FP298 – Mulligan Smith in Lingering, Part 1 of 1
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and ninety-eight.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Lingering, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Hollywood Outsider Podcast.
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 our private investigator, Mulligan Smith, conducts an unpleasant interview with a youthful caretaker.
Mulligan Smith in Lingering, Part 1 of 1
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The conversation had fallen into a lull, and Mulligan could find little more to do than stare at the fake-wood pattern of the table top.
Finally, after brushing back a loose strand of dirty blond hair, the girl said, “I remember the first time he didn’t come back when he said he would.”
Smith nodded, not wanting to slow the momentum of her telling.
“I mean, he’d been taking his time more and more. When Mom got sick, we couldn’t afford like a home or anything, so she just stayed at the house. I don’t even know what it was like before then, I was too small. In the beginning Dad was working long days in a factory – he was making, like, plastic riot gear stuff? The thing is, the worse she got, the the more he disappeared.”
“One night, a couple years in, when she really couldn’t get up anymore, she managed to twist herself into lying on top of the tube for her pee-bag, and I wasn’t able to roll her over. She was kind of panicking – she was still mostly speaking then – and it got me upset, and I was trying to shove her over, but I wasn’t strong enough do it.
“He finally showed the next morning. I met him at the door when I heard the key scraping at the lock, but he kept muttering about going to bed. It took a big fight to convince him it needed to be done, but together we managed to get Mom moved.
“For a long while after I would sit in the chair beside Mom for hours, worrying that it was going to happen again, or that some other emergency was going to come up and I wouldn’t be able to deal with it.
“That was when I was little though, like eleven or something.
“By fourteen, I was handling everything. I wasn’t seeing Dad often, and – it was like one of those meth warning posters, you know? I’d see him once every couple of weeks, and he’d be thinner, his eyes would be cloudier.
“He was working on and off, but I never knew where we’d get the money to cover the month’s bills. I would basically wait till he was passed out in his room, then hook a wad of cash from his wallet and stash it for food, which, frankly, he’d eventually eat most of when he decided to stumble in after a binge.
“I did some online stuff, filling out surveys and work from home crap, but it barely made anything, and we only had free dial-up, meaning we were screwed whenever the phone company unplugged us. That’s usually when I’d have to pawn something. At least I knew a place that didn’t look at Mom’s ID and point out that I wasn’t thirty-five, but if Mom hadn’t inherited the house I think we would have been homeless pretty early on.
“Anyhow, like I was saying, I woke one night, when I was fourteen, and there he was with his pants around his ankles. I mean, I shared the same frigging room with her! That wasn’t what pissed me off the most, though. He was talking to himself – I mean, trying to woo her, I guess – but by then the best she could do was grunt yes or no, and she was definitely making her no sound.”
The teen paused, gritting her teeth, and Smith did his best to nod comfortingly. Noting the emotional exchange, the uniformed man at the door raised a brow at the pair, but the private investigator simply shrugged in reply.
Finally, the girl continued.
“Mom’s cane was by the dresser. It was from the early days of her illness, when we’d had a bit of extra money for medical stuff, and even after it was obvious she wasn’t going to be walking again I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.
“He was standing there in the dark, rocking gently back and forth like he was on a moving boat, and he was having trouble getting Mom’s leg’s sorted. I kept seeing flashes of white skin in the light that came through the curtain crack, and his muttering just went on and on, talking about how he was going to “fix her once he got her fixed.””
“I lost it. I grabbed the cane by the bottom of the shaft and swung like it was the World Series. Caught him on the ear. The next day, across his temple, you could still see the mark from where the handle went from metal to padding.
“He hit me back, but he was so high it was like being beaten by one of those big plastic dancing men you see on top of gas stations – you know, the ones that stand in the wind and wiggle around? Anyway, I got him out of the room.
“I didn’t sleep the rest of the night, I just sat on the lip of Mom’s bed turning the cane around in my hands, feeling for all its little cool spots.
“It was a few days later that he stole all Mom’s meds to sell.
“I tried the law, I tried going through the courts, but it was impossible. After the first time I called the cops he was smart enough not to bring his meth home, and he only came back when he needed money, or food, or a good night’s sleep.
“Social Services came around once, but he managed to convince them that I was just going through a hard phase in life, with Mom being in the condition she was, and his being out of work and supposedly spending long days looking for a job. The lady ended up giving me almost like a speech about not crying wolf, and how I should appreciate what I had.
“When she left he told me that, if I ever tried anything like it again, he’d have me removed from the house and he’d take care of Mom himself.
“He randomly started slapping me then. He wasn’t my Dad anymore, the drugs had turned him into some sort of angry lizard person. All knuckles and unpredictability.
“After that I knew I was on my own.
“I mean, maybe there was another solution, but I was – I was so frustrated, so scared, so frigging exhausted. I felt ninety. I knew Mom didn’t have long left, and I just wanted her to have some peace.
“She was locked in there, which was the saddest part. I’d read to her – she was really into, you know, books with castles and magic and justice? I mean, we both were. I still am, I guess, but it’s impossible to find anything decent in here. Anyhow, she’d try and say stuff and it would just make her mad that she couldn’t talk properly, but her eyes – her eyes were always so warm and thankful and wet like she was trying to cry but her body was too broken to let her.”
If Mulligan had not been a man who paid his bills with his observations,he would have missed the practiced motion that casually wiped away the damp on her cheek.
“I looked it up on the internet,” said the girl. “Knowing which kind was best, and how much it would take, was a lot easier to understand than some of the medical articles I had to plow through for Mom. Buying helium wasn’t much of a problem, and we already had an oven bag and the tubing. I was pretty used to dealing with that sort of business by then, so it almost felt like I was just administering another type of meds when I tucked it over his head.
“It was exactly like I’d read – I mean, I wasn’t exactly using it for suicide like it’s supposed to be, but there was no struggle or anything, no coughing. He just stopped snoring eventually. Though, I think he was so stoned I’m not sure he could have gotten up if he happened to noticed I was killing him.
“I watched his warm breath build up on the inside of the bag, then, when it stopped, I removed everything, walked four blocks, and chucked it all in a dumpster. It didn’t feel much different than having to empty Mom’s pee-bag.
”One of the reasons the euthanasia folks like that way of doing it is because it’s so hard to trace.I talked to a couple of the EMS people and a police officer, but I guess drug testing had them convinced he’d just overdosed. I kept expecting to be hauled off, that everything was finally over, but nothing happened.
“Mom passed eight months later. I was holding her at the time.
““I turned myself in for murder later that day. I hadn’t even called 911 about her body yet.
“I had no money and I didn’t trust the social services people, so I don’t know what other option I had.”
Smith looked to his left, his gaze sweeping across the cream-coloured cafeteria that acted as the Capital City Juvenile Detention Center’s visitation area.
“At least I get to go to school in here,” the girl finished.
Mulligan closed the notebook he’d kept on hand, the fresh page still unmarked.
“I think my client is just going to have to accept the loss of his heirloom,” he said. “It’s pretty clear your dad smoked or injected whatever it was worth. I guess I could give that pawn shop you mentioned a try, maybe the owner was allowing trade from a minor because he knew your pops and how hard up you were.
“Now, uh, since your parole officer has cleared me on the list, I may as well use the access, right? Most of those shops have a pretty decent selection of books – I’ll grab you a couple of slabs of swords and sorcery.”
The girl let her tears flow then, and she did not hide them.
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