Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty six.
Tonight we present, Mulligan Smith in The Late Call, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Saturday B Movie Reel Podcast.
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, PI, deals with a missed connection while investigating a murder.
Mulligan Smith in The Late Call, Part 1 of 1
Rich Walker, twenty-five, was late for work. His alarm clock had failed to wake him – a fact he blamed on the thing’s electronics, and not at all upon his inability to set it properly. In the end, if his mother hadn’t hollered him into consciousness, he might have missed his entire shift at Pizza Town.
As he wiped at the sleep in his eye, cursed his matriarch, and waited for the Camry to warm up, the idea of being fired seemed inviting.
With Ma Walker’s firmest tones in mind, however, he finally dropped his borrowed sedan into reverse, and edged the vehicle towards the ascending garage door.
His impatient exit was cut short by a car parked across the driveway’s mouth: A baby-blue Tercel.
With a sigh, Rich muted Classic Rock One-Oh-Six. Punching the window-down button, he exposed his uncombed hair to the wind.
“Hey, I gotta get out of here,” he said to the man standing alongside the offending vehicle.
“Sorry about that, just wanted to talk to you regarding a phone,” responded the stranger in the hoodie.
“You people are getting pretty pushy, but I’m not interested in switching my provider. ”
The newcomer chuckled. “Mind if we chat a minute? It took me a lot of time and effort to find you, Rich. It’s important.”
Walker looked at the neon-green clock in the dash, mentally subtracted the seven minutes it was chronically ahead, and groaned.
“Uh, okay, but hurry,” he replied.
“I’m Mulligan Smith – I stick my nose in other people’s business, professionally. I was wondering if you’d ever met a woman named Meredith Ashley?”
Rich scratched at his sparse goatee and shook his head.
“Well, at 10:48PM, last Tuesday, she apparently sent three text-messages,” the private investigator jabbed at his large red slurpee with its yellow straw. “I really only mention it because she was dead at the time – in fact, she’d been murdered a week earlier, while inexplicably standing on the Fairview Hotel’s beach, a couple hundred miles from the apartment she shared with her fiance.”
The pizzaman shrugged.
“Sorry, never heard of her,” he said.
Smith took a sip of his beverage, then asked his follow up. “You’ve heard of Fairview?”
“Oh – yeah. Fancy old place full of fancy old people,” replied Rich, his hand still on the steering wheel.
“Pretty isolated though, isn’t it – no service that far out, right?”
“No, I, uh, my mom and I went there for a, uh, vacation. She was meeting her boyfriend from the Internet. I was mostly just walking around, bored. There was nothing to do, and I couldn’t even call anybody. It sucked.”
“I’ve been there, and I have to agree – it seems like a weird place for a woman to go alone. On the other hand, Meredith’s fiance, Robert, says he was in Vegas.” Mulligan retrieved some notes before continuing. “The messages arrived backwards, which was rough. It started with “I’m OK! I tan!” then, “He’s coming. Can hear him. Help mom fluffy.” and finally, “Mom and dad I’m so scared, migrant donut crazy, please send police.”
Rich’s eyes were wide.
“Whoa, that is pretty rough,” he replied.
“I’m playing a hunch,” said Smith. “Bob’s a tech guy, and he knows enough to take her to a place where her phone wouldn’t have service. He didn’t want her calling for help. Thing is, she obviously got away a few times in the dark, but, at some point, she dropped the cell.
“It’s funny how weird electronics are. Sometimes they’ll keel over in a drizzle, and sometimes you can forget them on a beach for a week, and they still work fine. I think that’s what happened, Rich. It wasn’t a fancy device, but one of those old warhorse phones whose battery chugged on forever – or, at least, long enough for you to get it back to civilization. It found service and launched its messages, but, not long after, I bet it died, and you didn’t have a charger.
“I spent a long while walking the grounds, asking if anyone had seen the rogue cell. I kept hoping one of the staff had found it, but no such luck. Eventually my only option was to head home.
“At the edge of Mass Acres – which, as you know, is really the first place with a bathroom along the highway – I stopped for gas and a decent burger.
“I was sitting in Mike Fry-son’s, nibbling at my lunch and taking in the main drag through my booth’s window, when I noticed the Golden Guys Pawn Emporium. Hard to miss it, really, considering the size of the yellow sign – right?
“Anyhow, I figured, what the hell, strolling another hundred feet ain’t going to kill me. Then, Shazam: Not only does Papa Golden remember you, he’s tagged the tape you’re on, and kept the license info he requested when you bought that ridiculous set of throwing stars. Trying to pawn the hotel’s silverware was a pretty low move, you can’t blame him for not wanting to touch the cell either.
“Funny thing is, lots of folks were looking for that phone. If you’d turned it in somewhere – the Fairview’s lost and found, even – I wouldn’t have had to spend the last few days wasting poor Meredith’s parents’ money. Actually, speaking of, they were covering the cost of the line to help their daughter save for her wedding, so technically you’re in possession of their stolen goods.
“I’d hate to ding you on such a petty matter. Maybe I’m just chasing a dead end, but I’ve been pretty lucky so far, and she might have taken some photos that weekend.”
Rich killed the engine and stepped from the car. He was sure he’d tossed the phone into his closet, as he’d done the same thing with every bit of flotsam his Mom yelled at him to clean up.
He smiled at the thought of the woman’s upcoming surprise: She couldn’t be too mad if he was fired, he was, after all, helping to solve a murder.
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