Categotry Archives: Mulligan Smith

FP469 – Mulligan Smith in The Humbug

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Web

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Weekly Podioplex!

 

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 we find ourselves in a chase across the holiday encrusted streets of Capital City.

 

Mulligan Smith in The Humbug

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

 

Mulligan was looking forward to December 26th. He was eager to see tinsel peeking from trash cans and garland rolling down the roadway like a shimmering tumbleweed. He was sick of dodging Salvation Army Santas and the endless flow of shoppers along the sidewalk.

For the private investigator there was no mystery left to Christmas: It was simply the annual period when he was more likely to find the spouse of a client cheating at an office party than in the dugout of the corporate softball team, but this year - this year his father was travelling and the memory of his mother, who’d always been the heart of family celebrations, seemed all too close.

Even as his feet hammered the pavement in chase, thoughts of the dead woman pushed in on his mind.

In his youth he’d known the joy of a country Christmas. The house had been tiny, but Smith Sr. had hauled in a pine he’d cut from the backlot with his own hands. It was snowing heavily that Christmas Eve, so they’d settled on popcorn and a cutthroat game of Monopoly - but as dusk fell the sound of actual bells, not just those of the endless carols playing on the kitchen radio, had reached their ears.

Mr. Abbasi, their neighbour, sat atop a rough-cornered lumber sleigh, and his horses stood blowing clouds of steam into the darkening air. The sled was no show piece - it was ancient and had been used hard in its day - but Anwaar, his wife, and Saeeda, his daughter, grinned at them from beneath heavy bundles of blankets.

In the time it had taken the boy to pull on a sweater, his blue and orange parka, and a hat, Mulligan’s mother had somehow dressed in triple layers and made enough hot chocolate to supply all involved. She had thought the boy missed her wink and grin when she elbowed the eldest Smith and produced a hidden flask with which to top his cup, but Mulligan’s eyes had been sharp even at that age.

They’d ridden between the shadowed pines, beneath the stars, for what seemed like hours, and when he’d crawled into bed that night the warmth of his comforter sent him melting into his pillow.

He’d expected little the next day. His father’s lawman’s salary was just enough to keep them in Monopoly money, and his mother had yet to find a place for herself since their move earlier in the year.

So it was that, when he awoke, he was stunned to discover the space beneath their tree packed tight with brightly coloured bricks. Mulligan had recognized both his mother and father’s hand in the quality of the wrapping, yet the handwriting marking each label was clearly that of Sadie Smith’s alone.

Each one had a date and a short five or six word note. “You are the sweetest valentine,” alongside February 14th, or simply “Spring is coming” for the bland days at the beginning of March, and each signed “Love, Mum.” The count began January 1st, and for a year Mulligan had opened one a day. Inside was always a dessert’s worth of well-sealed pastry, cake, or cookies. The selections, he would realize, had been carefully selected to age well over the course of the year, and he would never understand how she had managed to make so many varied treats without either repeating herself or having flooded the house with cooking before the date.

Another change in employment had pushed his father into a new, distant, office that year, and it would be but another before his mother was dead.

He would never know the joy or mystery of that singular Christmas again, but somehow moving to the city - a place he loved at every other time of year - had somehow made the disparity of what followed worse.

There was no sense of anticipation in the city - just people trying to sell you something. Somehow when the multi-coloured lights were strung up they only served to underline the squalor of the apartment window they were hung in.

Even laying money on if there’d be snow on any given Capital City Christmas was a sucker’s bet. Just the previous year the white had held off till the night before, then, after the children had said goodnight to their yellow lawns, and their parents had snuck out to shuffle Santa’s deposits around their tree, clouds had blotted out the stars like a World War 2 bombing raid.

As the little ones had awoken the next morning their eyes had widened at what they considered a miracle, while, not far off, their elders had made hurried phone calls, to re-arrange travel plans, and determined if they had enough in the fridge to pull together a passable feast without having to shovel themselves out for a trip to the store.

This stood, of course, exactly opposite to the year previous, in which they’d had to Trick’or’Treat in heavy jackets and could have gone bicycling in shorts on boxing day.

This season, however, the weather had decided to make its intentions plain. It was just cold enough to snow almost every day of December, but still warm enough that the flakes were quickly churned into a pool of slush that soaked boots and sent long fans of cold onto the sidewalk every time a bus pulled snug against the curb.

It was in this loose mix of ice and water that Mulligan fought to keep his feet as he ran.

The crowds didn’t help. School children, freed from the bonds of their labours, lingered on the sidewalks, their attentions either absorbed in conversation with each other or locked on the glass of the displays demonstrating the year’s greatest passions. Office dwellers, their expensive shoes and pant legs in endless combat with the muck and water, worked hard to ignore the cheer of the season as they moved with annoyed self-importance between meetings or overpriced coffee counters. Overwhelmed fathers and mothers attempted to maneuver oversized packages from storefront to car trunk.

All of the trappings of the season abounded, but to Smith they seemed no more real than the mannequins in the windows. There was no sense of mystery here, there were only the usual people going through the usual motions as dictated by the changes in their shopping soundtrack.

Yet Mulligan had eyes only for one man: The fellow in red turning to sprint into an alley a half-block up from the riotous Williams-Sonoma that the private investigator was currently trying to thread his way past.

Even if the crowd had somehow not noticed the fire-engine coloured suit and trailing hat, the PI’s target was a big man, tall and with enough meat on his bones to convince people they ought to shuffle aside. Mulligan, however, was having to employ his elbows liberally.

“Yeah, Happy Fackin’ Holidays to you too, dog fondler,” a woman in a denim jacket answered as he leveraged off of her right shoulder to push past a drifting baby stroller. He was fairly sure his apology was lost in the din of the competing Christmas carols blasting from the stores, but he made the effort anyhow.

The alley - tucked between The Mongol Gourd, a teppanyaki restaurant catering to vegans, and The Sprint Store, a running equipment place that had taken over a cellphone shop without changing much of the signage or fixings - was littered with cardboard boxes, reduced to mush by the sleet, and vegetable husks that had been pushed across the pavement by winter winds.

Mulligan SmithDespite his attempt to make the same turn as the long-limbed St. Nick, Smith’s sneakers lost traction. Sliding across a patch of frozen bean pods, he came to stop against a chill brick wall. His hoodie’s sleeve, already overwhelmed by the cold, provided little protection against the rough surface, but Mulligan considered the scratches along his forearm a fair trade for having avoided landing face-first against the grating surface.

