Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Words with Walter.
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 Smith and his short-tempered friend, Billy Winnipeg, find themselves caught up in a high-velocity chase.
Flash Pulp 180 – Mulligan Smith in Nurture, Part 3 of 3
Mulligan Smith and Billy Winnipeg were on the highway, and traveling well over governmentally recommended speeds.
The Tercel was juddering under the strain, but, given the furious police sirens that were chasing him, the PI had little interest in slowing.
He’d never expected the job to be a simple one – no case was, when children were involved – but the real trouble had begun when he’d handed Winnipeg his cellphone.
The client was a fellow he’d worked with on a few other matters, although he was never entirely clear what the leather-jacketed customer’s interests were. He seemed to be some sort of life guru, although, in truth, Mulligan wasn’t quite sure – he was happy to take his cash, however, and, as Smith’s father had vouched for the swami’s integrity, he wasn’t losing any sleep over where it came from.
Unusual, though, was the amount of communication the man had required on this outing. He’d kept up a steady stream of prodding, via texts, and, as the private investigator was busy handling the wheel, he’d delegated the responsibility of replying to his occasional accomplice, Billy.
During their original rushed conversation, the client had demanded Mulligan approach the situation with extreme caution, so he’d opted to bring along his easily enraged Canadian friend. Beyond the warning, he’d also been provided a name, apparently straight from a business card the abductor had left in his possession. Poking around the alleged-snatcher’s credit information had initially brought few leads, but, just after lunch, a rental car appeared on the man’s Visa, and Smith was quick to hit the road after coaxing details out of a counter-jockey over at the Budget office.
Distance was the enemy then, so he’d made his next call while nosing his baby-blue car towards an on-ramp.
After the third try, the former client at the far end of the line had answered.
“Mulligan,” said the cracking male voice.
“Yep. Hey, listen, I need a favour.”
“I didn’t think you were calling to take me out for dinner.”
“Let’s not discuss your eating habits on the phone, you never know who might be listening.”
“Screw you, that Jenkem thing was years ago and I didn’t – ”
“Uh huh,” replied Smith, “listen, poo-huffer, I’m not all judgemental like your boss, so there’s no reason to explain to me. I’m just asking you to punch a rental license plate through your bleep-bloop-OnStar-bullpucky, and come up with a location for me – then I need you to do it again every half hour till I find the guy I’m looking for.”
“Is this really necessary?”
“Dorian, you know I don’t discuss details – unless its an emergency.” Mulligan had spun a little casual menace into his voice. “If you think about it, I’m pretty sure you prefer it that way – and, yeah, I assure you, this is an emergency.”
It was as he was jotting down the initial set of GPS coordinates that Smith had received the first request for information from the man paying him. That’s when he’d decided to promote Winnipeg to public relations.
For a time, things had proceeded smoothly. Accumulating only one speeding ticket, and catching a break when the hunted had apparently stopped for gas, a half-day’s worth of bent speed limits brought the pursuers directly behind the silver Buick in question.
Pulling alongside, Mulligan had confirmed the man in the driver seat as his suspect by his cheap suit and poor haircut, but he’d been surprised to also see a woman sitting in the rear. At first he’d thought she was terrified, as her eyes seemed unnaturally open, but a few seconds of observing her glazed look had left him wondering if she was aware of anything beyond the blanketed bundle she was absentmindedly holding to her chest.
The suit had broken off the conversation he appeared to be having with his companion – which she seemed in no condition to respond to – and gave the flanking Tercel a brief inspection.
Ignoring Winnipeg’s motions to pull over, the rented car had picked up speed.
“Give me the phone,” Mulligan had said.
“It’s out of juice,” was his friend’s sheepish reply.
“I just heard it ding like three seconds ago!”
“Yeah, but that was the last of it. Don’t you have a car charger?”
They’d been cresting a hill, and the long straightaway before them had given a perfect vantage point to the speed-trap ahead.
“No, but it doesn’t matter,” Mulligan had said, “we’ll have some company once he passes that cop, and we can straighten the whole thing out while the tot-toter is getting a ticket handed to him.”
The lead car had blown right by the black-and-white, which made no response.
“Stop napping and get back on the job!” Billy had shouted, as if he might rouse the slumberer.
