Flash Pulp 103 – Mulligan Smith and The Strange Woman, Part 1 of 1
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and three.
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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Mulligan Smith, PI, encounters a stranger while crawling into an unlikely location.
Flash Pulp 103
Mulligan Smith and The Strange Woman, Part 1 of 1
Mulligan hadn’t meant to encounter the woman, he’d been busy chasing down a job when he happened upon her – still, once he’d found her, he couldn’t leave her.
It was noon, and he’d come sidling down the long strip of paved pathway while babysitting a client’s son. He hadn’t realized the teenager and his friends had come equipped with wheels in the heel’s of their shoes, and the whole group had zipped away with practiced ease before the PI had been able to nonchalantly exit the park bench he’d been patiently occupying.
With the elbows and fists that Mulligan recognized as the hallmarks of high school students who would never master algebra, or basic grammar, the trio had quickly devolved into a rolling hazard of combat racing. Smith had made his best effort to keep up, but running would have made him memorable should Farrel, the wayward son, decide to turn around.
Instead he’d been forced to follow at the best pace he could manage, and when the boys broke from the trail and into the parking lot abutting a long row of townhouses, he had lost his chance to identify the door which they’d entered via the shared hallway that made up the spine of the building.
The lot that adjoined the housing was a barren expanse of pavement, which in turn opened onto a march of high tension power lines. The towers ran east-west, and the path upon which Smith had been traveling snaked at their feet.
The only other feature he might use to remain unseen was a cluster of entwined shrubberies which had been cut into the shape of a massive, erect marshmallow. As he’d approached, Mulligan had guessed the flat top of the topiary was likely owing to a fear of excess growth entangling in the cabling above.
He lamented the lack of his warm Tercel as the wind plucked at his sweater, then he dropped to his belly and began to wiggle beneath the foliage.
It had been a tight fit, but he suspected the position would allow him a superior vantage point for watching the boys’ exit, and it was close enough that, as they passed, he might hear some snippet of dialogue that would help prove if it was actually the place they’d been doing their shopping at.
He’d been careful to keep his face to the ground to avoid the grasping tree limbs, so when his hand brushed against the cloud of golden hair that surrounded the woman’s face, he’d brought up his eyes to find himself within kissing distance of the stranger.
He’d started and scrabbled backwards six inches.
Collecting himself, he looked her over.
Black welts and dried blood marred the length of her body, obvious in her nudity. Her hair had snared in the low hanging leaves, and hung about her face like strands of a ratty curtain.
Her killer had taken care in ensuring her body was as near the center of the cluster of bushes as was possible, and Mulligan knew it was only the strange coincidences inherent in private investigation that had brought him to discover her hiding place – otherwise it would have likely only been breached once the smell had become too much for some passing pedestrian.
Wiggling a hand into the pocket of his hoodie, he pulled free his cellphone and called it in. After he was sure his situation was understood, he hung up. He knew he’d just have to re-answer the same questions later – and yet, he found he could not leave her, not until there was someone to hand her over to.
Had she been pretty? It was hard to tell. Had she been a good person? It was impossible to know.
“What happened to you?” he asked the dead woman.
“Who and why?” There was a ring mark on her temple that he thought might provide a likely lead, but it wasn’t his job to run it down.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve… I’ve got things I’ve got to do.”
Maybe a convention had already been in the neighbourhood, maybe his truncated call had caused them to pick up their feet, but from beneath the drape of the bush, Smith saw three cruisers pull to hard stops in the parking lot, their lights blinking.
Alongside the building a sliding patio door burst open, and a dozen delinquents pilled out, scattering as they ran.
A trio of familiar faces came pounding in his direction. He spotted Farrel’s horse face opening into a gaping maw as he ran, and watched as the boy’s right hand came up to swallow several mouthfuls worth of unidentified baggies.
“Someone will be here in a minute, I promise,” Mulligan told the woman.
The adrenaline made it easy to extract himself from the bush, and his escape came just in time to intercept his client’s son.
“You, your Mom, and I, have a date with a bottle of laxatives. Then I suspect it’s back to rehab for you, boy-o.”
He worked hard to keep some humor in his voice, but there was none in the rough hand that closed around Farrel’s shoulder.
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