Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirty-two.
Tonight we present: Mulligan Smith and The Navel Gazer, 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 meets a fellow conspirator while watching for a corpulent criminal.
Flash Pulp 132 – Mulligan Smith and The Navel Gazer, Part 1 of 1
Security at the building was tight; Mulligan had already been asked to leave twice, and he suspected his picture was now hanging behind the reception desk, or beside the bank of monitors that tied together the boxy-cameras mounted on every corner and in every hall.
He’d been lead to the rental condos by a snail’s trail of paperwork that followed his accountant-turned-embezzler target, but the nature of the twenty-six floor tower – a home for out-of-town businessmen and government workers who required lodging while visiting the city to complete lengthy projects – meant the staff were well paid to root out anything that might make the occupants uncomfortable.
Smith, with his black hoodie and prying eyes, had fallen into that category.
Still, he knew the rotund accountant was somewhere inside, and the employees could do little about the PI spending his time in the small park adjacent to the rear of the building. Although it made a great selling point for the rare family who rented space in the glass and cement structure, it was on public land, and Mulligan was left alone to maintain his vigil with an unobstructed view of the tenant’s sedans and SUVs.
It was his third day, and he was beginning to feel like he’d memorized the face of every resident without having come across a match for the man whose receipt signature had led him to his stakeout. He’d spent much of the time accompanied by a silent eight year old, who busied herself with a pair of cracked, folding opera-glasses, which she used as binoculars, and a multi-pronged pocket knife, which made Mulligan nervous for her fingers.
On the previous evening he’d matched the urchin to her parents: a suit and a drunk, who let her run wild as soon as the work day began. Neither had the mustachioed look of the wide-mouthed, and beady-eyed, CPA.
The girl’s clothing appeared costly, but unwashed, and her nails were grimy from the hours she’d spent hunkered down in the sand-pit that provided a soft landing to the playground’s winding yellow slide. He’d never seen her climb the plastic steps; she’d simply used the pit to lower her profile as she surveyed the same door he pretended not to be watching from his paint-flecked picnic table.
They’d successfully ignored each other for the most part, but, on that third afternoon, the stringy-haired blond-spy took a seat on the bench across from his own.
She tore the plastic from a package of Lunchables, and offered him a cracker with cheese and pepperoni.
“No thanks,” he replied, retrieving his own brown paper bag of food and fishing out a half eaten PB&J.
The stack of sodium went down in a single bite, and she eyed him as she prepared the next.
“Are you here about the clone?”
Suppressing a laugh was a talent Smith had learned young, and he returned the stern look of consideration that she gave him.
“What do you know about it?” he asked.
Her gaze widened.
“I used to like to swim in the basement, but last week I saw him – I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but he was yelling at me ‘cause I was running beside the pool.” She completed her cracker sandwich and scratched an errant itch at her temple. “I know I’m not supposed to, but he could have said it nicer.”
Mulligan cleared his throat.
“Listen, normally you shouldn’t talk to strangers in the park – ”
“You’ve been here a long time, and you look OK.”
“It doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t talk to strangers.” As he spoke, her face slid into dejection. He felt compelled by guilt and curiosity to fill the growing hush. “- but, uh, you saw a man in the pool who you think is a clone?”
“What gave you the impression that he’s the result of some terrible science experiment gone awry?”
“Why do you think he was made by a mad scientist?”
“He’s got no belly button. I’ve seen that on TV!”
“So you’ve been hanging out here watching for him?”
“I’m investigating and waiting.” She ripped open the Kit Kat bar provided for dessert. “I ain’t swimming with no clone.”
“A good plan.”
This seemed to be enough to affirm her theory, and they finished their lunches in silence.
As he swung a leg out to deposit his trash in a proper receptacle, the girl stood with a sudden exclamation.
“Holy crapoli! There he is!”
She dived to the turf as a tanned man in a breezy tropical shirt made his way out of his crisp black Cadillac – entirely oblivious to either of them – and entered the condominium.
Mulligan covered his annoyance with a string of muttered pseudo-cussing.
“Frakking Shazbot! That effing a-hole!
He’d noted the high-cheek bones and lanky face on several occasions during his wait, but it hadn’t truly registered till that moment.
An hour later, as two uniformed police officers lead the gaunt man from the same doors the PI had been surveilling, Smith congratulated the excited amateur sleuth.
“You’re pretty sharp to have noticed his missing navel, and it isn’t your fault you didn’t know that a tummy tuck could also remove his innie or outie. Next time you can Google it – my clients have been looking for this guy for a long time, and I’m guessing a laptop might be the kind of reward that would help keep you out of trouble. Just don’t bring it with you into the pool – and, seriously, don’t talk to strange men hanging out in parks, whatever they may look like.”
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