Time and distance had grown short, and Smith had considered his client’s words regarding extra protection. Rummaging through the glove compartment, he’d retrieved a pistol.
“Uh,” Winnipeg had begun, while Mulligan cranked at his window. “I don’t think -”
Then the PI had fired five times, towards the clouds.
The inert siren had suddenly become quite active.
The cat-and-cat-and-mouse game continued for two more miles of open blacktop, then, without explanation, the rental jerked sideways, rolled onto its roof, and came to a stop not five feet from the line of trees that neighboured the road.
Leaving a thick black peel behind him, Mulligan made a U-turn, which was quickly imitated by the trailing patrol-car.
Grinding his already over-taxed vehicle to a halt, Smith lept from the car and down the gravel siding. Standing beside the nearest still-spinning rear-tire were Mulligan’s suspect, and a haggard woman who was taking turns attempting to wipe away her tears, and hold closed her ratty blue blouse.
To Mulligan’s practiced eye, she had the look of a working girl who’d aged badly while on her corner.
“Where’s the kid?” asked the PI.
“That son of a #####, magician” replied the hustler, wiping a smear of blood from his cheek. “I dont’ know how he did it, but he pulled me right off the highway. I don’t have the beast. He took it – carried it into the woods, by its neck.”
The responding officer approached the scene, weapon drawn, but the conversation he was overhearing was too interesting to break up immediately.
“You kidnap a baby,” said Winnipeg, “you hire a prostitute to tend it, then you try and tell me David Copperfield was waiting here to make it disappear? Have fun in prison pal, I’m sure your cellmates will find your spleen delicious.”
“It’s not like that, it’s – it’s not even a real child. The magician took it and, I’m sure, if you’ll just-”
Billy’s rebuttal to his solar-plexus ended the conversation.
“Hey now,” said the policeman, handcuffing the kidnapper while still keeping his weapon drawn. “This the same tyke I’ve been hearing about all morning? The bunch of you have a lot of explaining to do.”
Leading his captive to the rear-bench of his patrol car, the uniform began to rattle off a status update into his radio.
A black Chevy Lumina pulled to a stop just head of the parked Tercel, and a woman Mulligan didn’t recognize – wearing a Van Halen t-shirt, and a pair of jeans with a mustard stain on the left knee – stepped out of the passenger-side door, and stumbled down the embankment.
She was carrying a pamphlet of some sort, and, to Smith, it seemed as if she were attempting to avoid eye contact with anyone. When she walked passed him, he took a guess as to why – she stank of rum
The intruder beelined to the weeping hooker who was wiping a thick string of snot from her nose.
“C’mon,” the tipsy newcomer said, “don’t worry so much about that toddler, I’m sure he’s in a better place.”
Bunny was little interested in mentioning that she was on hand with Coffin, when, not sixty-seconds previous, he’d been holding the little brute’s mouth open with a rock, and wielding a pair of pliers in his free hand. Internally, she reminded herself not to look over at her ride’s trunk.
Meanwhile, Smith was chiding himself for not having considered that that might be why the woman had continued crying – he’d assumed she was complicit, and upset because of her capture.
“Can you tell me what happened?” asked Mulligan.
“He paid me fifty bucks…” started the mewling woman, ”I don’t really remember much. There was a baby, I know there was a baby – but, but it’s teeth…”
She broke down again.
“There’s a place for people who’ve, you know, uh, seen what you’ve seen,” said Bunny, reaching out to adjust the whimpering woman’s shirt, and tossing a sharp squint at the prying private detective. “It’s been around forever – it was started by some old dead bugger who saw a need to keep – I mean for, uh, special cases. Tough, long term, cases. I know its called the Sisters of Silence, but its not like a nunnery or anything – I asked and its OK if you still #### and drink and whatever. Work hard enough, and get clean, and, uh, maybe, you know, one day you might even meet that little ba – er, angel, again.”
Having concluded her proselytizing, and leaving behind her leaflet, the drunk hobbled back across the road and disappeared behind the tinted windows of the dark sedan.
After several hours of examination and explanation, and despite the lack of success in the official search for the infant, Smith found he had to smile: charging his phone revealed a missed, cryptic message from his client, indicating the child was somehow recovered and safe – and there was also the fact that Mulligan considered every moment of the incident to be billable.
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