“Innocent obsessions”


A short story by Mike Michelsen

“I swear it was all harmless,” the man cried out, tears streaming down his red water-soaked face.  “I wasn’t trying to do anything bad . . . oh God, please believe me!”

The Police Officer takes one last look at the man handcuffed to the chair.  Tears continued to stream down his face as he slowly brought his head down toward the table eventually letting his head drop the last few inches with a resounding ‘thud’.

Turning away as he closed the door, the Police Officer couldn’t help but let an expression of contempt come across his face.

“What do you think?” came a voice from the other side of the hall.

Startled, the Police Officer quickly jerked in the Sergeants direction, and looked at him quizzically.

“Its most unusual . . . I mean, I think I know what happened but its most unusual.  In all my years . . . ”

The Police Officer began to walk down the hallway, the Sergeant following behind.

Turning into the cafeteria they both quietly walk to the coffee machine as if by habit.

“Here, let my buy you a cup!” the Sergeant cries out.  The Police Officer grabs a cup and lets the Sergeant pour his cup, then turning and pouring his own cup.  They both then wander through the labyrinth of people to find an open table where they both sat down quietly.

“Well?” the Sergeant asks.

“Hmm . . . well?”

“People say the man is insane or angry or both . . . didn’t he lose a lot of money gambling?  The psychologist said he lost so much that he began to feel resentful and had to take it out on people.  This, he said, coupled with an insecure character.”

“Yeah, yeah, but its just too simple.  It sounds good, I agree, but from what I’m seeing there is a little bit more.  Insane? . . . Angry? . . . Hmm.  I mean, he didn’t talk that way.  I just don’t get that impression.”

“Why, what do you think?”

“To be frank, the picture that has formed in my head is quite interesting and does not fit what everyone else says.  Its still unclear.”

“What’s the picture that you’re seeing?  Maybe if you talk about it the picture will become more clear?  Besides, I’m curious.”

“First to all, everybody wants cliche’s and simple explanations.  You know . . . he’s insane . . . he’s unstable . . . these explanations seem so simplistic to me.  They also want dramatic and grand explanations . . . he hates . . . he’s angry . . . he’s so and so.  My experience is that there is so much more to what causes people to do things like this.  Its not just a simple ‘this or that’ type of deal.  Its a bit more complicated.”

“Yeah,” the Sergeant agree’s.

“He said it started after he bought a Glock handgun.  He had never had a handgun, or any gun for that matter, before.  His brother was the first to buy a handgun and asked him to go to the gun range with him.  When I talked to his brother earlier today, he said that he was hoping that it would help him with his gambling addiction, which he had been suffering from for some time.  You know, it might divert his attention in other directions.”

“It definately diverted it!”

“After shooting it a few times he says he had to have one.  He says he was fascinated by it.  Some days later he bought his Glock.”

“A lot of people enjoy shooting but I don’t still don’t see how that leads to what he did.”

“Yeah . . . I get the impression that he started out like everyone else.  Like many other people, he was having fun and enjoying himself.  He enjoyed to go shooting and was on his way to be a competent target shooter.  He even said that, later, he considered getting in a target shooting competition but, after watching some people shoot, he said he felt he wasn’t good enough.  He felt that there was no way he could possibly compete with these other people.”

“Are you saying that he was upset  because he couldn’t compete?”

“No, not at all.  He was dejected and quit shooting for a while.  Instead, he went back to gambling.  Then, one day after winning at craps, he thought, if he could win by shooting craps he could win at shooting his gun and maybe win in a competition.  I get the impression that winning is important to him.  He went to the shooting range and practiced.  He went every weekend for some months.  His shooting improved.  And then, one day while shooting, a thought went through his head . . . of shooting a person.  He wondered what it would be like to shoot a person.  Every time he shot this thought came through his head.”

“I’m sure that many people have had that thought before, even I have, especially as a policeman.”

“That’s probably true . . . the thought has come to me before too.  Of course, for me it was different.  I wondered if I could do it if I had to . . . could I really shoot down a criminal?  I think a lot of policemen think of that but his was different.”