However, by the time he’d recovered from the failed course change Santa had disappeared to the left.

With a sigh the detective pushed off, again picking up speed but now almost wishing the shoppers were crowding this space as well, if only so that he might use them as handholds as he slid his way across the trash-covered cement.

The next turn brought mixed results. This new artery - a back lane that had once been used for deliveries but now saw most of its traffic from loitering staff smoking away their work breaks - was salted down to the blacktop and wide enough to keep most of the garbage piled in the corners or against the business that faced onto it.

Still, Kringle’s long legs covered twice Smith’s pace at a step, and he was turning off into an open backdoor before Mulligan could recover enough breath to shout.

It struck the detective that this was nearly the perfect metaphor for the season. Here he was, just trying to return a dropped gift, and it was the crowds, the sidewalk bell ringers, the endless howl of carols, that had kept him from accomplishing a simple act of kindness.

Where the jolly old elf was off to in such a rush Smith could not say for sure, yet, in truth, he thought it obvious. The gift box he’d scooped from the sidewalk before beginning his sprint was just small enough to be expensive, and it was an easy season in which to propose - though also one in which it was not so easy to reach pre-scheduled romantic encounters.

It all seemed a little cliche - a little obvious - to the off-duty private investigator, and he briefly considered stopping the chase and pawning the thing. He could consider it an early Christmas present to himself. Yet, even while not seriously entertaining the thought, he could feel his mother frowning at him from the depths of his memory. Though there was no one watching when he plunged through the backdoor, Mulligan still offered Sadie Smith an “I’m just kidding” shrug as he surveyed the scene.

A short hall led to the main street, but to his left a flight of grimy stairs rose to a second floor, and the heavy tread above sounded suspiciously Claus-esque.

He took the steps two at a time and entered another hallway, this one providing access to three doors - apparently apartments.

Santa stood at the furthest, waiting for Mulligan’s arrival.

“I -” said the PI, digging for the package in his hoodie’s right pocket, but before he could fish it out the man winked and stepped across the threshold.

Smith followed.

Beyond was not a full apartment, as he’d expected, but a single room, its ceiling low at its midpoint due to the angle of the building’s roof. Lit by a single yellow bulb, he guessed the space had perhaps once been used for storage for the shops below. Now it appeared to have stood empty at least a decade.

Claus’ crossing was clearly tracked in the dust that covered the wood-slat floor. His steps moved directly towards a blank wall, and there they seemed to stop - yet, from the entrance, Mulligan could see there seemed to be something leaning against wall trim at the point where the footprints ceased.

Having to stoop against the encroaching ceiling, Mulligan reached the same spot in the windowless room, picked up the toy he found there, and turned back to the single door.

He stood a long while, one foot in the chamber, one foot without, staring at the tiny chimney he’d collected.

His mind fought with him on the matter. How could so large a fellow disappear from a room with no other openings? Surely the chimney was just a coincidence, or perhaps more likely a joke. A joke by someone with knowledge of some sort of secret exit he couldn’t ascertain.

Though it seemed a stretch, in the end he wasn’t sure it mattered. He’d lost nothing more than twenty minutes, and if he could ever convince himself to tell the tale in public it would at least be worth a laugh from Walmart Mike.

It was at that point in his train of thought that Smith remembered the brightly wrapped present.

Flipping it about in his fingers he realized there was a slip of a tag attached. He briefly wondered if he might find some hint to St. Nick’s true identity in its handwritten text.

Instead he found only the date of the following Christmas and crisp-lettered penciling that read: “No peeking, Snoopy. Love, Mum.”

He stood a while longer, his fingers tracing the familiar loops and lines with his fingernail, and his eyes began to sting even as his lips gave up fighting against his the grin pushing its way onto his face.

Smith could not say how it had happened. He could not provide even a theory. He knew only the truth of what he held.

After a year’s worth of telling the the story he would have to decide if he’d actually open the package, yet even before he’d left the building Mulligan knew the stranger had given him a greater gift: A mystery the detective could not solve.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP461 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3

1

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty-one.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

 

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 we hear the truth behind the nocturnal defanging that has been plaguing one Capital City neighbourhood.

 

The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3

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

 

Capital City wasn’t what it used to be. There’d been a time when Lethe Park had been family sitcom set material, but Mulligan knew he was likely sitting on the exact same bench he’d occupied thirty years back. He shifted in an attempt to find some comfort on the rotting boards, and as he spoke his sneakered toes pushed the husk of a long-emptied dime bag in slow circles.

“- so I asked, ‘Did you call the police?’ and they replied, ‘- to say what? Officer, someone’s stolen my teef?’ - I mean, I let it lie, but, honestly, yeah, that’s exactly what I’d say.”

Dr. Ruth Hill, her brown hair in a short ponytail and her hands knit together on a simple black skirt, made no effort to interject. Her posture was as rigid as the lines of her thick-rimmed glasses, and her eyes were focused on the teens smoking on the nearby play structure.

“It was the mention of stitches - well, the stitches and Sarah’s daughter’s perfect smile,” continued Smith. “Gave me a suspicion, you know. I’d talked to a few people who’d had their pearly-whites purloined, but there was something about the alignment of similarities with Jimmie Hobbs and his family; a strange lack of memory.

“Looking for a clearer view on things I tracked down Jimmie’s wife. Jenny is an interesting woman. She looks a bit like she stepped out of a depression-era photo, which makes it surprising when you find out she laughs at the drop of a pun. I haven’t felt funnier in years.

“You can see her braces when she howls. She works a factory job, but I guess they’ve got a good union. Excellent health benefits and all that, right?”

Mulligan leaned forward, kicking the tiny plastic sack into the yellow grass, then he buried his fingers in his shaggy salt-and-pepper beard.

“You know, at first I thought it was a sort of magic trick; some terrifying Germanic fairy tale come to life. Maybe a horrific forest imp come to snatch from the jaws of the living to build themselves some sort of, I dunno, tooth golem, or maybe a molar mansion.

“Still, even when I realized there was nothing more than the mundane going on, there’s something to be said for the eerie image of a silent woman appearing after midnight. Of her having to be invited into the home by a loved one - very vampiric - and her hands pulling on snapping latex gloves as she hovers over the sleeping form of her intended victim.

“Guess they don’t need to count backwards from ten if they’re already unconscious.

