Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Eighty-Six.
Tonight we present Sgt Smith and The Dish, Part 1 of 1
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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, Sgt Smith finds himself nervously attending a social.
Flash Pulp 086 – Sgt Smith and The Dish, Part 1 of 1
Whenever I had reason to be nervous about my day, your Mom, probably because of her Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing, always had the same solution: pie. There’d always be a slice on hand, often blueberry, my favourite, and she’d eat with me in the stillness of the morning as we sipped our tea and pretended like nothing was wrong.
I remember having to take particular care at that breakfast, as I was wearing my Sunday best. It was the only decent set of clothes I had at the time, beyond my uniform.
Then, when I was done, she straightened my attire and told me to watch my tongue.
She was a kidder, that one. I know what she meant though – your touch for subtlety didn’t come from my side of the family.
Anyhow, it was 1956 and, after our morning ritual, I had to leave for a date. It wasn’t long before the sun was burning my prematurely balding pate and I was fussing with my tie in the noonday heat. Around me, the picnic area was awash in color. Balloons had been fixed with ribbons to the edges of all the tables; green, red and yellow streamers hung from the tree branches; and the loud dresses and Hawaiian shirts were out in full Saturday-in-the-suburbs force.
I don’t think they would have set me up with the date if they thought I was actually going to meet her, but they were stretched pretty thin which is probably why they sent a mute to a social event.
Two card tables had been hauled onto the grass, and pushed together to create a buffet area. As folks came strolling in, they’d drop off a little something for the smorgasbord, then wander into the surrounding knots of familiar faces.
It was a beautiful day, but when I think of it, I can’t help thinking about the flies – I don’t know what it was with that neighbourhood, but it seemed to be swarming with those buzzing aggravations.
I was standing at the edge of the crowd, trying not to look too interested in the red-faced old guy who’d been highballing since I’d sidled in – his drinks had gotten him into berating two hand-holding teenagers – when Beatrix arrived.
She stepped from the car, her legs extending from her well-cut baby blue dress like an invitation to sin. As she collected up her goods, the mother of one of the teens stepped up to the tipsy codger in an attempt to explain that the young couple were promised to be married. All eyes were discreetly on them, and not the blond, her hair piled high, who moved confidently from her car to the food table to lay out her covered bakeware.
She was as much a stranger to the party as I was. When we were alone together later, she told me she’d driven all morning just to be there.
As the family drama played out to my left, my eyes stayed on the veiled dish – at least, until a tall woman, her hair held back by a hankie, approached me to chat. I doubt her intentions were anything more than getting a better view of the burgeoning tussle between drunken galoot and defensive housewife, as she seemed little interested in the fact that my lack of a tongue made it impossible for me to maintain my end of the gossipy conversation she eagerly began to recite, stopping only to sip at her wine glass. I don’t recall anything of what she said, I mostly just remember the rock of tension growing in my belly, and the tickle of the occasional fly trying to seek shade under my shirt collar.
Your mother would have known how to better handle the situation; she was always the social one.
I watched the blond set down her bakeware and pull back the simple dishtowel she’d been using as a cover.
I tried to move then, but I think the gossiping woman thought I was coming in close for an especially tantalizing bit of information – she grabbed my arm to steady herself.
Two kids, I swear both of them wearing full boyscout uniforms, stepped up to the table for some grub.
The baby-blue dress stood back, her eyes bright, and I tried again to make my way around the handerchiefed woman- but she was caught up in her own story, laughing by then, and I couldn’t shake her off.
I hadn’t been at the last party to observe the aftermath, but I’d seen the photos: the blood filled vomit, the trashed cutlery spread across the lawn by the fleeing crowd, the weeping children, the glassy eyed stare of Martin Nikolaus, dead but still wearing a child’s coned party hat.
I pushed her.
All eyes moved from those gathered around the teens, to me.
I jumped over the prone woman, and a fella in a tweed jacket stepped into my path.
“Hey now,” he said, grabbing, and ripping, my white Sunday-shirt.
I couldn’t take the delay, so I pushed him over too.
My objective, still holding her dishtowel, had an epiphany regarding my intentions.
She started running.
I may have been the last resort, the bottom of the barrel only out there because we had two hundred miles worth of suburban get-togethers to cover, but there had already been three unfortunates done in by Beatrix’s Drano Casserole, and I wasn’t going to be remembered as the guy who didn’t move fast enough to save the ranks of Scout Troop 97.
On my way by, I upended the table, sending Jello and deviled eggs out over the lawn.
She’d parked across the street, and I was lucky that a dinged Ford truck had pulled up too close behind her. While she was trying to reverse out, she bumped its fender, then, panicking, she miscalculated the distance to the red Buick in front of her and slammed into it with the full force of her chugging engine.
I dragged her from the car then; blood was running down her mouth from the nose she’d broken rebounding off her steering wheel.
By the looks I was getting from the crowd, you’d of thought I was the monster. I’d likely have taken a terrible beating from the tweed jacket who was briskly approaching to defend his manhood, but by then I had my badge out. I was going to sign for someone to call the police, but I could see half-a-dozen party goers already streaking home to set the phone lines ablaze.
Beatrix Johnson – Killer Bea; she never spent a day in prison.
We didn’t have lady serial killers back then, we just had “troubled women”, so she landed in a sanitarium. Still – an asylum then makes prison now look like a resort and spa.
It was probably just as much a relief for me, as it was for her, the day they found her hanging by her bed-sheet.
I still haven’t had any casserole in over half a century though – I’ll stick to pie.
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