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The topic was Obsession... Writing this one was very, very difficult. I had no idea how to approach the subject. I googled the word "obsession" which gave me a couple of clues and a lot of dead ends. Eventually I tried writing a story from the point of view of an obsessive person, but that didn't work. I couldn't get inside his head at all. So I pulled back a bit and tried to write it from the point of view of someone observing an obsessive person. That worked a little better but I still needed a plot -- even a gimmick would do -- and I couldn't think of one. Then I hit on the idea of having two people with the same name in the story and the technical challenge of how to keep the characters clear so that the reader wouldn't get confused gave me both the opening scene and my first view of the obsessive personality. After that it was (relatively) plain sailing, though still not without its difficulties. I suspect this is one of the hardest things I've ever tried to write...



The neighbourhood watch group met in the pub on every second Friday. There they drank their drinks of choice and set the world to rights. Some of them ate peanuts.

"So tell me about the neighbourhood watch," said Brand New Bob as he brought a round of drinks to the table.

"There’s not much to tell," said Original Bob. He took a big gulp of beer and wiped the foam off his moustache with the back of his hand. "We keep an eye on each other’s houses. We report any suspicious activity to the police and every so often, when the weather permits, we have a barbecue."

"I set the group up initially," said One and Only Jake. "About ten years ago. "I’ve been administering it ever since." He looked suspiciously at his gin and tonic before taking a small sip. He pulled a face and put the glass back on the table. "Too much tonic," he said.

"But you’ll drink it anyway," said Original Bob, "because if you don’t it will go to waste and you absolutely can’t abide waste."

"I suppose that’s true," said One and Only Jake, and he picked his glass up again and took another sip.

"There’s one thing that’s been puzzling me," said Brand New Bob. "Why do you call me Brand New Bob?"

"Because you’ve only just moved into the street," said Original Bob, "so you really are brand new."

"I understand that," said Brand New Bob, "but why can’t you just call me Bob?"

"We’ve already got someone called Bob," said One and Only Jake, "and we can’t have two or more people in the group with the same name. I simply won’t allow it."

"Why not?"

"Imagine how confusing it would be," said One and Only Jake, "if we arranged a barbecue at Bob’s house or if Bob’s house got burgled. When I ring around and tell everyone to come to Bob’s house, how will they know which house to go to if there are two or more Bob houses to choose from? The complications don’t bear thinking about. But if every Bob has a unique name there is no possibility of confusion." He sat back in his chair with the air of one who has just explained the more esoteric aspects of General Relativity to an uncomprehending audience.

"So now I become Original Bob because I was here first," said Original Bob, "and you are Brand New Bob. Clear and simple, really."

"The devil is in the details," said One and Only Jake, "and it’s vitally important to get the details right."

Original Bob nodded his agreement. "That’s One and Only Jake’s  superpower," he said. "I’ve never known anyone else who could focus so closely on the details. My round, I think." He gathered up the glasses.

* * * *

It wasn’t very long before Brand New Bob saw the neighbourhood watch group in action. One and Only Jake telephoned him. "Come to a meeting at my house," he said. "We’ve got a parcel thief on our hands."

When Brand New Bob arrived, he found that One and Only Jake was playing a video. "He recorded it on his security camera," explained Original Bob. "The camera is a top of the range model which is why the movie is so crisp and clear."

Brand New Bob watched as the video showed a courier van drive up and stop outside One and Only Jake’s house. The courier driver hopped out and dropped a parcel outside One and Only Jake’s front door. Then he hopped back into his van and drove away. "So far, so normal," said One and Only Jake. "But just watch what happens next."

For a few minutes nothing happened then a car drove up and parked where the courier van had been. A man wearing a face-obscuring hoodie got out, picked up the parcel, threw it onto the back seat of his car and drove away again."See!" said One and Only Jake. "A parcel thief, and a very cunning one. I think he’s following the courier van but staying a long way back so as not to arouse suspicions. Then he simply picks up the parcels that he finds on the van’s route and takes them home with him."

"So he’s actually a sort of reverse courier," said Brand New Bob. "That’s quite a cunningly simple idea when you think about it."

"The number plate on the car was smeared with mud and was quite illegible," said One and Only Jake, "so we can’t track him down that way. And of course he was wearing a hoodie so my state of the art facial recognition software isn’t going to help."

"What was in the parcel?" asked Original Bob. "Has he got away with anything valuable?"

"It was fairly expensive," said One and Only Jake. "It was a birthday present for my wife. A very large bottle of her favourite perfume. It’s called Obsession and it’s by Calvin Klein."

"Very appropriate," murmured Original Bob drily.

"Have you reported the theft to the police?" asked Brand New Bob.

"Yes," said One and Only Jake, "but they refuse to hang around all day on the off chance that the thief might come back and steal another parcel. I’m afraid we’re on our own on this one."

"So what are we going to do?" asked Original Bob.

"I have an idea," said Brand New Bob and as he explained his plan, the others started to laugh…

* * * *

The next day was a busy one for the members of the neighbourhood watch group. They spent it preparing several very special parcels which they hoped the thief would find irresistible. One and Only Jake produced ten empty boxes emblazoned with the distinctive logo of Huge-South-American-River-With-Only-One-Breast. "Don’t you ever throw anything away?" asked Original Bob.

"Of course not," said One and Only Jake. He sounded shocked at the very idea. "And aren’t we lucky that I never do? We’d be a bit stuck if I hadn’t saved these."

They filled each box to the brim. Then they carefully sealed the boxes and attached custom declarations that made the contents sound attractive and valuable. All that remained was to wait for the courier van…

* * * *

Once the van had driven out of sight and before the parcel thief turned up to begin his pilfering, they stacked the boxes neatly outside One and Only Jake’s front door. Then they retired to One and Only Jake’s control room where they sniggered to each other as they watched the thief arrive and carry all ten parcels to his car. Then they watched him drive away.

"I wonder how he’ll react when he opens the boxes?" said Original Bob. "I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he does."

"I imagine there’ll be lots of flies on the wall when he unpacks his loot," said Brand New Bob. "Emptying all the dozens and dozens of plastic bags we got from the dog park into those boxes turned each one of them into an ideal holiday resort for flies."

One and Only Jake  frowned. "I hope the thief doesn’t decide to bring the boxes back to me," he said. "I’d hate to have to return the smelly things to my store cupboard."

Both the Bobs exchanged spot the loony looks with each other. Fortunately One and Only Jake didn't notice.


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