reached Files. A clerk stepped out of the room, saw the sock, dropped a bundle of papers, and let out a muted shriek.
“‘Sup?” said Mr. Sockforahead as they passed.
Peter entered the front office, a wide lobby furnished with desks, where the `real’ cops went about their business. He hurried across the room, his footsteps barely audible beneath the din of shuffling papers, ringing phones, and jumbled conversations. There, ahead of him, was the front door.
“Peter Gumption,” said a gruff voice that could only belong Sergeant Olive, “what the hell is that thing doing on your hand? It’s supposed to be sealed in a goddamn–“
“Who the fuck is this nosy prick?” said Mr. Sockforahead.
Silence fell, like a brick through a skylight. All eyes, including those of a couple of handcuffed `perps,’ were now on Peter. The Sergeant stood there, steaming.
Oshit. Oshit. Peter had to close his eyes.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Olive said at last.
“It’s not what you think, Sergeant,” Peter stammered.
“Sergeant, eh?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Well howdy-fuckin’-do, Sarge! Sockforahead’s the name.”
Sergeant Olive stared at the sock and Peter in turn.
“This `thing’ belonged to a suicide, you know that? Blew a hole in it, and then his own head.”
Peter nodded emphatically.
“Just between you and me,” said Mr. Sockforahead, moving closer to the Sergeant, “I pulled the trigger.”
The Sergeant clutched his nose.
“Goddamn, it stinks! I don’t know what the hell is up with you, Gumption, but you’ve got ten seconds to take that thing off — or I’ll take it off, and you’ll be out on your ear!”
“Please, Sarge, I can’t take it off; it won’t let me! It’s… insane!”
The Sergeant tackled Peter’s rogue arm. With lightning speed it twisted from his grip and went for his holster. Mr. Sockforahead sprang up, brandishing the Sergeant’s gun. There was a series of reflex movements as every cop in the lobby trained their weapon on Peter.
“What’s wrong with you shits?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “Are you anxious to see my famous `hole in the head’ trick?”
“You’ve gone too far, Gumption!” screamed the Sarge.
Peter felt a warm patch spread across the front of his trousers as his bladder gave way. The sock puppet looked down and shook its head.
“You’ve wet yourself? That’s just great; now you’re embarrassing us.”
Peter’s eyes became wild and glassy.
“I’m embarrassing us? You twisted fucking mess of bloody rag! You’ve ruined my life! I was happily doing a crossword five minutes ago, and now I’m standing here in soiled trousers, surrounded by people who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot me, and oh yes, I’m fired, and every shred of self- respect has been leeched out of me like so much… urine by your deranged antics, and you have the gall to say I’m embarrassing us? Fuck you! Somebody pull the trigger already!”
There was a tense pause populated only by Peter’s wheezing.
“You know what?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “I like you.”
“Oh yeah? Fine way to show it.”
“You’ve got spunk when you’re under pressure. So, who shall we shoot first? How about… this guy.”
No-one was more surprised than Peter at the shot, except perhaps Officer Margoyle, who caught hot lead in his foot. Everyone backed off.
“Ow, fuck! My foot!” cried Margoyle.
“Jesus! You didn’t have to shoot him!” said Peter.
“He’s still alive, isn’t he?” said Mr. Sockforahead. “C’mon, let’s book. Outta the way, lads.”
The way to the door was cleared.
Peter waddled forward.
“Some people have no consideration,” said Mr. Sockforahead as they left the station.
The sidewalk was deserted. Peter forced himself into a jog to the nearby cola machine. He glanced back and saw the station in a frenzy; like an ant colony that had just been trodden on. But no-one seemed anxious to pursue him, just yet.
Mr. Sockforahead tossed the gun away and scanned the row of parked vehicles along the curb.
“Which one’s yours?”
Terry pointed to a brown Volvo a couple of car-lengths down the street.
“You’ve gotta be kidding… It looks like it came out of Godzilla’s arse. Oh well, people with piss-stains can’t be too choosy.”
Peter rushed over and unlocked the driver’s side. Mr. Sockforahead latched onto the handle and swung the door open.
“Inya get, Saturated Fatboy.”
Peter didn’t even try to argue. He slid into the driver’s seat. The uncomfortable wetness of his trousers and a feeling of numb despair were foremost in his mind.
Mr. Sockforahead started the engine and cranked the shift lever into `drive.’ Peter snapped out of his reverie as the car rolled forward.
“Shit!” he turned the wheel and headed out into the traffic.
“Now we can have some fun!” said Mr. Sockforahead.
In the rear-view mirror, Peter saw a host of police officers burst from the station. Terry was among them, nursing his head.
“Let’s see if we can hit that old lady over there.”
Mr. Sockforahead grabbed the steering wheel and aimed the car at an old dear approaching the curb with her walking frame. With all the strength in his free arm, Peter forced the car to swerve the other way. A collection of bins and newspapers went flying, but the old lady made it safely to the crosswalk. Perhaps `safely’ wasn’t the word; she appeared to be having heart palpitations.
Now there were sirens, and two squad cars, their lights flashing, appeared in the rear-view mirror.
“Woo!” said Mr. Sockforahead. “A proper car chase, just like in the movies. Looks like you’re in real trouble now, Michelin Man.”
“You’re the one who’s in trouble. I’m stopping the car!”
“Oh no you don’t!”
Peter felt his legs go numb. His right foot increased pressure on the accelerator without his consent. The car ran a red light and careened around a busy corner. Vehicles collided in its wake, jamming the intersection.
“That should shake ’em!”
They were heading down an incline straight towards the pier. Peter tried to move his feet but they wouldn’t respond. Only his right arm was free. He concentrated on keeping it that way.
“Have you ever been fishing, Pete?”
The question took him off guard. Perhaps because the sock called him
Pete' and not some variation of the wordfat.’
“Great! No time like the present.”
Peter’s foot hammered the accelerator, and the car sped through the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Here, protective posts were in place to stop cars from driving onto the pier — but they hadn’t banked on solid Swedish construction. The Volvo busted through them as if they were Styrofoam, and rumbled out onto the boards of the pier. Sightseers, picnickers, dogs, and people with fishing poles scrambled out of the way like soldier crabs fleeing a skimming sandal. The end of the pier was approaching. Rapidly.
“Yeehah! Here we go!”
“No we don’t, you demented fucker!”
Peter wrenched Mr. Sockforahead from the wheel and impaled the sock on the shift lever. Free at last, he tumbled out of the car just before it flew off the pier. His body clattered onto the boards. There was a thunderous splash, and he was drenched by a torrent of spray.
He lay there, gurgling, and opened his eyes. The car was sinking fast in the turbulent water. From its perch on the shift-lever, the lifeless sock puppet seemed to stare back at him. It distorted and collapsed as the water soaked it, then was gone beneath the waves.
Peter breathed a sigh of relief. A sharp pain in his ribs made him wish he hadn’t. He heard running footsteps and craned his neck to see three officers, one of them Terry.
“Are you all right, Peter? Where’s the sock?”
Peter pointed to the bubbling water, and laughed.
The End… ?