Bricks Enough to Build a House With

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Set or begin your story in a room lit by the flickering flames of the fireplace.... view prompt

27 comments

Crime Mystery Funny

George Melcamp poured himself another finger or three of whisky, as his fireplace crackled with a warm orange glow, safe from the cold night outside, safe from another coastal rain, safe from the impossible demands of the world.

Beside his recliner stood a small table, and upon it lay his memories – favourite issues of the Port Calvin Tribune. Each bearing a heartwarming headline: ‘George Helps Little Sandra Harrison Down From Tree’, ‘Constable Delivers Food And Fuel To Stranded Boaters,’ ‘Melcamp Thwarts Raccoons In Case Of Missing Seniors Centre Socks’. And in each, a smiling photo of a younger man who George just didn’t recognize anymore.

Had he really ever smiled like that? Did he once have a full head of hair? He ran his hand over his scalp. Could this last photo really have been taken just a year ago?

George sipped more whisky, wondering where the time had gone, where he had gone wrong, whose tears fell on the front page.

A hammering on his door startled him.

“Constable!” an old man shouted over the rain. “Constable!”

George lunged from his recliner, veins coursing with sudden life. Outside his door he found Donald Northwright, rain-soaked.

“Donnie? What is it?” A flutter in his heart. “An emergency?”

“Get your coat, Constable – we need you! There’s crime afoot, and this time, it’s a doozy.”

Twenty years fell off George’s bones. He grabbed his jacket and cap, belted on his kit, and soon the two were in his car and hurtling down Main.

“To the library!” Donald directed, before a coughing fit overtook him.

The library? George felt unease. He hoped Charlotte was okay, because if anything had happened to his sister, he wasn’t sure he could bear it. Defying the whisky and rain, he stepped on the gas, his car singing the siren song of the law.

They slid into the library’s parking lot with a squeal of the brakes, nearly clipping one of the surprisingly many cars parked there.

Inside, George found no fewer than two dozen townsfolk, all cramped into the library’s Big Room, all gathered around tables stacked with books, and white bricks, and Charlotte on a chair, bound up with rope, and – oh no. And the Hereford twins.

The goddamned Hereford twins. Will and Laura, two perpetually smarmy, cheery, overachievery thirteen-year-old amateur sleuths. Them, and that flea-brained sack of crap, their stupid dog, a stupid golden stupid retriever. And all three wore deerstalkers, which – as George knew well, because he read all the damn stories – Sherlock never actually put on.

“Constable!” the twins exclaimed, in that skin-crawlingly way where they spoke in perfect harmony, as though it was all a well-rehearsed catch-phrase, which it probably was. “We’ve made a citizen’s arrest!”

George took off his cap, covered his eyes with a trembling hand, muttered a silent swear. And then right on cue, the damn dog barked, twice, like he was stressing the point with two exclamation marks, and you just knew the dots on the exclamation marks were joined into a ‘u’, so the whole damn thing looked like a smiley face.

“Detective Goodboy McMuffins is on the case!” the twins said.

George’s tirade of swearing was drowned out by the townsfolk cheering. He sneezed when Goodboy McMuffins, tail wagging, sniffed his hand.

“Get that beast away from me!”

The twins recalled their rodent and George sneezed more before wrangling his allergies. Then it dawned on him: Charlotte was bound with ropes. The horrid little brats had citizen-arrested his own bloody sister. Too far, this time.

And then it dawned on him: white bricks. White bricks, stacked on the tables, white powder wrapped in plastic, bricks enough to build a house with.

He crumpled his cap in his fist, his eyes bulging. “Jesus! Is that – is all that –”

“Cocaine!” sang the twins. “Fifty kilos!”

They drove silently to the station. Only once Charlotte was behind bars, in the one tiny municipal cell, the one last used by Peter Reimer two months ago, and only because his roof had sprung a leak and he wanted a dry bed, did George address her.

“Charlotte, good lord, what have you done?”

“What I had to.”

Had to? Charlotte! Nobody has to run an international cocaine smuggling operation in Port bloody Calvin!”

She frowned and held a cigarette through the bars, and George lit it with the engraved Zippo she had gotten him for his birthday.

“Nothing doing,” he said. “This is too big. My hands are tied. The feds have to be involved.”

“I know.” She took a drag. “But I had to.”

Why!?

“Do you have any idea how much a librarian makes? In a Podunk like this? We were hit hard when the cannery closed. Jack hasn’t been able to find any work, anywhere.” She took another puff. “We were going to lose the house.”

“You should have come to me, Char.”

