Book extract

Mad Dad for Sale

Teena Raffa-Mulligan

The door closed behind them. Luke scanned the room. It looked like an ordinary office. No torture racks and not a spotlight in sight. He heaved a sigh of relief and plopped into one of the chairs.  He’d been worrying for nothing. This was going to be easy peasy. The two police officers didn’t even want to talk to him. They asked Mum all the questions, even though she’d already written down most of the answers.

        “Hmmm,” said the chunky man whose badge said Sergeant J. Walker.

        “Uh huh,” said Senior Constable C. Moore, her apple-round face very serious. “And young Luke here was the last person to see his father today?”

        Mum nodded. “That’s right. He saw the two men pick him up.”

        Sergeant Walker checked the form. “Ah. In the van?”

        “No, in a butterfly net. They put him in the van after they picked him up off the front lawn in the net.”

        “Excuse me?” Sergeant Walker’s eyebrows shot towards the ceiling.

         Mum leaned forward and rested her arms on his desk. “I know, sergeant. The whole thing sounds crazy. Imagine. A boy selling his dad through the local paper. And having him collected that way. I couldn’t believe it either at first, but whatever Luke does, he doesn’t lie and if he says he sold his dad –”

         “Hold it right there.”  His voice halted Mum’s explanation as effectively as a stop sign and his eyes drilled into hers. “You did say sold?”

         She nodded. “I did. It’s a long story, Sergeant. Luke’s always getting into strife, doing silly things. And his dad’s got a quick temper. Well, they both have. Anyway, Luke asked me if I’d swap his dad for one who didn’t get mad all the time. Of course I said no.”  Her smile was wobbly. “I like having his dad around. Anyway, Luke put an ad in the For Sale column of the local paper and a man with a voice like a snake hiss rang up and offered to buy  his dad for $500 and then –”

         “Enough!” It was such a loud bellow Mum’s mouth fell open in surprise. When he thumped the desk she jumped as if she’d been struck.

         Sergeant Walker’s face had turned beetroot purple. Senior Constable Moore leaped up, poured him a glass of water from the cooler in the corner and thrust it towards him. He gulped the lot and mopped his face with a handful of tissues before getting up from his chair, walking round the desk and standing over Mum, wagging his finger. “Mrs McAlister, this is a police station not a circus tent. We don’t need any clowns here.”

         Luke opened his mouth to tell the sergeant about the three clowns, the angel and the gorilla from the senior citizens’ group who were waiting in the next room, then thought better of it.

         Sergeant Walker was still staring at Mum. “I don’t need to tell you, Mrs McAlister, that wasting precious police time by making false reports can have serious consequences.”

         Mum stood up straight as a ruler so she was eye to eye with the sergeant.  “My children’s father is missing,” she said. “I don’t know where he is or what has happened to him. If you think that’s a joke, Sergeant, I don’t. I came here looking for help. If you won’t give it to me, then I’m wasting my time. Good night.”

         She swung on her heels, sandals clacking. “Come along, Luke.” Back in the front entry she snapped her fingers in the direction of the counter. “Susie! Make it quick, sweetie pie, we’ve got a search to organise.”

         Out in the street, though, her anger died like a fire doused with water and she was quiet all the way home. Once in the drive she slumped over the steering wheel and gave what sounded suspiciously like a sob.

         “Mum…” Susie’s voice was a whisper. “We are gonna find Dad, aren’t we?”

         Mum straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “Of course we are!”

         But Luke got the feeling she was only being brave.

         Nate was waiting for them in the garden and came over to open the car door.

         “Are they gonna find him for us?” he asked hopefully.

         Mum shook her head. “No. They think I’m a loony. We’ll just have to find him ourselves.”

         “How are we gonna do that?”

         “I’ve no idea, Nate, and I’m too tired and upset right now to even think straight.” She climbed out of the car.

         Luke unbuckled his safety belt to climb out.

         Nate blocked his way, his eyes cold and hard as ice chips in the light from the street lamp. “I oughtta smash your face in, you little grot.”

         “Yeah? Just try it and I’ll rip your guts out,” said Luke, sounding tougher than he felt.

         “Boys, that’s enough.” Mum sighed. “Bashing each other up won’t solve anything. The best thing we can do tonight is try to get some sleep. In the morning things might not look so bad. We’ll plan our strategy right after breakfast.” She ruffled Nate’s hair, put her arm around Susie and headed for the porch. Luke trailed them along the path, dragging his feet and wishing he could turn the clock back a few days and make things the way they were.

         The evening didn’t improve. Nate kept looking at him like he was no better than dog bog and Susie acted like he didn’t exist. When Mum started sobbing her heart out over the dirty dishes it was even worse. It wasn’t like her to go to pieces.

Luke shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other in the kitchen doorway. “Can I get you something?” he asked.

         “Yes. Your dad back.” She flicked her tangled hair out of her face and turned to look at him through swollen, red-rimmed eyes. “Luke, how could you?”

None of the answers he could give made sense any more so he went to bed feeling miserable and wishing he could undo what he’d done. As he lay there in the dark he began to remember all the good things about Dad he’d forgotten. His silly jokes. The way he always pretended to fall over when it was a race to get wet at the beach. He’d taught Luke how to swim and ride a bike and he was super smart at maths. Dad could always show Luke how to work out the tricky homework problems. Luke curled himself into a ball. Even a mad dad was better than none. But it was no good being sorry now. The best Luke could do was try to put things right.

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