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skeeter gig. back late, don't wait up. dinner's in
the fudge. love, mom & dad
Billy Clikk read the Post-it again.
"Fridge. She meant fridge." Crumpling up the yellow square, Billy chucked it at the garbage can and watched it fly in and then bounce out onto the kitchen floor. It was the third time this week he'd come home from school to find his parents gone, leaving him to heat leftovers in the microwave, do his homework, and put himself to bed. At this point they could just leave a note reading the usual and he'd know exactly what it meant.
There was an upside, though: Billy was now free to kick back and watch his favorite TV show, Truly Twisted. He dashed into the living room, leaped over the couch, grabbed the remote, and switched on the TV.
Truly Twisted was the one program his parents said he must "never, never" watch. These guys took extreme sports to a whole new level: they once snuck into a church, climbed up the steeple, and bungee-jumped right into the middle of some guy's wedding. It was pretty awesome.
When Billy got to the channel where Truly Twisted was supposed to be airing, though, there was nothing more extreme than some lame college tennis championship. "Oh, come on!" Billy cried. They'd bumped the best show on cable for a couple of scrawny guys knocking a ball back and forth.
Billy shut off the TV and slouched back into the kitchen. He yanked open the "fudge," pulled out a brown paper bag, and peeked inside. Cold chicken curry: carryout from the Delhi Deli, an Indian restaurant down the street. Billy used to like their chicken curry. Back before he'd eaten it once or twice a week, every week, for about three years.
Billy pursed his lips, made a farting sound, and tossed the bag back in the refrigerator. He slammed the door a lot harder than he really needed to and stared at the floor. There, next to his foot, sat the crumpled-up Post-it note.
"Are pest problems getting you down?" he said, suddenly doing a superdeep TV-commercial voice. "Then you should pick up that phone and call Jim and Linda Clikk, founders of BUGZ-B-GON, the best extermination service in all of Piffling, Indiana." He leaned down and picked up the wadded note, and as he straightened up, he added a tone of mystery to his voice. The TV commercial had turned into a piece of investigative journalism. "What makes the Clikks so busy? What drives them to spend their every waking hour on extermination jobs--'skeeter gigs,' as they call them? Is it really necessary for them to devote so much of their time and energy to saving total strangers from termites and hornets' nests? Is it just for the money, or is killing bugs some kind of a weird power trip?"
Billy took aim with the Post-it and had another shot at the garbage can. This time the note went in and stayed in.
That's more like it.
Billy changed his posture and pivoted on one foot, transforming himself once again into a reporter.
"And what of Jim and Linda's son, Billy? How does he feel about all this?" Billy went on, clutching an imaginary microphone as he strode from the kitchen back to the living room. "Well, let's ask him. Billy, how do you feel about all this?"
"You want the truth?" said Billy, switching to his own voice. "I think it stinks. I think it's a lousy way to treat a devoted son who is so bright, well behaved, and good-looking."
Billy drew his eyebrows into an expression of great sympathy: he was the reporter again. "Tell me, Billy, do you think it bothers your parents that you have to spend so many evenings at home by yourself? Do you think they feel the least bit guilty that you have to eat takeout night after night rather than home-cooked meals? Indeed, do you suppose--as your parents dash madly from one skeeter gig to another--that they even think of you at all?"
Billy stopped, stood between the couch and the coffee table, and let out a long sigh. He dropped the imaginary microphone and the phony voice along with it.
"I don't know." Billy flopped onto the couch. "Probably not."
It hadn't been so bad the previous year, when Billy's best friend, Nathan Burns, was still living in Piffling. Nathan was the only kid at Piffling Elementary who was as obsessed with extreme sports as Billy was. They used to spend practically every weekend together, mountain-biking the cliffs that led down to the Piffling River, skateboarding across every handrail in town (they both had the scrapes, bruises, and occasional fractures to prove it), and even street luging on their homemade luges, which was apparently outlawed by some city ordinance or another. The only thing Billy and Nathan hadn't tried was sneaking a ride on the brand-new Harley-Davidson Nathan's father had stashed away in the garage.
They would have tried it eventually, for sure. But then Nathan's family moved to Los Angeles for some stupid reason, his father's work or something. There were other kids at Piffling Elementary who were into extreme sports a little. They just weren't willing to risk life and limb the way Nathan was. Billy soon realized that finding a new best friend was going to take a while. In the meantime, it was looking like it would be the usual for many months to come.
Piker, Billy's Scottish terrier, lifted her head from the recliner on the other side of the room, snorted, and went back to sleep.
back late, don't wait up.
Billy had never been able to figure out why so much of his parents' work was done at night. Exterminators didn't normally work at night, did they? Were they trying to catch the bugs snoozing or something? Kids at school thought he was lucky. "If my parents left me alone at night like that," Nelson Skubblemeyer had said just the other day, "I'd be partyin' like nobody's business. I'd be, like, 'Yo, party tonight at my place. . . .' " (Nelson always said the word party as if it rhymed with saute: in spite of his name, he'd somehow convinced himself he was the coolest kid in the sixth grade.)
Billy had never thrown a party while his parents were out on a skeeter gig. He wouldn't have been able to get away with it even if he'd tried. There was someone keeping an eye on him.
From the Hardcover edition.