January 25, 2013 by JRD Skinner
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and seven.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in The Patient, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites 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, is confronted by raised voices, and fists, while loitering in a nursing home.
Mulligan Smith in The Patient
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The first, the cousin, came at lunch, six hours into Mulligan’s vigil.
He was unexpected, but Smith simply assumed that he wasn’t the only one with a friend at the front desk, and that a nurse coming onto shift had called in the tip-off.
The PI’s back ached – he’d been sitting, unmoving, in the uncomfortable green chair since his arrival – and any good mood he might’ve begun the undertaking with was lost somewhere in the fourth still hour.
The building was too cold, especially given the adjustable hospital bed’s frail occupant. The old woman, her gaze locked on the ceiling, weighed no more than a hundred pounds, and that, the detective reflected, was with the generous inclusion of the single thin sheet she’d been assigned.
Mulligan had wrangled some extra bedding from Bubba, the friendly nurse, but he’d also made a note to tack the cost of a thick blanket onto his expenses – he knew his client wouldn’t mind.
Despite the act of kindness, the cousin’s lips had curled back from his stout face, and his perfect teeth were bared.
After receiving no reaction, the newcomer forced a conclusion through his locked jaw.
“You don’t belong in here,” he said.
“Well, frankly,” answered Smith, “no one belongs in here.”
“I mean in this room specifically, smartass.”
The silence that had been threatening to lull Mulligan into a nap again descended. He considered pulling up his sweater’s hood as a final act of dismissal, but decided that causing further trouble would only be a hinderance.
Besides, the annoyance was already easy enough to read on the cousin’s face.
The stranger took a step over the threshold, and the PI perked a brow. The interest was for naught, however, as the man turned back to the hall, clearly determined to find security, or at least a strong-voiced caretaker, to turn Smith out.
Mulligan knew he wouldn’t find anyone willing to do it.
He continued to sit, his phone in hand and his spine at an awkward angle.
* * *
The next to arrive was the daughter.
He knew she was coming well before setting eyes on her: The gurgled weeping that had echoed along the cream linoleum and yellowing dropped ceiling had announced her entrance as thoroughly as any trumpet.
Once her wailing had fully entered the small chamber, she asked, “why are you bothering my mother?”
The daughter was sharp-chinned, and her fingernails were encrusted in bejeweled polish in such a way as is only maintainable by the dedicated and those who never use their hands for anything more difficult than lifting a glass of Pinot.
She did not strike Mulligan as particularly dedicated.
With a sigh, Smith replied, “I’m not bothering her, but, to answer your actual question – why am I here – I’m being paid to be.”
“Did Dad send you? I want nothing to do with him, and neither does she.”
“Why are you doing this to us? To me? Don’t you think it’s hard enough to watch the most important person in your life slip away like this?”
Each question was accompanied by a wavering sob, and the full phrasing was punctuated by stuttered series of gasping inhalations.
Mulligan cleared his throat. “I think you mean the richest person in your life – do you find it cold in here?”
“You know, chilly. Frosty.”
“I guess?” asked the newest intruder.
Smith’s shoulders rose and fell.
“Seems like a lady who worked that hard is entitled to some warmth,” he said, then he returned to staring at the corner across the room from his unyielding armchair.
“Oh, yes, yes, she deserves so much better,” came the answer. “She had so much left to teach me, there are so many places we should have had the chance to go to together.”
“So why don’t you use some of that bank account she’s dying on top of to move her out of this dump? I happen to know there’s a decent place less than three blocks from your house, Amanda. You made good time getting here though.”
Daughter Amanda’s voice changed gears into half-whispered accusation. “Who’s paying you? Why?”
Her cheeks were suddenly dry.
“Elnora Solomon, MD,” replied Mulligan, though he didn’t bother to shift his view.
“The doctor who diagnosed Mother? We haven’t seen her in two years! What could she possibly want?”
Smith offered up a second shrug, and the drone of the home’s occupants shuffling outside the door became the only noise.
When it was obvious Mulligan was content to simply sit in silence, Amanda announced that she was calling the police, then she departed.
With a roll of her eyes, the long-inert mother shouted “seventy-two,” then returned to silence.
* * *
Three hours later, the son appeared.
His collar was loose, his jacket low on his neck, and his breath was sharp with the stink of hops.
“Hello, Allen,” Smith said as welcome.
Allen’s reputation was shaky at best amongst the patrons of the sports bar he frequented, and Mulligan knew to expect raised fists.
The tall man did not disappoint.
“You’re going to start a fight in a nursing home? In front of your mother?” asked Mulligan. “Listen, I’m guessing you just got off work, so you stopped by some place on the way and had a bit out of the tap to help straighten your back before kicking my ass, right? You start a punch-up, though, and the cops will come. They’ll smell the Miller time, and I’ll tell them whatever I damn well please, because they’ll believe my word over a drunk’s.”
It was enough to bring Allen’s approach to a stop, but it did not stall his fury.
“What kind of shit is Dad pulling? Is he making a play for my share of the will? What’s his angle? Whatever it is, how can he be thinking about money at a time like this?
“Hell, you can go back to him and tell him he won’t be getting crap all more. I’ve got lawyers on it.”
“Lawyers? Sounds like you’ve been thinking about money at a time like this,” replied Mulligan.
“Six thousand, four hundred and ninety-six,” gasped the bedridden woman.
“When Doctor Solomon moved,” he said, “you sure were quick to get Ma into low-rent old folk storage. I understand that it only took you two doctors to come up with a declaration that she was nothing but a husk waiting for death, which must have eased your conscience a bit.
“Thing is, Parkinsons takes a long time to kill a person, and it doesn’t do it in a terribly fun way.
“I was in here yesterday, talking to the nurses, and a big guy named Bubba tells me he sometimes thinks she’s more with-it than she appears, because he’s seen her say things that seem related to what’s going on around her, only way after the events have happened.
“That got me thinking. This morning I came in early – I knew I might need a lot of time – and I asked her what her name was.
“Took her thirty-six minutes to reply, and then I realized that I’d forgotten to turn on my phone’s recording app.
“I apologized and asked if she could repeat it. Forty-two minutes later she said, ‘it’s ok, I’m Deb.'”
Allen looked to his mother, then back to Smith.
With his fists tight, he asked, “what are you getting at?”
“I was hired because the Doc felt your mother’s descent was too quick. Maybe you’re a bad son, and maybe you shopped around for the shortest route between here and her tombstone for the money – I couldn’t tell from how far I’d poked around.
“What I did unexpectedly discover, however, is that she’s still in there, she just can’t get it out. She knows her name, age, the current president, and she just answered a math question I had to use a calculator to verify.
“I’m no doctor, but it seems I’ve made something of a breakthrough in her treatment. I’m no lawyer, either, but I suspect today proves she’s cognizant enough to make her own decisions on what to do with her money – be that her will, or getting transferred out of here, or having the stream of high-powered drugs she’s being fed re-examined.
“I was just trying to prove a theory, but you and your family really provided the icing – all that weeping and threatening and lawyer talk isn’t going to play well with a judge, I suspect.
“It’d play even worse if anything happened to your beloved matriarch between now and her day in court.”
Smith stood. His legs were stiff but he forced himself towards the door, saying, “hey Bubba!”
Before Allen realized there was no one in the hall beyond, and that he truly did want to hit the hoodie-wearing man, the detective was gone.
Twenty-seven minutes later, the mother said, “finally.”
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.