FP461 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3“I kind of get it though: How many hours do you spend in the chair with those folks? Maybe some of them you feel like you get to know. You see them in for their own suddenly missing teeth, or they’ve got a black eye, or a broken arm, and you ask what’s up.

“Not a lot of places left these days that tend to serve a community, but most folks are happy enough to go to the closest dentist. They just want to get in and out. Yet it’s a very intimate situation, really, to be in someone’s mouth - to lie them back and prod some of their most sensitive areas with metal instruments.

“Was that how you figured out Sarah was an addict?”

Her gaze unmoving, Ruth Hill nodded. “Megan came in. She looked exhausted and she was wearing a sweater despite the summer swelter. I was going to keep my mouth shut, as teens tend to get into all sorts of scrapes, but when Sarah arrived to pay the bill she was clearly out of it. One of those users who sticks to weekends and off hours so it doesn’t interfere with her work. The kind that can justify occasionally beating their kid if they can still cover the bills and hold down a job.”

“Why didn’t you just call the cops?”

“Megan specifically begged me - so did Jenny. See, Megan would do anything for her mother. She worships the woman, considers her violence just a part of the disease. Jimmie, on the other hand, always treats Jenny great - it’s her kid who gets the brunt of it.

“Neither wanted to see their loved ones doing jail time on drug or assault charges.”

Mulligan nodded. “Sure, and maybe waking up toothless after an apparently particularly bad jag would set them straight, right?”

Dr. Hill made no reply.

“This isn’t the sort of trouble that I’m looking for,” continued Smith, “but if I figured it out someone else will as well.”

In the old days, in the better days, the fear of discovery would have been enough.

“I’ll have to be more careful,” said Hill,

“You’ll have to stop entirely,” replied Smith.

She shrugged, but made no further answer. Mulligan felt tired. There was no paycheck at the end of this search, not even the satisfaction of having come closer to his goal - no, here was just another human mess, awful at all angles.

Hill cleared her throat. “I’ll deny everything if necessary, but I highly doubt Jenny, or Megan, or any of the rest will turn witness against me - even if they were willing to implicate themselves. Imagine the trust lost between husband and wife, mother and daughter?”

These were hard days indeed, reflected Smith, then the man some called The Mute spoke three words in a language that hadn’t been heard aloud in two hundred years. The tattoos that criss-crossed his body like a cage took on a brief heat, and a look of confusion entered Hill’s eyes.

Though Dr. Ruth Hill would maintain her practice till her hands could no longer hold her drill, it was the last Capital City would see of its Tooth Fairy.

Exhausted, Smith began the long walk home.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP460 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 2 of 3

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Tooth Fairy, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

 

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 we find ourselves creeping through security to scale a tower - a tower atop which awaits a tale of horror, and perhaps some answers for an aging detective.

 

The Tooth Fairy, Part 2 of 3

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

 

The condo building was in the same neighbourhood the old man had been rambling about for a week, but its rows of pristine balconies, hanging from steel and glass construction, were so beyond the area’s gnaw-cornered wood and peeling paint that the entire structure left Smith with the impression the tower might have touched down whole, as if a landing rocket from some distant future.

There was no doorman, but there were five separate cameras covering the lobby from all angles - just in case someone should slip past the call-and-buzz system bolted within the locked vestibule through which all visitors were forced to pass.

Once the blaring ceased, and he was allowed entrance, he noted a well-equipped gym to his left and a sharply dressed woman in a suit sitting in the building management office to his right.

Her stare tracked him as he shuffled to the elevator bank and pressed the button, and it stayed with him until the silver panels slid open and he disappeared inside.

He didn’t blame her: His hooded jacket was a patchwork of cloth and leather, his salt-and-pepper beard was in terrible need of trimming, and his graying hair was as untended as he’d found it that morning when he’d awoken. He was quite sure if she’d been able to see the tattooed patterns that covered his body, whose inky lines seemed to occasionally shift under the gaze of the observer, she would certainly have barred his entry. He was the invader in this brightly-lit alien world.

FP460 - The Tooth FairyAs the panel above the door counted off the floors of his ascent he worked hard not to raise a questioning brow at the camera. He was equally convinced that the woman in the front office was watching him carefully as he climbed, noting his departure on the twentieth - and topmost - floor, just in case she should be forced to give suddenly-summoned police officers directions on where the likely vagrant had gone.

When he knocked at the door he was welcomed, but only once he’d waited out the scrape and turn of six individual locks. It struck him as overkill, even for so pretentious a building.

“Hi, I’m Mulligan,” he said.

“Sarah,” she answered with an executive’s smile, and the sometimes PI noted the sculpted perfection of her ivory teeth.

“You have these locks before too?” asked Smith.

“Yeah. I get - er - anxious at night. Doubly so now, of course.”

She directed him to the living room, a neat collection of white leather furniture set against white walls. Scattered across the glass-topped table that acted as the room’s focus, however, were a spread of dog-eared comics.

As she entered Sarah bent low and stacked the books.

“My daughter’s,” she explained. “Megan loves to draw, and she spends hours staring at these old pages she buys at the local junk stores.”

To Mulligan’s eye it did not appear the woman, dressed in a black blazer and slacks even on a Saturday, was interested in any hobby that didn’t involve a yacht or collecting travellers points for her air fare, but perhaps there was hope for the child yet.

Whatever the reality he knew better than to judge his host by the size of her flatscreen or the fastidiousness of her pinned back and professionally dyed hair.

They sat.

“Can you tell me about what happened that evening?” opened the detective.

“No, I don’t remember.”

“Do you mean you don’t remember anything unusual that happened that evening?”

“No, I have no recollection of the night at all.”

Could this be the sign he’d been looking for? Had the arcane clouded her vision, stolen her memory? It was a tempting thought, but Smith spent too long being amazed at the oddities of mundane life to let himself jump to the conclusion - or lead his witness.

“What DO you recall?” he asked.

“Pain,” she said. “I knew something was wrong with my jaw as soon as I awoke in bed, but it was - it was hard to fully rise. My tongue felt huge, felt swollen, but when I used it to explore the rest of my mouth -”

There was a tremor beneath the crisply applied makeup, and for a moment the exhaustion about her eyes was too much for her concealer - yet she fought it back, and finished her explanation with a carefully cool tone.

“My mouth was filled with nothing but gums and stitches. Molars, fangs, fillings - all gone.”

Her lips parted wide, revealing the ivory planks within, and with half a cough her dentures landed upon her outstretched hand. From behind her white leather recliner the sound of shuffling feet came from the hallway, and, with the speed of a conjurer’s trick, the false jaws disappeared from her palm and returned to their resting place.

