Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighty-eight.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Legacy, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Ice and Fire Convention.
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, private investigator Mulligan Smith finds himself asking hard questions in a dingy roadside store.
Mulligan Smith stood before a shelf of Pringles cans. Though his eyes were directed towards the parade of gassing trucks beyond the store’s broad window, his ear was cocked to the shop-keeper’s current discussion.
As he talked with his back turned, Andy Marland pushed at the nub of a tall commercial coffee dispenser and filled a cardboard cup with the Top Stop logo printed on it.
“- yeah, he built it fifty years ago, and I’ve worked here the better part of the time. The first twenty years I was just a change jiggler, but once Pops finally left his post I started having to pump the gas as well – hah, joking of course, we haven’t been full service for over a decade.”
Smith had heard the same gag told through three times in as many days, and he felt repetition had done little for its comedic merit.
The customer at the receiving end of the conversation accepted his steaming caffeine and gave the old man behind the counter a nod, then shrugged his battered denim jacket against the chill and pushed open the glass door.
Though the fuel flowed constantly outside, most payments were handled at the pump, allowing Mulligan a moment alone with the pot-bellied proprietor.
The private investigator watched himself slide from fish-eyed mirror to fish-eyed mirror as he approached the front of the store. No angle was left uncovered, but dotted between the round reflectors were the endlessly winking red lights of security cameras.
Mulligan happened to be familiar with the models – hi definition units wirelessly connecting back to a central recorder. It appeared the station’s owner had sprung for a package generally reserved for warehouses and large offices; there was nowhere to sneeze in the building without being watched by at least four lenses.
Before the counterman could begin his spiel, Smith stepped in with his own.
“You keep the place alone? It must suck always being chained to the spot.”
Marland raised a brow. “This is my legacy. My father picked this place like a prospector pans for gold. He drove up and down three states to find this spot, and I’ve been working this counter for the thirty years since he died. Those doors have been open every day but one – the day of Joanie’s funeral – and that’s the only time I’ve ever wanted off.”
Smith shrugged. “I hear what you’re saying, but I see you saying it from behind a thirty-year-old counter – a counter that mainly sees the sale of cigarettes and energy drinks to long haul truckers. I mean, wasn’t a trailer involved in your wife’s death? A cowboy making a lane change without looking?”
“It was late. She was minding the till while I had some supper. Who are you to be asking?”
“I’m the snoop Misha Taylor hired.”
A smile came to Marland’s face fully formed, an alarm response as automatic as the thick recessed security shutters slamming down. He said, “who?”
“The wife of a guy who drifted into oncoming traffic, and a single mom with her three kids in the back seat. It was a couple weeks ago, you might have seen it in the newspapers you never manage to sell?”
“What does any of that have to do with me?”
“That’s what I’m asking. Maybe you had a grudge against the big rig guys, but I think it was more than that. I think you were angry about watching so many people a day hop on that highway and slip away. All you see is taillights, you never see the journey. I don’t think the resentment is over your wife alone, I think it was because you were anchored here.
A twitch formed at the edge of Andy’s grin. “Did you stop here to do meth in the bathroom? I’ve had to run your kind out before.”
“You should have just sold the damn place. You could have been telling stories about how your father’s legacy was an ocean-side condo down in Florida, but, speaking of high powered chemicals, you have a tough time sleeping, Andy? Those pills only come by prescription.”
Marland’s hands seemed to grow flatter with each statement, and Smith worried they would soon break through the transparent plastic that housed the scratch tickets beneath.
“Things change,” said Smith,” and not always for the better. You either flow with that change, or you risk losing yourself to it. Look at those mirrors, the shutters, the cameras. Look where the money’s going – not in presentation, not in building on what your father handed you – it’s all invested in distrust.
“My theory is that you hate this place, and the people who visit it, but it’s all you have because you’re too afraid to change anything. You bury it deep, but it’s there.
“Problem is, change, well, you need to roll with change, or change’ll trample you. These cameras, for instance – your system works fine, but you’ve still got the default password on everything. I’ve spent the last three days sitting in your parking lot with a laptop.
“I figure maybe you didn’t mean to hurt anyone when you started dropping those Ativans in with their joe. When you began, maybe you figured you’d teach those rig wranglers a lesson by forcing them off the road for a nap – but I did the math. Pretty simple, really. Those boys move quick, which saved you for a while – they’d be a state or two away before they finally passed out and coasted into a ditch. Oh, I’m sure plenty of them bunked down first, but I pulled together a bunch of news reports on an online map. It basically gave me a big circle, and from there it was just a matter of making it smaller and smaller.
“It took a while, but you’d be amazed how much a trucker makes in a year, and Misha loved her husband dearly. Time was all it took to make the circle as tight as these walls.”
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