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Night Flight Mike
A novelette from Cheeseburger Brown
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Night Flight Mike, a novelette by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 11

Nine o'clock came and went. India was asleep in Father's arms as Mother fumbled through her purse for the keycard that would unlock their hotel room. Because India was asleep Father used the opportunity to express his frustration by way of some colourful metaphors which, unbeknownst to him, inspired a series of disturbing dreams for his daughter. In the morning the first words to her father would be, "What's a futhermuck?"

Eventually he handed the child to Mother and she passed him the purse, then, while attempting to rifle through its contents, Father ended up juggling her wallet and India's grand prize trophy. He chose to save the trophy so all of Mother's things went sprawling and bouncing out along the corridor. "Futhermuck!" bellowed Father.

"Jules!" hissed Mother. "Je-sus."

None of this was sufficient to fully rouse India or even partially rouse Bianca, who had passed out in a small pool of her own vomit on the bed. Mother confirmed that Bianca was still breathing while Father tucked India into the other bed and guided the trophy into a corner with his foot. Then Mother went back into the corridor to collect her debit card, lipstick and baby pictures.

"Where's Mike?" Father asked as she returned.

"What do you mean?"

Father popped his head into the washroom. "Mike?" Then he opened the closet. "Mike?"

"Where is he?" asked Mother.

"Exactly," said Father, checking the washroom again.

"Oh Jesus," said Mother.

They secured the room and rushed down to the lobby. Father dinged the little bell continuously until a tired-looking young man with a shock of rust-coloured hair wandered out from a back room and took his place at the counter, knuckling his eyes sleepily. He looked annoyed at being disturbed. "Can I help you?" he muttered.

"Have you been on duty all night?" asked Father.

"Yeah."

"Have you seen a little boy? About this tall -- black hair, glasses."

"I think he was wearing his blue shirt," added Mother.

"Maybe in a blue shirt," confirmed Father impatiently.

The desk-clerk scratched his stubbly jaw pensively. "You're looking for a kid with black hair?"

"He would've been unaccompanied by an adult," said Mother.

Something seemed to occur to the clerk. "Oriental kid?"

Father started to say something but Mother put her hand on his arm firmly and squeezed. "Yes, that's right," she replied. "His name is Michael."

"All by himself, yeah," said the clerk, nodding. "He came through about an hour ago, looking at his shoes. Headed outside."

"You just let him waltz out of here alone? A kid?" Father growled menacingly. Mother squeezed his arm again.

"Sir, I'm not a babysitter," said the clerk.

"Christ!" said Father. He began to look around wildly. "Where could he have gone?"

The clerk yawned. "Is he into Cherry Nuk-Nuk?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You know, Cherry Nuk-Nuk -- the singer. She's playing at Coriander's tonight. You have to know who I'm talking about. She's huge. Cherry Nuk-Nuk? C'mon."

Mother and Father exchanged blank looks. "I don't think he's into singers," said Mother. "He's more of an astronomy and math guy."

"Huh," grunted the clerk apathetically. "Yeah, my parents had no idea what I was into, either."

There was a pause. Mother looked imploringly at Father. Father stood with a grim expression fixed on his face, staring at the clerk with a faraway look. His reverie broke and he dug into his pocket and extracted a crisp ruby bill from his wallet. "Fifty bucks to help us find him."

"I, uh, can't leave the desk..."

Father unveiled a second bill. "We're from out of town. We need help. We need it now, er...?"

"Red."

"We need your help, Red. This is serious. This is about a kid."

Father's brown eyes bore into the clerk's blue ones until the latter blinked. He sneered briefly and then called over his shoulder, "Hey, Dennis! Get out here, will you? I need you to cover me for a while." The money disappeared and then he straightened his rumpled tie. To the anxious parents he mumbled, "Let's go."


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