Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Seventy-Seven.
Tonight, we present Mulligan Smith and A Matter Of A Gun, Part 1 of 1[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp077.mp3]
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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 becomes entwined in a private matter playing out in a public space, with his own life in the balance.
Flash Pulp 077 – Mulligan Smith and A Matter Of A Gun, Part 1 of 1
“Bloooargh,” The slender faced kid screamed.
While the roar of the mall continued on around the corner, the 2nd level food court fell silent.
Everyone’s eyes were on the gray metal of the revolver – including Mulligan’s.
The PI’s burger hovered at the cusp of his lower lip, a single half moon bite having been sliced from its side. The crescent cross-section of bun, patty, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce rolled from his tongue.
He’d been eying a group of tween ruffians who’d loudly conquered a square of four tables along the food court’s furthest edge when the weapon had made its arrival. The kids had made quite a display of their fortitude by pounding each other repeatedly, their unchecked shouting spreading over the surrounding area like shock waves – but even these half dozen boys had been hushed by the appearance.
Mulligan watched the gun swing over the crowd – the single mother trying to wrangle her two toddlers into silence; the double table of aging men, (likely retirees who’d come to retell their tales while running down the hours; the thirty-something couple, child in tow, who’d immediately slid to the floor at the first sign of trouble; the nun.
“Seriously? A nun?” he asked wordlessly.
His eyes were locked on the barrel’s black opening. From that hole his mind projected a cone, like a spotlight, which he could feel as if a solid thing moving over the crowd. He felt the cone swing wide, the tension fading as the weapon faced down the Subway and Chinese buffet, only to return once again as it re-approached. As the fatal arc rolled over him, his heart began to pound and his palms were suddenly moist – then it would pass, as if a lighthouse beacon sliding on in the night, and the tension would once again begin to slip away.
He took a sip of soda to wash down the burger he hadn’t eaten.
Still holding the cardboard cup, he took a step towards what his father always referred to as “the business end”.
One of the thirty-somethings shout-whispered from beneath her table.
“Hey! HEY! That’s not a good idea! Don’t make him mad!”
Mulligan mentally noted that he wasn’t terribly enthused with the idea himself, but there was little opportunity to debate the woman given the circumstances.
He made a tut-tut motion with his hand, as if a parent gently assuring a child they should mind their own business.
Despite the protestations of his suddenly heavy and seemingly bloodless legs, he took another step forward, and then another. The deadly opening of the weapon settled on his direction, and yet still he forced his traitorous feet onward.
He covered his approach with conversation.
“Look, I’m sure you’ve got your reasons for, uh, this, but you’ve got to understand that we’re in a public place – whatever your personal gripe, most of these folks are just here because they’re tired from patrolling the clothing stores.”
The revolver, and its bearer, remained silent.
The PI’s feet plodded on at a steady, if lethargic, pace. He kept his shoulders slumped, his gait loose, and the cup moving steadily to re-dampen his perpetually drying mouth – behaviour even the most agitated of great apes would find disarming.
The nun had begun praying, not quite quietly. Her intonations brought a finality to the proceedings that Smith found disturbing.
“Excuse me, Sister, but could you keep it to your interior? The Lord’ll be just as happy to read your mind as your lips,” he knew he ran the risk of offending, but he also knew control of the environment was paramount.
One of the tweens laughed, not a real chuckle but instead a sudden explosion of giggle carried out by nerves.
The weapon swung from the approaching PI to the kid in the black and white t-shirt with a huge stylized eagle print.
The boy went through a smooth transition from un-bidden laughter to bitter weeping. His head pulled back on his neck, which in turn pulled at the torso pressing hard against the beige painted metal of his chair – as if the extra six inches of distance would be of help; or as if the weapon carried a terrible heat he wished to be away from.
Mulligan deeply understood the need to be as far away as possible from the barrel’s shadowed opening.
“He didn’t mean to laugh, a lot of people just react that way when they’re too tense. I think it’s related to the fact that human laughter is connected to animals barking in the wild. I read somewhere that laughter is basically just the human version of a bark – that’s why we do it at things that we find weird, or true but disturbing. It’s a defensive thing.”
The pistol turned back onto Smith – he was glad it was away from the boy, but he certainly found no humour in it.
“Maybe I can help you? You need to explain why you’re doing this. Even if you don’t plan on coming out of this alive, you need to tell someone so they can pass on what happened? Right?”
For the first time, under the distant din, Mulligan noted that the mall was actually piping in music. An instrumental version of Wind Beneath My Wings played him through the last ten feet of open ground. As he approached he continuously lowered his tone so that, as he finally reached his goal, his volume was conversational and semi-private.
“Is it them? Is it those guys over there?” Smith motioned towards the cowering pre-teens. “Did they make fun of you?”
He couldn’t guess at what condition the slender-faced boy suffered, but there was a slackness about his eyes, and a confusion in his look, that told him the child’s faculties weren’t fully functional.
“C’mon, you can tell me, I’m here to help.” The child seemed to harden at the suggestion. “- and, uh, here to remember? Right? To tell everyone what happened after its done.”
The weapon was hard against his belly; he’d walked himself directly into the danger.
The boy looked up at him, the corners of his eyes picking up a moist shine under the food court’s skylight.
“I go to school with them, and every day while I’m waiting for Mom to come home, I’m in here, and they make fun of me.”
The PI nodded, fighting to keep his eyes on the boy’s own, and not on the weapon.
“So, I’m, I’m –“ the boy’s voice cracked, and for a moment the revolver waivered, the invisible cone aimed at the skylight.
Mulligan punched him in the face.
He hated to do it, but a fat lip was a lucky conclusion when involved in a matter of a gun.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.