Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and nine.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Blood, Part 1 of 1
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 we open on a family in turmoil, the Dukes. What has driven the son, Tory, to sickness and silence? What has driven the father, Rufus, to near madness? Only one private investigator, Mulligan Smith, truly knows.
Mulligan Smith in Blood
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
With his Uncle Greg leaning against the doorframe that lead to the kitchen, his mother pacing in and out of the front hall, and his father positioned directly in front of him on the living room’s mahogany and glass coffee table, Tory Dukes knew he had nowhere to run.
“Say something dammit,” Rufus repeated for the third time. It was rare for his dad to be sitting so close, and the sixteen-year-old could easily smell the coffee he’d had for breakfast.
“Where is he?” asked Samantha, her eyes looping constantly from the hall to her son’s silent face.
Tory could offer only shrugs.
“I’m not sure needling him is going to help,” offered Greg. As he spoke, he shifted from a cross-armed pose to stand with one thumb in his jeans’ pocket.
Rufus’ lips curled. “Of course you would say that.”
It was an unexpected statement to no one but Greg, who replied, “whoa, what?”
“Boys – boys like him just don’t get AIDS,” suggested Samantha. Her gaze was locked on the thick beige carpet at her feet.
Greg’s hand dropped away from the denim. “You – it sucks that you’d even think that.”
Not bothering to turn towards his in-law, Rufus cleared his throat. “Look at the situation! Here’s this lonely teen with barely a friend in the world, and in sweeps gay Uncle Greg after years of being nowhere in his sister’s life. You want to have Sunday dinner here; get to know us; take Tory, and his nerdy pal Guthrie, out to the city; give us advice on how to dress, eat, and raise our kid.
“Yeah, It’s all seeming pretty clear now.”
“I just wanted to be a brother and uncle,” replied the accused.
The boy’s face raised briefly, casting a nod and a tear at Greg. Rufus caught the look and his grip on the mahogany grew tighter.
He said, “except suddenly Tory has AIDS – just like you.”
“Yeah, and where the fuck have you been? He’s got a disease I’ve been dealing with for years, on my own, without you – my only family in the world – caring enough to visit. I’m here with hot soup if you so much as complain of a sniffle, but I spent three weeks in the hospital last year with the flu and the best you could do was a card with flowers. You have no idea how I hated that damn plastic plant. It was a fake flower representing the fake relationship I had with Sam.”
“So this is your sick idea of revenge?”
“I understand that you’re upset over Tory, and I can only imagine what it’s like to be such a dick that my own son won’t talk to me about where he got a life threatening disease, but you need to relax until your hired snoop shows up. I mean, Jesus, you don’t even know the difference between HIV and AIDS.”
Rufus’ forearms, still locked on the table’s surface, began to tremble.
He returned to the interrogation of his son.
“Did he give you drugs?”
Tory shook his head.
“Did he force you to do something you didn’t want to?”
Tory responded with another negative.
“Are you – are you gay?”
Tory rolled his eyes, but finally spoke. “I’m dead anyway, why should I tell you anything?”
“Whoa, whoa, there,” said Greg, “that’s exactly why I came: I’ve been fighting the same thing for a long while, and I don’t plan on dying of it any time soon. I’m not saying it’s always going to be a dance party, but you’ll probably outlive us all.”
There was a knock at the door. Samantha was quick to answer.
Beyond the peep hole stood a man in a black hoodie, his mussed hair wet from the rain and a lanky boy standing beside him. The woman recognized the lad as Guthrie, Tory’s constant companion throughout tenth grade, and still likely his best friend despite having moved from the state at the summer’s end.
Behind the drizzle-blurred windows of the Tercel parked at the curb, Samantha could make out the outline of a woman. Her mind raced at the unexpected tableau, and her assumptions became nothing more than fertilizer for new questions.
When the private investigator raised his fist to knock a second time, she flipped the deadbolt.
The pair’s arrival in the living room immediately set off a cannonade from Rufus’ mouth.
“Guthrie? What’s wrong with you? You look like bloody vampire,” then, with only the briefest of pause, he wheeled on his son, “you are gay!”
For his part, Tory, ignoring the stream of questions and commentary, simply raised an unenthusiastic hand to greet his friend.
Smith took in the sullen teen and his narrow-faced father, then raised a brow at Samantha. Finally, he focused on Greg.
“Your tip was exactly what I needed,” he said.
“I knew it,” sighed Rufus.
“What, that your semi-estranged relative understands your kid better than you do? Congratulations,” answered Mulligan, as he tugged at his sweater’s zipper. The room reeked of sweat and shouting, and the PI wasn’t much of a fan of either. He turned to Samantha. “He gave me the info necessary to get ahold of Tory’s bestie. Honestly, from there it was just a matter of looking into the Guthrie’s eyes and asking some gentle questions.
“Hell, as soon as I came anywhere near a guess at what was going on he broke down in tears. His family doesn’t realize how sick he is – they’re the type that doesn’t ask much as long as he makes it to church on Sundays.
“Your son isn’t gay, but Guthrie is. The boys are just unluckily timed blood brothers, and Tory is the kind of stand up guy who wouldn’t out his friend before he’d managed to raise the courage to tell his family.”
The quieter of the newcomers nodded in agreement.
“Now, I hate to cut this short,” continued Smith, “but Guthrie’s Ma is waiting in the car because Pa couldn’t pull himself together after hearing the recent news. That said, it’s worth mentioning that, while both of these urchins have a rough go ahead, at least one of them has someone solid they can depend on.
“You folks, and Tory especially, are lucky to have knowledgeable Uncle Greg around to support him – you know, like an actual loving family member.”
With his assignment complete, Mulligan re-zipped his hoodie and turned to leave.
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