The Boy Next Door: A Short Story

By: Josh Lanyon



Prologue



Warm lips moving on mine, passionately, insistently.

I knew those lips. I knew that kiss.

Isaac…

Moist breath pushing into my mouth, filling my lungs.

Inhale.

Exhale.

We breathed in unison. Quiet. Intimate. Yes.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Isaac, I love you. I really do. I miss you so much…

From down a long tunnel a voice said, “He’s breathing on his own, Chief.”

And I’m really, truly sorry…

Inhale.

Exhale.

And from now on—

Waaaait a minute.

Chief?

That wasn’t right. I wanted Isaac, not Chief.

“Chief?” Once more the word hollowly echoed down long, empty corridors. “Chief?”

I murmured protest. The mouth fervently pressing mine withdrew.

I unstuck my eyelids, stared dazedly up. Bits of black floated in the evening air. Red embers drifted down like glowing snowflakes. In front of a kaleidoscope of ragged black-edged treetops was a ring of grim faces gazing down at me—and the grimmest face of all was that of Police Chief Ramsay. I thought I could see tiny twin flames dancing in his eyes.

I unstuck my lips. I’m not sure what I wanted to say. I can explain everything?

I probably owed him an explanation or two.

In the distance came an alarming tearing-away sort of sound. The cops all turned to watch in silence as my neighbor Dick Chekhov’s plastic Santa—still sitting in its red plastic sleigh—plummeted in flames from his rooftop.

As Santa’s sleigh crunched nose-first in the frosty grass, Isaac swung back to me.

“Goddamn it, Merle,” he roared. “What did I say? What did I tell you? I’m done warning you. This time I’m throwing your ass in jail.”

I tried to sit up. “On what charges?”

“Malfeasance. Obstruction of justice. How about that? Interfering with a police investigation. That’s a good one. Conducting business without a license. Disturbing the peace. Public nuisance. How about menace to society? That fits. Don’t worry about it. I’ll find something. There won’t be any shortage of charges when I get done with you…”





Chapter One





Do you know me?

If you live in Hayvenhurst, you probably know of me. Celebrated Boy Detective Merle Madison.

Or, these days, Former Celebrated Boy Detective Merle Madison.

Which is still better than the occasional Formerly Celebrated Boy Detective Merle Madison. Because, say what you will, my exploits as a boy detective were…okay, maybe not legendary, but impressive for a kid of eleven, which is how old I was when I solved my first big case.

The headline in the Daily Bulletin ran: Local Boy Solves Arson Case. The framed article still hangs in my office. Or did.

Before the bomb behind my filing cabinet went off.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning. My first memory—okay, not my first memory because that’s probably a false memory anyway—but from as far back as I can remember, there was Isaac.

But never mind him.

I grew up reading The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown and the Three Investigators and, okay, yes, don’t bust my chops for it, Nancy Drew. When other little kids were babbling about growing up to be astronauts or firefighters or police officers or mermaids, I wanted to be a PI.

Is that so wrong?

I wanted to have adventures and solve mysteries and help people. And I wanted Isaac to be my associate. Of course, we didn’t call them associates back then; we called them sidekicks. But it was still a pretty good gig. He didn’t complain.

Okay, he did sometimes complain. He did point out that Frank and Joe were equals and that the Three Investigators were largely equals (though, let’s face it, Jupiter Jones is really the star of the series), and Encyclopedia Brown would have been smashed to a pulp a zillion times if not for Sally Kimball, but no one can deny that Beth and George were Nancy Drew’s sidekicks. They were not partners.

It was during one of those intermissions in our friendship that I solved the Beamer Arson Case.

Yes, Isaac did help. A little. At the end.

Okay, and maybe at the beginning. A little.

But it was my case and I solved it.





The first time Old Man Beamer tried to burn down his warehouse, everybody thought it was an accident. Including me. I was the one who reported the fire and actually saved the warehouse, which is why I started taking an interest in said warehouse and Old Man Beamer. Also, I hated Bobby Beamer, the old man’s son.

Some people just annoy you by their very existence, and that was me for Bobby. Bobby had it in for me from day one of Mrs. Miller’s kindergarten class. He did not like the cut of my jib. Or anything else about me. And I wasn’t crazy about him either, especially after he started trying to deliberately run me down at recess with one of Room 4’s tricycles. Play Time became a living hell for me until Isaac stepped in.

But I digress.

At the time of the first fire at Tractor Beamer’s Warehouse, everyone assumed the Beamers were rolling in dough, so the fire had to have been an accident. If that warehouse went up in smoke, George Beamer would have lost everything. Sure, there was insurance, but he’d have been out of business, and that company had been in his family forever. He’d have lost his purpose in life, his standing in the community, his very raison d’être as Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin might have said.

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