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.
"Theres 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 others 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. "Ive 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 youll drink it anyway," said Original Bob, "because if you dont it will go to waste and you absolutely cant abide waste."
"I suppose thats true," said One and Only Jake, and he picked his glass up again and took another sip.
"Theres one thing thats been puzzling me," said Brand New Bob. "Why do you call me Brand New Bob?"
"Because youve only just moved into the street," said Original Bob, "so you really are brand new."
"I understand that," said Brand New Bob, "but why cant you just call me Bob?"
"Weve already got someone called Bob," said One and Only Jake, "and we cant have two or more people in the group with the same name. I simply wont allow it."
"Imagine how confusing it would be," said One and Only Jake, "if we arranged a barbecue at Bobs house or if Bobs house got burgled. When I ring around and tell everyone to come to Bobs house, how will they know which house to go to if there are two or more Bob houses to choose from? The complications dont 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 its vitally important to get the details right."
Original Bob nodded his agreement. "Thats One and Only Jakes superpower," he said. "Ive never known anyone else who could focus so closely on the details. My round, I think." He gathered up the glasses.
* * * *
It wasnt 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. "Weve 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 Jakes house. The courier driver hopped out and dropped a parcel outside One and Only Jakes 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 hes 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 vans route and takes them home with him."
"So hes actually a sort of reverse courier," said Brand New Bob. "Thats 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 cant track him down that way. And of course he was wearing a hoodie so my state of the art facial recognition software isnt 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. Its called Obsession and its 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. Im afraid were 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. "Dont you ever throw anything away?" asked Original Bob.
"Of course not," said One and Only Jake. He sounded shocked at the very idea. "And arent we lucky that I never do? Wed be a bit stuck if I hadnt 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 Jakes front door. Then they retired to One and Only Jakes 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 hell react when he opens the boxes?" said Original Bob. "Id love to be a fly on the wall when he does."
"I imagine therell 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 doesnt decide to bring the boxes back to me," he said. "Id 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.