Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and forty-five.
Tonight we present, Mulligan Smith in Release, 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, private investigator Mulligan Smith unexpectedly returns to a client’s home to complete some paperwork.
Mulligan Smith in Release, Part 1 of 1
Mulligan couldn’t hear the crying, or the shouting, or the COPS narrator babbling endlessly from the forgotten television in the next room.
The kitchen had grown small – smaller than any he’d ever been in, he thought – and his ears were filled with the pounding ocean; the blow of a hurricane; the hammering of some medieval blacksmith.
His ears were filled with the sound of his heart, and the roar of his blood.
“Oh boy, ain’t this embarrassing,” he said, pushing the words out to give his stomach some release from the urge to vomit.
The man he was addressing, Christopher Gaskins, turned towards the private investigator. The former client’s eyes were wide.
“Smith?” he asked in a tight voice. Gaskins wore a brown robe, its open front splitting the two halves of an ancient coffee stain. His only other attire was a simple pair of pinstriped pajama bottoms. His belly hung well over the draw string, and his chest hair was peppered with gray. There was a knife, a Ginsu, as ordered from an infomercial, tucked into the hip of his flimsy pants.
“Yeah,” replied Mulligan, “you – you, uh, forgot to give me the code on the back of your credit card. I need it to process my fees, you know. I’m always forgetting to collect it.”
The more he talked, the further the furious rumble receded, so that he was able to identify a new sound entering the room.
Christopher’s lips were trembling, and his throat took on a hitching rhythm. A sharp-pitched wail rattled over the grout-and-tile counter tops, and echoed between the pans suspended above the cluttered island.
The sight of a weeping middle-aged man was always disheartening to the detective, but the .308 hunting rifle Gaskins was holding would have been enough alone to dissuade him from attempting to comfort the armed man.
As it was, Smith reminded himself not to let his gaze wander towards the stove, and took a step forward.
“Might I guess that you’ve intentions on eventually swallowing that gun?” he asked. “I’ve delivered bad news before, I know how it is – it can feel like the world is ending, but there’s help to be had.”
“Bad news?” replied Christopher. “This ain’t exactly learning you haven’t been promoted, or that dear Uncle Bill has died.”
Mulligan was pleased to see the firearm’s barrel sag, despite the retort. His fingers dipped into his hoodie’s pockets.
“No, it’s infidelity,” he said, as he attempted to adopt a psychiatrist’s smooth tone. ”I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to deal with, but it happens all the time. Your wife knew the guy had cancer – she, uh, went to that hotel with full knowledge that it was a one time thing.”
“If it’s so common, why does it hurt so bad?”
When Gaskins had first hired Mulligan, he’d seemed starstruck by the popular notion of what being a P.I. meant. Now, with no alternative, Smith decided to bluff with his profession’s worldly reputation. “It was obvious from our initial meeting that you’re a bit tightly wound. I mean, you thought it worth hiring me to see if Joan was a meth addict, and it was really only a coincidence that I stumbled onto her dead-guy fling.
“It’s like that old Groucho line: “If I hold you any closer I’ll be in back of you.” Anything held too tight is bound to break. I’ve seen it all before, though, as I mentioned. Had a client try to jump off his apartment building’s roof one time. Poor bugger was thinking so unclearly that he didn’t even notice he’d lept towards the outdoor pool. He survived, but his half-bounce on the water’s edge was enough to leave him without the use of his legs. On the upside, he married his physiotherapist.
“Now, my point is – and I don’t mean to be rude – you need a doctor, not a gun.”
Christopher’s moist cheeks now carried rivers, and his ribs compressed between sobs.
“Listen,” said Smith,”you’re hurt, anyone can see that – and anyone would want to assist you. Chris, you are sick, in a way you can’t deal with. Let me help. I’m going to walk over there and hug you. Shoot me or don’t.”
Mulligan closed the distance and wrapped his arms around Gaskins, who was still holding the rifle across his chest.
The barrel of the weapon, which was propped awkwardly between their shoulders, discharged as Smith touched Christopher’s neck with the stun gun he’d hidden in his hoodie’s wide sleeve.
Gaskins’ body listed, and he dropped to the ground. Lowering himself onto one knee, Mulligan punched 911, nudged the .308 to a safe distance, and then flatly stated the street and house number. As Christopher began to mutter, he again pressed the crackling electrodes to the cuckold’s skin.
The desire to gag had returned, and now there was less reason not to. He knew, however, that he had no choice but to address the pair of weeping children who’d huddled within the island’s cupboards for shelter.
Beckoning them from their hiding spot, he moved to block the view of the stove.
“You said Dad was sick?” asked the boy, who looked seven, and was only wearing billowing Chicago Bulls shorts. “Will he get better?”
“Hopefully,” replied Smith, “but sometimes it takes a big pill, or a large needle, or a high-voltage electric shock, to start getting better.”
“What about Mom?” asked the girl, a five-year-old in Toy Story pajamas.
“Head out to my car, it’s the blue one in the driveway, and I’ll be right there to talk,” suggested Mulligan.
As the blood flowing from Joan’s body continued to flood the linoleum’s ruts and grooves, the neighbourhood began to fill with sirens.
Turning his head, Smith dialed down the oven’s burner, and, finally, the sizzling heart ceased cooking.
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