Tools of the Trade

He sees them across the car park, four of them, hunting like a pack of wolves. His mind is in overdrive. Logically, he knows they are always here. Every Sunday. Still, today they worry him.

‘What’s this?’

Percy’s attention is drawn to a messy-haired man standing in front of him pointing at an item on the table. He looks about thirty, but he never was any good judging ages. The man is wearing a black puffer jacket and his eyes are an electronic blue, darting back and forth between Percy and the object he is pointing to. Percy focuses. ‘It’s a drill.’

‘Really?’ The man picks up the item and turns the little wooden handle. Looks like what my gran used for whisking stuff. Big cake maker, my gran.’

‘Are you interested?’ Percy’s eyes drift for a moment, searching for the four men in yellow high-vis jackets.

‘Why you selling?’

‘Huh? Oh. It’s what I do. Sell tools. They’re my father’s really. Don’t need them anymore.’

The man fingers the drill end. ‘Come to think of it,’ he says, they used to use these back in the day to relieve pressure on the brain. Did you know that?’

‘Mmm.’ Percy is still searching, looking at the other sellers, trying to track the officers through the mass of people after a bargain.

‘Of course, you had to know just where to do it,’ the man goes on. ‘Old surgical methods are an interest of mine. I guess they use a Black and Decker these days.’ The man laughs.

Percy doesn’t laugh. Two of the high-vis fellows have split from their partners and he’s lost the other two.

‘Instruments of torture.’

‘What?’ Percy comes to.

‘That’s what these are. Medieval torture.’ The man drops the drill back on to the trestle table and picks up the heavy metal chisel. Percy’s mind flashes back to the summer he smashed the old tiles off the kitchen wall. He’d hit his fingers so many times with the hammer and his old man had laughed at him and shouted at him to carry on or he would…..

‘What do you reckon is the best instrument for killing someone, eh?’

Percy’s heart flips. He’s aware his shirt is sticking to his back when a gust of wind causes him to shiver. Something draws him to watch this man more closely, watches his hand float over his table of tools, sizing them up for potential, much like his old man. It comes to rest on the hammer. The one with the long, thick handle and square metal head. Percy’s mouth dries up and when he does open it, he can’t get any words out.

‘Hello, Percy?’

Percy’s body jolts involuntarily at the sound of the voice. He tries again to speak, but his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth. He nods instead. The high-vis yellow blinds him.

‘Here.’ The officer he knows as Dave hands him a Styrofoam cup. ‘Tea.’

‘Thanks,’ he manages to grind out.

‘Not sold much since last time.’

‘No. Not much.’ Percy wonders if Dave can see it in his face, that look of guilt. He turns back to the messy-haired man who is now running fingers across the teeth of a saw. Percy’s insides squirm.

‘This is new?’

Percy’s head swivels back. Dave is looking at the hammer. Percy swallows. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices the other man leaning in. Slowly, the man’s hand comes across the front of the officer and then places it on the handle.

‘I saw that first.’

The officer steps back. ‘I’m just looking. Not buying. Be my guest.’

Immediately, the man backs down. ‘Just saying.’

The officer’s radio crackles. ‘Where’s your father today?’

Percy’s heart beats faster. ‘He’s gone away.’

‘A holiday? I could do with one of those. Costa del something will do me.’ The radio crackles again and the officer waves a hand at Percy and turns away.

‘Traffic cops,’ the man sneers. ‘What kind of police work is that?’

Percy is impatient. None of this feels right. Then nothing has felt right since….he blots the image out. ‘Look, are you buying or not?’

‘I might. Might not.’ The man surveys the table. ‘Don’t have a workbench then?’

‘No.’ Not any more. He remembers the wooden bench that his father made only too well. It had many uses other than what it was really for. But it had shattered into several pieces when Percy had finally thrown it against the wall. He blinks.

‘And no vice.’

Another scene flashes into his mind so real that Percy turns away and cries out.

‘You okay, mate?’

Percy nods his head while holding his fingers. He can still remember the sound of the bones cracking and his father’s angry voice telling him he was a useless son. Whatever he’d done was just a blur. It seemed that nothing Percy did was ever enough to satisfy his old man.

‘Look, this hammer….’

Percy turns back to the man. ‘Do you want it or not?’ His snappy voice is just like his father’s. It shakes him.

‘Well, that depends. What you asking?’

At this point, Percy would happily have given it away. He doesn’t need any of this anymore. He doesn’t need to even be here anymore. Habit has brought him today. His eyes flick to the spade. It still has tiny specks of earth clinging to it. He should have cleaned it properly. It was unforgivable. Stupid.

The man picks up the hammer. ‘Heavy, this.’ He swings it like an axe, and Percy’s eyes cloud over. Thinking he is going to faint, he leans back and sits inside the open boot of his father’s Ford Mondeo. Too many pictures flood into him. Keeping them there inside is hard. They want to spill out, but Percy is nervous about where they will go, who they will find. He looks up and sees two men heading his way. One of them he recognises; a Detective Sergeant. Oh no. This is it then? They know. Somehow, he’s given himself away. He never thought this through properly. He never had the time. Everything happened too quickly. It wasn’t planned. He wasn’t a planning sort of person. Not like his father, who planned everything down to the last hit and the amount of suffering.

Percy considers making a run for it, but where would he go? The man with the hammer is inspecting the tool with deep interest. ‘Cleaned this up well. Even the handle is polished. You look after your tools. I’ll give you that.’

He had to. It was his job to clean the tools. His welfare depended on it. Even now, with the law pressing down on him, he thinks about the spade. He’d been careless. Percy stands up. ‘Have it,’ he says to the man. ‘Just take it. Now.’

‘Really?’ he swings it again. Percy flinches.

‘Thanks, mate. Got something I can use this for.’ the man says. And as he turns, two men block his way. Percy takes a step backwards away from the table.

‘Going somewhere Howard?’ The Detective Sergeant says.

The man drops the hammer. It lands with a deadening thud on the grass. He dashes to the left, only to come face to face with two of the traffic cops. Dave grabs hold of him. Percy watches, stunned as a detective reads the man his rights and Dave cuffs him. Murder. That’s what he hears the detective say. The man is being arrested on suspicion of murder.

As the man called Howard is led away, Dave leans down and picks up the hammer. He hands it to Percy. ‘I think that man was eyeing up a potential weapon there.’ Dave laughs.

Percy takes the hammer and lays it onto the table, his heart thundering.

‘Oh well, back to the traffic. See you next week.’ He raises a hand. Percy nods. His eyes follow Dave’s back until he’s gone and then he sits down in the open car boot. After a while, he slowly stands as if it hurts and begins to pack away the tools. The hammer and the spade nestle in the boot with screwdrivers, spanners and wood planers.

Percy drives carefully out of the field and heads towards home, where he will clean the spade properly like he should have after he’d dug the hole.

by Heather Walker

Heather Walker is retired and lives in London. She writes poetry and short fiction and her work has appeared in various publications including Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse, Gold Dust magazine and a number of anthologies. Her first book of linked flash stories Where it Ends is available on Amazon.

Photo credit: Maria