“Do you mean that he secretly wanted to kill someone?  Some people harbor a secret unconscious desire to kill that can come out in the right conditions.  Sometimes people are pushed to this point.  I think that was the psychologist said, that when he lost the twenty thousand dollars gambling, or whatever it was, he as if snapped.”

“I don’t think so.  I don’t get the impression that he wanted to kill anyone or that he snapped.  I think it was that sense of morbid curiosity that comes out in some people about death and killing.  I think everyone wonders about this, at least to some extent but that doesn’t mean they want to kill people.  I certainly didn’t see any desire to kill, or a hatred, or an anger in him.  At first he said the thought was mild.  He said it was as if in the back of his mind, but it was often there when he went shooting.”

“That doesn’t sound like much.  You’re telling me that this was all a thought in the back of his mind?”

“You know, in a way it was.  It was never in the forefront of his mind.  It always remained in the background as if in a fog, unclear and vague.”

“That’s what motivated him?”

“Well, you’ve only heard a small part of the story.  It remained in the back of his mind.  He continued to shoot, off and on, for some months but his gambling increased.  As his gambling increased his shooting decreased.  Over time he sank more and more into gambling . . . he simply couldn’t stop.”

“I had heard he had gambled a total of about one hundred and ten thousand dollars away.”

“Something like that . . . he didn’t even know for sure.  He lost his car, his house, and even his wife.  Even after all this he didn’t snap or show signs of instability, as people would think.  His brother said that he was calm and collected during this time and showed a desire to improve.  Eventually, his brother and ex-wife decided to help him get into rehab.  He was in this for about a year.  He seemed to improve.  While he was in rehab he would occasionally go shooting with his brother.  His brother was impressed by his improvement.  During this time, he didn’t gamble and seemed to of been cured.  As near as I can tell everyone felt his gambling problem was over.”

“I don’t know . . . that doesn’t sound like a violent person to me.”

“It isn’t!  This is not about a violent person nor is it about violence.  That’s what no one understands.  Its actually a problem that eventually happened to involve violence, not as a motive or drive but incidentally, as if by accident.”

“You’re telling me that there is no violent tendencies in this case?  I find that hard to believe.”

“I had a difficult understanding too, at least at first, but as I looked at it as a whole it all started to make sense.”

“So this is a case of a non-violent violent person . . . I wonder how the courts will view that?”

“Who knows?  More than likely he will be viewed in a sinister way.  Something tells me that he is not going to any understanding.”

“And the media . . . I wonder how they will portray it?  It can’t be good.”

“All I know is what I heard from him.  One day, he went shopping in one of those mini-marts.  There were a few slot machines in the corner.  He felt that it wouldn’t hurt to put some money in.  He said he ended up being there for about two hours . . . lost several hundred bucks.”

“So he got hooked again?”

“Eventually . . . that is, over time.  It didn’t come at once.  It was bit by bit and, several months later, he was gambling daily.”

“Didn’t anyone notice?  They could of got him back to rehab.  Maybe his brother . . .”

“No, no!  He gambled secretly.  No one knew, not even his brother.  At least, his brother claims that he never suspected it.  He said that from what he saw of his brother he seemed cured.  He was stunned to find that he was gambling so much.”

“Yeah, when people hide their addiction then its always a bad sign . . .”

“And so it is.  It did get bad.  It seemed to consume him, dominate him.  He became a slave to his addiction to gambling.  Soon he was selling all that he had, his car, various belongings, his new house.  Thousands and thousands he gambled away.  He made some, lost some.  This went on for months.  He says that he still doesn’t know how he survived during that time.”

“It still amazes me that people can get that out of control.”

