Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and six.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Customs and Customers, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the The Hollywood Outsider.
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, discusses an odd series of incidents in a local Walmart.
Mulligan Smith in Customs and Customers
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Walmart Mike was saying, “oh yeah, I knew a matchbook pro, back in the day. Burned down an entire fried chicken chain in the early ‘60s. Truth is, without the Internet, people talked to each other less back then, especially insurance companies. Sorry, what? Oh, yeah, I guess we got those, you’d have to check with electronics. Have a nice day.”
Mulligan knew it had been a long day for Mike. The news had run through the old man network that loitered on mall benches and in McDonald’s booths, and eventually reached the PI’s father, who’d then passed it on to his son.
Even now, hours after the incident, the ex-con’s face was unusually drawn. He perked up, however, at the sight of Smith lingering in the parking lot.
Peeling off his smock – an action Mulligan knew he referred to as “going undercover” – Mike threw a hand-sign to his manager that obviously meant “I’m taking a minute,” then strolled past the line of tchotchke-ball-dispensing change collectors and through the automatic doors.
“You wouldn’t believe what a dog crap and Huckleberry hash this morning turned out to be,” he said as a hello.
Smith shot him a questioning look, as if he hadn’t already heard the tale.
The ability to sincerely raise an eyebrow was, Mulligan felt, an essential tool of the business.
“Look, I’m as much of a feminist as the next guy, but this morning was a test of my well-heeled social inclinations, you know what I’m fuckin’ sayin’?”
Unwilling to interrupt, Smith simply shrugged.
The aging greeter continued his tale.
“Bunch of goddamn college freshman came in here, well, three of ‘em, and they’re recording video on their phones, like it’s the fucking zoo. Assholes were all dressed like they’d found their clothes at a Sally Ann, but they all think they’re Jeff Goldblum wandering into Jurassic Park.
“Things were busy though – every Saturday is a rocket full of chickens, really – and I didn’t have time to go yakkin’ to the higher-ups over something like tourists. That is, at least, till an elderly couple with maybe ten teeth between ‘em went trotting by. He was wound up about some remark that had been made regarding his shoes, which I found kinda funny considering his dental situation – but we can’t have hassling the customers, and it didn’t take much listening to figure the problem was the trio of donkey fondlers.
“I wander away from my post for a while, figuring I’ll go have a look and see what kind of words you need to use to scare the shit out of a trust-fund kid, and I find them, still recording, in the infant section.
“Now, there’s this lady, she’s got five runts, no ring on her finger, and she looked like she was making it work on less than I do alone. Not that every woman was a quiet domestic when I was a brat, but – well, things are different now. You’d never see a lady like that then. I mean, she wasn’t likely to shame Liz Taylor, but she carried herself like she was worth more than the sweat pants she was wearing.
“She didn’t look like she’d come up in the best of places, but you could tell she’d learned something of fear and courage and when not to take shit.
“Now, you see, the second youngest had started playing to the slumming cameras, ducking behind a rack of baby carriers and peeking at them, and, all the while, the clueless rich kids were keeping an educational wildlife film commentary going, talking like the kid was a rare baboon.
“Nothing clever, either. Stuff about how they could smell his shit downwind, how the baby in the stroller might be his, that sort of thing.
“If it were ‘76, I’da probably broke one of their knees, let the other two go through the trouble of having to drag him off and explain what happened – but, hell, if it were ‘96, I’da probably walked away without saying anything, so what does time count?”
Mike took a moment to clear his throat and wet the pavement.
“Mama caught onto the irony and wasn’t pleased. She considered the situation, weighed her surroundings, and said, ‘you talk to my lil ’uns like that again and you’ll be leavin’ a bunch of harem guards.’
“I don’t even think they know what she meant, they just started in on the laziest sort of name calling, you know, ‘white trash welfare queen.’ Honestly, that part hasn’t changed that much since I was young.
“Anyhow, as I mentioned, I’m as big a feminist as the next guy. I know she could’ve handled it herself, clearly bein’ a modern women and all, but goddamn, sometimes a guy’s just gotta get a bit chivalrous.
“I turn to the pillar beside me and grab the intercom phone. ‘Security,’I say, ‘we have three pedophiles in the kids section.’ The tourists realize I’m starin’ right at ‘em as I’m talking, and they start running for the doors. They’ve got their phones out, panic on their face – hell, they looked guilty enough to hang.
“At that point there’s this cowboy in jeans and leather boots who’s coming down the aisle from electronics. He looks at me, looks at them, and, putting two-and two together, figures he’s going to play TJ Hooker. He knocked over a rack of discount t-shirts doin’ it, but he managed to grab the slowest.
“We ain’t supposed to touch customers, for legal reasons, but we can’t stop them from tackling each other.
“The guy in front turns back, thinking maybe he’ll help his friend, and even that second of hesitation is enough that they were swarmed by managers, maintenance guys, and the loss prevention team.
“Eventually they went home, but not without doing a bit of sad sack crying in front of some uniforms. For my part, I said I must have misunderstood the situation and played dumb, just like every other time I talk to someone toting a badge.
“Before that though, you know what happens? I’m standing next to the mom – Bonnie – and we’re watching the guy in his vintage band shirt rolling around with crime-fightin’ Garth Brooks. I’m busy cooking up all the lies I’ll need to tell so as not to lose my job, and she turns around to ask me what I’m doing Saturday. Says her sister owes her a favour, and she makes a mean chicken pot pie, if I’d like to come over.
“She didn’t say it like she was extending a Sunday dinner invite to her grandpa neither.
“Well, she’s younger than me by twenty-five years, but, hell, I dunno – she IS a modern woman.”
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