The weight of the telling remained on Sarah’s wilting shoulders, however.

“Megan, I’m glad you’re here. Please show Mr. Smith out - I need to go to my room,” she said, then she stood and exited without a further goodbye.

“She gets anxious,” explained the daughter, offering a smile that was all politeness and perfect - but natural - teeth.

It was in that moment that the truth of the situation landed fully upon Mulligan, and he realized there was no arcane act - no mystic ritual - to be found along this toothless trail.

With a final question, which Megan answered with but a hint of tremor in her voice, he exited, and as he passed under the watchful gaze of the rental agent he moved as if a man certain of his next destination.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP459 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 1 of 3

4

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Tooth Fairy, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

 

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 we hear a strange tale of missing teeth as told to an oddly familiar old man.

 

The Tooth Fairy, Part 1 of 3

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

 

Federico's was a strip mall bar, the sort that served easily fried foods so they could justify adding an “and grill” to their signage. In the lull between those who drank their lunch departing and those who drank their dinner arriving the place had fallen to near silence. A television bolted in a dark blue corner was muttering something about London, but its low volume meant only the bartender, washing cups at a hidden sink, could hear. It mattered little to the establishment’s two patrons, however, as they were locked in their own hushed conversation at a distant table.

“So you heard about my telling it last night?” asked the balding man, his knobby fingers kneading the bill of his Cleveland Spiders ball cap.

“Yeah - hell of a yarn, but you don’t sound as bad as I thought you would.”

A series of browning lumps trailed the left side of the Spiders fan’s jaw, and the right had swollen to such an extent that his companion had initially held up a hand, between his view of the two halves, and wondered aloud that it looked like a before and after weight-loss ad - except, perhaps, that the physical trauma would likely scare off more customers than it would attract.

“Fanks,” replied the injured man.

“The way I heard it, you were saying it was the Tooth Fairy?”

FP459 - The Tooth Fairy, Part 1 of 3“Yeah, well, listen, Johnnie Walker was helping me unspool the story, and sometimes, you know, when I’ve had a few, I get some weird notions.”

The gray-haired listener ran his thumb over a wrinkled cheek and signaled for refills.

“Same?” asked the woman at the sink, her eyes never breaking from London’s troubles.

“Yep,” replied the buyer, then, lowering his voice and addressing his conversation partner, he asked, “you’re saying you don’t think there was anything out of the ordinary involved?”

“Out of the ordinary?”

“Yeah, you know, uh, inexplicable-mysteries-of-the-universe type stuff?”

“Aw, man, I don’t know nuffin about that,” replied the non-swollen half of the face across the table, but, as he watched the drinks arrive, the questioner caught a sheen in his companion’s eyes and a twitch in his cheek.

“Why don’t you just tell me what happened?”

After a sip of his whiskey and ginger ale that only highlighted his missing front teeth, the drinker said, “well, as best as I can remember it started yesterday morning. I woke up thinking I had a hell of a hangover - probably the worst I’d had all month, and I’m no stranger. It was one of those mornings where you gotta pull yourself up outta the pillow hole, you know? As my feet touched the floor I had one hand scrubbing what felt like a sandstorm from my eyes and the other trying to wipe all the drool from my chin.

“I was like a sail ship in a high wind though - top heavy and swaying between pieces of furniture in the hope that I was making some kind of forward motion.

“Now, I’m not unfamiliar with waking up jagged, but I was beginning to understand I’d wandered into a new realm of pain. I didn’t remember getting in any fights the night before, but, well, that didn’t rule the possibility out.

“After a while I made it to the hallway, and my goddamn stepson, late for school, came running through. I shouted the best ass kicking my tongue would allow, but that’s when he said, ‘Holy shit, you’re bleeding all over,’ and I really knew I wasn’t simply crudo.

“Adrenaline got me to the mirror in the bathroom then, and it looked like my reflection had wandered into a slasher flick. Dried blood on my cheeks and fresh blood still running down my chin. Everything hadn’t puffed up yet, but as I did my best to scrub myself clean I could feel the lumps where the bruises would form - and then my teeth. My front goddamn teeth.

“The evening before was coming back to me, but there was nothing interesting to remember. Early to bed after drinking my way through Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, but certainly not enough to wake up feeling like I did. I remembered locking the door before I crashed, as I usually do, and the windows were all still shut when I woke up. Jenny was already gone to work by then - but she always is, and she’d put the deadbolt in place behind her.

“It’s hard to explain. Someone - someone had been in my mouth without my knowing, and not gently. I mean, look at this mess, this is the kind of thing that requires tools and some vigorous elbow work. Yet no one had heard a thing, seen a thing - no one had broken a window to get in, no one had forced the door.

“Paranoia began to set in. I grabbed the kid and demanded answers, but it was clear from the look in his eyes that he had no idea what the hell had happened either.

“By the time I was done disinfecting my mouth with Walker Red I guess I’d gotten myself worked up. I realize how nuts it sounds, but the shock of it, and perhaps the booze, left me feeling like it was either the goddamn Tooth Fairy or some dentist’s vengeful ghost.

“Most of the bleeding seemed to have stopped, and I’d managed to get myself sort of clean, so I stumbled down here to tell the story.

“Maybe, after all that I just needed to be around people, I dunno.”

The tale ended with a hopeful look at his now empty glass. His audience ordered a refill, though the listener’s own can of unadulterated cola remained largely untouched.

“Sorry,” said the drinker, as he tipped his newly-filled glass in thanks, “I guess, despite how much it hurts, the not-knowing still has me talking. Name’s Jimmie Hobbs, by the way.”

“So I’d heard,” answered the stranger as his wrinkled hands dropped his wallet into the depths his hooded jacket’s inside pocket.

Hobbs took another long sip and raised a brow at his gaunt benefactor. “- and you’re...?”

“I’m just an old man with too much curiosity, but call me Mulligan - Mulligan Smith.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP434 – Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Human Echoes Podcast!

 

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 our private investigator hears the tale of Jimmy Two-Slices and his legally dubious pizza parlour.

 

Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

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

 

It’d been a hell of a day, and Mulligan wanted nothing more than to sip his slurpee in calm silence.

Walmart Mike, occupying the passenger seat as it nosed its way through downtown Capital City, had other thoughts.

The old man moved to arrange hair he no longer had, then chuckled to himself.

“Your fake paraplegic reminds me of an old pal of mine, Jimmy Two-Slices.

