Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Forty.
This evening’s story is brought to you by MayTunes.com
A quest to dream of a journey that begins the pursuit of inquiring into an adventure.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – 400 to 600 words brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we present the opening chapter in a new on-going three-part serialization, ripped from the case files of Mulligan Smith, PI. In this episode, our hero is tasked with investigating the motives of a dead man.
Flash Pulp 040 – Mulligan Smith and The Casanova Suicide, Part 1 of 3
“I came home and there was a note on the table. It said: “I’m in the pool. Don’t come out. Call the police. It’s been great. Love you. Goodbye.””
Rhiannon Melby was 43, and wore her mix of blond and gray in a loose braid. She sat across the vinyl-lined booth from Mulligan, and as she told her story, she thoroughly inspected the rim of her glass of iced tea.
“I walked into the backyard, and there he was. When I read the note my first thought was that he’d drowned himself, but when I got back there it was almost as if he’d dozed off in the inflatable lounger after a skinny dip. It would have been a Kodak moment if it wasn’t for the pill bottle floating beside him.”
As she talked, the PI watched an untended three year old spin circles on the stained carpet. Her father was deep into an extended speech about the quality of the wings at that specific Denny’s, and was paying little attention to the layer of dirt accumulating on her white unicorn t-shirt and pink shorts.
“So he was nude?” Mulligan asked, an onion ring dangling from his fingers.
The child on the carpet had taken to playing peekaboo with the other customers, her father still busy punctuating his sentences with a greasy drumstick. In the booth at the end of the row, Smith noted a pot-bellied man with thick glasses attempting to appear as if he was staring at the menu, and not the girl.
“Yes.” She glanced out the window. “He used plenty of sunscreen though.”
Crunching down on the fried ring, Smith gave the mourning woman a moment to distance herself from the memory.
“I’ll be back in a sec.”
Moseying past the server’s station, he grabbed a plastic cup full of cheap markers.
He returned to his seat.
“You’re sure he had no reason to be depressed.”
“No. The house is paid for, our salaries were good, and he didn’t have any addictions.”
“- that you know of.”
She raised an eyebrow at Mulligan.
“Sorry, just thinking aloud – what about your marriage?”
The man at the end of the row was leaning forward now, suckling at his top lip. His eyes were locked on the child’s scabby knees.
“Well – that’s a little more complicated. Ten years ago I went through a fight with uterine cancer. Shamus was fantastic. He paid the bills when I didn’t think we could, and he was there for me every moment I needed him. When it was over though, I had to be realistic,” she paused briefly as the wildling in the aisle threw herself bodily into a jet imitation, traveling the length of the row with extended arms and a mighty rumble. “We’d both been waiting for tenure before starting a family, and by the time I was done being saved, there wasn’t enough of me left to make that happen. Worse still – well, we loved each other, in an honest way, but we also used to spend a lot of time loving each other in a much more primal fashion. After the surgery, that part of me was just gone – I had the same brain, but I was living in a different body, and I needed to be fair to the person who’d carried me during the scariest thing I’ll ever live through. He wasn’t a swinger, but – he’d had friends since then. I’ve met them all; we used to dine pretty regularly with some of them, although less so with the last, Hannah.”
Mulligan busied himself picking at a crumb between his teeth that wasn’t there. Miss Unicorn had worn out her welcome with the group of college students loudly awaiting their order, and had begun to chat at a sympathetic young mother as the woman fed her baby.
“Have you talked to Hannah since?”
“Briefly, at the funeral. She seems just as distraught and confused as I am.”
“Do you know where they met?”
“She was a student of his.”
“Yikes – student-faculty relationships can get messy, have you considered that it’s a possibility she was blackmailing him?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but you may want to. I think all I’ll need to start is her number, if you have it.”
The young performer’s selection of spectators was running short, and Mulligan knew it wouldn’t be long before she’d completed her floor show for the old couple finishing their Moons Over My Hammy, three booths away. It would be Smith’s turn next, and after the PI, there was only the man with the probing glasses.
The widow retrieved a pen from her purse, jotting the digits along the edge of her paper place mat before sliding it to him. The two shook hands, and, wiping at the corner of her eye with a napkin, Mrs. Melby departed.
The little girl crept to the edge of his table, peering over the faux wood grain.
Plucking a thick brown from amongst the collection of markers, he smiled at the intruder. Using the laminated plastic of the desert menu as a rough mirror, he gave himself a curling villain’s moustache.The girl clapped her hands, her eyes igniting.
He offered her the cup.
By the end of it, he had come away with a navy blue goatee and bright pink devil-horns. Princess Jessica, as she’d introduced herself, had had more of an abstract artistic view, but she’d worked enthusiastically.
Her masterwork complete, she slammed the double handful of felt-tips back into the cup.
“You look like a clown vomited on your face,” Mulligan said, waggling the horns on his brow and smirking.
She gave him a sparkling double thumbs up, her smile buried beneath a hundred sweeping rainbows.
“Why don’t you go show your Papa?” Smith encouraged.
Princess Jessica screeched in delight as she shot back down the aisle.
Mulligan glanced at the disappointed face of the bespectacled man, then slipped a pair of twenties under the corner of his plate.
Pulling on his sweater’s hood, he made for the door.
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.