OBSESSION

by Jack Curtin

        Isaac was sweating profusely and squinting fiercely in the glare of his desk lamp as he struggled to affix the tiny wires to the mechanism in front of him. Preparing to murder someone was undoubtedly challenging work at any point in life, he suspected, but at age 70 it was especially so.

        No matter. This was something he had to do. Emil Anderson, once his friend, long his neighbor, had pushed him as far as he was willing to go. It wasn't enough that Emil had stolen away Isaac's beloved Dorothy. The two of them then had temerity to settle in at the Anderson family home next door and flaunt their sinful liaison right before his eyes. It was unacceptable.

        Isaac stopped to wipe his brow and inspect the bomb. It was almost finished, needing just the final connection between timer and igniter to be armed. After all the weeks of preparation, all the nights struggling to comprehend the ragged old books he'd purchased from the hippie bookstore downtown, tonight he was going to wreak his vengeance.

        He'd made this harder on himself that he had to, he knew that. His first inclination had been simple: get a gun and confront Emil man-to-man, look him right in the eye while he shot him dead. The truth was, at his age he had nothing to lose. It wouldn't matter a whit if everybody in the world knew what he'd done. Jail, even execution, held no fear for him. For whatever reason, though, Isaac convinced himself it would be an even crueler fate for the deaths (Dorothy would also die--he tried not to think about that too often) to be a mystery. He might not get to look into Emil's eyes and watch him die, but the shame of his abandonment would not be part of a public scandal either.

        The idea of how to murder Emil and get away with it had come to him almost immediately, the whole plan with every detail in place. "It will be the perfect crime," he said to himself. Better yet, it would ruin Emil's reputation forever. Isaac had been laying the groundwork for weeks now. This involved not only his learning how to make the bomb itself, but setting up his story. Fate had given him a perfect foil, that nice young policeman who'd helped him out when he had his "troubles" a while back. Johnson his name was, and he'd taken to stopping in to visit every week or two.

        During those visits, Isaac railed on bitterly and at length about Emil and Dorothy. It would have been abnormal not to and might cause suspicion later. But he also made sure to offer regular reports of the mysterious men he'd seen around the neighborhood of late and of their strange comings and goings at the Anderson house. "I think they're up to something," he'd say. And "they sure looked like those terrorist types to me." Johnson just nodded and never said much. Nevertheless, Isaac figured it was all sinking in.

        The hall clock rang out midnight as he connected the final wire and set the timer for 45 minutes. He struggled to his feet painfully, a reminder of just how poorly he'd been feeling of late. He carefully put the bomb into the cardboard box he'd set aside and made his way to the front door and stepped outside without turning on the porch light.

        Isaac went down the steps and across the yard in the moonlight and pushed his way through the low hedge dividing the two properties. He move surely to the spot he'd picked out weeks ago, a slight indentation under the evergreen bush that had stood in front of the Anderson house for years. He slid the box into place, paused for a moment, and then turned and went back to his own place.

        He figured it would be about half an hour before the bomb exploded. There was only one final detail to attend to. He picked up the phone and dialed Officer Johnson's home number. As soon as it was picked up at the other end he began to talk rapidly. "It's me, Isaac. Those terrorists fellas are back again next door. They had a terrible row with Emil, screaming and yelling and cursing, and then they all stormed out. One of 'em just came back and I saw him prowling around by the house. You better come over right away."

        Without waiting for a response, Isaac hung up and went over to rest in his chair. Even if he drifted off, he figured, the explosion would surely awaken him.

****

        Officer Johnson spoke slowly, trying to control his emotions as he explained the situation to the young coroner standing with him. "Isaac had some problems over the past year and I got to know him," he said. "I kept in touch with him, even gave him my personal number and told him to call me when he felt the need to talk. I knew he was often disoriented, out of touch with reality, but I never figured on this."

        Johnson glanced over at the body of his old friend sprawled peacefully in the recliner where he had died in his sleep shortly after his final telephone call. "Isaac's wife Dorothy died of natural causes six months ago after 50 years of what was apparently a very happy marriage. He just couldn't get over that and he began developing these wild stories about why his wife was gone."

        Through the window on the far wall, Johnson could also see a police bomb squad milling around in the early morning light, trying to make sense of the strange and totally unthreatening mechanism that Isaac had carefully placed in the middle of the empty lot next door.

        He sighed. "Emil Anderson hasn't lived next door since he and Isaac were kids. And the house over there was torn down a decade ago."

Copyright 2002 Jack Curtin

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