FP374 – Mulligan Smith in Taken, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and seventy-four.
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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, finds himself haunting a too-white nightmare with a tazer in his hand.
Mulligan Smith in Taken, Part 3 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The Hampton Holistic Healing Center sat on a wooded forty acre spread an hour’s drive from Capital City. It had taken some effort to accidentally blow a tire along the road running the length of the western edge of the property, but, once accomplished, Smith had managed to stumble around the outlying cabins nestled between pine branches for a full half-hour without notice.
Though the spa had signs posted at the gate claiming it was closed for maintenance, the frosted icicle lights that marked its well-swept dirt paths were at full glow, and the regularly spaced faux-stone speakers continued to exhale a constant stream of Yanni’s keyboard work.
Smith blamed the music for his foul mood. The unending demand for calm was getting to him, and every flute trill and harp strum only forced his molars tighter together.
The main house was a shambling collection of extensions, and Mulligan had had several entries to pick from as he avoided the lobby’s porch. Still, his stranded-motorist lie had been sorely tested when, after the first dozen hallway doors had been checked, he’d had to turn a quick corner while pretending not to hear a very tanned fellow in tennis shorts’ shouts of “hello?”
Now though, standing at an open second floor closet with Mr. Tennis still searching for him down below, Smith was again ready to gamble.
He’d remembered the triple H name from Victoria Woodward’s enthusiastic social media endorsements of its online community’s postings. Her brief mention in that afternoon’s yoga class had immediately brought its all-caps dislike of science, and the supposedly jack-booted government it saw as funding its misuses, to mind.
Every suite looked the same. Clean, neat, and eager for someone who needed expensive spiritual cleansing. The crisp white seemed to stretch on forever, as if the place were an MC Escher work inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he knew each door he pushed through was a possible finale to his thin story.
Discovering the multimedia closet that was Yanni’s secret lair had provided an opportunity – and not just to end the Casio siege – but Mulligan was running out of time, and he knew it.
Ten seconds of silence fell over the incense thick hallways and heat-heavy carpets, then, once the PI had arranged the inputs directly into his phone, a new keyboardist stepped to the mic.
As a child Smith had often watched his parents blow a sad wind from the house by rolling aside the living room rug and threatening the lamps while flailing away to Ray Charles’ high-speed fingers. He could think of no better remedy to the cloying air of the Hampton Center.
The thrum and thrash lasted less than a minute. Ray got to ask what he’d said twice, then Mulligan cut the music and briefly gave up breathing.
Along the hall and to the left he could hear pounding footsteps climbing the service stairs – but beyond that, from the level below, came the shriek of a toddler disclosing its grievances at maximum lung capacity.
It meant having to expose himself by descending the broad main staircase and scuttling across the area that acted as a lobby and group meeting space, but the pillows scattered about the ground floor were empty, and it was a better alternative than the supposed man-with-car-trouble trying to blow by his tanned pursuer.
The wail continued even as the PI zeroed in on the passage behind the reception desk, but the surprise of his sudden entrance was enough to startle the child into a brief silence. Staring down the back of the woman holding Addison, it was tempting to reach for his tazer, but it was his phone he retrieved from the depths of his pocket.
He’d sent the picture before she’d even fully turned.
Sierra Hampton, the holistic center’s founder, had obviously been expecting the man with the tan.
There was a beat during which neither spoke, then Smith’s phone gave off the Rockford Files answering machine beep that marked an incoming response to his photo.
It read, “You were right, Capital City Daily has an article up saying there’s been three measles cases reported on the eastside.”
Mulligan’s father hated to text, but went through stationary like he had a deeply held vendetta against trees. Smith knew he had questions, but he also knew the stubborn mute wouldn’t ask any of them until he could express them in longhand.
Looking up from the screen, Smith said, “it’s interesting how stupidity spreads like a virus. One person catches it, and suddenly a whole community is infected.”
“What?” asked Hampton, her voice startling the baby from whimpering itself to sleep.
“Science isn’t a conspiracy,” answered Mulligan, “it’s not out to get you. There’s no profit in giving your kid autism, there’s only a lawsuit. Half the labcoats in those grad classes are trying to figure out how to cook their own narcotics, you don’t think they’d love to blow the whistle on implanted tracking devices or whatever crackpot theory you hug?”
Several assumptions crossed Sierra Hampton’s face, but, in a decision that surprised Smith not at all, she finally landed on the most paranoid – and thus the option that allowed her to be the most self-righteous.
“What are you going to do, thug? Arrest me for the crime of taking care of a sick child? Where’s your uniform, officer? Too ashamed to wear your swastika in public?”
“Hey, I’m no cop, I’m just some poor sap who happened to break down while on a country drive – but, like I said, it’s funny how ideas get around – like the idea the police might suddenly have that this tot looks a lot like Posey Cotton’s baby.”
“Oh, I believe you.”
Despite the spread of angry red spots across the child’s skin, the head of curly black hair was an easy match for Addison’s grandmother’s photos.
“Still,” he said, “while they’re verifying, uh, whoever this is, I wonder if they’ll find any connection between you and Posey in your guest list and bank accounts? Will they find a quack in your employ when they look at who signed off on vaccination records for kids who somehow managed to pick up measles?”
He actually knew the answer to this last item, and the tender nature of the case meant it hadn’t even cost his client more than a couple of hundred dollars.
Whoever Dr. Bowers was, he was soon going to be simply Mr. Bowers.
”Most importantly though,” Smith continued, “how big a tin foil hat did you have to talk Posey Cotton into for her to agree to cover up the death of her own kid? You got a lot of land here – how many times do you figure you’ll have to imply the cops are Nazis before they bring out the cadaver dogs?
It was then that Mr. Tennis entered the room, and, without having noticed its movement, Mulligan found his hand was in his pocket and tightly wrapped about his tazer’s grip.
He was unexpectedly eager to use it.
He would not get his chance, however.
The trio stood there in silence for a five full minutes, then black body armour and red lights swept the compound as SWAT poured through the building like furious antibodies seeking an infection.
It would be another ten hours before Mulligan had finished barely-answering the official questions.
The papers would never mention the stranded motorist, but he would at least find comfort in the fact that Grandmother Woodward was happy to expense his flat tire.
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