“Jimmy ran a pizza place out of a little house that’d been renovated into a restaurant three owners back. The only thing that changed when he moved in was that he painted every surface, inside and out, tomato-sauce red.

“Now, I say Two-Slices ran the establishment, but it wasn’t exactly like he owned it, if you know what I mean. The deed was in the pocket of fellows higher up the chain, he was just managing.

“I was there for the grand opening, and the food was crap. Tasted like I was eating cardboard slathered in rotten pepperoni. Didn’t matter much though, because, the way the suits saw it, the less business he did the better.

“See, most of what went in and came out of the shop was just on paper. Every Wednesday was a supposed bumper crop of sales. I mean, Jimmy was lucky if he shifted a couple of pies through the door, but the situation went a long way towards covering the inexplicable tax income for quite a number of broken-nosed mouthbreathers.

“Thing is, there wasn’t an evening when I’d wander in there that Jimmy wasn’t singing along to some whiny country song and tossing dough he’d probably never sell. That’s why they called him Two-Slices, by the way: If you were stupid enough to order one, he’d always double it for you because there was so much extra lying around.

“It was quiet though, because most of the boys couldn’t stand his taste in music. I’ve never cared one way or another, so I’d go in when I needed ancient cold coffee and a moment alone. I remember being in there one time, gnawing on a wedge of sand smothered in cheese and watching the flies gather on the windowsill, when a couple lads from the far side of town tossed a brick through the front window.

“Jimmy starts giving the kids what-for, figuring they’re just a pair of a-holes from the block, but we both knew better when a bottle of Smirnoff with a smokey chaser followed.

“Professional job too. Most amateurs overfill their cocktails, which causes no more fuss than a bunch of splashed stink and maybe a small puddle of flame, but these guys knew to give it some room to breathe - as professional as French protesters.

FP434 - Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie“My first thought was to get out the door. The flaming gas was making its way across the tomato-coloured floor and counter like a frat boy at a bordello: Hot, heavy, and likely to burn down in seconds.

“Yet there’s Two-Slices shouting ‘Help me!’ and, the thing is, he meant it. That’s when I knew he was in trouble.”

Despite himself, Mulligan raised a brow.

“The Molotov wasn’t a big enough hint?” asked the PI.

“Nah, that’s the cost of doing business. It’s like this: I go on shift at Walley World you know I’m workin’ hard for my minimum wage, but it’s still just a job. I like the people and the paycheck, but if some guy came in with a gun I wouldn’t be getting into a wrestling match over it. If some meathead with a fist full of fire were to try and torch the place I wouldn’t be toastin’ my buns tryin’ to save the friggin’ jogging pants.

“Jimmy though, he’s got his apron off and he’s trying to smother the heat. Well, what if he succeeds? That place wasn’t worth more than the change in my pocket, but I wasn’t about to have my reputation crapped on by having it get around that I hoofed it when Two-Goddamn-Slices stayed to beat back the inferno.

“We got it under control, but there was plenty of smoke damage by the time we were done, and a couple uniforms came around to check what was what.

“‘Just a little problem with the oven,” says Jimbo, and they look from the glass on the floor to the brick and up to the scorch marks nowhere near the kitchen.

“Hell’d be serving Dairy Queen before those guys volunteered for paperwork, though, so they shrugged and took off.

“Still, those up the ladder were not pleased. Better in some eyes to have shepherded the insurance claim through the courts than to have drawn the eyes of even a couple street-walking blueboys.

“It wasn’t two weeks after that that the news came down, though they waited a few months before actually applying the torch, you know, to avoid suspicion. In the end, the near-miss actually gave them some cover, as they could pull in folks who’d swear to the oven already having issues. They even had a legit repairman come in and sign off on the thing once Jimmy was done repainting, just so they could wave his report in front of the judge.

“I wasn’t there for the roast, not my bag, but I heard about the tears Jimmy was leaking when the fire crews arrived. I remember thinking it was a shame too, because, even when he knew it was going to end, he kept on pushing his pies, and he was actually getting pretty damn good at it. He’d even started showing up early to pummel the dough, and the sauces had all started being handmade.

“Got to the point where I wouldn’t even groan when he handed me across a helping.“

The old man paused and smiled at the memory.

Mulligan, his slurpee now empty, slid up the highway’s on-ramp.

“So, are you trying to say that sometimes even when you try you can’t win?’ he asked. “I guess it’s being realistic, but maybe wait for a day when I haven’t lost an insurance fraud paycheck?”

“No, what I’m saying is you gotta consider the flip-side. There’s this idea out there that crime is all cash and ladies with questionable morals, but the truth is - and I know you know it - you don’t rob a chump of his twenty bones because you’re looking to get rich, you do it because you need a sandwich to fill your empty gut. You think those ladies with supposedly questionable morals are there because the pay is good and their dates are gentlemanly good times? No, but everyone’s gotta eat, or, worse, feed their family.

“So one fake wheelchair jockey managed to slip past a Smith: It sucks, but probably not as bad as whatever convinces a fella to spend his entire life looking over his seated shoulder so he can earn enough to cover his shitty apartment’s rent.

“Now quit your whining and I’ll buy you some dinner. I know a place. It may not be the greatest you’ve ever tasted, and the paint may make you feel like you’re trapped in a ketchup bottle, but Jimmy Jr. won’t let us leave hungry.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP420 – Mulligan Smith in Inheritance, Part 3 of 3

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and twenty.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Inheritance, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Mob

 

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 we watch a torch pass as we honour our fallen dead.

 

Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 3 of 3

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

 

Mulligan Smith sat, in the clean-floored apartment he’d rented since moving from his parent’s home nearly twenty years previous, thinking about his dead father and the word ‘Pentel.’

He was shaking.

It had been twelve hours since he’d learned of the murder, and no more than fifteen since the knife had found the old man’s belly. A hush-toned phone call from a friend on the force, who’d been summoned to the scene, had delivered the news.

Smith had seen his father just that morning - had, in fact, lent him his cellphone after a sudden appearance in the Denny’s at which the private investigator had been conducting a meeting with a suspicious husband.

Mulligan was no stranger to loss, but the weight of not knowing who was responsible - not even having a loose end onto which to grab and unravel the mystery - clutched at his lungs and spine like a stone gargoyle.

Twelve hours and he was no closer to an answer. “Pentel” was all he had.