“Then one day, he realized all his money was drained.  There was nothing left to gamble.  He claims that he felt as if he was uprooted and detached from life.  The world seemed to be a million miles away even though it was right there in front of him.  He felt as if there was a big wall between the world and him, as if nothing connected him with life.  He said it was a horrible feeling, one of the worst in his life.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“And then he was rummaging through the small amount of possessions he had and found his gun.  At first he didn’t think anything of it except that, maybe he could sell it to get some money but later in the day the thought came to him, of shooting and the thought of shooting people flashed through his mind.  He said that it was still a thought in the back of his mind and he didn’t think much about it.  Luckily, he was able to get some money from his brother and some relatives.  They would give him the money on condition that he didn’t gamble it away and use it to get back on his feet.  He agreed and did just that.  He got an apartment, bought an old car, got a job stocking shelves and seemed to be on his way to recovery.  He started to feel good about himself and thought about going shooting with his brother again . . . he enjoyed it so much.  They did go shooting and had a good time.  He loved to shoot so much that he started to go to the shooting range on his own everyday.  Soon he was using all his money to go buy ammunition.  Then he thought about getting another gun, a pistol.  Then he wanted a rifle.  Then he wanted an assault rifle.  After about a year and a half he had four hand guns, three rifles, and four assault rifles.  He went shooting again and again.  First at the range, then out in the desert.  He said that it was in the desert, all by himself, that he began to really think about shooting people, even to the point of making cardboard cutouts of people to shoot at.  He said that the idea consumed him.  He couldn’t wait to go out to the desert and shoot those cardboard images.  He thought it was ‘therapeutic’ and it seemed to help him calm down.  It was his way of venting I guess.  When he went back home after shooting he said he was calm and relaxed.  Not only that, he found that if he felt nervous or stressed he’d just go out shooting and it would relax him.  Shooting eventually became a big part of his life.”

“So shooting just overwhelmed him one day?”

“No, not exactly.  Personally, I think it was, as he said, ‘therapeutic’ and it did help him and probably would of continued to do so but something happened.  One day, he happened to pass the casino and had to go to the bathroom so he walked in.  He saw the gambling table.  He thought it wouldn’t be a big deal if he gambled a few bucks.  But, soon, it went into the hundreds, then thousands of dollars.  He went back for several days thinking he would win the money back.  Eventually, he lost it all again and he felt dejected, a failure.  I think this was the turning point.  Back at his place he looked at what was left of his possessions and wondered what to do.  A thought came to his mind, to sell the guns.  He went to the closet and pulled them out.  He grabbed an assault rifle and held it in his hand.  He says that it felt good in his hands.  He felt in control.  He wanted to go shooting.  There he was in control . . . he could hit the targets.  He lifted it up as if to point at a target.  He pretended to fire.  Then he pretended to fire again and again.  It gave him such joy and relief, but there was something missing.  He said to himself, ‘I’m not shooting at anything . . . I got to shoot something.’  The next thing he knew he was putting the ammunition in a backpack and grabbing three of his assault rifles.  As he was walking out the door and down the hall he realized that he could not go to the desert as he now had no car.  The next thing he knew he was walking up the stairway.  Up and up he went to the roof.  He looked out over the ledge to all the people in the streets.  He told me that he had to start shooting at the targets.  It was the only way to feel good and to feel in control.  After all, he said, it was ‘therapeutic’.  He told me that, at that time, he thought it would help him.  He also told me that it never occurred to him that these are real people.  He said that, as he was shooting, he felt that he was shooting those cardboard images.”

“So he was not motivated out of a desire to kill?”

“That’s how it seems.  He chuckled when he told me that, when he first heard the sirens of the police cars coming, he actually looked around wondering what was going on.  He thought that an accident had happened somewhere.  He even stopped shooting and walked around the perimeter of the roof to see if he could find it.”

“That was the delay the police talked about when they arrived?”

“Yes.  He saw all the police cars parked down the street and assumed there was a robbery or something that he couldn’t see.  Eventually, he looked down and saw more of the ‘cardboard figures’ – that was the expression he told me – and started shooting.  He said he felt such a relief as he shot, as if a great weight was being lifted off his shoulders.  He said he didn’t want it to stop and he could of done it forever.  I remember what he said, ‘the control I felt when the cardboard figures fell . . . I was somebody and in control of my life.  You can’t buy that with money’.”

“But he was stopped, thank God.”

“What was it, thirteen minutes?  Wasn’t that how long it lasted from his first shot to when they stormed the roof?”

“It may of been eighteen.”

“The police eventually made it to the roof and opened the door and walked right out . . .”

“You mean, he didn’t even lock it or barricade it?”

