Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty four.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites.
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, private investigator, meets Mr. Charles Barger.
Mulligan Smith in The Master of the Wild Kingdom, Part 2 of 2
The bottomless nature of the elder Smith’s contacts had never ceased to amaze his son. The old man had assured him, at length, of the skill of the bush pilot, who’d introduced herself as Molly. It was not her abilities, however, that troubled the detective – it was his father’s insinuation about finding a nice girl and settling down.
The aviator hardly seemed the type, however. Dual buns had always put Mulligan in mind of Princess Leia or raver-kids, but the woman wore them strikingly, and the only image she conjured was that of a feudal warrior princess prepared for battle.
The rough-weathered flight came after a seven hour drive, and Smith was grinding at his chewing gum as the wings dipped below the shadows of the pines that flanked their wet landing strip.
Once the plane had puttered to an engine-less coast, he exhaled.
“Handy bit of work,” he said.
Molly smiled and ushered him onto his pontoon.
As he finished inflating his dingy, he considered briefly that he might be taking on something worse than usual, but, as Mulligan pushed off, he wore a smirk: After the pilot had tossed his bags into the boat’s bottom, she’d retrieved a fishing rod to pass the wait.
Then, for a while, his only focus was rowing, and the glowing cigarette she’d hand-rolled as he’d prepared for departure.
The satellite maps he’d inspected before leaving had shown him a largely circular island, but the grainy resolution they provided for such a rural location made it impossible to identify the green-gray blobs that made up the isle’s interior.
For a time he could navigate only by compass and the light of his cellphone, which was as extensive a use as he was able to make of the electronic device, as there was no signal to be had.
An hour into his journey, the heavy clouds burst, and Smith began to curse endlessly between his clenched teeth.
His arms were aching, and he was beginning to think he might have gotten off track, when a ring of stadium-lights suddenly engaged, three-hundred yards away.
Digging for a second wind, Mulligan pumped hard, and was breathing raggedly when he finally dragged his rubber raft ashore.
As he’d done dozens of times earlier in the day, he considered why Olivia Barger might be working so hard to allow herself plausible deniability. Was the island a sex-slave harem? Some sort of drug operation?
He knew he was getting closer, but still didn’t have the data to decide.
The massive lights made it easy enough to stroll through the wooded strip which marched along the shore, but he soon encountered a high metal fence, beyond which was little but open grass. Smith guess he might be able to climb the barrier, but, in going over the top, he’d be easily spotted by anyone watching from beyond.
On the far side of the illuminated circle lurked a sprawling house. Though Mulligan could smell drifting smoke from a fire, the tall rows of windows stood dark and empty.
He was shielding his eyes against the overhead glare, and considering his options, when he noticed a large heap at the mid-point between himself and the cottage. At first he thought the mass inert, but soon he realized it was breathing.
He followed the bars to a better vantage point, which allowed him to make out just what the lump was: A rhinoceros, wheezing rhythmically as it drew in air.
The door at the opposite end of the field opened, and five men exited. Four were dressed in black suits, and each held a shotgun. Smith wondered briefly if such a thing would be required, as any one of them looked built to wrestle the rhino to the ground using only his bare hands.
Mulligan recognized the fifth as Mr. Charles Barger, despite the circle of green paint he’d spread over his face, and the red X he’d emblazoned across his chest.
The wing of bodyguards leveled their weapons in the general direction of the animal, but it was obvious to Smith, from the behemoth’s lack of reaction to the new arrivals, that there was likely enough sedative in the brute’s bloodstream to kill a small family.
Although the pictures of Barger had always portrayed a solid-head of silver hanging atop a pearly white smile, Mulligan realized then that he’d never seen the man in anything but full business attire.
Years of monomaniacal desk work had left his arms little more than straw spokes projecting from a sunken ribcage, giving the detective the impression of a large melon perched perilously on a straw.
Under the unyielding fluorescents, Smith could make out the goosebumps which covered Barger’s milky white body, and the shake in the rich-man’s arms as he extracted the machete from the sheath at his side.
As his protection maintained a respectful distance, Charles approached the gasping giant. His first swings against the slumberer brought only a trickle of blood, but he found better purchase at the animal’s throat.
The butchering was a messy one, filled with panting, cussing, and unpredictable gouts of gore being carried away on the back swing.
It was another thirty minutes before the beast finally fell silent.
Sweating, it’s supposed conqueror lay the end of his blade into the chaos of exposed fat and flesh, like Merlin placing the sword in the stone, but the implement immediately sagged to the left, falling free from its resting place.
Barger, who had turned back to his accompaniment, seemed to catch a look of question on the face of one of his bald-pated retinue.
“This was the last of the Western Black Rhinos,” screamed the adrenaline-flushed Charles, “I’ve just ended a species here – do you understand the power in that?”
“No boss,” said the muscle.
“Of course you don’t,” replied Barger. His face took on a lunatic’s grin, and Smith was left wondering if the same high-powered mixologist who’d pacified the sacrifice had also provided some chemical courage to the billionaire’s arm.
The silver-haired bobblehead cackled.
* * *
As he finally approached his ride home, Mulligan found that Molly had replaced her rod with a rifle.
“You took a long time,” she said.
“Nice to see you were worried,” he replied.
Their flight home was silent.
* * *
At noon, the following day, Smith was threading between mall pedestrians on his way to a bank kiosk. As he passed an electronic store’s television display, he noted that the twenty-four-hour news networks were still running an endless loop of Barger’s feeble opening assault on the rhino’s skull, followed by a close up of the businessman’s sneering painted-face.
The only satisfaction Mulligan found in it, however, was that, for once, his paycheck wouldn’t bounce.
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