Folie à Deux
by G. David Thayer
edited by Joanne Asala of Compass Rose Horizons (Chicago, IL)
George looked at the gun in Arnold’s hand, but he had a hard time making it register in his mind. Christ on a crutch! he thought. Things are really getting out of hand.
Until rather recently, he and Arnold had been just two crotchety old bachelors living out the remainder of their mundane lives in a decrepit brownstone house in what had once been a fashionable part of town. His mind raced swiftly back to the time when he had first realized that Arnold’s mind was going. Two months in a row their social security checks had been late, and suddenly Arnold had become convinced that the post office was out to get him. “I’ve got to be a really good counterspy to keep one jump ahead of them,” he had said. Then a few nights later he had shown George a small glass vial filled with white powder. He said the white powder was cocaine. “Sherlock Holmes used to use it, and it’s good enough for me.” He had refused to say where he got the stuff. But George had become suspicious. He managed to filch some of the white powder and took it to his druggist.
“Friend of mine is using cocaine,” George said. “I brung some of it for you to look at.”
“Yeah?” the druggist’s face showed something like apprehension.
George handed him the envelope with a small amount of the white powder in it. The druggist stuck his pinky into the powder and gingerly tasted it.
“Your friend is pulling your leg, old man! This is nothing but powdered sugar. Taste it for yourself. Cocaine is bitter as sin.”
George had gone home feeling stupid. That druggist probably thought he was crazy. But he had known then with certainty that something was wrong with Arnold’s mind.
Gradually, Arnold’s obsession about the post office had gotten worse. He had even begun talking about it in public sometimes, even though no one seemed to take him seriously. George was convinced that sooner or later the police were going to come looking for Arnold. And then it would be the booby hatch for sure.
Now Arnold had a gun. George looked at it carefully; a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, he noted with the precision of an old gun collector. A portable cannon.
For some moments the two men stood in the front hall of the old house just looking at each other. George thought wryly that a gray-haired, wild-eyed man with a gun made a ridiculous contrast with the dingy lace curtains on the front door, the elaborately engraved mirror on the wall, and the faded, threadbare Persian rug on the floor.
“Arnold, where did you get the gun?”
“Ha! I took it from a guard when I held up the mail truck yesterday.”
George giggled involuntarily. The mental image of Arnold holding up a mail truck Jesse James fashion was too ludicrous for words. He’d probably picked up the gun at some pawn shop. God, was his mind ever all shot to hell!
“They’ll be coming to get me any minute now. I’m going to take a few of them with me, though. I’m not gonna let them get off easy.” With eyes that were suddenly cold and hard he added, “And don’t you try to stop me, either; this isn’t your fight, you know.”
For the first time since Arnold had appeared with the gun, George felt fear clutching at his throat. Arnold saw it.
“Don’t worry, George. I won’t hurt you. You’re my friend.”
George wasn’t very reassured. Any minute now? That’s what Arnold had said, wasn’t it? George looked at his watch; it was 2:30. Jesus! The mailman would be coming along soon. Was Arnold going to shoot him? A suspicion that the police were already looking for Arnold grew in George’s mind and soon hardened into a conviction. The only question was, who would get here first: the police or the mailman? God, he thought, I hope the cops get here first.
Arnold was looking out the window by the front door.
“Here they come!” he announced. “It’s one of those post office creeps, coming to get me.”
George groaned and looked out the window on the other side of the front door. His heart leapt in quick exultation. He saw a policeman walking down the sidewalk toward their house.
“Arnold, that’s not a mailman, that’s a cop!”
“No, he’s not. Anybody could see that he’s one of those post office dorks. You dummy! You’re so crazy you couldn’t tell a Chevy from a Sherman tank!”
Something in George’s mind recoiled. Shit, he thought, there he goes again calling me crazy. He wondered whether that was a typical symptom of mental illness, thinking other people were crazy. He looked back out the window. The cop had stopped in front of the house next door and was looking at a piece of paper in his hand, then back at the house. He probably has our address, thought George, and he’s checking to see which house it is. The cop started walking toward them and turned up the sidewalk to their front door.
George looked over at Arnold and saw that he was backing away from the door, holding the gun in front of him, pointing it at the door.
“Christ, Arnold, you can’t shoot a cop!”
“He’s not a cop.”
Arnold voice was quiet, defiant. George realized that he could not reason with him, but he couldn’t just stand there and let him shoot a policeman. Then George remembered his own gun, a .38 automatic that he kept in the top drawer of the desk just around the corner in the living room. He edged over toward the living room, but Arnold didn’t seem to notice. George quickly found the gun and returned, pointing it at Arnold.
“Okay,” he tried to sound calm, “put the gun down, Arnold.” God, he thought, I hope he doesn’t turn on me. I don’t know if I could just stand here and shoot down an old friend. But Arnold just looked at him and laughed, grinning from ear to ear.
“What the hell good do you think that thing’s going to do you?”
Jesus Christ! thought George, he really has flipped. He’s not afraid of my gun at all. What the hell do I do now? I can’t just shoot him. I know: when the cop knocks on the door, I’ll warn him that Arnold has a gun.
The doorbell rang. George was stunned. Damn! Cops don’t ring the doorbell; they’re supposed to knock on the door and say “Open up in the name of the law!”—not ring the doorbell like some . . . like a . . . George didn’t know like what, but somewhere deep in his mind something was stirring. It never quite got through.
“Open the door, George,” Arnold’s voice cut in.
Without thinking, George opened the door. He looked back at Arnold and saw his face twisted into a mask of hatred.
“God damn post office FINK!” he screamed.
George knew Arnold was going to shoot. Horror surged through his mind and he pulled the trigger of his .38 special. At the same time, the Smith & Wesson fired. In the small room the explosion was deafening. George saw the piece of paper the cop had been carrying flutter to the floor, like something in a dream. Looking outside, he saw the cop lying where he had flopped backwards onto the front porch. There was blood all over his chest, and he didn’t move. George looked back at Arnold. He knew he had hit him; he could see the dark stain spreading across the front of his shirt. But he didn’t fall down. He just stood there. His face was working horribly, as though it were made out of soft plastic. He dropped the gun on the Persian rug. Then his face broke and tears started rolling down his face. He dropped to his knees on the rug and doubled up, moaning and sobbing.
“Oh, my God! My God! What have I done?”
George watched him and wondered why he didn’t die, wondered why the dark stain on his shirt didn’t spread any more or get dark red like it should. After a while it began to strike him as funny, and he started giggling. He didn’t know why.
For a long time the two of them stayed that way, George giggling and Arnold moaning and crying. Then there were red lights flashing and two cops walked into the room from the back of the house. One of them walked over and picked up the Smith & Wesson. He stood over Arnold as if daring him to try to get away. The other one asked George what his name was. He had a hard time stopping his giggling long enough to tell the cop his name.
A third cop walked in through the open front door. He bent over and picked up the piece of paper the dead cop had dropped. He looked at it, puzzled.
“Special delivery,” he announced to no one in particular. He motioned back out toward the front porch.
“The mailman’s dead.”
Mailman? thought George. Mailman? The cop who had asked George his name was walking over to him, holding his hand out. His face was hard and his eyes looked cold.
“Okay, George,” he said, “give me the water pistol.”
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