Sitting on the loveseat that acted as his living room's only furniture, Mulligan again scanned the rows of filing cabinets aligned against the walls. Over half of the boxy metal shelves contained his father’s notes, assembled by date across a lifetime together. The others overflowed with archives kept from previous jobs, and receipts filed away for tax purposes.

Despite Mulligan’s searching gaze, none seemed to hold any answers.

He knew too well that the city was full of blades eager to trade a petty death for a wallet, but the only thing that had been missing at the scene was Mulligan’s own phone. The uniforms on duty hadn’t even known to look for it until he’d mentioned the device.

The PI had immediately set about running down the short list of former acquaintances and enemies who might bear a grudge at an old arrest, but the sergeant had retired so long ago that most had either died, given up on vengeance, or were never likely to cease rotting in jail.

He had held a brief interview with Bobby Sweet, the most recent to be released from prison.

Mulligan had ambushed him while Sweet was hassling his roommates for cigarettes on his halfway house’s stoop.

“The ornery mute who put you under all three times is dead,” Smith had opened.

The Sweets had a legendary history of felonies and public offenses - many unknown, some nothing more than myth - and the sergeant was as mixed into it as any who’d survived the Capital City police force for decades.

“Oh yeah, that’s a goddamn shame,” said Sweet, and Mulligan had nearly lept the trio of steps between them before his brain took the time to process the comment and realized the aging con actually meant it.

Mulligan SmithAnnoyance at his own lack of control had been enough to push the detective back into his Tercel, where he’d sat gripping the wheel for a good five minutes, not sure if he would scream or tear up.

He’d done a little of both on the drive to his father’s home.

There’d been nothing at the square kitchen table but silence, yet Mulligan had remained, absorbing the emptiness of the place.

It had come to him then in small pieces - something slightly askew: His mother’s always dusted and replaced collection of salt and pepper shakers appeared turned slightly inward; the cupboard drawers not quite as flush as the old sergeant had been sure to close them; even the worn rugs seemed out of line with the pattern on the linoleum he’d once enacted his toy car chases upon.

Maybe it was just his imagination, Mulligan had thought, or maybe someone had come to search the house while trying to make it appear as if they hadn’t.

Smith’s own ensuing three-hour-long hunt turned up nothing but frustration. He’d been on his way to the door, exhausted and pulling his black hoodie over his collapsed shoulders, when he’d reached for the ancient family photo that had eternally adorned the wall next to the entrance. Here was the last time Ma, Pa, and child had smiled together on film.

A slip of paper had fallen from behind the frame, the handwriting immediately obvious as his father’s own.

“Pentel” was all it said.

As he’d done with every other scrap his father’s pen had touched, Mulligan had carried it home for filing. He’d never considered where he’d picked up the habit.

Now, staring at the photograph he’d relocated to the top of his gray steel filing cabinets - it’s placement marking it as one of the few ornaments to adorn the white walled apartment - Mulligan despaired at what he’d lost, and what he would never learn.

The old man had been his best friend in many ways, but there was so little he’d truly known about the figure who’d raised him. He’d read the work tales, sure, but who had he been before the uniform? Where had his tongue gone?

He was sure he would never know.

Pentel?

“The Pentel method,” he suddenly said aloud, his mouth tripping on a recollection his mind had forgotten.

Pleased to have some reason to keep busy, his hands and eyes were soon digging through his collection of parchment. Reading through the stacks of notepad and stationary pages felt almost as if exhuming a grave - here was the memory of every conversation he’d ever had with the codger, here was every argument, every Sunday invitation to Eggs Benedict, (as if they couldn’t just assume it would happen, as it always did,) and every recollection of the former cop’s cases gone by.

Trivialities, questions, and reviews of television shows - but also Pentel.

Pentel repeated a surprising number of times - once a year, slipped sideways into some other conversation, but often there.

Though the elder Smith was a mute, he’d never been short on discussion. The method had been lost in a landslide of such facts and novelties.

“That pencil on notepad trick reminds me of the Pentel Method MI6 used,” the letter said, in response to a cheating husband case from a half-decade previous, “get a Roller Writer with which to scribble your text, press it hard against the clean side of a sheet of paper, and bam - you have a perfect invisible duplicate until someone sketches over top in ink in that same way. Then you just need to burn the original.”

The conversation had looped back from there, returning to a joke about the husband losing his shirt in the divorce just as he’d lost his pants in Mulligan’s photo.

It was a short sprint to the junk drawer, and a ballpoint pen.

There was no response when he shaded the empty portion below the message.

Flipping it flat on its face, however, brought up a full page, dense with text - the problem was that it started mid-sentence.

Mulligan returned to the previous day’s papers, but the story, something about a boy named Ezra that the Sergeant had apparently known in his youth, still was not at its beginning.

Grabbing up a sheet from just the week previous, and one from the days just after the junior Smith had hung his shingle as a private detective, the son’s hands became calm and steady, even if his tears said otherwise.

Somewhere in the hard steel shelves was the killer’s name, Mulligan was sure. Why else had the house been searched? Where else would the old man have hidden an answer?

He would find it - and the monster who’d ended the last of his family. Then he’d show the bastard some of the other tricks the old man had taught him.

First, however, he had a lifetime with his father to explore.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP419 – Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and nineteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Neverland Podcast

 

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 we see off an old friend.

 

Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3

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

 

John Smith and Ezra Doss walked on, under elm bough and bright stars and the morning’s dawn. They lost the rails in places, bringing terror to their hearts that was matched but by the triumph of again stumbling across the rotting metal that marked their path.

Three days they marched, sleeping under the summer moon just long enough to be awoken with the sure thought that the Dead Queen was close at their heels.

Legs aching and eyes gritty from exhaustion, both boys fell to tears when they spotted the first stranger either child had seen in years. The round faced woman was naught but twenty feet from the tracks, showing through a halo of green foliage, and it was only once the youths were upon her that they realized she was occupied with fence mending.

“Where’d you tykes come from?” she asked with a smile, her rough gloves wiping away their tears. “Ain’t nothing out there but trees and trouble. I suppose you must be runaways? You fellas leave a couple panicked parents back in Spruce Falls?”

Neither Smith nor Doss had any notion of where Spruce Falls might be, but they nodded in unison.

“Come, my husband, Mr. Delaney, is about to heave a berry pie from the oven, and I’m afraid if we don’t help him eat it he’ll spend the next two days lazing and bellyaching. Once we’ve had your assistance with that chore we’ll pay you in kind with a ride back to town.”

