Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and nineteen.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith and The Missing Woman, 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, Mulligan Smith, PI, is tasked with the job of locating a thousand dollar thief.
Flash Pulp 119 – Mulligan Smith and The Missing Woman, Part 1 of 1
Mulligan finally found the woman in a highway-side greasy spoon named Trudy’s, an hour’s drive out of Capital City. She looked rough.
He took a seat in a booth, and, as she approached, he prepared to give her his order.
“Just an orange juice, please,” he stopped to read her tag, “Eileen.”
It was sloppy – she hadn’t attempted to hide her real name.
“Coming right up,” she replied, a weak smile touching her lips.
“Just a sec, Mrs. Musgrove.”
At hearing her married name, her sensible white shoes planted themselves, mid-stride. Even from behind, Smith could see that her gaunt arms had begun to shake.
“Sit down – please?” he asked.
She scooted onto the bench across the table.
“William wanted me to find you to -,” it was his turn to be stopped short, as Eileen’s tears began to soak the pink t-shirt of her work uniform.
“Hey, it’s OK. William has sent me to bring you home. He forgives you. Every thing’s going to be all right now.” She nodded, but remained silent. Even her weeping made no noise – he wouldn’t have known it was happening if it wasn’t for the moisture rolling down her face.
They sat that way for several long moments, then, with a deep sigh, Eileen finally spoke.
“I’m going to clean myself up, then we can go.”
She walked to the ladies’ room with an unsteady gait, and Mulligan guessed she was likely going to swallow or snort some of the illicit supply her husband had warned him about. It was a calculated risk, but, if it got her home and to help, he was willing to take it – besides, she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds, and he had his Tazer on hand, just in case.
It was only once he saw her hustling through the parking lot to an ancient Geo Metro, a tall fellow with bad teeth close behind, that he realized the chase wasn’t complete.
She was moving pretty quickly for a seventy-three-year-old.
He jotted the license number down, and waved over another of the waitresses.
* * *
William Musgrove, the client, was an aging gent with sharp bird claws for hands.
“One day she pulled a thousand dollars out of our account and ran. She has a drug problem. Find her, and tell her I don’t care – that I understand, and want her back, and I’ll help her in any way I can,” he’d told Mulligan.
It was only later that Smith felt like an idiot for not having realized at the time: the whiskey breath, the patronizing tone, the vague allegations; he’d seen it all before.
A week after his first encounter with Eileen, he stepped up to the deli counter of a small town grocery store, two hours away from Capital City.
She was busy working a block of cheap bologna over the slicer.
“Don’t run,” he said. He used a gentle tone, and it worked. When he saw that she wasn’t going to make another break for it, he followed it up with a quick question to keep her mind from changing. “Is it true you’re a junkie?”
“What? No! Is that what Bill is saying about me?”
“You did steal a thousand dollars from his account, though.”
“It was our account. I deserved that money.”
“I may not have worked his years at the plant, but I certainly kept his house and cleaned up after his drunken mess for long enough.”
“Tough for a lady to vacate a fifty-five year marriage. I’ve seen similar with the occasional meth-head, but, well, if I had to guess, those hands of his were a little rough after a bottle of Jameson?”
Her mouth flattened to a slit. He thought she might attempt to flee, and he knew he’d hit the truth of the matter.
Pulling out his cellphone, he began snapping pictures of the shriveled woman, bologna still in hand.
“I’ve answered enough – I think it’s your turn to do some explaining.” she said.
“Well, first, the next time a guy like me says “don’t run”, run. You trust men too easily.”
“How did you find me?”
“Well, actually, I found your friend with the Geo. A few twenties later, he was more then willing to tell me where he’d left you. As I was saying, you trust men too easily.”
“Listen, son, I’m seventy-three years old. When I married, I hadn’t even finished high school. If I don’t trust the occasional stranger, I’m going to end up homeless. I’d love to have dragged that mongrel through a proper divorce, but I had never held a job until these last two months, and I’ve yet to find a lawyer who’s willing to work for free. I’ve got little more than my pride, but I’ll be damned if I let you drag me back to that old whiskey-hound’s shack.”
“Well, frankly, this store is pretty crowded, and I don’t think I’d get far if I were forcibly hauling a lady who looks like my grandma out the front door.” Smith paused in his photography. “Could you remove your hairnet, please?”
“So, what now? I won’t come with you, but are you going to tell Bill where I am?” she asked.
“No. I’m going to strongly suggest you move a little further – at least a state away. After that, I’m going to write up an invoice for three more day’s worth of expenses, then talk to a friend of mine who knows a lot about Canada, and photo editing.” Mulligan thrust his phone back into his pocket and zipped his hoodie. “Can’t catch ‘em all.”
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License. Text and audio commentaries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
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