Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventy-nine.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Words with Walter.
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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and his roommate, Bunny, find themselves involved in an unusual deathwatch.
Flash Pulp 179 – Coffin: Nurture, Part 2 of 3
The man which Will had mentally nicknamed “The Hustler” had wasted an hour of his time that afternoon, and Coffin’s patience was running short.
“Look, you’ve hassled me every day for the last week. I’ve got your card, but you’ve got my answer. I am not now, nor will I likely ever be, interested in letting you make bank on some poor bastard who’s stuck waiting around for the afterlife, I’d no more put you in touch with anything serious than I’d entrust you with atomic weaponry, or, for that matter, my non-existent sister.”
Bunny, who felt odd about drinking around aggravating strangers, leaned forward on the bench that acted as Coffin’s ad hoc office, and tossed a Mr Big wrapper into the Eats’N’Treats’ trash barrel.
She indelicately licked the last of the chocolate from her teeth, then addressed the tie-wearing interloper.
“Listen, I don’t mean to stick my #### in your eye, but you ain’t been welcome since the first time I laid my beady ####ing peepers on your skeevy ###, back when you were still hanging out with that hypno-chatty cannibal ##### – why don’t you go searchin’ under another mushroom for yer ####in’ cookie makin’ elves?”
Before the rejoined could pull on a smirk and attempt to parlay his lemons into some sort of unwanted lemon-aid, a red Grand Cherokee bounced roughly over the curb. It’s tires held a brief shouting match with the pavement, then the vehicle came to a full stop, directly in front of the trio.
The nearest window slid down.
“I’m late, I’m sorry!” said the reckless driver, a man who appeared to be in his mid-forties, “Mom didn’t call me till just now, but he’s been dead since this morning!”
“Who died?” asked Bunny.
“His twin,” replied Will, standing.
As they piled in and pulled onto the roadway, Coffin caught sight of The Hustler jotting down the SUV’s license plate numbers.
He knew he had no time to do anything about it.
* * *
The house that was their destination stood along a shady lane on the west side of the city.
Rory MacGillivray’s body – boxed and besuited – was set up on display in the dapper front-parlour.
“It’s my mom’s place,” explained Alister, the surviving brother.
The man was having difficulty moving his gaze away from the dead face that was his mirror image, but a shove from Will coaxed him to comforting his keening mother.
“So,” Bunny said, once the client was out of earshot. “What’re we doing?”
“Well,” replied Coffin, digging the plastic container he’d demanded they stop to purchase out of its plastic bag. “Rory over there – and Alister too, actually – have death insurance. A few years ago I was paid handsomely to deal with their superstitions. Frankly, I have my doubts, but they’ve got a family tradition – from when they were still roaming the Scottish highlands – that, well, when they die this big cat comes around to try and steal their soul, unless it’s distracted.”
“Jesus, I ain’t ever had a cat that I’ve been able to tell to do ####.”
As she spoke, the duo retreated back into the entrance-hall.
“Me either, that’s why I’ve got a fist full of catnip.”
With consistent generosity, Will began to spread plant matter over the carpet.
“You’re just gonna chuck that everywhere?”
“Cleaning up afterwards isn’t part of the service. Once this is done, we’re going to hang around telling each other riddles – the thing loves ‘em, and it’ll try to answer one if it’s presented. If nothing happens by midnight, we go home while brother Al takes over. Then we’re here in the morning, to let him finish the meet and greet stuff, and the process ends when they bury Rory, tomorrow.”
During their self-guided tour they’d managed to thoroughly dust the well appointed ground-floor, so Coffin turned his attentions to the staircase that lead upwards.
The extra distance from the mourning matriarch’s wailing gave the small cluster of bedrooms a feeling of tranquility that was absent on the lower level.
Will was tossing the last third of his supply about the hardwood when he noticed a woman sitting behind a partially closed door, on a crisply made bed. There was a child nursing at her breast. He gave an embarrassed smile, and began to turn away, but was met with no reaction. His companion, who’d taken the opportunity to open a fresh mini-bottle of Bacardi, also noticed the vacant countenance.
“The dead guy’s wife, I guess,” said Bunny, “I’d have likely gotten that stoned too, if I’d actually given a #### about Tim when I killed him.”
Approaching from yet another chamber, a stooped man with steel gray hair entered the corridor.
“She’s been saddened by recent events – but so have we all. Worry about my boy, not his bint, and I’ll take care for wee Johnny when we’ve got Rory in the ground.”
Saying nothing more, the old man hobbled to the steps and disappeared.
Coffin cast another glance in the widow’s direction, but still met no response.
He sprinkled the last of his herbs in front of her entry, then, shrugging, left.
Their first task complete, the shaman and the drunk took up seats at the rear of the viewing area, and began to pose questions to which neither were allowed to answer.
Bunny found it a very long ten hours.
* * *
Coffin was awake and standing at the kitchen counter when the call came. Closing a leather-covered, and yellow-paged, notebook, noting the caller ID, he finished his milk and answered the phone.
“Yeah? Did you see the kitty? You didn’t fall asleep, did you?”
“No, it’s not that – you need to come right away. Someone needs to stand vigil. I’ll be at the store in ten.” Without waiting for a reply, Alister hung up.
Snatching up the remote, Will increased the television’s volume until Bunny snorted awake and lobbed a couch cushion at him.
“What’s yer problem?” she asked.
“Trouble back at the wake,” he replied, zipping his leather jacket in preparation for meeting the night’s cold.
* * *
Once given a brief explanation, the police that wandered the house largely ignored the tired pair of hired mourners stationed again on their folding seats.
They were at the end of their client’s briefing.
“The guy, who you say took the infant” said Coffin, “was he wearing a cheap gray suit, two sizes too big? Did he smell like Hai Karate?”
“I was a kinda too focused on the shotgun to think about smelling him,” replied Alister, “but, yeah, I guess.”
“How’s your sister-in-law doing?” asked Bunny.
“I can’t be here,” said the grieving twin, “I need to help look for John Robert.”
Dodging past a woman in uniform, he exited the house.
Rubbing at the side of her nose, Bunny broke the ensuing silence.
“Who steals a widow’s kid when the dad’s body isn’t even planted? That’s ####ed up.”
“That moron hustler – but it’s not human. I’ve done some reading, and I’m fairly sure it’s a suckling.”
“More voodoo? Mama was raising a demon baby?”
Coffin cleared his throat.
“Not intentionally. These folks all seem to believe the little one is genuine, so there was probably a real pregnancy. The thing must have murdered the real son pretty early on, and replaced it – maybe even while they were still at the hospital. Hard to tell the difference when they’re so fresh, especially when it’s constantly feeding. I wonder if it had anything to do with Rory’s accident? Pops might have realized he was raising a cuckoo-child.”
For a while, Will chewed at his thumbnail and listened to the chatter of the passing cops.
“What do we do?” Bunny asked, after rattling off five open-ended puzzlers into the empty air.
“Once the idiotic fast-talker is found, I know of a nunnery of sorts, up north, and they can handle junior. Since Alister has buggered off, we need to stay here and ensure Rory makes it through to the other side. I ain’t giving these people their money back, and my strengths are mostly in dealing with the dead – I do, however, know of a guy who specializes in handling the living.”
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