The gray haired woman then ushered them to a table, asking no questions regarding Smith’s missing tongue, and fed them two slices for every one cut by Mr. Delaney, to which the aging farmer playfully complained.

As John cleared the plates, the married couple took to harnessing their beasts and buttoning down the house for a brief excursion.

Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3Though Smith did not see it, it was then that Ezra pocketed another stolen trophy.

After an hour’s wagon ride through low hanging trees, they came to a cluster of houses set beside a broad river, and in it a plain whitewashed building simply marked CONSTABLE.

A brown-haired boy of perhaps seventeen was just pushing through the door, but the Delaneys stopped him with a wave.

“These two’ll need a word with Mr. Severin,” said Mrs. Delaney, and it was enough to send the messenger back inside.

Ezra offered a quick thank you, and lept from the wagon’s edge.

Smith, frustrated, not for the first time, that his lack of tongue could not offer up his true sentiments, leant across the clapboard and shook both Delaneys palms with grateful vigour.

The Constable had not appeared by the time they had turned their cart and made for home.

John smiled at Ezra.

Doss smiled at Smith.

The one-day sergeant would often wonder afterward if perhaps their entire relationship had not been built on such miscommunications. He had grinned at their freedom, but Ezra, reaching into his pocket, was smirking at his prize.

In his palm was a folding knife, its handle made of stag horn except where the locking mechanism was bolted, with brass plates, at the tip.

This second act of theft, following on the revelation that Ezra had snatched the supposedly-mystical coyote mask before their departure, was too much for Smith - with no tongue with which to express himself, the ten-year-old’s fist clenched.

“We better get moving before the Constable actually arrives,” said Doss, and it was only the fact that the boy stood two inches shorter that kept John from punching him.

Setting his legs in such a way to make clear his half of the conversation, Smith stood, waiting.

“Idiot!” responded Ezra, and he turned. Sprinting down the boardwalk, the thief disappeared between an inn and its neighbouring grocery.

Smith thought it likely he’d come running back within the hour, as he’d done on those occasions when they’d angrily parted ways over a contested game of Hide-and-Seek or Coffin. It would be the last he’d lay eyes on him until both were young men, however.

Perhaps it was the lack of tongue, or perhaps the scars scrawled in specific patterns across the youth’s back, but Constable Severin took rare pity on the boy.

When no parents came knocking, and no reports of missing mutes filtered from distant detachments, the Constable left the orphan to sleep in the office’s rarely used second cell. Severin found the child’s silence meant most forgot he was at hand, but the lad’s worth was proven when his quiet observation noted the tiny pistol William Salter unstrapped from his ankle upon his fifth drunk and disorderly detention.

Severin had learned to fully ignore the man’s rantings about targeted harassment all too well, and it was Smith handing across a hastily scrawled message that put both beyond range before Salter could deploy either barrel of his Dillinger.

In the years that followed, Smith would gain an education in police work, rail riding, and the true nature of the world outside the Dead Queen’s domain, but it was only once he’d crossed the southern border, into America, that he made effort to prove his existence.

It was a long fight with bureaucracy, especially as what origin information he did provide was entirely fabricated, but, in the end, those behind the red tape preferred to document one more John Smith than let an able body walk as a ghost among them.

Once arranged, the mute thought no more on his early days. Though he tried his luck at many occupations, none seemed so interesting as his first - still, it was a newspaper article that, in many ways, pinned the lawman’s badge upon his breast that he would wear till the day he died.

A murder had taken place to the east, a scandal sheet novelty from Capital City. A socialite known as Mother Beatrix had had her throat apparently slit by her husband, a thin-faced drunk. What made the item of interest was that it had happened at a party, in full view of the guests. The drunk had swaggered into the midst of a costumed affair, gathered in a rough sack all items of value displayed on shelves and in nooks, then he’d stifled Mother Beatrix’s ongoing complaints about his intoxicated hooliganry by laying the blade of a stag-handled knife across her neck.

Witnesses would later swear that Mr. Beatrix was, in fact, in a east-end club at the time, and his belly too heavy with scotch to have overtaken a flight of stairs, much less Mother Beatrix.

What started as a vague suspicion became a secret compulsion, as collected in notebooks piled deep with press clippings. Some mentioned the stag-handled knife, many did not. Most often there was simply a discrepancy of locations: Reports of two versions of the same murderer, one oblivious, the other homicidal.

So began a slow simmering chase, yet Smith could not stop the velocity of his course. He fell in love, married, had a son. Through hard work, and perhaps some gentle blackmail, John rose through the ranks of law enforcement, his skills and quick pencil work carrying him where his tongue could not.

He worked hard to keep his first lifetime - that of Ezra, the Dead Queen, and the secrets his tongue had been removed to keep - separate from that of his second, but the doppleganger deaths continued on every five or six years, and each fed his obsession as if gas to flame.

Though he’d named his child Mulligan in an attempt to bless the boy with a new beginning after the generations of Smiths that had been muffled at the Dead Queen’s command, he could not help but teach the child to collect each scrap of paper handed to him by his father. It was not lost on the man that he had taken up the very sort of training regime involving hidden and obtuse lore, that he had so hated when he himself was a child.

In time he found that he was not forgotten. On a quiet street, decades after Smith had thought his mind had let go of the details of the Dead Queen’s stare, a girl the age of his own son had approached him with a message.

“We are glad to see you well, Mute. Surely now you realize that the magic you thought dead has, in truth, returned to the world.”

It was not the words, but the fact that the girl’s demeanor was so true to that of her great-grandmother, the Dead Queen, that convinced Smith. They talked and wrote for some time, and many old ills were forgiven on either side.

Despite his hopes, however, they had no more knowledge of Ezra, nor the coyote’s cloaking face, than he.

On occasion, in the years leading to his retirement, Smith would walk the edges of a crowd gathered at a murder scene and think, just briefly, that he’d caught sight of Doss’ now aging face - yet always the visage would fade from the gawkers well before the sergeant could navigate the wall of bystanders.

In his final years, his wife long dead and his friends well established, Smith took his greatest joys from discussing petty matters with his only child. His letters were copious, and Sunday brunches of Eggs Benedict were the norm.

It was with a strange tingle of excitement that the old man received a text from his son that read, “Do you know anything about a wooden coyote mask? I’ve got something interesting under the west side of the Lethe bridge.”

Hating to waste words that were not on paper, the ex-policeman had called a cab without bothering to reply.

