Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Forty-Two.
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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.
In this third and final chapter of our current tale, Mulligan has a series of unpleasant discussions on the nature of responsibility.
Flash Pulp 042 – Mulligan Smith and The Casanova Suicide, Part 3 of 3
Mulligan sat behind the steering wheel of his Tercel. He was picking at a round cigarette burn on the flip-down arm rest.
On his lap rested a Manila envelope.
He cranked the radio up. He flipped through the dials – a few bars of Led Zeppelin from the local classic rock station, a sweeping generic rise of adult contemporary, a blast of talk radio – he flicked it off.
With a sigh, he turned the key and pulled it from the ignition.
Through the windshield he could see phantom outlines moving between the Denny’s window blinds, their proportions distorted by the dual layers of glass.
His eyes came to rest on the sallow white face of Mr. Slug, and he recalled he had more than one task to complete before the Friday lunch rush.
“Picked a bad day to be a sociopathic pervert, pal,” Mulligan said to no one.
Pushing back his seat to its maximum extension, he slid down so that the pot-bellied man was framed by the loop of his steering wheel.
Tossing the envelope onto the passenger’s seat with a grunt of disgust, he reached for his phone.
It rang twice before the man picked up.
“Hello, Mr. Timothy Mustard – Timothy Mustard – ever attach a nickname to someone and then learn their real name later on, only to find it feels wrong on the tongue? You keep hanging out in a supposedly Family Restaurant and I’m going to see if we can’t get Mr. Slug added to your AKAs.”
“Who is this?”
“Just a fellow patron.”
From his sunken position, Mulligan could see Mustard’s thick glasses panning from the dining room, to the parking lot, and back.
“The guy from Wednesday – Rockford Files.” Mr. Slug’s gaze passed over the Tercel as he spoke, but there was no pause in his search, and Mulligan was sure he’d gone unnoticed.
“Realized your mistake, huh? Most college girls know better than to fall for the “I’ve Misplaced My Phone”-gag. Not that you know anything about college girls. Good call on my man Jim Rockford though; they must have something better than basic cable back at the halfway house.”
“How – what do you want?”
“Well, while running your phone number down I had a brief chat with your parole officer. I realize it’s a tough haul for a guy like you, being lead around by your junks, but we all have to make decisions. You can decide to get up and grab the next bus running, and you can decide to never come back. Personally, I have to make some decisions of my own – like what to do with all these security tapes I paid the night manager to copy.”
Mulligan lost sight of Mustard as he stood and headed to the server’s station to pay, but he could still hear the man’s quickened breath on the line.
“You’re in a halfway house for a reason – talk to the people there and get some help. I ever see you around anyone less than half your age again and I’ll know what you’ve decided.”
He ended the call, sliding the phone back into his pocket. Without sitting up, he watched the glass door swing open, and the pasty form of Mr. Slug move rapidly across the lot.
When the bus had finally pulled away, Smith once again reached for the Manila envelope.
With a groan of protest from the driver-side door, he exited the car.
Rhiannon was in the same booth she’d been in when they’d first met. She’d ordered a breakfast platter, but it sat away from her, untouched.
Her hair was down today, and her face was largely hidden behind double swoops of blonde and gray.
“I have to admit, I thought it would take you longer to figure things out. I was with Shamus nearly a decade and I’ve been wrestling with the problem for weeks.”
“I have some advantages. Being too close to a question can make it tough to see the whole problem.”
There was an edge to her voice he hadn’t heard before.
“Such as, it probably wasn’t much fun for you to dine every second Thursday with your partial replacement, all the while living under the threat of a possible pregnancy pulling him in a direction you couldn’t offer.”
She pulled in a sharp breath, and he immediately regretted his words.
“I’m sorry.” He placed a hand on the envelope, which he’d kept out of sight on his lap. “Were you aware he’d been seeing a Doctor Alvin Paul at the Capital Center on 5th?”
The college boy who’d taken the orders during his consultation with Hannah, stepped up to the table. Mulligan waved him off.
“Frankly, it seemed like Doc Paul was barely aware of it himself, at least until I showed him Shamus’ picture.” Mulligan, who’d taken to folding the corner of his paper place mat, realized he was fidgeting, and stopped. “It took me a little wrangling to get the truth out of him, but I bluffed my way through the threat of a negligence suit and he gave it up.”
Smith lifted the Manila slab from his lap, pushing it across the table.
“Paul had referred him to a specialist, but it was pretty obviously advanced testicular cancer.”
Her eyes shattered, rivers flowing down her cheeks, a waterfall forming on her chin.
The college boy made another swing by the end of the row, but Mulligan warned him away with a hard glance.
It took several attempts for the client to form her question.
“I think you can guess as well as I can, with a man like that. Maybe he didn’t want to force you through the process again from the other side. Maybe he didn’t think he could live a neutered life.”
One of the woman’s hands went to her mouth to stifle a sob, the other to her stomach, where her womb had once been.
The server made his play.
“Can I get you anything today, sir?” His eagerness to step in had obviously blinded the boy to Rhiannon’s distress. Seeing her soggy napkin, his eyes fixed upon his order-pad.
“Just the total, thanks,” said Smith, motioning towards the congealed sausages and cold eggs.
The youth scurried away.
The pair sat for a moment, anonymous in the morning crowd. As Mrs. Melby did her best to weep unobtrusively, the PI once again took to folding his place mat.
The bill arrived, and Mulligan stood to pay it.
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.