Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighty-three.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Dark Wife.
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 seeks many truths.
Mulligan Smith and The Reformed Man, Part 3 of 3
“Yeah, but four dudes?” Billy was saying.
“Meh,” replied Mulligan. “You might not complain if you had the attention of a squadron of ladies for the evening. The ferocity driving a power-player’s libido is often the same thing that makes their bank accounts fatter than any we’ll ever see.
“They’re just people with appetites, but their hunger isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s just different. I’m not into seafood either.”
“What about Donegan then?” asked the mountain.
“Ever eat so much that you regret it when you finally push away from the table?”
The pair were standing in front of a shabby downtown church, watching the Sunday tide of sign carriers flow through the double doors.
When no further response came from his friend, Billy ravaged the Big Mac he’d demanded for being forced out of bed at such an early hour.
Finally, as Winnipeg licked the last of the secret sauce from his chin, Smith asked, “you ready?”
The Canadian squared his shoulders. “Ghandi said, “I always believed in fighting.”
“Wait,” replied Smith, “I know where I’ve heard all this before – did you seriously make a major life decision based on Gandhi, the movie?”
“Hey, Ben Kingsley is a genius, and it was, you know, accurate. Besides, I, uh, read some stuff online too.”
Mulligan, with slurpee in hand, shook his head. “Well, I’m sorry whatever the case. You know I appreciate the favour.”
After receiving an embarrassed grin, and a shrug, from Billy, the PI laid a sneakered foot on the bottommost step.
* * *
The Church of the Burning Christ’s limited capacity was nearly filled, but Smith knew the message was not restricted to the room inside: Online research had turned up recordings of nearly every sermon delivered between the egg-shell white walls. Furthermore, Mulligan’s occupation of a rear pew during the previous week’s service had given him a feel for the habits of the worship house, and he knew, as the clock neared the hour, that he’d find Matthew Donegan behind a modest brown door behind the altar.
The preacher liked a moment alone preceding his entrance – likely, the detective guessed, to psyche himself to the energy level necessary to maintain an hour’s worth of railing against homosexuality, dead soldiers, and the government – and it was on this brief window, away from the throng, that Smith laid his gamble.
The approach went smoothly enough. The sleuth had half expected to be stopped by some curious altar-tender, but, instead, Mulligan sailed across the gray carpet, and into the relative quiet of a small antechamber.
As he entered, Matthew Donegan stood to his left, preening in a slender plastic-framed mirror which hung on the wall.
Donegan wore a three-piece suit of questionable origin, and his hair had recently been buzzed in such a way that a lone lick of flame projected a short bill over his furrowed brow.
While absentmindedly adjusting the black nub of electronics clipped to his collar, the cleric said, “check your watch, I’ve got three minutes.”
Smith was unsure who he’d assumed the intruder was, but it was clear from the preacher’s frown that the surprise was an unpleasant one.
Clearing his throat, Mulligan made his play. “Listen, I kind of understand Watson, but what happened with Benton? Were you out on the street one night, hurling hate from your soapbox, and you two shared a moment of recognition? You know, that uncomfortable moment when you realize you sort of had sex with a passerby? Did you follow him down that alley because you were just as scared as he was?
“You’re supposed to be a man of The Lord – face what you’ve done. You’re going to pay no matter what you do, but at least you can find peace with yourself.”
Donegan’s jaw suddenly shut – but briefly.
“What idiocy is this?” he asked. “What are you talking about?”
His voice was calm, but Smith read panic in his eyes.
It was the fear upon which the PI had placed his bet.
“Morgan Watson and Donnie Benton? The guys you killed? Sad story for your pal Morgan, falling on hard times after graduation, but I guess he was pretty pleased to look up from the gutter and see you swinging bibles and calling people faggots. Didn’t do much for your bank account though, did it? At least, not by the looks of the records I’ve stumbled on.
You fixed that cash flow problem, though, didn’t you?”
“If you’re going to arrest me,” said Donegan, “then do it, and at least my lawyers will have to be the ones listening to you prattle.”
“Oh,” replied Mulligan, dancing at the edge of truth, “I’m no police officer, I’m here for the money.”
In truth, while Smith HAD stumbled across the blackmail’s paper-trail once he’d known where to look, the records alone would not be sufficient to convince a District Attorney to put a holy man on trial – even a holy man with Donegan’s reputation.
Nonetheless, Mulligan had reasoned that fear had driven Donegan to do something stupid at least twice in the past, and that perhaps it might again.
He was proven right when Donegan muttered a barely audible, “Ah, so now I see you for what you are: Another blaggard with Satan’s spunk dribbling from his lips and his hands reaching into a better man’s pocket. What makes you think I won’t give you the same as I gave Watson, you whoreson?”
“You know, Matthew, with your passion, you could have really made something with this place. It’s too bad your own self-loathing has so badly twisted your message. If you’d just accepted yourself, and what happened in that sweaty little apartment, then maybe you could’ve accepted everyone else, and built something righteous.”
It should have been enough, and, as Smith turned to abruptly exit, he nearly felt like whistling.
He was halfway down the center aisle when the trouble began.
Mulligan and Billy’s previous visit had shown them that the building’s sound system was run from a dark audio booth at the rear of the sanctuary, and directly into a CD burner, so that each day’s homily could be purchased, at a small fee, by the attending faithful. It had been Smith’s plan to simply have the man at the console surreptitiously turn on Donegan’s mic, while keeping the main speakers muted, and to then further leverage Winnipeg’s bulk into ensuring a copy of the confession was made.
The success of the process was heavily in doubt when the sound engineer in question came crashing through the booth’s smokey window.
Seconds later, the sight of the behemoth crawling out over the broken glass brought the congregation to their feet in aid of their injured brother, and the pews began to disgorge a riot already in progress.
Smith was slightly relieved when he noticed an unlabeled disc in the bleeding man’s hand, and the fact that he was already on his feet gave the sleuth a sliver of a lead on the mob. As a rush of fist-waving parishioners came against the wall that was Billy Winnipeg, Mulligan scooped the evidence from the stunned audio engineer and stashed it in a deep pocket.
Smith’s fast footwork, and Winnipeg’s thick arms, carried the pair to the threshold, and onto the street. With the eager amongst the crowd now cradling bludgeoned nostrils, the attackers fell back on their most practiced strongpoint: Screaming. “Faggot!” was the most common refrain, with “enabler!” a distant second, and yet, despite the din, Smith couldn’t help but notice the sandy-haired twelve year who had settled on repeating “Satan’s cocksucker!”
A sprint later and the Tercel’s engine was roaring to life. Spotting a blue slip fluttering beneath his windshield wiper, Mulligan couldn’t help but feel the cost of the illegal parking job was certainly worth the hasty departure.
“What happened back there?” asked Smith, as they rounded the third corner, and his speed began to slacken. “I thought you were going to bribe him, or bluff him at worst?”
“I was gonna. I offered the cash and he took it, but, just before he handed me the CD, he hesitated.
“I thought he was scared at first, and I told him “You know the truth, and I believe it was Gandhi who once said, ‘If you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.’
“Then I realized he was deciding that he probably believed in whatever reasons Donegan had for stabbing a guy, and he just looked at me and said, “Gandhi was a pussy.”
“So I hit him.”
The press following the incident would be enough to have the Church of the Burning Christ’s tax status reevaluated, and the recording would close the case on the murder of Morgan Watson.
In the meantime, however, Mulligan simply said, “Billy, let’s head over to the east side of town. There’s a hipster movie house running a documentary on Mandela I think you’ll like. I’ll buy the popcorn.”
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