Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty-nine.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Can’t Live with Them, Part 1 of 3
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(Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3)
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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, Mulligan Smith, PI, finds himself face-to-face with a surly client, and the man’s nervous dachshund.
Mulligan Smith in Can’t Live with Them, Part 1 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
It was earlier than Mulligan liked to exist on any given day, but his client, Maxwell Dougherty, had demanded the meeting take place before the man had to depart for his desk. The account manager was straightening his crimson tie as Smith leaned the Tercel into his driveway.
This was an especially unpleasant situation for the private investigator, as he’d spent the previous evening consoling a woman whose missing son he’d finally turned up. She’d requested he drive her to the grassy lot where police technicians were retrieving what was left of his long-decayed corpse, then he’d voluntarily stopped at the bar just down her street to talk over how common suicide was amongst teens. Instead they mainly discussed their mutual love of mystery novels and dogs, though they were both between pets at the moment; Small talk, but the lack of serious subject matter had kept him from remembering that he should leave.
He rarely drank, largely because of how it made him feel on that very early, very bright morning, and because it often led – as it had last night – to his guilt covering the tab. His sympathies had guzzled half the value of his invoice, and that perhaps pained the detective the most. It meant belt tightening and having to watch idiots kick their puppies.
“C’mon and piss,” said the Windsor fussing, leg throwing, Dougherty.
It was obvious to Mulligan that the dachshund was too concerned with flying Oxfords to consider taking a moment to water the lawn, so he arranged a distraction.
“Hey, Max,” he said with a wave.
The client turned on his spotless heel. “Maxwell. I mentioned the same thing in my email, remember?”
Yes, in fact, Smith remembered quite well.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Actually, about that, I just had a few follow-up questions.”
In truth he hated to take a job – even a well-paying job – without meeting the client. The offer had arrived with a portfolio of information that he guessed wasn’t all that different than an account file Maxwell would have put together on an average work day.
Mulligan closed the distance with his hand extended, an awkward gesture that forced Dougherty to keep his eyes on the approaching handshake. Seeing his master’s distracted state, the dog turned a leg on a well-watered looking maple.
As the shake was exchanged – Smith was unsurprised to discover Maxwell was a squeezer – the detective opted to overstep his advance in hopes of catching something on his clients breath that might match the red flare of broken blood vessels across the peak of his nose. He didn’t have to get terribly close to confirm his theory.
Then the questions began.
“You were on good terms with your wife?” asked Smith.
“Yeah, we were in love,” was all Dougherty replied.
“Were the two of you in any fights just before she disappeared?”
“Was there anything else out of the ordinary – was she away a lot? Distracted by her cellphone or the Internet?”
“Was she fucking someone else, you mean? No. I don’t have money to throw away on her having her own phone, and she could barely find our computer’s power button.”
Smith nodded, more out of a lack of surprise than any interest in affirming his client’s notions.
“You mentioned that she ran a daycare – any problems with the parents?”
“No. She was down to two kids, and she really just watched them in the morning until she walked them to school. Their folks do shift work, and they never discussed much beyond ‘how much do I owe you?’”
“Did she have any habits that might have gotten her into trouble?”
Maxwell’s voice grew thicker with this delivery, as if the gin on his breath was only decorative.
“She drank too much sometimes. We didn’t fight, but it could make her pretty bitchy.”
While Smith worked on his next question the dog barked a noncommittal hello to a passing cyclist.
“Shut up, Brutus,” said its owner. “She bought me this shitty mutt. I swear it’s about as smart as she is. I mean, who the fuck gives an animal as a present? I’d have it put down if the vet didn’t charge so much.”
Mulligan could guess, and projected loneliness would be high on his list of suggestions. He also now had some idea of why his client had taken him on:` He himself wasn’t entirely convinced the man hadn’t murdered his wife, and it was a short jump to what the cops might think.
“Anything more?” asked Dougherty.
“Nah, that’s all I needed,” replied Smith.
Maxwell turned back, pulling open the entrance. His toes narrowly missed the dachshund’s scrambling rear legs as the pup bolted inside.
The pet owner told his employee, “you better not be billing me for this time. You’re supposed to be looking for my fucking wife, not standing here bullshitting with me,” as he pulled shut the inside door.
Smith noted that, in his rush, he’d forgotten to lock it.
“I didn’t plan to actually start billing till nine,” Mulligan replied, “so you’ve got another five minutes.”
With a glance at his watch, the account manager said, “shit.”
Less than two minutes later Smith was pulling right at the corner’s stop sign as Maxwell accelerated away behind him.
The lingering PI then took another right, and another, and another. He didn’t bother killing the engine as he stepped out onto Dougherty’s driveway. He found Brutus excited to be unexpectedly free, and it required little coaxing to convince him into the backseat of the Tercel.
The Mulligan knew a lady who would actually appreciate the company.
(Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3)
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