“You got to remember that, in his mind, he was shooting cardboard images, not massacring people.  He never dreamed the police would come up.  And that’s exactly what he said too.  When he heard the door slam open it startled him so much that he dropped his assault rifle.  He looked up and saw about thirty police officers aiming their gun at him telling him to put his hands up.”

“They said that he was startled and said, what was it . . .?”

“He said, ‘What is this all about?’ as if he hadn’t done anything.”

“Officer Ruskin’s said that, as they approached him and threw him on the ground, handcuffed and searched him, he was yelling ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ and ‘You have the wrong guy’.   He even said, ‘I didn’t do anything’.  He said that he acted as if he was completely innocent, as if he hadn’t hurt a fly.  He seemed oblivious to it all.”

“That’s basically what he said to me as well.  He was stunned by it and felt the police had the wrong person.  In his eye, at least at that moment, he hadn’t done anything wrong.  To use his words, ‘I was only shooting cardboard images, what’s wrong with that?’  He even told me that, as they were walking him away, he was thinking about a lawsuit and fantasizing about all the money he might get and then he could go gambling again.”

“The man’s out of his mind.”

“Its unlike anything I’ve seen before.  The man seemed rational and sane.  His story didn’t seem insane to me, of a mad man.  Do you know what I think?”

“What?  If he’s not gone mad than what is he?”

“To me, it looks as if we’re dealing with a man who has a problem with obsession.  He’s not mad or insane, he just has a minor mental problem that many people have.  The difference, in this case, is that it went in an unusual,  dramatic, and eventually violent direction.”

“What?  Are you saying that this is a minor problem?  It doesn’t seem minor to me.  A lot of people were killed.”

“You must remember that you’re looking at things after the event happened and, because the event was dramatic you are assuming that the cause is dramatic.  I don’t think it is.  I think he is suffering from a common problem that many people have.  It looks like an obsession.  He got this idea in his head that he had to do something and he had to do it.  First it was gambling.  Second it was shooting.  The difference is that it went in the wrong direction and proved dramatic in the end.  This normally doesn’t happen with this type of problem.”

“It sure seems like there has to be more to it than that.”

“Again, you’re looking at the after effects.  I think the man has an obsession problem.  That’s what this is all about.  It first made its appearance as a gambling addiction.  He went to rehab and tried to stop it but this only as if suppressed it.  Shooting offered another outlet for this obsession.  Its as if the obsession had to come out in any way it could.  In addition, I think shooting became something like a form of venting, of life’s frustrations and the problems his obsession and gambling caused.”

“Your saying that one obsession was replaced by another?”

“Yes, that’s what it seems.  Shooting became the alternate obsession to gambling.  If he had remained a gambling addict none of this would probably of happened.  He even said that shooting was much like gambling.  Every hit was a win and, like gambling, he wanted more and more.  When he lost all his money, and couldn’t gamble anymore, it only spurned the shooting obsession.  Shooting was the only way to win and he needed that.  He eventually went on top of the roof and the rest is history.”

“That’s an interesting story.  Do you think its true?”

“I don’t know.  That’s what I got out of it after talking to him for how long? . . . three, no, four hours.  I’m no expert but that’s what it seems to me.  This whole thing has wiped me out.”

The Police Officer leaned back on his chair and rubbed his eyes, let out a big sigh, and stared emptily into his empty coffee cup.


This story was inspired by some conversations I had with a number of people about the motive for the man who did the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017.  Most people, it seems, wanted all these dramatic explanations, that he was insane, that he was angry because he a lost a lot of money, etc.  I said that this could be true but that, in any case, one must leave open the possibility of the unexpected, or the situation that you’d never think of.  Not everything fits the dramatic image you envision.  I also pointed out that, in some cases, things aren’t as sinister as you’d think they are.  That is, people don’t do violence because they are “angry” or “been abused as a child” and such.  Sometimes, bad things originate from simple everyday things that, for some reason, get out of control and just happen to go down the wrong road.

I wanted to write a story reflecting these qualities and this story came to mind.  I was going to write it as a descriptive story but didn’t want to, as it would take too much time.  I didn’t feel like writing a whole complicated story on it.  I also thought it would be different to do it in a different style, of two guys discussing a case and a policeman stating his opinion about it.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Psychology and psychoanalysis, Short Stories and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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