Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and forty-seven.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Roundtable 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 is forced to fend for himself in the bowels of a gambling establishment.
Mulligan Smith and The Endangered Granny, Part 2 of 3
Nestled behind a strip mall offering overpriced coffee, cheap clothes, and a questionably-licensed chain store barbershop, Capital City’s Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church required some foreknowledge to find. As he threaded his way through the parking lot, however, Mulligan Smith considered that it looked as if a fervent revival were under way.
In truth, he knew that it wasn’t a holy summons that had brought them, but, instead, the whoop of the bingo caller.
Inside, the broad basement was tight with long wooden tables, and every available surface seemed covered in an array of speckled sheets and discarded paper cups.
At the end of the hall most distant from the stairs, a steel-haired man in a buttoned-down shirt plucked balls from a noisy hopper, then thundered the letter and number combinations into his ancient microphone.
His recent visit to the dentist’s having provided little usable information, Smith had decided to search out Granny Cobb. She’d been recognized, if not present, at the previous pair of bingo events he’d canvased.
Scanning the sea of gray hair, and thick-lensed prescription optometry, Mulligan hoped that, if she was there, she’d be accompanied by her problematic grandson.
He’d learned a lesson in his earlier excursions, though, and, instead of immediately approaching the nearest players and beginning the questioning process, he simply waited.
To Smith’s right, a concession had been setup to sell game cards, and he couldn’t help but overhear the awkward landing of a joke told by its cardigan-ed operator.
“- so I said to the novelist, “I knew you were an atheist from your suspenders of disbelief.””
Mulligan worked hard to hide his wince, but the frail-limbed woman who had been the victim of the delivery chuckled politely before making her escape by beelining towards the detective.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I bet you can,” replied Smith, retrieving a picture from his pocket. “Do you know Mrs. Cobb? Or, perhaps, Horton Cobb?”
The photo, taken on a bright Spring day, had the appearance of a funerary keepsake due to the formal apparel both wore. Mulligan had been assured, repeatedly, that it was their usual manner of dress.
“I do know Mrs. Cobb, though I’ve never met this Horton. You can probably find her in her usual spot, by the caller.”
Experience told the PI that the gossips in a group were always the most eager to size up strangers, so, rather than heap further rumour onto Granny Cobb’s reputation, he curtailed his questions and went in search of his subject.
Fortunately, it was easy enough to find her, as she was the lone female occupant at an expansive table of hairy-eared men.
Smith was surprised to find the chairs on either side of the woman unoccupied, given the crowded nature of the hall. He surmised it was likely due to the exceptionally large number of scorecards she seemed to be overseeing.
“Hi,” he said, “name’s Mulligan.”
“Well, hello, Mulligan,” she replied. Despite her high-collar and long sleeves, a smile seemed to come easily to her lips. “Care to have a seat?”
“Ma’am,” he continued, “I’m here about your son, Horton.”
“Yes, Mrs. Cobb. Sasha Burnett mentioned that I might find you here.”
A particularly common call of N-33 sent her into a fury of jabbing.
“Oh, enough of that Mrs. Cobb, business,” she said, as she patrolled for any missed entries, “my name’s Jacqueline. Anyhow, that dentist was nice enough, but she wasn’t for my Hort. He looks for strong character in a gal.”
A disappointing follow-up of O-73 allowed her an opportunity to turn towards the investigator. Her eyes widened, and her smile deepened.
“Why? Do you know Sasha well?” she asked. Her dauber-free hand moved to the lace collar of her dress, and she began to tug at the fringe-work with thumb and forefinger.
“Only in passing,” replied Mulligan. He pointed out a square she’d missed marking, leaving the card in question on the cusp of victory.
At the discovery, Cobb licked her lips in anticipation, but then her brow briefly tightened. “Are you here regarding financial matters between Sasha and Hort? I wasn’t privy to any-”
“No, Ma’am. Look, you’re pretty occupied, and I hate to intrude on your evening. The matter with your son is a personal one: I’m not a debt collector of any kind, but I do need to have a quick chat with him.”
The woman reached his hand with her own. “Anything you need to say to Hort, you can say to me. We’re very close.”
“Well, Jacqueline, there are some things a fella simply doesn’t want his grandmother to hear, at least from a stranger.”
“Jackie,” she replied. Her voice had grown thick. “Why do we need to be strangers?”
Her fingers began rubbing at his own.
Before Smith could react, the missing digits – I-25 – echoed through the room.
The triumphant sheet was amongst those most distant from Mulligan’s elbow, and he instinctively leaned in to indicate the finishing daub. As he did so, however, Jackie threw her arms around his shoulders, and his nostrils filled with the soft scent of artificial flowers. For the briefest of moments, he could feel her nails running through his hair, and brushing the back of his neck.
Then she pulled away.
“Oh my, I’m sorry. I rarely win, so, when I do, I tend to get rather – excited,” apologized Mrs. Cobb, with a giggle. She righted herself, and brushed aside a smoky strand from her bangs.
As a smocked church-volunteer arrived to check her numbers and count out her prize money, Mulligan’s phone rang.
Looking at the number, he smiled, and said “I’ve got to go.”
As he rose, the results were accepted, and the basement became saturated with the sound of paper being crumpled.
He hesitated, and stalled by zipping his hoodie.
Finally, as the din quieted, Smith grinned lopsidedly and asked, “could I call you sometime?”
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to email@example.com, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.