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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 13

For the fourth time Mother and Father met by the bank of pay telephones on the landing just below the second floor, acknowledging without words that their separate forays had returned no intelligence on the whereabouts of Mike. They hugged. "Oh my God, oh my God..." mumbled Mother into Father's shoulder. "I've been everywhere, Jules. He's not here. What are we going to do?"

"Relax, Kate," said Father. "Let's call the room. Maybe he's gone back by now. It's almost ten o'clock."

The two of them spent a few moments frisking down the pay telephones. "There's no slot!" cried Mother. "What kind of payphones are these? Where do we put the money?"

"Card," croaked a fallen-cheeked youth in black leather with a head of lank, oily hair striped with green. He was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, tapping his foot, piercings jiggling in time.

"Pardon?"

"You need a phone-card," croaked the youth again, eyes still closed.

Father swore. "What the hell is a phone-card?"

The youth opened his eyes -- glassy, dilated, alien. "A phone-card is the phone-company's way of delivering you to Big Brother, man. It's a device to separate your money from your transactions, man. To track you. To trap you. To mess with you. A phone-card is just another brick in the wall, man."

Father frowned. "Where do I get one?"

"Take mine."

When Father reached for the proffered card the youth hesitated. "Local call?" he asked.

"Er, yes."

"Alright."

After a seemingly interminable series of rings the room phone was answered like an obscene call -- heavy breathing, smacking lips. Bianca blinked at the handset in the feeble light of a clock-radio's LEDs and tried to remember where she was and why she smelled like puke. An insistent voice was shouting out of the receiver atop a background of overlapping murmurs and pounding music. "What?" coughed Bianca.

"Bianca!" yelled Father.

"Oh, Dad, hi," she mumbled. "How's the banquet?"

"Is Mike there?"

Bianca pinched the bridge of her nose. Her head felt like it was in a vicegrip. "What?"

"Bianca, this is very important. Is Mike there, in the room with you?"

Bianca looked around, taking in India snoring in the next bed and the trophy on the floor. Her eyes threatened to close and bile rose in her throat. She knew there was something she was supposed to remember...

"Bianca!" shouted Father. "Is Mike there or isn't he?"

Bianca blinked and it all came back to her. "Mike's here," she said. "Mike's right here now. He's here." Then, discharged of her mission, she passed out with her face smooshed against the clock-radio and dropped the telephone.

Father passed this on to Mother and they hugged again. "Let's get out of here," she said breathlessly.

"I need a drink," said Father, wiping his hand down his face. "Let's have just one."

Mother smiled. "We haven't been out for a drink in ages."

"Exactly," said Father.

"I look awful."

"No you don't."

Mother shot her cuff and checked her watch. "Okay, okay. We'll have just one drink. I'm going to nip off to ladies' room to clean myself up a bit and I'll meet you at the bar in five."

"It's a date," said Father with a grin.

They kissed, first quickly and then longer, then Mother waded into the second floor in search of a washroom and Father skipped down the stairs to the first floor. The young man in black leather leaned back against the wall in the landing and was about to take up bobbing his head in time to the music again when he spotted a figure flattened against the wall in the shadows. The figure tentatively stuck a head out to watch Father disappear.

"You must be Mike," guessed the young man.

"What?" said Mike, startled.

"They're looking for you, man. The net is tightening, man. They used my phone-card, so now even the government knows you're AWOL."

"They think I'm back at the hotel," said Mike.

"But you're not, are you?"

"No."

"Better run like Bueller, man. Better get back before they do. The clock is ticking."

Mike looked around desperately. "But how can I get out without going past them?"

The young man inclined his head at the darkness beyond the pay-phones. "When you can't get any lower, man, the only direction to go is up."

Sending out fingers out into the inky blackness as probes, Mike encountered a door. Beyond it was a narrow flight of steps rising to a third storey. He looked back at the black and green haired youth for reassurance, but he had returned to the world of music behind his eyelids, piercings tinkling like tiny tambourines as he nodded and swayed.

A split second before Mother crossed the landing on her way out of the washroom Mike pushed through the door and proceeded up the steep risers to the next level.


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