“I don’t want to be here. Listen, just let me go. I won’t tell a soul. I don’t even have anyone to tell, I don’t have any friends. Just little Patchwork here. I don’t want to be involved in this and I don’t understand why—“

Tom felt the cold barrel of the gun against the side of his neck. It pressed in further as the puppeteer whimpered. Hot urine flooded down his leg as his bladder released.

“I’m nobody, I promise. I’m nobody,” he babbled. “You don’t need to worry about me!”

“Yous somebody,” said the man holding the gun. “Yous somebody to us.”

“The best marionette on the East Coast, AND the best ventriloquist in all of America.”

“Guilty as charged,” said the dummy in the wooden box. Patchwork lifted itself up out of the wooden box and walked over to its owner.

“He is pretty good.”

“Shut up, you dummy,” murmured Tom. “You’re going to ruin everything.”

“It’s true though, boss,” clacked the dummy. “You’re at least as good as that bozo Terry Fator or that no-good Jeff Dunham. What a political hack!”

“How do you do that anyway?” said the man with the gun. “Your mouth didn’t even move a millimetre! And how’d yous get him over? There are no wires.”

Tom looked at him, dark circles under his eyes. “You probably don’t want to know.”

The door of the abandoned warehouse opened on its automated hinges, whirring as it retracted up into the blackness. A stark white Bentley coasted forward, scattering the puppeteer and the goons. The man with the gun kept his weapon focused on Tom, getting more and more twitchy as the car slowed to a stop.

Still with the gun trained on Tom, he opened the car door, and an obese man with an unlit cigar in his mouth stepped out.

His boss slapped him.

“Damn it, Tony, why’re you threatening our guest?”

“Yous said yous would kill me if you let him out of my sight.”

“True,” said the man, placidly. “But then again, your life isn’t particularly worth that much to me.”

There was a crack and a blinding crack of light and Tony Castello collapsed to the ground, holding his knee and howling.

Daniel Marteo pocketed the revolver in his jacket. Tom caught a flash of the purple velvet and a wisp of smoke from the barrel of the gun.

“Daniel Marteo. I’m the one who hired you. We’ve all heard of your work, Tom.”

He passed the puppeteer a card he was holding between his pudgy fingers, emblazoned with words in a stylish bronze gilt: “Thomas J. Petto.”

Tom had regretted getting those printed, and not only because of all the children’s birthday party requests he received. But of course, who counts on the criminal underworld getting your contact info?

“I appreciate that,” Tom managed. “But I’d like to leave.”

“And so you shall.” said Daniel. “And with $200,000 in your pocket. But only after you do me one little favour.”


“An extremely reasonable request,” said Daniel, his voice growing ever more colder, “I’m sure.”

Before Tom could say another word, he strode round to the boot on the Bentley and fished out the car fob from his pocket.

“I just want one routine from you,” he said, fiddling with the keys. The car plinked and the boot slowly opened. “That’s all.”

Tom looked into the boot and screamed.

Trussed up amongst newspapers and bin bags that had been taped together was a corpse.

“He accidentally fell over whilst tying his shoes and hit his head and died.”

Tom looked at the corpse and noted the multiple gunshot wounds dotting his body. Blood was still dripping from his open mouth, staining a rather fetching dinner jacket.

“I—I don’t think he did.”

“Sure he did, kid. Anyway, we bought yous a buncha string, a buncha wood to make those weird crisscross things that you guys attach the strings to. You know, the cross thingies.”

“Hand controls?”

“Don’t be a wise guy,” said Daniel. “You know what I mean, so get to work.”

Tom gagged as he pulled the corpse out of the car boot. It smelled dreadful, and had been spattered with so many bullet holes that it was almost falling apart in his hands.

The wooden dummy ran to assist him, his rickety wooden feet clicking against the hard floor.

“Thanks, Patchwork.”

