"Could've picked a better one than this, surely," she snaps. "How's this going to get people in here?"
"Jill, trust me." I wink at her as I blow away the last pieces of styrofoam packing from the figure.
"Laughing Jack will pack them in. Think about it. Nice, nautical theme going on here. Plastic crabs and lobsters, fishing nets hanging over the walls...but what is it that's really going to set this pub apart from the others?" I grunt as I shoulder the dummy into place in the bay window.
"No, he's going to scare customers away. It’s like one of those old ventriloquist’s dummies. It's so bloody creepy. Christ, Mark, what possessed you?"
I hesitate. Nothing possessed me, I tell myself. It wasn't calling out to me, I'd spotted it in the charity shop going for a song, I'd acted on impulse and bought it for less than a hundred notes. No, it hadn’t called out to me. How bloody ridiculous would that be?
A life-sized mannequin, a wax head painted an unnatural pink with a hinged lower jaw that would rise and fall in time with the taped laughter. An 18th century naval uniform, a white captain's hat and a seaman's thin pipe thrust into the black gaping maw of the mouth completed the image.
I stand back and glance at the reflected image of Laughing Jack in the pub's bay window. It faces the harbour, and the setting sun paints the ebbing sea in curious shades of black, crimson and gold. The painted eyes of Jack stare back at me in the glass. Strange, they seem to roll for a moment, locking onto mine. Reading my thoughts. I shake my head and reach down, plugging the cable into the mains.
"Jesus!" Jill jumps at the laughter that explodes in the empty dining section. Even I stumble backwards, surprised at the manic movement of the sailor. Thrashing robotically, arms flailing, taped laughter that sounds unnervingly real. No background hiss, no distortion.
A passing elderly couple freeze at the sight of the mannequin flailing in the bay window. The woman, who must be in her eighties at least, lifts her hand from her Zimmer frame, pointing at Laughing Jack.
“She’s smiling,” Jill mutters, her words barely audible over Jack’s manic laughter. Is it just me or is that insane noise getting louder?
“Mark…why is she…Oh Jesus. Oh my God!”
The old woman’s husband isn’t smiling. He isn’t interested, is trying to pull her away from the window with a bony hand clutching at her shoulder.
The window that now shatters as she slams his head into it. Repeatedly, with both hands, with a strength that belies her age and fragility. All the time, smiling ecstatically at Laughing Jack.
Again, again. Each downward thrust of her husband’s head into the shattered glass and cracking timber accompanied by the laughter of Jack.
A laughter that is now matched by the old woman’s in tone, pitch and volume. A man’s laughter.
The husband’s balding head is a shattered, bloody mess that makes strange wet clicking sounds as it jerks up and down in the woman’s unnaturally strong grip, emptying its contents onto the window sill.
The contents pool, congeal on the carpeted floor. And then begin to flow towards Laughing Jack.
Now I know why he’s laughing . Now I know why the woman is laughing, and will not stop laughing until the moment she dies.
Which, just like Jill, will not be long. Because I’m starting to laugh as well.
I reach for a long shard of glass freed from the bay window and began my work.