“Georgie,” she said tenderly, patting his cheek. “Now how would that work? The only reason you’re not bankrupt is because we’ve been shoring you up.”

George lit his own cigarette. No use arguing with the truth. “Still. Did it have to be this? You’re my sister, damn it! You’ve made a total arse of me. What kind of a cop doesn’t notice this happening right under his nose?” His previous bust, three weeks ago, was Clancy Dean trying to pull a fast one with an expired fishing licence – a somewhat different scale.

“The kind of cop with a big heart, who cares about his community. Besides, it’s that dog that’s made an arse of you. Of us both.”

George exhaled smoke through his nostrils.

“Look, seems like this is goodbye,” she said. “For a while. Look in on Jack for me?”

“Yeah.”

“Look in on Kurt too.”

“Kurt Edwards?”

“Yeah. He took the closing of his cannery worse than anyone else. Hasn’t been able to sell it off. I’m worried he’s thinking about doing something stupid.”

“I’ll see him,” George said.

After the feds came by in the morning, confiscating all the drugs, confiscating his sister, George drove down to Kurt’s. No point reading the paper – it would just be the twins again.

“I’m not doing good, actually,” Kurt said over coffee. “I’m drowning. That damn cannery’s a noose.”

“Can’t sell it?”

“Hell no. Had to close it because it didn’t make money. Nobody wants to buy a cannery that don’t make money.” Another sip of piping coffee. “Say, while I got you here, I got a legal question.”

“Shoot.”

“Let’s say I want to torch it for insurance purposes–”

“–Not actually legal–”

“–Yeah, yeah, fine. But let’s say I did. What are the common pitfalls to avoid, so the adjuster doesn’t cotton on?”

George sat back in his chair, considered his friend, saw the ragged look in his eyes, the harried twitch of his mouth, a threadbare man. But, a man who trusted him, who counted on him, because Charlotte was right – George did have a big heart, and he did care about this community.

“Don’t worry about it, buddy.” George set his coffee down. “I’ll take care of it.”

Later, at night, George prepped the cannery, sloshing fuel on the floors, the walls, the supports, and on any old thing he found. He had no idea how to dupe an adjuster, but he told Kurt to head down to the Goatshead Pub and make a real night of it. It would make a great, very public alibi, and nobody would trace the arson back to him.

When the fumes got to him he stepped outside for some brisk air and a refreshing smoke. Then an otherwise pleasant evening turned to crap when he heard them. Excited gibbering, agreeable barking – the twins and their stupid mutt walked up the road. Goodboy wagged his tail, and Will and Laura gesticulated wildly with the notebooks they carried everywhere.

Never in his life had George suspected he could hate children, but then, life was a funny old thing.

“Hi, Constable!” they sang. George’s shoulders tried to crawl into each other.

“Say, what are you doing out here tonight?” Will asked. “Is it an investigation?” added Laura.

So excruciatingly irritating.

“I’m, ah,” George scratched his chin. Irritating or not, the little sneaks were attentive. “Heard reports of vandals around here. Kurt – that is, Mr. Edwards – said he had a potential buyer coming in. Asked me to make sure, you know, nobody graffitis the cannery.”

Will and Laura gave each other a meaningful look, and that smarmy dog perked its ears up, its deerstalker at a slight angle, like it knew things. The twins furiously scribbled in their notebooks.

“What are you writing?”

“Sorry!” said Laura. “Can’t discuss an open investigation!” added Will. And then they both beamed that horrid little grin of theirs, like life was just rainbows and dreams and front pages, like life wouldn’t hesitate to kick you when you weren’t looking and stomp all over your back and take your wallet, and he imagined just reaching out and slapping that smile right off –

George groaned, a sudden pain in his chest. This much hate was not healthy. He knew that. It was irrational – he knew that too. But lord help him, these kids were just too much. Had they always been like this? He recalled a time they were just background noise, like anyone else in town. The damn dog pulled them out of their shells.

Charlotte was right.

Goodboy McMuffins investigated George’s distress, leading to a round of sneezing. Sinuses bloomed, eyes watered.

“Get back!”

Goodboy did.

“Are you all right?”

“Fine. Just allergies.” He snorted. “Look, you kids better go home. It’s late. And I better not catch you with spray paint.”

“Bye, Constable!” they sang. Goodboy barked, and they went on their way.

George ashed his cigarette and sighed. With those idiots out and about, he’d have to delay his plans. It’d be just like them to put the fire out and get hailed as heroes, again. He reckoned ten minutes to their home, add half an hour because they’re easily distracted gits, another half for bedtime, and say, once more for a buffer. So, a nearly two hours delay.

