FP331 – Mulligan Smith in Can’t Live with Them, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and thirty-one.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites
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, stumbles upon a pair of missing women – and much more.
Mulligan Smith in Can’t Live with Them, Part 3 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
“Maxwell!” said Mulligan, as he stepped from the Tercel.
It was Smith’s third early morning in a row, though this time he’d volunteered for the duty. He had news he was eager to deliver, and a paycheck he was even more eager to collect.
He found his client in much the same position as their initial meeting, though the dachshund was no longer roaming Dougherty’s yellowing front lawn.
Mulligan felt it was best not to mention the dog.
Instead, he said, “so, as I told you on the phone, I’ve got some good news for you.”
Maxwell nodded, but continued to fuss with his maroon tie.
The detective’s break had come almost exactly twenty-four hours earlier, though the questioning phone calls necessary to confirm what he’d discovered had absorbed the rest of his day. The first domino had dropped when when the blue-and-red haired crossing guard had intercepted Smith on the way back to his car.
“You’re looking for Mrs. Carver?” she asked. “I used to say good morning to her everyday.”
“Huh,” replied Smith, his hands in his black hoodie’s pockets.
“I mean, I try to help everyone, but generally Mayfield would make her cross the street a little ways down.” The woman twirled her sign as she spoke, rolling the red octagon’s handle with well practiced fingers.
Clearing the lingering sleep from his eyes, the private investigator took a second look at the twenty-something.
He asked, “were they always that creepy?”
The safety worker couldn’t help but smile.
“Lita was nice. I think she knew that it was weird to walk her teenage son to school, but it seemed like she was made to. Her husband, Marshall, is – well, you’ve met him.”
Smith nodded, it being only moments after the man’s speech on human butchery.
Despite the early hour, his mind slipped into the habits of his occupation. First names and familial opinions had piqued the PI’s interest.
“Mulligan,” he said.
“Caitlin,” she replied.
“You been working here long, Caitlin?”
She motioned to the grade school on her left and the high school on her right.
“I spent way longer at both of those than I was supposed to, and I’ve been working this job the five years since. I guess I’d burrowed deep enough into the hearts that mattered, and they let me stay. It doesn’t pay big, but there’s a weird sense of power to it. Some tiny wristed kid wanders up to me and I have this magic shield I can use to carry them safely past the line of snarling F-150s and revving Civics.
“For the thirty seconds we walk the pavement together it feels like I’m doing some good.”
She shrugged, but Smith was suddenly awake.
That’s when he’d asked, “you must’ve also known Monika Dougherty then?”
From there it had taken only the implication that he knew some uniformed men who’d be interested in talking to Caitlin and he’d had the full story.
Now, however, all he said was “I spent most of yesterday making calls and running down leads. I’ve found your wife.”
Generally Smith would back his statement with an explanation of his methodology – especially in a situation like this one, where his client might opt to avoid payment – but the circumstances were such that he felt it was best to keep the specifics fuzzy.
The PI was right to be concerned.
“She’s in Texas, and it seems she isn’t coming back,” he said, though he didn’t mention the tale of brutal slaps in her sleep, or the constant insults that were the apparent result of Maxwell’s perpetual drunkenness. Both details had come to light during Smith’s telephone interview with the woman.
If the dachshund had been at hand, Mulligan felt sure Dougherty would have kicked it. As it was, the red-faced man still seemed to be searching the yard for something to injure.
“That bitch,” he finally said, his Windsor knot forgotten.
“She’s in a program for – uh – women in her situation. It wasn’t easy to even confirm she was alive,” replied Smith, not adding that those same difficulties were exactly why he should be paid. “You would have known when her lawyer contacted you for the divorce, but I guess they like to save that for the final step of her recovery.”
Maxwell had taken the end of his tie in his right fist, and was squeezing it while staring at the horizon.
There was something in the violence of the wasted motion that made Smith glad he hadn’t mentioned the crossing guard with the dual-toned hair, or the role the woman had played in facilitating the flight of both Lita and Monika. It had been she who’d planted the idea and passed along the appropriate phone numbers.
“Well,” asked the husband, “where is she?”
“I already told you: Texas,” answered Smith. “Don’t worry though: I’ve notified the officer working her missing person’s case. That’s what you really wanted, isn’t it?”
Maxwell snorted, and for a moment the morning air contained nothing but bird song and distant car engines.
“Well you ain’t been much fucking help at all, have you,” Dougherty finally announced.
“I did what you asked, I found your wife,” replied Mulligan.
“Yeah, but you just said she would have contacted me when she was ready, so what the fuck did you really do? I’ll give you half the price you asked for.”
Smith noted that if the tie could have changed colours as it was choked, it would have become royal purple. His lips tightened, but he held his tongue.
Maxwell, however, didn’t. “No, fuck it. I ain’t paying you shit. Why should I?”
Smiths’ business sense told him to keep his mouth shut till his client had had time to cool, but there was only so much he could take from a dog-kicking drunk with a taste for hitting his wife.
“I advise you reconsider, Max. I happen to be friendly with a law firm which is familiar enough with my work to let me ride free until you’ve paid. If you’ve never heard of them, think of Solomon & Woodard as the legal equivalent of a nuclear bomb strapped to a rabid bear.”
He zipped his hoodie then, adding, “I’d appreciate it if you pony’d up quick, frankly, as Monika’s hired on half the office to extract her alimony.
“I know because I’m the one who recommended them to her.”
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