Verbosity21's Blog
Short Stories by Ralph Proenza– mostly Fiction, but some based on true events


“Rats!” said Coby Johnson.  He turned his back to the sun and looked down at his shadow on the ground.  Coby grit his teeth.  Eleven years old and this was as tall a shadow as he could cast.  His parents told him not to worry; he was due a growth spurt, but right now he was a shrimp.  Yeah, sure…a spurt was coming…sounded like he was going to turn into sprinkler or something.

He raised both fists in the air and yelled at the top of his lungs, “WHERE IS PUBERTY WHEN YOU NEED IT!”  A man wearing a green City Water Department coveralls at a neighbor’s yard came to a startled halt.  The meter reader man looked nervously at him before quickly walking away.  Coby gave him a small embarrassed grin as he lowered his arms and grabbed his bike.

“What?”  A few feet away Coby’s best friend Hank Elroy was playing with a large grasshopper he found jumping around.  “What did you say?”

“Aw, nothing, Hank.  I was, um, just thinking out loud.”  Coby’s eyes followed the man who kept looking over his shoulder before disappearing behind a house.  “Hank, did you see that weird guy across the street?”

“What weird guy?”  He raised his head momentarily from the bug.  “I didn’t see anybody.”

“Well, anyway, let’s go fishing or something,” said Coby.  “There’s lots of daylight left.”

“Yeah, that sounds cool.  Let’s go.”  Hank shot up from where he was squatting.  “But can I borrow a fishing pole from you – I don’t feel like going all the way home for mine.  And some of your worms too, while you’re at it.”

“Aw, you’re always mooching,” remarked Coby.

“Hey, that’s because you’re my best friend, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” said Coby rolling his eyes.  They peddled their bikes side by side for a block before tuning into the Johnson’s driveway and almost running into a police car.  The officer was just leaving as the boys excitedly ran up to Coby’s dad.

Mr. Johnson told them someone had broken into their cellar workshop and stolen some power tools along with Coby’s red shortwave radio – the one with all the cool stickers on it that his grandpa had given him.  Bummer for Coby.  The police had informed Mr. Johnson of a rash of burglaries in the area.  He warned them to keep a lookout for anyone acting suspiciously, and report it at once.

Pushing aside the theft, the boys walked hurriedly to the shed to get the fishing gear.  “Gosh, we have a real live criminal loose around here,” declared Hank excitedly.

“Yeah, that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?” said Coby.

“Naw, that doesn’t scare me,” boasted Hank.  “It’s just because you’re so short that it scares you.”  Hank missed Coby’s dirty look.  “I’d punch him in the stomach before he knew what hit him, then sit on his head for good measure, and then…”

“Let’s get going before you bore the worms to death with all that bragging.”  He grabbed his worms, small tackle box, and rod.  “There’s the extra rod you can use over there in the corner.  I’ve got enough hooks and floats for both of us.  C’mon, let’s go.”  Fishing gear in hand, they took off from the driveway on their bikes.  They had peddled to the next block when Coby came to a screeching halt.

“What’s the matter, did you forget something?” remarked Hank stopping next to him.

“Hey, there’s that guy again, you know, that meter reader.”  The man was walking quickly from one back yard to another, still with a funny look on his face.  “That guy is acting funny, you know, suspicious, like the cop said.”

“Aw, you’re just being suspicious of everybody ‘cause of what the cop said,” Hank remarked.

“Maybe we should follow him from far away — to see what he’s up to,” said Coby.  They spotted the man darting to yet another house’s back yard.

“Well, I guess he is acting a little funny,” agreed Hank.  “I guess it could be fun to sneak around behind him, and if we catch him doing something bad, we’ll call the cops and be heroes.”  Coby was getting tired of rolling his eyes at Hank.  The boys parked their bikes at a tree and stashed their rods and gear deeply hidden in a bush next to it.  They ran to the side of a house to where they had last seen the man.  Peeking around the corner they spotted him at the next house, trying the doorknob of the backdoor.  The boys looked at each other and knew they were on to something.

The man tried another house and found one that had been left unlocked.  The door had a little dog-door flap at the bottom.  He deliberately rattled the door to see if a dog would show up.  When none did, he looked around then went in.  “That guy just broke into somebody’s house!” Hank whispered hoarsely.  “C’mon let’s go peek.”

“No, are you crazy?” said Coby.  “We don’t wanna get caught by him.”

“But we gotta catch him in the act so we can tell the cops, and be heroes, remember?”

“Bad idea…No!  ” repeated Coby.

“Well, I’m going to go peek through the doggy door.  It’s too small for me to get in, but at least I can look inside.” Hank rushed off toward the door.  Coby hesitated then snuck behind, ending up at the side corner of the house looking on from a safe distance.  Hank got to the back door and looked side to side making sure no one else was watching.  Suddenly the door swung open and the man came out, almost running into Hank.

“Wha…Hey, who are y…have you been following me?” he said in a gruff voice.  Hank was frozen with shock, his mouth gaping open and eyes big as saucers.  “Get in here you nosey kid.”  The man looked around to make sure there were no witnesses and forcibly grabbed Hank and pulled him into the house.

Coby was alarmed but stayed hidden trying to decide what to do next.  Hank was crazy to have gone to the back door.  He had not listened to reason.  Then he heard the man’s voice coming from a cracked window.  Creeping towards it he stood on his toes and could see the man pushing Hank into the small bedroom above where Coby was listening.  He had tied up the boy’s hands behind his back with a lamp cord, then put a piece of duct tape across his mouth.  “Shut up and stay put and you won’t get hurt.  I’ll be gone and out of town in an hour anyway.”  He walked out of the room and in the direction of the front of the house and away from Hank.

Coby had idea.  Now that the man was farther from the back door, he snuck there, opened the dog flap to check that the man was not there.  Carefully he squeezed himself through the little dog-door.  Thankfully his small size made it possible for him to get in.  Being extra quiet he got off the floor and crept toward the room he knew to contain his friend.

Hank bolted upright from his sitting position on seeing Coby.  He gestured his friend to be quiet as he approached.  Untying the cord from Hank’s wrists was a little tricky but he finally succeeded.  He was tempted to leave the tape across Hanks mouth but decided against it.  Coby crept toward the cracked window, slowly lifted up enough for both boys to get through and down to the ground.  The man was so busy rifling through drawers that he had forgotten to check on his captive.

“Hurry, we gotta get out of here and get some help,” whispered Coby.  Hank was still half dazed.  They ran around the back of the first house before going toward the street.  It took running a full block before they lucked on to a police car patrolling the neighborhood.  They flagged it down, and after some confusing out-of-breath explanations, the officer finally understood the boys.

The officer called for backup and parked a couple of houses away.  The boys were told to stay next to the police car.  The officer ran to the back of the house hoping the burglar was still there.  At the back door, once again it opened and out came the man holding a pillow case for a sack and jammed with stolen stuff.  “Hold it right there!”  Startled, the burglar dropped the sack and gaped at the officer’s drawn revolver just as a second officer came around the corner of the house.  “We’ve been looking for you for a few days now, buddy.  I bet your car if full of stolen items just like what’s in this bag.”  The officer read the man is rights as he was putting on the handcuffs, and took him away.

Later that evening, Coby was enjoying his banana split that his dad had gotten him for being a hero.  “Just think,” Mr. Johnson had told him, “if you hadn’t been the size you are you couldn’t have gotten inside that house and saved your friend, and gone to the police!”  Coby was grinning.  Growth spurt of not, he was feeling pretty tall right about now.

*   *   *   *   *


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