Sudoku made me snap. Up to that moment I was fine with everything. Even the knowledge that Eminem planned the assassination of JFK. Or that the Crips or Bloods could knock at my door any second and blow me away. I was safe humming along the road in my souped up Corvette, drag racing late at night and early Sunday mornings. Mostly I behaved. Occasionally I shot rats out back in the alley. Pushed a garden hose down their burrow hole, watched them pop up, then WHAM! They splattered all about. I’ve got a good eye and steady hand. Sometimes a neighbor peeked out between their blinds with panicked beady eyes. I’ve got a great cover for that one. I’d ring their doorbell and flash this Halloween tin badge.
“FBI, Ma’am. I’m undercover,” I’d say in my deepest voice. “Just practicing. Pay no attention to anything you hear. It’s part of Homeland Security. We’re working for you. Protecting land, sea and shore. Top secret.” I winked. It worked every time.
My wife is patient. She’s a good woman, a real looker. Bakes. Cleans. Humors my every whim. My mother phones regularly asking, “John, when are we going to meet this girl, this little wifey of yours?” She implies in her nasal snippy voice that she thinks Angela is imaginary. My Angela! I am not going to let my mother get within a half mile of her. The humiliation my mother is capable of inflicting is legendary.
My Sudoku habit started from delivering the morning paper. Every morning before dawn I rolled and stuffed the papers into plastic bags before heading out on my route. I leaned out the car window, tossed them onto porches with the accuracy of Sandy Koufax. Afterwards I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for a chocolate old fashioned and a cuppa Joe while Angela slept in late. She likes to get her beauty rest.
One day at the doughnut shop I opened the paper to read the comics and Sudoku caught my eye. Lots of rows like a crossword but all numbers, the assignment being to fill in the missing blanks. Now I like that! None of those messy words that might mean this or that. Numbers I understand — their role, their position, the tidy way they sidle up one next to the other. It took a couple of days to figure out the patterns. They are there, though. It’s like decoding secret messages from Mars. I carry the puzzles with me everywhere I go. I don’t speak to anyone anymore unless it’s 911. Got to ponder each new mystery.
Angela is the poor Sudoku widow. She wears black, even to bed now. Black lace, black leather. I don’t care. They have this new Sudoku puzzle with sixteen numbers to a row instead of nine. You have to be a master to solve it. Focus all your energy. I’m transcending sleep and meals and I feel the power flowing.
The phone has been ringing for days. Probably a bunch of customers who don’t understand. Or maybe it’s The Detroit News. My garage is filling up with their papers.
Just as I near completion of my first sixteen-numbered Sudoku, Angela tosses a glass of water over me. Snap, crackle, pop! I whip a pistol out of the drawer and drill her. Twice. Like I said, I’m a good shot. She’s standing next to the bed, bare-naked with a Bible in her hands. That old Holy Book looked exactly like a gun — a clear case of self-defense.
But she only staggers. No blood. More like a burning smell. She drops the Bible and vanishes. I open it and find the bullets lodged in Revelations, just above and below Chapter 2:10. “Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Sirens wail in the distance, pulsing closer to my street. I know sirens; my mother has called them before. They arrive with needles and questions, with jacket and straps. They take away pencils and sharp things. Oh ye of little faith, I am the Master of All Things Great and Small. I will wear the crown of life. I push the sofa against the front door and cover the window with blankets. I tip the dining room table on its side and crouch behind it, yellow pencil and sixteen-numbered Sudoku in hand, hoping to reach the final solution before they burst open the door.