Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-two.
Tonight we present, Mulligan Smith and The Custodian, 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, finds himself in a principal’s office for the first time since his youth.
Flash Pulp 122 – Mulligan Smith and The Custodian, Part 1 of 1
Mulligan hadn’t been inside a principal’s office since the age of fourteen, when he’d been on the receiving end of Christopher Nelson’s fist. This particular office wasn’t that different than the one he’d last been in, it seemed to contain the same bookshelf, the same wilted houseplant, and the same battered carpet. Even the whitewashed cement block walls felt all too familiar.
“You understand that this isn’t something I usually do,” Principal Philips was saying. Her suit was prim, if a little old, and there was a red button with yellow text exclaiming “Read, Dang It!”, pinned to her lapel.
Smith nodded, and she continued.
“I mean, we do a police check when they sign on, to be sure they aren’t a sex offender, and Jackson’s record is spotless. Normally I’d never consider bringing in a private investigator – honestly, you’re the first one I’ve ever met.”
“Not that I’m ungrateful for the money,” Mulligan replied, “but, if Mr Evans is only part time, why not just fire him?”
“Well – it’s simply that he’s so good at it. He manages to accomplish about the same, in a few hours on the weekend, as what old Kevin gets done in three days of trundling around behind his cart,” as she paused, she tapped her nose with her index finger, “- and, besides, he works for almost nothing. Frankly, it’s the budget money he’s saved that’s allowing me to hire you. Really, it’s not even like he’s done anything wrong, he’s just – he’s odd.”
* * *
The situation became increasingly complicated as Mulligan began poking around.
It required almost no effort to determine that Evans had a day job as a cosmetic surgeon, and an expensive one. His clients left enthusiastic comments on his website, and his work had been featured repeatedly in the local paper – usually relating to pro bono work he’d carried out on an underprivileged burn victim.
Smith also hit upon an article naming Jackson Evans, MD, in a “win a date with a local eligible bachelor” charity auction. The PI had wondered aloud what such an apparently driven, and well off, fellow was doing single at the age of forty-eight.
Mulligan’s attempt at calling the organization for a new client in-take exam was politely refused with an offer to add his contact info to the extensive waiting list. If there was a line up for the operating room, it seemed unlikely that the doctor was carrying on his weekend work for the extra pay, and, if money was out, the motivations shrank to sex, drugs, power, or revenge.
He preferred when it was money.
* * *
After two wasted weekends of passive observation, Smith decided it was time for a conversation. He tracked Evans down in a third grade classroom, where the man was sitting in silence, with glassy eyes, on a chair intended for an eight-year-old.
“Reminiscing about the old days?” asked Mulligan.
As he waited for a reply, he kept a lock on the man’s pupils, and wondered if the blank look might be an indication of an unsavory addiction.
Clearing his throat, the doctor stood and tucked the yellow plastic chair under the desk at which he’d been resting.
“I was just taking a moment – I’m about done my shift.” The janitor collected himself. “Are you one of the parents? I haven’t seen you around the school before. Do you have permission to be here? I’m sorry, but only authorized personnel are allowed on the premises during weekends.”
“Mrs. Philips is aware of my presence.” Internally, Mulligan chided himself for allowing the janitor to pull rank, then made a move to retake the conversational high-ground. “I’m actually here to ask you a few questions. Consider it an employee satisfaction survey, Jackson.”
“Fine,” replied Evans.
Every response was dispensed in the same flat tone, and Smith began to understand what the Principal had meant by odd – it wasn’t that he was eccentric, it was simply that the man was utterly humourless.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you working here?”
“Why does anyone work anywhere?”
“Well, Dr. Evans, mostly they do it for the money.”
The interviewee raised an eyebrow at the mention of his alternate occupation.
“Is there something wrong with the fact that I have another job?”
“No, but it does bring me back to what I was inquiring: why are you wiling away your Saturdays trawling the primary yard for rotting apple cores, and changing out fluorescent bulbs, instead of cutting open middle-aged housewives with poor self esteem?”
“Love?” Smith asked, mentally weighing the need to file a police report. “Love of the job?”
“No, the love of the boy who sits at this desk.”
“Uh, care to explain?”
“I’ve worked long hours my entire life. I thought I was doing what was best, really, but when Kayli asked for a divorce, I knew exactly what she’d say: that I was always busy, always preoccupied. I apologized, but she didn’t care by then, she wanted cash – and Jayce. The lawyer she hired was good enough to get her both.”
The PI interrupted the account with an exclamation which immediately felt inappropriate, given his surroundings.
“Sorry, continue,” he said.
“Custody’s pretty stringent. I get to see Jayce once a month, and alternating birthdays. Instead, I come here, and work myself raw so that I can have a few moments to stare at his blotchy paintings,” Evans motioned towards a wall of airplane pictures carried out in bright primary colours. “- or to linger at his desk and wonder if he ever sits there thinking about me.”
As Evans turned to hide the tears draining down his cheeks, Mulligan retreated from the room. His final report, combined with Principal Philips’ budgetary concerns, would ensure the custodian his position for as long as he wanted it.
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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