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Holding Hands Is Nice

by BurntOutHack 

Posted: 14 December 2004
Word Count: 2914

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

The village fair has sucked a lot of people in, and spat two out: a killer and a little girl.
Bob Tozer knows the abductor and where he lives. It’s Tozer’s day off. If he’d been on duty he wouldn’t have been at the fair and everyone would have been standing around with their thumbs up their arse waiting for a patrol car (and no-one has to tell him that fifteen minutes is the difference between a smiling eight-year-old and a corpse).
He downs the last of his water. He’ll need it – the heat’s a tight bandage round his body. He curses himself for the vending machine dinners that have spawned the middle-age spread (Middle-age? You flatter yourself, BT) because at some point in all this he’ll have to run. They always throw in running; Rickard likes to see him sweat, the repressed little clipboard bastard.
The fair is dying on its feet as word spreads: the Stilman girl is missing.
Lucy Stilman. The three clowns watch, their bicycle show over before it’s begun. The only thing left in the arena is shimmering heat. Does she have to die this time? The mother’s no help; twice she’s fallen to the ground. Above her sobs the father splutters information: ‘She’s eight years old, blonde hair. I don’t know, what else do you want to...?’
Tozer reckons the dad has one more sentence in him before he folds, too.
‘What was she wearing?’
‘Uh, I don’t-’
‘Denim dungarees,’ says another woman who’s got both arms around the mother. ‘Denim dungarees. And she was carrying a lunchbox.’
‘That’s right,’ says the father. ‘It had, er, rabbits on it,’ but this little detail pushes him over the edge and Tozer knows all he has is his own wits and the volunteer who has presented himself: ‘I’m Troy. Let me help you.’
He’s a meathead, late twenties, hoping for the chance to beat a sex-case to death with the law behind him. ‘She was at the face painting and he just walked her off in front of half the town,’ says Troy. ‘He’s a filthy pervert.’
In a tiny voice, the father says: ‘He’s killed before. I know that. Just get her back.’
Tozer knows he doesn’t have a choice – he must use Troy, it’s part of the deal, what Rickard wants him to do. Or rather, doesn’t want him to do. After all, wouldn’t he rather ink these words on his report: ‘Refusal of help from able member of public in manhunt’?
‘So you’re Old Bill?’ says Troy.
‘Bob Tozer, North Forest CID.’ Suspended until further notice; funny how you never volunteer that one. ‘You can come but you don’t sneeze unless I say it’s okay, you got me?’
Tozer can’t help the snapshot that comes next – the field becomes a city pavement slick with rain and where there were trees he sees a giant public building. Hospital, why don’t you just say the word?
‘What am I allowed to do?’ says Troy.
Allowed to do? You can pin him to the floor with your boot and force a shotgun in his mouth for all I care. But Tozer says: ‘Just find the girl,’ and begins jogging in the direction he guesses the killer and his catch have gone.
‘Your back-up will never get here in time,’ calls Troy, but behind him there’s talk of a child’s lunchbox being found in the bushes, and when the mother’s hysteria slides up a notch he breaks into a sprint to put himself beyond it.
Troy says: ‘I mean, what if I find him? How do you want him served up?’
Maybe it’s because he has no eye contact with Troy that Tozer finds it easier to say what he says: ‘Just don’t serve him up cold. Apart from that, it’s up to you.’


