Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Eighty-Three.
Tonight, we present Mulligan Smith and The Mortician, 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, Mulligan has a brief encounter in a crematorium.
Flash Pulp 083 – Mulligan Smith and The Mortician, Part 1 of 1
The parlour was immaculate. The plastic flowers were pristine in arrangement and lack of dust, and the carpets still held wheel-tracks from their recent vacuuming. Each drawer of the front desk was locked, and the magazines on the hall table were arrayed in a perfect fan.
He was in search of a dead man who’d been writing cheques.
During his inspection, Mulligan had studiously ignored the sound of the poorly tuned radio emanating from behind the door labeled “Authorized Personnel Only, but, having completed his tour of the uninhabited area, he finally pushed his way inside.
The startled mortician was wearing grey jogging pants and a paint splattered sweater – Smith didn’t blame him for the informal attire, he couldn’t have been expecting many visitors given the hour.
The man had made preparations for unannounced visitors – when he caught sight of the prowling PI, a baseball bat materialized in his hands from beneath the long table on which he’d been working.
Mulligan eyed the club, keeping his hands loosely at his sides.
“Listen, I think -,”
The man rushed him.
He had the Taser in his fingers with a flick of his wrist, but Smith waited out another three of the undertaker’s long strides before firing. He considered it a courtesy to give the old guy a chance to stop, but he also knew he wouldn’t have been happy if he’d fired early and missed.
The embalmer’s hands closed hard around the bat as he fell. Mulligan let up on the trigger and provided a polite suggestion to let it go.
Once the lumber was free of the man’s fingers, Smith swallowed back a lump of tension and approached the prone figure, gently pulling the probes from his target’s neck.
He’d arrived too late in some senses – the body had already gone into the crematorium. Mulligan knew it was a waiting game at that point, so he pulled out a stool and sat.
“How long’s he been in there for?” he asked, pulling a replacement Taser cartridge from his pocket.
The silver-haired man stood, lowering himself stiffly onto a nearby bench while his eyes stayed locked on the weapon.
“He’s been baking about an hour, I guess-” The mortician’s eyes narrowed. “Be another one and a half before he’s ready to come out. Not that it’ll help, he’ll just be dust by then.”
“Maybe we should just pull him out now.”
“Have you ever seen a half-melted body? I assure you, you don’t want to mess with the process. It’s all automated anyhow, I’d have to do some fair jiggering to get it to stop, and even then (pause) he’s just going to be a roasted mess.I don’t know what you’re talking about though, there’s a body in there sure, but I’m also positive it’s not someone you’re looking for.”
“Don’t bluff me, sir.” Mulligan finished snapping the gun back into working order and tucked it away into the folds of his hoodie. “Given the impeccable tidiness of your establishment, I think you’re the kind of fellow who’d take the time to do things properly.”
The man pulled a latex glove from his hand and ran his sweaty fingers through his hair.
“Yeah,” Mulligan continued, “I’m sure there’s no room for mix-up anyhow, but a fella like you gets by on process. I’m sure you took the time to stamp him out a name tag before you cooked him.”
The man in the paint splattered sweater didn’t reply, but the PI didn’t like his flat smile.
“Still, sorry I had to shock you,” Smith added after a moment of quiet.
The room fell into silence, and the pair waited out the time by staring at the coloured lights on the panel alongside the short sliding door.
Nearly two hours later, Mulligan discovered that the tag was gibberish.
“You wrote it out in some kind of code to keep him anonymous? Well, can’t win ‘em all.” Mulligan said, still holding the metal plate.
He grabbed up the dusty skull, his palm wrapping around the jawbone so that his fingers protruded from the empty eye-sockets.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll take this down to the station and talk to a friend of mine who happens to know a thing or two about forensic dentistry. If I’m wrong, I’ll scoot this poor fella’s noggin’ back to you in a couple of hours. If I’m right though, you’ll probably want to consider sticking around, as it’ll be less risky to explain to the police how you came into possession of a missing man’s cranium than it will be to explain to heiress Petra and,” he hefted the weight in his hand, “her psychotic boyfriend, how her father’s skull went missing. I hope you cashed her cheque already – while she’s still rich.”
Once the door had clicked shut behind him, the PI stooped to expel his late dinner into one of the fake potted plants – he was careful to not get any on his deceased client.
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