Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighty-two.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Dark Wife.
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 conducts a hurried interrogation in the depths of a well appointed office.
Mulligan Smith and The Reformed Man, Part 2 of 3
As he pushed through the glass and steel store, Smith finished saying, “You want to deal with secretaries and psychopaths the same way – give them your name, try to sneak some personal details into conversation, and generally make yourself a human being in their eyes. It’s often your only chance for survival.”
The receptionist stationed at the front desk was so sharply dressed that Mulligan nearly felt a need to check his own palm for cuts after shaking the man’s hand.
From above the lenses of his ironically-rimmed glasses, the gatekeeper looked over the hoodied PI and his towering companion. His mouth tightened.
Before he could decide between sarcasm and security, however, a brunette woman in a chocolate brown skirt entered the welcome area. A wisp had escaped her bun, and now floated above the left shoulder of her Tiffany Blue blouse. She moved with ease, but her rolled up sleeves, and the fact that the suit jacket which no doubt matched the skirt was obviously long forgotten, left the detective concerned she might attempt to blow off their interview.
Instead, she said: “Down, Todd. These are friends.”
Cassie Withers did not wait for a reply, she simply returned to the short hallway from which she appeared.
Smith was quick to follow.
After a brisk walk along art-filled walls, Ms. Wither’s door clicked shut behind Winnipeg
She wasted no time.
“Cassie,” she said, extending a hand to both men. “I apologize for the setting. Meeting about this at work isn’t exactly my preference, but we’re in a bit of an accounting knife fight with our Malaysian branch at the moment. It’s especially annoying as I’m booked on a flight there in the morning.
“Anyhow, not to be rude, but, what I’m saying is, talk fast and be blunt. You’ve basically got from now till I finish drinking my coffee and eating my crackers, then I’m afraid I’ll have to start swinging spreadsheets around the place.”
Mulligan almost regretted having to step on the intricately woven rug Cassie had laid atop the room’s beige carpet, but it was the only way to the leather-covered chairs which sat across from her desk.
“Well,” said Mulligan, “Mr. Perez has asked me – er, us – to look into any connections between the deaths of Donnie Benton and Morgan Watson.”
Withers nodded and asked, “have you found any?”
“Honestly,” replied Smith, “Not as of yet. Mr. Perez wasn’t terribly forthcoming on background. I know you all used to hang out in college, and that they both lived in the city when they died. The end. If the person who stabbed Watson three years ago is the same as the one who clubbed Benton to death a week ago, they certainly didn’t leave me any notes saying so.”
Brushing aside the rogue lock of hair, Cassie sighed. “Felix didn’t tell you?”
“Well, it’s not something I brag about either I suppose. Still, they are fond memories.
“I suppose it started when I met Felix. We were in the same church group together, and we got close at in the closing weeks of high school, when we realized we were both going to the Capital School of Business. We met Donnie and Morgan and Matthew Donegan. Felix was the brains, Donnie was the schmoozer, Morgan was as close as C.S.B.’s ivy league reputation would allow it to come to admitting a bad boy, and Donegan was the mysterious quiet guy.
“Listen – I grew up very catholic. I mean, my parents are wonderful people, the nicest, most generous souls you’ll ever meet. Their faith gave them the strength to survive the death of my older brother, but it also meant I was raised in a straightjacket.
“They had the best of intentions, and they generally did a fantastic job of instilling me with all the greatest parts of what they believed, but – well, in some areas, the ones I’d been most restricted in, I kind of exploded.”
As the narrator paused to sip at her coffee and chew a Trisket, the PI nodded, and Winnipeg leaned forward in his chair, resting the meat of his arms on his broad legs.
Finally Withers cleared her throat, “I slept with them all freshman year.”
“Huh,” replied Mulligan, as he punched notes into his phone. “Any old jealousies from that? Who was the first, and who was last?”
Following his friends’ line of thinking, Billy steepled his fingers sagely. “Gandhi once said ‘An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.’”
“No,” responded the cracker-eater, “I mean at once.
”We were all drunk at Felix’s tiny apartment. He had this huge, sexy, velvet couch that took up the entire living room. They all seemed like nice guys – they were definitely all handsome. It didn’t hurt that they were some of the first boys I’d ever left alone with. I dared them.”
An involuntary “whoa” escaped Winnipeg’s lips, but, with a defensive look, he added, “Mahatma also said, ‘For myself, I’ve found we’re all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God.’”
Smith simply puckered his lips and tapped at the blank screen of his cell.
For a long moment there was only the sound of a phone ringing from beyond the shut door and the crunching of cooked wheat.
It allowed the full weight of her words to sink in, at which point the sleuth realized he was presented with an unpleasant question.
“Did you say Matthew Donegan? THE Matthew Donegan?”
“Yeah,” came the reply, as Withers emptied her mug. “You know him, or at least of him, I guess?”
“Yeah,” said Mulligan, “we know him. In fact, the reverend was yelling at us just last night. Maybe Winnipeg here should have tried to be a little nicer.”
Despite his flip tone, Smith did not relish his the idea of calling on the flame-haired head of the Church of the Burning Christ.
He thanked the honest woman for her time, then stood.
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