FP320 – The Cost of Living: Part 2 of 3 – Mulligan Smith in The Best Medicine

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Cost of Living: Part 2 of 3 – Mulligan Smith in The Best Medicine
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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, PI Mulligan Smith finds himself pondering a murder while reclining near a jovial man on the edge of death.

The Cost of Living: Part 2 of 3 – Mulligan Smith in The Best Medicine

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


The building smelled of peppermints and medicine, and Smith couldn’t wait to be free of its cinder block walls – yet he had a job to do.

Despite the murder that had taken place in the room, Mulligan was only on hand to look into possible negligence on the part of the nursing home. The scene of the crime was the last stop on his self-conducted tour – a trek launched under the vaguely-worded guise of his being a patient’s son – and the dead man’s empty cot provided a convenient, if too firm, surface on which to briefly rest.

Besides, bedridden Walt, the victim’s roommate for some three years, offered outbursts of chuckling and a constant stream of twitching, but no complaints.

Private Investigator Mulligan SmithSmith had been informed by Julius Crow, a talkative walker-toter the PI had encountered in the residence’s barren game area, that the laughing invalid had not spoken a comprehensible word in the length of Crow’s time wandering the converted mansion’s halls.

“- and that’s six years longer than the doctors gave me – six years longer than I wanted – so you better believe it,” the stoop-shouldered man had told Mulligan before completing his sentence with a loud snort. It was such a common conclusion that, by the end of their conversation, Smith assumed the man was used to providing the explosion as a method of punctuation for his hard-of-hearing friends.

“When I first heard about ol’ Gregor,” Julius had continued, “I thought ‘a death at an old folks home? Yeah, that’s a fuckin’ surprise’ – if you’ll mind my Frenches.”

Mulligan had interpreted this “hurk” as meant to be comical, but said nothing.

Crow had happily chattered through the detective’s silence. “Weird what makes the news, you know what I mean? For example, the staff here – especially the nurses – are a good crowd. It’s sort of an accident that they are – they’re certainly not paid enough to be, but they’re all doctors and such back in the countries they’ve come from. They like to practice their English on me, and I get the impression Deep Creek Manor’s lack of VISA requirements and flexible hours means they can work and still slog their way through school to be recertified. I feel for ’em in that respect, most already have more education than I ever did.

“Now, it definitely ain’t always perfect, but no batch of human beings ever is. What I’m getting at, though, is that sometimes staff just disappear – you talk to them on a Monday night and they say they’ll see you in the morning, then nothing.”

This grunt had seemed closer to a mix of disgust and wonder.

“The ornery buggers around here write ’em off because they aren’t pale enough for their taste, and if someone doesn’t show, they immediately say the missing person was probably busted by immigration. The other employees don’t want to raise a fuss and draw attention, and the Bargers – the folks who run the place – seem to find it easier to hire new people than to track down the missing.

“A dozen able-bodies disappear and no one says ‘boo,’ but a single old fart has his face chewed off and everyone starts runnin’ around with their hands in the air.”

Mulligan had shrugged as he watched a slender Japanese woman take up seating at the edge of a worn plastic-bottomed chair in the game room’s corner. She was drawing a wheelchair bound crowd as nurses rolled in blank-eyed patients.

The snort was what had brought Smith back to business. He asked, “you said things aren’t always perfect – what did you mean?”

“Look out on the garden in the back – it’s the story of this place. Beautiful bit of work once, probably been here as long as the land’s been settled, but now it’s just a riot of thorns and weeds. Even the poor buggers who had to jump fences and run from dogs to get here refuse to go in there – and why should they? The owners bought this place, filled it, then forgot about it.

”Same situation goes for the inside. Everyone does their best, but even with the Bargers’ endless pool of suckers there’s never enough staff – especially after lights out. If they think you’re immobile they don’t swing by to check on you very often. That’s exactly what happened with Gregor. Walt’s laughing aside, they were both basically vegetables – the Russian didn’t do much but drool and shit in the three years I knew him – so the night crew probably didn’t think to poke in on them. Then some crazy bugger snuck in there and got to gnawing on Gregor’s head while Walt just chuckled to himself in the dark. Could he even feel it? We’ll never know I guess. Hella past time for him to go though – for all of us to, really.”

His ears had remained focused, but Smith’s gaze had again fallen on the woman in the far corner. Her practiced fingers had extracted a frail looking flute from the depths of the white baby-sling she carried across her shoulder, and Mulligan had found himself wondering if the child inside might rouse when her practiced fingers and taut lips began to project a tune into the room.

It had not.

After contemplative nose-clearing from Crow, Smith returned to the task at hand.

“The people aside, you talk like you’d rather not be here,” he’d said, “six years too many? Past time to go? Doesn’t sound like you’re terribly enthusiastic about the facilities.”

“Ah, hell, it’s not that. Take Ms. Yamato over there – I know half the people in here with their mouths still working think she’s Chinese and not Japanese, and it don’t matter how many times I tell them otherwise. Imagine all these bastards up and around, bitching that illegals are ruining the country and video games are turning today’s youth into Godless killing machines? Death has its purpose, even if it’s not a pleasant one. Maybe some day we’ll be in space or downloading our brains, or whatever, but for now we’re built to make room for new ideas by being forced to let go of the old ones, even if we don’t want to.

“Besides – what else does a guy like Walt have to hope for but a visit from the reaper?”

Now, as Mulligan sat not five feet from the guffawing man, Mulligan realized that perhaps Walt had been looking forward to more than Julius might imagine.

Smith swung his legs beyond the bed’s edge and zipped his hoodie. With his shadow falling over the snickerer’s lumpy sheets, and his hand on the tazer in his pocket, he asked, “you just have a good evening, or have you been running a con these last few years?”

There was no answer, but the rolling of Walt’s shoulders slowed, and his blue eyes focused on his visitor’s face.

Mulligan nodded, convinced that the man was no danger to anyone who wasn’t immobile. “So, one day you found the symptoms on the downswing and you got the munchies? I doubt the guys investigating this are much used to dealing with the health problems associated with cannibalism, but I know kuru when I see it. You may not serve a lot of jail time, and I doubt you’ll ever be linked to whichever corpse originally gave you the laughing disease, but at least you’ll make a nice medical oddity for the doctors to prod – well, until it finally kills you.”

Would the lack of a diagnosis be enough to prove negligence on the part of the Barger’s? The PI didn’t know, but the discovery might be enough to earn him his paycheck.

As he departed, Smith was chased into the hall by a burst of involuntary laughter, and out of the building by the melancholy notes of Ms. Yamato’s woodwind.

He reached for his phone.

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