Jeremiah Bennington cocked his head as if the silence told him something that it concealed from others. He shook his head sadly, and tucked away the toy he had been working on. He had just finished putting away his tools when the door burst open.
Jeremiah Bennington stepped to the counter as the man charged through the shop. The rum was blatant both in smell and appearance, and once the man began speaking, it was blatant in his slurred words and angry tone, as well.
“Yes, sir. What may I help you with?”
“You can help me by telling me what the hell you think you’re doin’!” He wasn’t exactly a tall man, but his thinness gave the appearance of being tall. His dark hair was shaggy and disheveled, and his blue and white striped shirt was buttoned incorrectly. He wore stained blue jeans and muddy work boots, and Mr. Bennington saw that he had tracked mud through the store. The front left pocket of the man’s blue jeans were faded in the shape of a cigarette lighter, and a sheathed work knife hung from his belt.
“Beg your pardon, sir?”
“You give my kid a dog?”
“I’ll ‘sir’ you, you sonuvabitch! He dug that raggedy-ass mutt up and brought it in here last week. Says you fixed it. I say you gave him a new dog, and I wanna know just what the hell you thought you were doing givin’ my kid a dog and what kinda perverted shit you did to him for payment.”
“You would be Mr. Thomlin, I presume?”
“No shit, Sherlock. My boy Bobby was in here last week. You gave ‘im a dog. Listen here: I wanted him to have a new dog, I wouldn’t have killed the first one.”
“The dog’s name, sir—it’s Freckles.”
“I don’t give a shit!”
“I didn’t give him a new dog, Mr. Thomlin. I was able to…repair Freckles.”
“Bullshit. I shot that dog myself—it was dead.”
“You did a very thorough job, Mr. Thomlin, but what you must understand is that I’m very good at what I do.”
“I must, must I? And what is it you do, Mr. Bennington?”
“I repair what needs to be repaired.”
“That crap might work with little kids, but it ain’t gonna work with me. I know you can’t ‘repair’ a dog’s dead ass back to life.”
“Damn straight, I do.”
“Would you like to hear what I know, Mr. Thomlin?” Something about Jeremiah Bennington’s voice made Mr. Thomlin stop his raving. He was too intoxicated to realize it on a conscious level, but deep inside, he knew that the next words spoken by Jeremiah Bennington were going to be dangerous words.
“What do you know?” He asked with a sneer, hoping that his false bravado would drive back the feeling of impending doom.
“I know that you drink entirely too much. I know that you beat your wife and all three of your children. I know that your wife has secretly been working, and she has almost saved up enough to leave you.”
“That bitch!” Mr. Thomlin didn’t think to question the truth of the words—the first two statements had been true, which—to his alcohol-muddled mind—meant that the third was true, as well. “I’m’a kill ‘er.”
“I’m not finished, sir. I also know that you have molested Bobby on several occasions.”
Mr. Thomlin’s face paled. “He tell you that? ‘Cause that’s bullshit!”
“He didn’t need to tell me, Mr. Thomlin. I have been in this business for a very long while, and I can see what needs to be repaired.”
“In fact, when Bobby comes in next week with his two sisters and his mother—he’s bringing them back to show them a set of soldiers that he wants for his birthday—I will repair all of them. There’s no need for any of them to live out the rest of their lives with the horror you have inflicted.”
“No, they won’t be comin’ back in here, you fruity old bastard. I’ll make damn sure of that when I get home tonight.” Mr. Thomlin reached down and unsnapped the imitation leather strap that held his knife into place. He pulled out his knife slowly, his eyes never leaving Mr. Bennington. “Hell, maybe I’ll just go ahead and take care of that right now. You ain’t the only one can fix things, old man.”
Detective Williams opened the door slowly, cautiously. He saw the muddy footprints leading up to the counter, and when he saw that they lead around the counter as well, the bad feeling in his stomach that had led him back to the shop seemed justified.
He drew his firearm and advanced quickly towards the back of the shop, still cautious, checking around the corner of each aisle. The shop that had seemed so small upon his earlier visits now seemed to loom ahead, a threat waiting to pounce from anywhere.