He’s dripping by the time he walks into the shop and the old lady offers him the stool she uses for the high shelves. It creaks as it takes his weight.
‘I’ve just made fresh lemonade,’ she says. ‘You look like you’ve earned it.’
‘You’re a lifesaver.’
She totters back to the counter and he gets a proper look around. He knows there aren’t really sweet shops like this any more. It’s more like something from his parents’ childhood than the here and now. Through the nostalgia comes something else, a smell with something bad attached. Disinfectant – the old woman has been cleaning, and it’s the same smell he associates with the hospital. He came to dread that smell almost as much as the test results, almost as much as- Put it out of your mind and FOCUS.
‘Fresh as the daisies,’ she says, bringing over a tall tumbler. ‘Good Lord, thank God they found that poor little girl. I think I got all the pips.’
Tozer’s taken aback by the odd phrasing. As she hands him the glass their hands brush and he shivers but doesn’t know why.
‘If only it were like that,’ says Tozer. ‘I didn’t say we’d found the girl – I said we’d arrested a man.’ He downs half of the cloudy liquid as quietly as his massive thirst will allow. ‘The girl’s still missing.’
‘If God’s looking down...’ the old shopkeeper begins but the sentence tails off like she’s not sure what she’s trying to say. Tozer nods, as if he knows what she means.
‘A little blonde girl...’ she says.
He relieves the stool of his weight and returns the glass to the far end of the shop. The old woman’s darting to a shelf and grabbing the nearest container of sweets. Tozer’s about to say he has to be going when there’s an almighty THUMP as she smashes the jar down on the counter.
‘So, do you have any idea where he might have taken her, this girl?’ she says.
‘His house, probably,’ says Tozer. ‘Or the woods. Our boys are all over them.’
THUMP! He flinches as the glass jar thunders down again.
‘The toffees get stuck together,’ she says, and does it again and this time a hairline crack appears.
‘Aren’t you going to break that?’ he asks but she won’t catch his gaze now.
What the hell is she playing at? The split second before the jar comes down again he hears something else, the noise she’s been so desperately trying to conceal – a struggle.
‘The toffees get stuck,’ she repeats and he guesses she hasn’t swallowed his story about the guy being arrested. At least it put her at ease for a few minutes while he recced the place.
‘I’m just so relieved,’ she says and her eyes are all wrong, they have that hunted look people can never hide. THUMP THUMP THUMP so hard the other jars are quaking on their shelves. ‘So glad they found that girl.’
‘We all are,’ says Tozer because there’s no point contradicting her again. Is the knife in her sleeve or that front apron pocket? There’s only one other door and that’s the one her tiny sparrow frame’s blocking. He moves into the access gap in the counter. ‘I’m going to look in that back room,’ he says or nearly says because on the word ‘that’ she flings the jar at him with shocking strength. Tozer throws his arms up but a sleeve catches on a nail and he’s jelly: the jar catches him a good one above the right ear.
The woman emits a terrible wail that starts low before soaring to blood-chill, animal. Tozer’s been a cop long enough to keep his head about him in pain. A shoulder barge knocks her back into the shelves and when a hinge flies out of the wall the jars slide to shatter one by one.
‘Judas! Don't you take my Charlie, he’s all I’ve got,’ she says but her strength has deserted her for the moment and she can only watch as Tozer tries the door handle. Locked. The struggle is intensifying; someone screams.
‘Lucy, are you in there? Lucy, can you hear me?’ he calls but the only response is the sound of a body falling hard against the door. ‘Troy?’
Tozer slams two kicks into the wood and it caves. In that moment he sees Troy has found his way in through a back door as planned: now he has someone in a headlock. His catch is an old man in the kind of cardigan they haven’t sold for a thousand years. Troy swings a hammer into his face, hard, and the scream is more than an old man’s lungs should be capable of.
‘Hold it – drop the hammer, drop the hammer, Troy!’ says Tozer but Troy’s shouting over him: ‘Take one more step forward and I cave in his skull! I’ll kill the old freak!’
‘No more,’ says the old man and spits a tooth on to the floor.
‘Where’s the girl?’ says Tozer.
‘Out back, she’s okay,’ says Troy.
‘You’re going to drop the hammer-’
‘You can prise it out my cold hand,’ says Troy. ‘This old freak’ll never serve time. Too bloody old.’
Troy’s craving for the cop to give him the go-ahead with the hammer. All sense has gone from him.
You must show control. Rickard knows you can handle the rough and tumble, it’s detachment he wants.
‘Be sure of one thing – if you mess him up there’s not a chance in hell he’ll go down,’ says Tozer because that’s what Rickard wants to hear – textbook.
‘Imagine if she was your little girl,’ says Troy. ‘Wouldn’t you do what you had to?’ His eyes flick to the old man and his meaning is obvious: Wouldn’t you wring this bastard’s neck?
‘You say she’s safe.’
‘Back yard. She says he never touched her. That don’t mean-’
‘Drop the hammer and step away.’
‘You never saw the state she was in, I couldn’t console her,’ says Troy, but some kind of logic’s cooling his fire.
‘You will not harm the old man,’ says Tozer, in a nice firm voice because he has to convince himself, too.
The hammer’s quavering. The old man’s crying. A few beats in which everybody does some thinking, and when Troy speaks it is very softly: ‘Fuck it. I’m going to do him.’
‘TROY, NO!-’
When she appears in the doorway her blonde hair is so sun-dazzled it catches Troy’s eye. Tozer’s anticipating the final hammer blow and it takes him a second to follow Troy’s gaze. Tozer hears himself saying a single word:
Tozer’s transformation from hard cop to jelly man shocks Troy and he takes it as the okay to mash the old gimmer after all. It’s the ripped shoulder of her dress that is burning into the policeman like acid. It’s the dark bags under her eyes from the crying, a look Tozer knows only too well from another time, a bad time. He opens his mouth to say: ‘Yeah, fuck it,’ because sometimes all his soul needs is the revenge. And there’s always another day.
As his lips start to form the order he looks in her eyes and they’re what nearly saves him because they’re focused not on him but behind him. His move is brilliantly fast but it’s still the wrong one because he closes his hand around the carving knife’s blade and of course the old hag yanks it back so