With a heave of his shoulders, he took out his pack of smokes, only to realize it was empty.

“That’s just great.”

Rita’s Convenience Store was just down the street, as good a place to loiter as any. He paid for a new pack and then noticed a giant pyramid of dog treats on display. Bonny Bones they were called, and of course, their mascot was a disgusting golden retriever.

“What do you have that for, Rita?”

“They sell like hot cakes, on account of how much good press that dear Goodboy’s been bringing them.”

“Is he now?”

“Yeah! They’re his favourite brand. Those adorable twins are always talking about their beloved dog in the interviews. Very humble kids.”

George swallowed the nausea.

“They’re on sale now, given the latest bust. Did you hear about it? Our librarian, a coke queen!”

George’s arms fell. “Yes, Rita, I know. I was there! I’m the police in this town!”

“Oh, right you are, of course.”

George glared at the display, at the miserable, if photogenic, mutt, shilling the dog slop. Charlotte was right. Righter than right.

And then George had an idea.

“I’ll take this too.” He put a 5 kilo bag of Bonny Bones on the counter.

“Oh? But you don’t have a dog.”

“No,” said George, putting on his most ingratiating grin. “It’s for our town’s little hero. Just wanted to show him my appreciation.”

He set up a pile of treats right in the basement of the cannery, and then breadcrumbed them out the door. Then, checking to see the streets were empty – they were, with most people probably at the Goatshead – he expanded the trail, wending through town, all the way to the Herefords’ house. Each step of the way felt lighter than the one before.

The Herefords’ house was dark, but – yes. When George looked over the fence he saw that Goodboy was still outside.

“Who’s a good boy?”

George tossed him a treat and opened the gate. “Come on, filthy mongrel.” Goodboy went from one treat to the next. “That’s right, eat them up. Let’s go kill two birds.”

The plan went perfectly. Goodboy, being a dumb mutt, was overcome by base hunger, and George got him effortlessly to the cannery. The dog plodded down the basement steps, homing in on the snack motherlode.

George took out his Zippo. Flicked it on, then off again. On, then off. All his troubles would soon be over, and as an added bonus, Kurt would be saved. A dog couldn’t clear outstanding debts to the bank, could it? George chuckled coldly. With the dog gone, things would go back to normal and he’d be the hero again. The only hero the town needed. Now, how to help Charlotte–

George sneezed.

Goodboy whined up at him, wagging his tail.

“What are you doing, dummy?” The allergies came at him with a vengeance. “The treats are downstairs! Go down the stairs!

Goodboy groaned, and licked George’s free hand.

“Aw, gross! I–” George sneezed again, and then again, and then a third time so hard that the world was blotted out for a moment.

Hard enough he’d let go of his Zippo.

There was a fwoosh, and suddenly the dark cannery was filled with roaring orange heat. George swore, and sneezed, and his eyes watered. The dog barked, incessantly. With the unexpected blast of flame, and the eye-blearing sneezing, George got turned around. He panicked. He ran in an uncertain direction, and mid-sneeze ran into a wall, face-first. And then he collapsed to the ground.

His head spun, his face ached, and to make things worse, the psychotic dog attacked him. He curled up in a ball as the beast kept mauling, growling and barking, as though it knew. As though it saw his plan.

“I’m sorry!” George wailed, as the beast grabbed him by the back of the jacket and pulled, trying to strangle him with his very own coat. “I didn’t mean it!”

With the choking, the sneezing, and all the smoke, he couldn’t breathe. Never in his life had George suspected he would die like this, but then, life was a funny old thing. He couldn’t breathe–

–and then suddenly, he could.

Cool night air washed over him as Goodboy McMuffins pulled him free of the burning building.

“He’s over here!” shouted a voice. Men ran towards George, and behind them was a firetruck. The hose sprayed the cannery as first responders bundled him up and gave him air.

“Good lord!” George sputtered when he caught his breath, sitting in the back of an ambulance. “That dog saved my life!”

Goodboy barked and wagged his tail. And behind him stood the twins, their arms crossed, shaking their heads.

“Of course he did,” said Will. “Goodboy’s a good boy,” added Laura. And then they pointed at him, and together said: “Constable Melcamp, we’re placing you under citizen’s arrest!”

What!? I just nearly died!”

“For arson!”

“How did you–I mean, no I didn’t! I mean, I’m not an arsonist. I mean–aw hell. How did you know?”

“We were at the Goatshead with our parents,” said Will.

“Mr. Edwards bought everyone a round,” Laura added. “Said it was an advance from his insurance payout – because he said you were going to torch his cannery.”