He sidestepped around the counter and found Jeremiah Bennington sprawled on the floor amongst several hideous-looking dolls. The footprints overlapped several times—indicating the scuffle which had just taken place—and then continued down the dark hallway and out the back door.
Detective Williams kept his weapon drawn as he leaned down to check for a pulse. Jeremiah Bennington opened his eyes slowly as the Detective crouched. He groaned and rubbed his head.
“Are you okay?”
“He was drunken and angry. I could hardly understand what he was saying. He ranted for a bit and then came around the counter at me. It was so unexpected, and all I did was rebuff him like an old man, telling him he had no right to be behind the counter.” Jeremiah Bennington laughed bitterly, and a little sadly. “He saw no need to listen to an old fool like myself, and began shoving me into the wall. The third time, I struck my head on a shelf, and when I came to, you were here.”
“Did he have a weapon?”
“He had a knife on his belt, but I’m not sure if he even knew it was there.”
“I’m going to make sure that he isn’t waiting around out back—don’t move.”
“Perhaps you should call for backup?”
“I’ll b careful. Make sure he doesn’t double back around behind me.”
“I’m afraid I won’t be of much use if he does, Detective—you see how well I fared the first time.”
“Just holler if you see him. I’m not going far—just out to the back yard.”
Jeremiah Bennington nodded his head, and then closed his eyes in pain.
“I’m fine, Detective. Just a little headache.”
Detective Williams helped him to his feet and then followed the footprints down the hall and out the back door.
“No sign of him,” Detective Williams said a short time later. He had checked the back lot as well as the neighboring stores, and had found no sign of Mr. Thomlin. “Are you sure you don’t want to file a report?”
“I’m sure,” Jeremiah Bennington said as he replaced the ugly dolls onto the upset shelf. “I’m closing up shop for tonight, and I doubt he’ll return once he sobers up and realizes what he has done.”
“I hope you’re right. Okay, well I guess I’ll be going, if you’re sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Detective. Thank you.”
Detective Williams started to turn, but then looked back at the pile of monster dolls still on the floor. One was dressed primly in a business suit, which was an absolute contrast to the scaly green face that glared out above the collar. Another was donned in baggy jeans and an oversize t-shirt, and its face looked as if it had been made from melted wax.
“No offense, but those things are really nasty.”
Jeremiah Bennington chuckled softly. “Yes, I’m aware of that. I keep them back behind the counter so they don’t disturb the children.”
“Seems like they’d be hard to sell, what with them being back here out of sight.”
“No one ever wants to buy them, Detective. They are horrendous monsters, and nobody wants them around. But for some reason, I can’t seem to stop making them.”
Detective Williams stared at the creatures a moment longer, and then shook himself out of his daze. “Hm,” he said. “Well, all right—take care.”
“You do the same, Detective.”
Jeremiah Bennington followed the Detective to the door and locked it behind him. He then turned around the sign that declared his shop open, and returned to his counter. He gently placed each monster on the righted shelf, using great care even though he despised each and every one of them.
After a few minutes, he had most of them back where they belonged. He held up the last doll—an ashy gray creature with bulging bloodshot eyes, and what looked like some sort of goo leaking from its ears—and frowned. The doll was dressed in blue jeans and a blue and white striped work shirt. The dark hair was matted and unruly. The doll was missing shoes, and had instead, a pair of dirty socks, the toe worn out of one.
“And where shall we put you, Mr. Thomlin?”
The doll said nothing, but if one were watching closely, one would almost swear that the eyes shifted slightly.
“There, there, Mr. Thomlin,” Jeremiah Bennington said, placing the doll out of sight behind a row of others. “You’ll get used to your new home, I’m sure. Perhaps you should use this time to think about what lead you here.”
Jeremiah Bennington stood back and examined the shelf. “Getting rather full,” he said to his empty shop. “It will soon be time for the furnace. Speaking of…”
Jeremiah Bennington reached under his work bench and removed a muddy pair of work boots. He walked down the dark hallway until he reached the iron grate of the furnace. He opened the grate and tossed the boots into the flame, watching until they were nothing but ash.
Then he turned off the lights and left his store, locking the door behind him, business concluded for another day.