​”I still don’t know how he does it,” came a voice from the ground. The man with the gun was still stemming blood flow from his oozing knee. A bullet clanged into the floor next to him, firing off vivid yellow sparks. The man squealed like a girl.

“Shut up, Tony,” said Daniel. “I’m trying to concentrate on the performance.”

The puppeteer and his puppet had managed to drag the corpse to the makeshift stage at the back of the warehouse and Tom Petto got quickly to work tying strings, feeding knots through wooden slats, and finding the most agile joints of the corpse to tie up.

“Rigor mortis,” Tom muttered, bitterly. “I can’t work under these conditions.”

He didn’t think Daniel had heard him.

“You bloody entertainers are so needy.”

He rummaged around in the boot of his Bentley, underneath the makeshift tarpaulin. He produced a small camping stool and a large bin bag filled with clanking objects.

He sat back down on the camping seat, which held him like a strange tuxedoed Buddha. He threw the bag, which landed next to the man with a tremendous clang.

“Now get to work.”

Tom rummaged though the bag and let out a sick groan when he realised what was inside. The smooth metal. The rounded head ending in one ultra-sharp tip. Hooks.

Once Tom had gotten over his initial disgust of jamming the cold metal through the damp flesh of the cadaver and was confident that his nausea had passed, he carried on building the human puppet for hours. At some point, Daniel nodded off and began to snore.

Tom turned and saw Tony still lying prone on the floor, one hand on his bloodied mess of a leg and the other one holding his handgun.

“Don’t even think about it.”

Tom carried on building.


Dawn finally came, lighting up the patina on the ceiling beams and spreading a thin layer of sarcoline yellow across the warehouse.

Daniel blinked as the sunlight hit his eyes and rubbed his face with the back of one pudgy hand.

He looked like a giant bearded baby being woken at an inappropriate time and in desperate need of a nap. He squinted.


Tom nodded, standing in front of him.

“I really think I need to go to the hospital,” said Tony, his face chalky. “I’ve lost a lot of blood.”

It was true. Tom noted that most of the gigantic puddle on the floor had coagulated, but there was still fresh blood.

“Pfffssh,” said Daniel, waving him away with his hand. “Show first.”

“Yes, boss,” Tony managed, then blacked out.

Daniel unholstered his gun. “Go on, then.”

Tom headed to the back of the cavernous room, disturbing three nesting pigeons with his echoing footsteps. He was annoyed at himself, realising he’d just missed a prime opportunity to escape whilst Daniel was taking his gun out of his holster.

There was a quickly rigged operating box from behind a group of stairs which seemed to have originally been for loading up pallet trucks. He sighed and grabbed the hand controls.

The body on stage rose up, the body making both squelching and ripping noises as the hooks dug in.

It stood jauntily on the stage, his hands on his hips and his eyes staring in two very different directions.

His tongue lolled out of his mouth.

“And, action!” yelled Daniel. “The script is taped to the back of the body, just start reading!”

Tom looked down at the A4 piece of paper that was thumbtacked to the neck of the dead mafia don.

“Oh, boss,” said Tom, using the strings to waggle the mouth open. “You are so much smarter than me and—“


“Oh, boss,” Tom tried. “Yous so smarter than me and yous always has been. It was wrong of me to cross you during that marketplace sting.”

Tom stopped, waiting for David’s cue.

“It’s okay, Terry! I forgive you!” said David, laughing.

“Thank yous so much, this means so much to me,” said the corpse, swaying merrily on the strings. His left shoe fell off, but David was too busy chuckling to notice.

“I gots what was coming to me, that’s for sure. I’m really glad yous stopped me when you did,” read Tom, flopping the corpse across the stage in a very odd pantomime of walking that didn’t quite work. “I am not suited to running this crime syndicate and never will be. Max Holdinger was always better than me and we both knew it. In any case, I am resigning effective immediately. I no longer wish to be part of this.”