George buried his face in his hands and swore. “Oh for the love of… Kurt! You moron!” He felt a slap on his wrists and found his hands zip-tied. “That’s just great.”

“Detective Goodboy McMuffins is on the case!” the twins said in unison, and the firefighters and onlookers cheered.

“And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.” George shook his head, marvelling at how close he’d come. To succeeding. To the end of everything. Maybe a break from work wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe it’d be like a vacation.

“Crime doesn’t pay!” they continued, in their irritating sing-song.

“Well it would have,” George said. “Quite a damn lot, actually. Probably enough to keep this miserable town afloat for a while longer.” Yeah, a vacation was sounding better and better. “So I hope you two are happy. Get to watch your neighbours driven out of their homes and into the streets. Yeah, congratulations. Oh!” He dug into his coat pocket – not an easy feat with his hands bound – and produced his ticket book, which he flung at them. “Since I’m going away for a bit, and you two’re so keen on policing, there! That’s for you. You go around ticketing drunken tourists for mis-parking their Vespa. See how you like them pissing on your shoes.”

The twins looked at each other with wide eyes, and Goodboy wagged his tail.

Yes, a vacation was just what the doctor ordered.

August 15, 2023 01:03

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

27 comments

Story Time
22:23 Aug 15, 2023

There's something really Russian about this story that I love. That kind of backwards moral tale that offers a lot of laughs but from places we'd rather not acknowledge. A great read.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:43 Aug 16, 2023

Thanks, Kevin! That's a great description :) Inverting a mystery was certainly on my mind when I wrote this, so backwards moral is apt.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
3i Writer
15:38 Aug 17, 2023

Apart from the Scooby doo reference, the writing style and the characters do remind me of Enid Byton's Famous Five series, which is also about young detectives and a dog.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:34 Aug 17, 2023

I've not heard of that series, but I do recall the trope of kids+pets+solving things showing up quite a bit in books and TV when I was a kid. Lots of stories in that, and easy to explore themes of friendship and such. Of course, it's always interesting seeing the story from the other side too. Thanks for reading!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
10:59 Aug 15, 2023

A nice little mashup of iconic amateur sleuths, Michal. And as funny as hell, to boot. I'm considering writing a tale on this prompt, but I don't think I could match this one for wit, charm, and general hijinx. Yet another excellent story, my friend, and one that definitely shows that you can write about anything and do it well. I'm so impressed that you got so many characters in this tale and made them all work. Amazing! Cheers!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:36 Aug 15, 2023

Thanks, Del! Glad it was worth a laugh :) I wasn't initially sure how to tackle this one, but then the idea of "Scooby-Doo from the villain's POV" struck me as a funny take. Then throw in a struggling port village and existential dread, etc. If you end up writing one I'll gladly read it. I was actually reminded of your "Please Hold While I Kill a Bad Man". Something about an assassin having to call her mother during a job seemed like it fit the mood of this prompt :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
14:51 Sep 08, 2023

Hi Michal, What a satisfying twist! I loved the twins, having had 2 very close best friends all through my school years. Yes, can be a bit creepy at times, perhaps because of all of the horror tropes. I loved the way this story turned out, a good lesson for us all. I’d love to see a sequel of the twins: double detectives. Nice work!!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:37 Sep 08, 2023

A sequel is a possibility - I'm sure they have all sorts of crime solving adventures :) Seems like everyone likes them, except for the people that get caught, or get one-upped by their dog. But the old kids+dog+capers seems naturally episodic. Thanks for reading!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Anna W
01:25 Aug 25, 2023

I love this! Tons of wit and charm, and a cute little dog, to boot! haha. Really funny way to turn this mystery on its head!

Reply

Michał Przywara
21:58 Aug 27, 2023

Thanks, Anna! Very glad you enjoyed it - I certainly did writing it. Dogs make everything better - unless you're jealous of the dog, I suppose :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Russell Mickler
23:50 Aug 23, 2023

Hi Michal - Oh, you and I did the same prompt this week … Constable? Wow, okay, I have to reorient on setting … I really liked this para: George sipped more whisky, wondering where the time had gone, where he had gone wrong, whose tears fell on the front page. I also liked how you quickly moved the scene with a single para, “Twenty years fell off George’s bones…” Aww poor Hereford Twins? And Goodboy McMuffins! Be nice to them … I actually think you write them quite cute. I did like their proclamation of cocaine … but I’m still a little ...