quickly it cuts to the bone in every finger.
‘JEEEESSSUSSSS!’ Tozer’s hand flows red but the pain is only slight and for that he’s always thankful. The old lady’s about to lunge again, but Tozer can’t help looking back to the girl. The physical similarity is incredible.
He shouts at her to run, and when he turns his head back to the old lady he knows it’s too late to save himself but it doesn’t matter. The girl is safe and he has shown control.
It looks like a fast punch aimed at his head. The knife enters his throat point first and comes out the other side. Tozer drops to his knees. He looks up into the old lady’s face but the expression is neutral. Already she is beginning to fade. Troy releases the old man, whose eyes are glistening. ‘I didn’t want to hurt her,’ he says, and he’s on the way out, too. ‘I just wanted to hold hands. Holding hands is nice.’
He fades to a ghostly outline which hangs there like vapour trail.
‘He’s right,’ says Troy in a voice like a slowed-down record. ‘Holding hands is nice.’
In different circumstances Tozer would have pissed himself at the irony of Troy agreeing with the man he was slavering to execute. The programme’s logic is breaking down fast. Sometimes these virtual people say something when the exercise is over but mostly it’s because the programmers have hardwired in some inane phrase for their own amusement (one time the Troycharacter – or He Who Must be Restrained, as Tozer calls him – winked at Tozer and said he had tickets for a Village People concert).
Troy vanishes and Tozer removes the steel from his own neck.
Tozer notices the gash on his hand is flickering between bloody and healed.
Still no pain, just an all-over fading, like an anaesthetic kicking in. He’s been here before, slayed by bank robbers and conmen, and judging by today’s performance, he’ll be here again. The irony: he’s come through the emotional detachment bit with flying colours but fails the rough and tumble, his speciality. It’s always been the other way round.
He knows the drill – he’s supposed to go to the edge of the Zone (he guesses in this case it’s at the end of the garden beyond the back door) and wait.
He’ll start to feel himself fading along with the landscape, and then blackness will do the rest. That’s when the pod opens, the technicians take the sensors and goggles from his head and he sees Rickard watching from the control room, shaking his head slowly, marking stuff on his clipboard. Well, fuck him this time. He got his ‘control’. I didn’t let Troy kill the old queer.
He thinks about what will happen after that – leaving the Metropolitan Police Test Centre in the rain with all those other rush-hour victims. Even if he takes the long detour to the train station he’ll still get at least a glimpse of the hospital. Not the hospital, the one where-. But a hospital all the same, and just a glimpse is worse than a putdown from that pen-pushing primate Rickard. Head assessor. Head mindfucker.
Maybe Tozer will take the new SkyTram home tonight. He hasn’t tried it yet. Maybe whizzing over London’s wonderland of light will take his mind off all this, give him something to talk about after he’s got home and broken the news. Guess what, darling? Blew it again. But here’s the twist...
His little girl had held on for so long his own cowardice shamed him. X-rays and drips and trolleys and hopes raised and crushed. Raised and crushed. Little girls think their dads will always save them, and what cut him up most was seeing that lie slowly dawn on her. Any man would have gone under, even the strong cops told him that. And when he got over it enough to want to go back to work, well, it was hardly the biggest surprise in the world that he flipped out during the re-entry exercises. I mean, some of those simulations! And this one, today, worst of all - a pervert catching a little girl like that? What was I supposed to do? Watch another little girl die? Does Rickard think that’s my life’s calling?
Tozer is amazed when he sees the girl still there. She’s found a swing in the garden and is singing some nursery rhyme he’s never heard. The victim often has a bit more energy left – the programmers give them extra juice to make them extra appealing, to make the control that much tougher.
He has a wonderful, daring thought. ‘Come here, Lucy,’ he says and lifts the girl in his arms. He hugs her close to him and her eyes sparkle blue again, colour returns to her face as the warmth of his body recharges her. ‘Where are we going?’
‘Just here,’ says Tozer because now they’re at the edge of the Zone.
‘You can only see it when you’re up close.’
Her unformed imagination tries to take in the silver ocean which has risen from nowhere, a sea of blankness for the programmers to build on. Today’s gameplay was just a speck on their infinite grid. Tozer knows he has only a couple of minutes before blackness overtakes him and he is stirred back into the real world by the pod’s jaws whirring open.
‘Take my hand,’ he says, and leads her into the water, which ripples gently but has no temperature of its own.
‘Can you swim?’ says the girl, and giggles. ‘I love to swim.’
‘Me, too,’ says Tozer, but he doesn’t want to tell her there’s no time for swimming. He watches their joined hands disappear under the surface. The gold in her hair is fading and it’s too late to bring it back. They walk in a little further until their shoulders are under. Tozer’s eyes savour the last of the light, and he squeezes the girl’s hand as tightly as he dares.

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Comments by other Members

ShayBoston at 20:43 on 14 December 2004  Report this post
Hi Trevor and welcome to WW.

This is an utterly compelling piece. I like the way you thrust us straight in to the middle of the scene and the story moves along at breakneck speed. The middle section - from entering shop to discovery of old man / Lucy - was just fantastically drawn and very suspenseful.

There were sections that I thought were a little rough and would benefit from an edit and polish. Also, the strange turn towards 'sci'fi' surprised me. Sorry, if it's not how you would categorise it, that's just how it felt. It will be interesting to see if others think that works, I'm unsure.

I hope you post more stuff because your story-telling skills are fully evident in this piece. I like the language reminded me in turn of Raymond Chandler and Irvine Welsh.

Great title too.



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