Tom lowered the hand controls, letting the body of Terry crumple to the floor, and headed back down the small flight of old wooden steps. When he reached the bottom, David was still laughing.

“Am I free to go now?” said Tom. He felt pathetic, useless.

David laughed harder than ever.

“After all the information you’ve got on me? You could go straight to the police!”

He levelled the gun at Tom, who started to cry. Fat tears rolled down his face as he stared down the barrel of death.

“You just forgot about one thing,” Tom said, levelling his tear-stained face at David.

“And what’s that?”

David turned around as he heard the clacking of tiny wooden feet. Patchwork stood at the far end of the warehouse, illuminated in the morning sun. His varnished body glowed and his cherry red lips clipped up and down.

In his hands, the puppet held an assault rifle.

“You forgot about me, you dummy!”

The dummy opened fire, riddling David with bullets. His body exploded, showering the Bentley, the floor, and even the ceiling beams above with gore. Tom saw an eyeball fly past him along with several ounces of grey matter.

Eventually, the dummy ran out of bullets and the gun clicked uselessly.

“Now who’s the puppet?” said Patchwork. And with that, the small dummy folded down onto the floor and closed the two small wooden slats over his painted eyes.

There was silence in the warehouse.

Tom stood there, bathed in the morning glow amidst the chaos. He let out a small smile. One that said: I am saved. And whilst I do not know of the rest of my life, there will be more days. There is hope.

A bell trilled loudly and the thousands of invisible wires all over the studio lot dressed as a warehouse started whirring as every part of the set began to move and shift. The floor above the Bentley tilted into a ramp, rolling it gently back as two stagehands maneuvered it out.

“Why didn’t we have the fog machine that time?” yelled a man on a director’s chair holding a megaphone. “I can see the rest of the lot behind the Bentley! I want it to look like the car’s coming in from outside! Come on, people! Get it together!

Tom had wandered off the set, checking his cell phone. A text from his wife telling him she loved him, two from some sort of commercial sponsorship agency and likely spam, and one from his mother. He passed the writer, who was heading towards the director with vengeance in his eyes.

“You cut half my fucking script! None of this makes any sense!”

“Easy, buddy, this is Hollywood. You have to dumb it down a little for the audience.”

“I spent a whole year writing the story of Patchwork, the cursed dummy that our protag finds when he travels to Nepal. You told me we were going to do a whole flashback sequence where you showed ancient mystics chanting and imbuing him with dark spirits.”

“Erh. We cut it. Aboriginal stereotypes don’t tend to go down well with our test groups or guest premiere audiences. Lotta those folk are celebrities and they like to avoid any screenings that could get them in trouble.”

“Well it’s not exactly going to be fucking blackface, Derek. You cut twelve pages of material! And why do all the mobsters have Italian accents and wear suits? That’s the most stereotypical thing I can fucking think of!”

“Listen punk, don’t tell me how to run the show. You’re the word monkey, get it? We just want a clean proof with no typos and we can do whatever we want with the material you give us.”

“Then why don’t you write it yourself?! You made all those goons Italian, apart from our character of Daniel! And why’s he dead now?!! There’s a whole second act where he tracks down Tom J. Petto with his own marionette doll—“

“Called Hotchpotch, yeah, I know, I read that and binned it. Too contrived. Too confusing. International audiences won’t be able to keep track of which puppet belongs to who and they’ll just go watch Netflix or YouTube. Attention spans ain’t what they used to be, kid.”

“Stop treating viewers as if they’re stupid!”

“This is Puppet Mafia. We’re not shooting Shakespeare over here…”

The writer and director continued shouting and yelling at each other until the director stormed off.

He passed two stagehands, a pink-haired girl and a young man who were flirting with each other, and stepped out into the chilly night. He found his car and climbed in.

“Buncha fuckin’ amateurs.”

From the glovebox, he pulled out a bottle of whiskey wrapped in a brown bag.

He took a slug from it.

He drove home.