Reply

Michał Przywara
18:43 Aug 24, 2023

Thanks for the great feedback, Russell! Sounds like there's some issues establishing the setting, so that's very good to know. I was picturing a small Canadian maritime town, an aging one suffering economically, probably somewhere in the 80's to 90's. Before the prevalence of cellphones, anyway. I don't actually know how common canning still is, but I must assume there are still places that do it, as I do still buy the odd canned fish. That'd be an interesting research project (or would it be? I'm sure many might disagree) , but more than a...

Reply

Russell Mickler
18:51 Aug 24, 2023

Grin - It was a great story - I want more Hereford Twins and Goodboy! R

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Bob Long Jr
16:47 Aug 22, 2023

Great story Michal ! Comical yet kind of sad .. loved it !!

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:44 Aug 22, 2023

Thanks Bob! Comical and sad was the mix I was hoping for - glad you enjoyed it :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Martin Ross
15:35 Aug 20, 2023

Man, I LOVE where you took this — you totally led me down the garden path. I want to read more about George. Clever and funny, and fine plotting!

Reply

Michał Przywara
21:27 Aug 21, 2023

Thanks, Martin! It was a fun one to write :) I think in large part, because George had problems and desires, and he just couldn't sit still. I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
22:40 Aug 19, 2023

Haha Im a huge fan of the old kids + dog detective cartoons so there was a lot to love in this, especially highlighting how gosh-darn annoying they must have been to the villains! You actually went there with the meddling kids line lol. That's throwing down the gauntlet and really owning it! Great work once again Michal! Always great reads.

Reply

Michał Przywara
21:29 Aug 21, 2023

Thanks, Derrick! Yeah, the other side of the coin is always worth exploring. I recall watching *a lot* of Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. The plotlines were good for the audience, but looking back, a lot of the villains seemed very one dimensional (indeed, they seemed like "Saturday morning cartoon villains" - I guess the expression fits). But now I wonder, was there more to them? Maybe they were running from something, burying themselves at work to avoid trouble at home, desperately fending off a midlife crisis. I appreciate the fee...

Reply

08:02 Aug 22, 2023

I think its a great idea to delve into the psyche of those one-note villains and flesh them out a bit. I always loved the bit in the first Austin Powers movie where it looked into the lives of the disposable henchmen, cutting to shots of their family at home as they were killed. All of those henchmen in all of those Bond films and any action film really, manning those lairs of the evil villain who plans to dominate the world....where do they come from lol. What job do they apply for?? :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Marty B
03:55 Aug 19, 2023

George did have a big heart, and he did care about this community.- Or at least he thinks so. His actions seem to be much more self involved, trying to be the hero, and getting rid of a dog he doesn't like. All good villains put themselves first. I love the perspective from a Scooby Doo -type villain. I have spent too many afternoons watching these shows! Thanks !

Reply

Michał Przywara
01:30 Aug 21, 2023

Thanks Marty! Yeah, there's definitely a bit of ego there :) Things were fine when he was the hero, but to be upstaged by a dog? It was too much for him. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Nina H
10:31 Aug 18, 2023

Jinkies! It was Old Man Melcamp! 😄 what a fun read! I love the spin of seeing the crime unfold from the villain’s perspective here! And that the crime itself was an ill-executed last ditch effort to help someone and the failing town. But then the reader can’t sympathize too much with Melcamp given his baiting of Goodboy to do harm. Well-played! This is an A+ take on the prompt this week! Loved it! 👧 🐶 👦

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:35 Aug 18, 2023

Thanks, Nina! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Yeah, I think Melcamp's world is shades of grey, vs the twins' more youthful perspective of black-and-white, good-and-bad. There's definitely some nuance to his actions… Except when it came to the dog. That was just an inferiority thing, him giving in to irrational jealousy. I doubt Goodboy cares about the front page. I doubt he even reads the paper :) I appreciate the feedback!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lily Finch
00:03 Aug 16, 2023

Michał, funny right down to the meddling kids! You did a great job. One line you may want to fix? wending through town - winding through town? Not sure about this one? adjuster doesn’t cotton on? - It could be correct? IDK? I thought your weaving in of characters around the storyline was great! LF6

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:42 Aug 16, 2023

Thanks, Lily! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I did actually mean wending (kind of meandering side to side) vs winding (spiraling, perhaps), the way a river might wend through hills. But maybe this word is obscure? Likewise, maybe the expression "to cotton on" isn't as widely known as I thought it was. Maybe I need something clearer like "to clue in", "to figure it out". Still have a couple days to mull it over. Thanks for pointing those out!

Reply

Lily Finch
21:04 Aug 16, 2023

Don't readjust anything because of my ignorance. I am sure other readers have probably seen those phrases before. D) LF6

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.