Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Sixty-Four.
Tonight, we present Mulligan Smith and The Organized Call, Part 1 of 1[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp064.mp3]
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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, we find PI Mulligan Smith attempting to connect a difficult phone call.
Flash Pulp 064 – Mulligan Smith and The Organized Call, Part 1 of 1
The two men sat opposite each other in the little aluminum boat, the waves lending a gentle bob to the tips of their fishing rods.
“Elmore had been the perfect client – he’d paid before I needed to ask him twice, and he always answered his phone when I called. At our first meeting he handed me several pages of typed notes, and a cheque that was a healthy down payment on my expenses. I actually met him in an office, which is a rare treat. He had great taste in furniture.”
The old man nodded as Mulligan paused to pop the last bite of BLT into his mouth.
“I finally found the woman in a suburban neighbourhood on the west-end of the city. I’d followed a trail of well-mannered friends of friends, and by the time I’d gotten an address, it was obvious she hadn’t meant to disappear so thoroughly. Sometimes people just get married.”
“The house was empty as I approached. I knew it was, because I’d just seen her kids pile onto a big yellow bus, and, twenty minutes before that, her husband had kissed her goodbye at the door and revved his white Audi out of the driveway. I’d spent two days watching, just to make sure there weren’t going to be any surprises, but she was always out of the house by 9:00am. That gave me about fifteen minutes, but I’d been told completion would take less than five.”
The PI picked up his rod, gave the reel a gentle turn, accomplishing nothing, and set it down again.
“Really, the catch was the nature of the task. I had a phone number, and I’d been instructed to wait out the length of the call, then depart. I’d been sticky on the point in our contract – more than once I’ve found so-and-so and told them such-and-such, only to find out that the client expects more once so-and-so points out that they can shove their such-and-such.
“It wasn’t a problem with Elmore though. He had brought a black notebook with him, and, as we talked, he both referred to it for notes, and jotted down anything I might say that was worth retaining. Everything was broken down into sharp little lists. As he worked his way through his questions for me, he would set a crisp check-mark beside the item.
“It took me longer to explain who I was than it did to make the actual call. I don’t blame her for being wary about letting people into her house though. In the end, at my suggestion, we made the call outside. We sat side-by-side on the stained wood of her tiny front porch, and she hit send on my cellphone.
“As it rang, I could hear the tinkling of an ice cream man in the distance. I felt bad for the guy – nobody wants to be the ice cream man once school is back in session.”
“He was prompt to answer, as always, and the conversation was short. I could only make out one side of it
“She started with a “”Hi? Elmo?”” She listened for a bit, then interjected something like “”Well, you didn’t seem like…”. By then her forehead was getting tight. After a few seconds though, the tension in her face melted into a smile.
“There was another long listen, then she said something like “”Wow, you know – I’ve thought about you a lot too over these last years, and I appreciate you saying that. I always regretted how things ended.””
“Her smile cracked a minute later, and a tear ran through what little make up she wore. The ice cream man finally rolled by, lonely, and she made an effort to avoid looking at either of us.
““What?” was all she could say.
“There was a last long pause, then she hung up.
“She sobbed for a minute, holding my phone in a way that had me concerned I might need to expense a new one.
“Once she was a bit more in control, she turned to me.
““How much did you know?” she said.”
Mulligan took a sip from his sun-warmed can of coke.
““Uh,” I said back. It was a pretty general question.
“”About the cancer?”
“She wasn’t looking at me as we talked, she was focused on the elm tree rooted by the sidewalk.
“”I could practically hear him checking off the last item on one of his damnable lists,” she said, taking a deep breath in an effort to avoid further tears. ”He said your fees have been covered in his will. He also said he left you the wing-back chair you were admiring in his office.”
“I tried calling the number back, but it just rang.”
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