Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-eight.
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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, the Collective Detective learns of the truth behind the disappearance of Morris Cox, as revealed in a Floridian hotel room.
Flash Pulp 148 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3
Mel Chapelle, fifty-two, was sitting on his still-made hotel bed, eating a Mars bar. The television, on mute, threw the glow of local weather information into the room, but the flashing graphics went largely ignored as the lawyer thumbed at his phone to review the emails he’d had to leave unread during his recently concluded appointment.
The sit down, a meet and greet with local law enforcement regarding a grave the Collective had managed to track to a bit of rural swampland, had run long. Chapelle, who’d flown in from Washington for the conversation, was not a fan of the area’s humidity, or its tendency towards small talk, but he’d smiled, and rubbed at his neck with a Wendy’s napkin, while the Sheriff had chewed over the details of the case.
In the end, Mel had been forced to excuse himself, at the risk of missing his conference call. He’d originally hoped to locate a burger before the appointed time, but the trilling of his calendar program’s fifteen-minute-reminder had sent him scrambling for his hotel’s vending machine, and the quiet of his room. The temporary quiet, at least – wondering aloud how it was still so hot, mid-autumn, he’d had to crank the air conditioner as soon as he’d entered the fetid wall of moisture that seemed to hang in the rented space.
He was pecking out a response to the final item in question when his cell began to chime the opening theme to the old television show, The Six Million Dollar Man.
Rolling off the bed, he flicked the switch to disengage the AC’s rattling fan.
Setting himself back down, he hit answer.
“Hi, Mel, it’s Tony. We’ve got you on the speaker phone – I’m here with Wes Willis, he’s the file’s Special Agent In Charge, and we’ve also got Carlos Reyes, who’s the missing boy’s local Sheriff. As usual, you should be aware that we’re being recorded.”
“Nice to hear from you, Tony,” Chappelle replied. It truly was, as the man was regularly a voice of reason amongst the bruised egos that the legal arm of the Collective Detective often came up against. “I assume, as I’m here solo, that this is largely a courtesy call?”
Willis muttered something away from the phone’s mic, that Mel was just as happy not to hear. The first time there had been trouble between the Collective and the government, there’d been no courtesy at all – just a knock at the door and a warrant. Then they’d carted away much of the server backbone that hosted the network’s online tools. The two year media-beating the overzealous raid had precipitated, as well as the eventual court ruling that provided the organization a lawful charter, had encouraged a more diplomatic approach. Chappelle, a former law professor, had changed his occupation, and his life, in deciding to assist in the defense of the case.
“Ha,” replied Tony, “Yeah, I think things are about wrapped up here, and we don’t need to drag in the dirty half-dozen, we just wanted to touch base.”
As the liaison spoke, the sweating former-teacher used one shoe to lever off the other, then nudged both to the floor.
“We certainly appreciate it,” he said, wondering what kind of madman would build a hotel in Florida that didn’t have windows that opened.
“I feel I should be clear at this time,” Willis’ voice rasped through the speaker, “that I am conducting this call under Anthony’s advisement. I must make plain, in case of any legal action resulting from this conversation, that I do not agree with providing details of ongoing investigations to civilians.”
The fatigue from his trip nearly caused Mel to point out the investigation was only ongoing due to the details provided by volunteer civilians.
Instead, he said, “Understood.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with Willis, nor even the first time he’d heard the disclaimer, but, in situations where the authorities weren’t demanding further documentation, or proof that the civilian researchers had done nothing untoward, Mel found it best to let the feds do the majority of the talking.
Carlos cleared his throat.
“Yeah, well, I don’t mind talking ‘bout it. Frankly, I’ve already done a few hours with the press on the subject, so I may as well tell you now, rather then send you off to have the facts misrepresented on CNN.com. I’ve never heard-a you folks till today, but I’ve got to say, I’ve also never had an arrest handed to me so neatly.”
Mel smiled, happy to have the unknown variable in the call swing in his favour. He tucked the big toe of his left foot into the cuff of his right sock and stripped the white cotton from his ankle, then repeated the process in reverse.
“Wasn’t tough to find Bailey Foster, your Google map was pretty spot on. I mean, we double checked, but – anyhow, I was the first through the door. There wasn’t much to it. Married guy, although him and his wife were the cold and quiet types. Don’t think she knew about it, actually. She struck me more as the kind not to get close enough to care. We let him watch us drag out his laptop, and a LOT of DVD binders, then we gave him a lift down to the room and started asking some very vague questions.
“Well, really we told him what you’d told us. Mentioned Morris Cox’s name, even flashed a couple of the more tasteful photos. He bought it all. Even told us where the body is buried. We’re gonna conduct a search at first-light, but I believe the confession.”
“Well done.” replied Mel. It was rare to achieve such a quick resolution, but, occasionally the results were sudden. “Did he give any further explanation? Any reason why?”
“Yeah. Love. The boy was growing up gay at a tough time and place. To hear Bailey tell it, his best-friend was a huge hater, put a real fear into the lad. At fourteen Morris fell for an older guy – thirty years older. It wasn’t a relationship, though, it was careful exploitation. When Cox turned eighteen and was still hounding the old perv to hold his hand – well, I guess Foster thought he’d outlived his allure, and didn’t dare risk the consequences of turning the boy loose.”
The rest of the call was made up of formalities and long winded quasi-threats by Willis that any interference with legal proceedings would bring a sudden bolt of justice from on-high. Mel simply bit his lip and murmured agreement, eager to reach for the thermostat.
When they’d finally parted ways, he swung his legs once again over the edge of the bed, and, his knees popping, stood. He turned the environmental controls to a level he hoped would be sub-arctic, then took a short stroll around the room, stretching.
It was tempting to return to the stack of printouts which required review before his morning meeting, but, once he’d worked the knots from his lower back, he instead tugged back the rigid wooden chair that had been provided for the room’s desk, and opened his MacBook.
Pulling up the Collective Detective website, he logged in as LegalEagle, and began filling in the final unknowns regarding the life, and death, of Morris Cox.
After an hour’s worth of typing and editing, he found there was nothing more to add.
Selecting the proper drop-down, he set the case’s status to “closed.”
He clicked save.
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