Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty.
Tonight we present, Mulligan Smith and The Secret Shopper, 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, PI Mulligan Smith relates a canine tale from his youth, to a fellow shopper.
Flash Pulp 150 – Mulligan Smith and The Secret Shopper, Part 1 of 1
Reaching deep into the right-hand pocket of his hoodie, Mulligan’s fingers closed on a fresh piece of chocolate. His left arm leaned heavily on the shopping cart he was nosing along the row of green bins filled with farmer’s harvest, and his eyes were occupied with reading the fine print upon each vegetable’s placard.
His wandering path intersected that of a bald man wearing a busily patterned, green and blue, sweater. The stranger was piling grapes into a hand-basket.
Smith swallowed his candy before speaking.
“People don’t spend enough time in the produce department these days.”
The sweater gave a weak smile and a half nod.
Mulligan took it as a sign to continue the conversation.
“I knew a guy who actually went into the early stages of scurvy due to his McDonald’s habit. I mean, he was a special guy, his diet was pretty specific, but jeez,” the PI picked up an orange as he spoke, “- you’d think scurvy was something that disappeared with the tall ships. Did you know the orange, like tomatoes, are really a berry?”
“Yeah,” the shopper nodded as he spoke. “actually, I knew that. I’m also aware that nintey-percent of oranges grown in the US are turned into juice.”
Smith arched his brow, impressed.
“I’m a bit of a trivia geek, frankly,” said the man.
“Mulligan,” said Mulligan, thrusting out a hand.
“Todd,” replied the basket-carrier, completing the shake with a damp grasp and weak fingers.
Lifting the brown paper bag from his pocket, the PI offered the trivia-buff a cube of chocolate. He accepted.
“That actually reminds me of a story,” said Smith. As he spoke, he motioned for the man to continue collecting goods. “I had a dog named Juice when I was a boy. Well, Apple Juice. A Springer Spaniel. I loved him, but he was an outside dog – remember that? Outside dogs? Doesn’t seem like we live in a world where you can buy a tiny house and strap a beast to a spike in the ground, anymore – but that’s how it was done when I was a kid.”
Mulligan, reaching under the bag, and into the depths of his hoodie, pulled out another portion of candy. He paused in his telling to chew at it, then retrieved the pouch, offering more to his companion. Todd pinched a hearty palm-full, with no encouragement.
Licking the excess sugar from his teeth, Smith continued.
“One summer, when I was probably eight or so, this kid up the street, Kris, would come down every lunch time, find a stick, and start whacking at me with it. I caught on pretty quick, so I began to eat my bologna and ketchup sandwiches inside. When he realized that I wasn’t interested in playing pinata, he aimed his frustrations at Juice. The problem was really that the dog had worn a rut around his post, at the end of his rope, so it was easy for the little brute to stand just out of range, wait for the pooch to go for him, then whack him in the snout with a thick bit of oak.”
Todd barked a laugh that clashed with the store’s adult-contemporary soundtrack.
Mulligan shrugged off the intrusion and went on.
“I figured it would stop after the first time, but he kept coming back. Finally I told my Dad, with tears in my eyes, that Kris was going to kill that poor mutt. He pursed his lips and patted my shoulder.
“The next day, while Pops was at work, the process repeated. There, at the end of the driveway, appeared the monster, with a length of lumber carefully selected from the growth in the abandoned lot beside our bungalow. I didn’t know what to do, so I cowered behind the white curtains, staring at the thirteen year old coming down the lane.
“I knew if I tried to stop him, he’d beat me, then the dog too.
“Juice didn’t immediately launch to the end of his chain, though, which was unusual – he simply sat there, waiting. Even as Kris was toeing the edge of the circle, the old mongrel didn’t move.”
Seeing his audience’s hand empty, Smith again offered the rumpled sack of sweets. The man set two Styrofoam-trays worth of beef in his basket, then helped himself to a half-dozen more of the squares.
“Finally, the kid reached into his pocket and started throwing rocks at AJ, hoping to get a rise out of him. It did, and Kris had his club ready, as usual. What neither of us knew, though, was that Dad had moved the post two feet forward in the night. Juice knocked the wee bugger right over – he did nothing but bark and snarl, but it was the last time we had that visitor.”
“Anyhow, great story and all, but I’ve got to get to the checkout,” replied Todd.
“Well,” said Smith. “I must confess, I didn’t bring the topic up accidentally. This is the fifth occasion, in four weeks, that I’ve seen you here buying beef and grapes, although, to be honest, the first few were via a sympathetic store manager’s security tapes. It’s an odd combo of groceries, but less so if you happen to be friendly with the local vet – which I am. She’s the one who called me, just to mention that three local dogs – or, at least three dogs that were alive or loved enough to be taken in – had been in to see her, all with the same stomach contents. None of the animals survived, but it’s right up the alley of a trivia lover such as yourself to know that grapes will cause kidney failures in our canine friends.”
As he spoke, Smith tossed the brown paper bag into a trash behind aisle seven’s vacant cash register, then retrieved another chocolate from the separate stash he’d maintained underneath.
His face growing red, Todd panicked.
“#### you, pal!” he shouted, launching his basket of meat and fruit at the Investigator’s head.
The animal-poisoner turned, pushed a mother of four into the tabloid rack, then bolted from the store. Mulligan didn’t bother to give chase; there was no client, and the evidence was too meager to make it worth reporting the crime.
Still, Smith hoped that being identified in public, and the sheer number of laxatives which he’d just been fed, would be warning enough.
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