He found nothing but discarded Smirnoff bottles and the gurgle of the river on the bank beneath the bridge until he turned at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Along came Mulligan, the black hoodie he’d worn as his uniform since the death of his mother zipped tight, yet, as he stepped close, there was a knife in his hand.

Smith knew it to be the blade he had seen Ezra produce on that warm August morning. It would be the second last earthly sight of the old man’s life.

His eyes lifted from the horn grip, still lodged in his belly, to the man he had thought his child - but now the hood was filled with naught but a coyote mask and a gloating chuckle.

Smith’s legs, those reliable spindles that had carried him from the distant shore of the Winipekw and across many a cold Capital City sidewalk while on patrol, gave out, and he rested for the final time.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP418 – Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and eighteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Neverland Podcast

 

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 we delve into the knotted history that would one day make Smith a Police Sergeant, a dedicated father, and a haunted man.

 

Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3

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

 

The resort on the banks of the Winipekw had long ago separated itself from a world concerned with wars and plague. What had once been the town of Hearse had both contracted and decayed, leaving but the massive lake house, and a cluster of out buildings that rose and fell with the passing decades.

In young John Smith’s time, he knew every one.

His games of hide and seek, played with the single other child at hand, a boy by the name of Ezra Doss, had known little respect for the tool sheds and barnyards that housed the equipment that fed the majority of the retreat’s residents, though they’d shown some care for Mr. Madison and his swinging blacksmith’s hammer.

Doss and Smith, eight and ten respectively, had learned in time that they had much in common, though they rarely thought to pass notes on such topics. Smith’s parents had promised a quick return after a month’s voyage to the south, but he had not seen them since the age of five. Ezra’s mother had also departed on the sole transportation in or out, the supply boat that moored once monthly.

She too had promised a quick return and not met her guarantee.

“I’d have abandoned me too, if it meant living in this place,” were Ezra’s lone words on the matter.

John had spent his entire life between the sprawling walls and surrounding timberlands, his only outside contact coming from the steady inflow of books and news journals demanded by the woman the forty or so inhabitants of the Winipekw’s shores called the Dead Queen.

Though Smith was a mute, Ezra had been happy to have a guide about the place upon his arrival at the age of six. They’d been cast together since, as those who were meant to act as communal babysitters in their parents’ absence were happy enough so long as the pair entertained themselves and kept up with their lessons.

There was much to see beneath the monolithic roof beams and along the rough-stone patios. Cruel looking farm implements lurked in the barns, robins nests and raccoon hutches at the edges of the tended lawn, and, on the top most floor, in a highly restricted but little observed library, stood a series of glass cases containing artifacts of mystic origin - supposedly.

By ten the someday policeman had decided the magical nature of these ancient tokens was nothing more than a legend tended to by a group of religious fanatics. The Dead Queen, sitting always by her fireside even on the stickiest summer days, was nothing more than an invalid, and the only subjects of worth in his years of tutelage were the reading skills that had taught him of the outside world, one Allan Quatermain or Three Musketeers adventure at a time.

It was a bitter pill to think Smith had had his tongue cut free by the old woman, his supposed teacher and keeper, to safeguard arcane words that had no power.

The Wooden Coyote MaskThe relics were not without their entertainments, however. It was easy for a youth of that age to lose his gaze in the gleam of the silver dagger’s wicked blade, and there was a mask of wood, carved to appear as if a coyote’s face, whose empty eyes seemed to follow the viewer at any angle.

“Keeps better track of us than any of these blind-idjit adults do,” Ezra had often commented.

Though Smith had long heard tales that the knife might summon duplicates of anyone whose blood it tasted, or that the canine face could transform to mimic whomever its wearer desired, the boy had discovered a different truth when he’d lifted high the glass and experimented with each.

No twins came at his sliced finger, and no mirror displayed anything but the ornate disguise when the cur’s visage was donned.

It was then that John came upon the notion that his guardians were in fact captors, that they had likely done away with his and Ezra’s parents, and that their plans were nefarious at best.

Even the apparently rotting woman all called the Dead Queen was likely just a convalescent infected with the sort of disfiguring illness that the pulp novels often considered a sign of a corrupted mind.

So it was, at ten, that Smith - knowing full well that the ship’s master would not transport any load that would ruin his regular contract - had begun to patrol the outer woods, looking for any sign of life beyond the compound.

After a week’s fruitless hunting he’d literally stumbled across the overgrown rail tracks that had once acted as the ruined town’s lifeblood.

What followed was a months’ planning and rationing. Tins of crackers crept quietly from the kitchen, and uncooked potatoes went, uneaten, into a hidden cloth sack.

Every note on the subject Smith scrawled on paper scavenged from the back of books and the notebooks in which he did his school work, and each missive was carefully burnt shortly after writing. Even then, he dared only pass his ideas to Ezra when deep enough amongst the pines to be sure of their solitude.

“Better than my intention of murdering the captain and stealing his freighter,” Doss had chuckled when Smith revealed his proposal.

There’d been no question that the boys would depart together.

Later, when he realized the depths of his mistake, the getaway’s mastermind would admit that, though he’d convinced himself it was the one chance to save the other lad, he’d likely been simply too afraid to trek into the unknown without company.

Smith’s last sight of his childhood home came as he exited a rear door under a low-hanging August moon. The weeds and grass beyond the creaking screen seemed awash in silver, and the insects that buzzed at their approach hummed as if carrying the electricity of their excitement.

Though their escape seemed likely to end abruptly under the snap and crack of a decaying rail trestle, and again when they fought their way across a river whose current nearly carried them from history entirely, they did not stop until dawn - and still just long enough to open wide a cracker tin and demolish the crumbs within.

It was then that Ezra revealed his pilfered memento, the stolen coyote mask, and the real trouble began.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Green Light, Red Light

 

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, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.

 

Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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

 

There were no windows in the room, only empty expanses of bare plywood nailed onto a sloppily erected frame. To Mulligan’s left was a door, to his right a simple table holding a camping lantern that acted as the sole source of light. Beneath him was a creaking wooden chair to which he’d been zip-tied, and before him sat the man with the gin-blossomed nose he’d come to think of as Red Parka.

He knew that just beyond the walls was a view to steal the breath from a Capital City Morlock such as himself, but it did him little good.

Red Parka shifted on his stool, settling the hunting rifle across his lap into a more comfortable position.

There was rarely any magic in Mulligan’s job, and here was the epitome of the mundane: He’d often wondered if this was how he might perish, in some dingy hovel at the hand of a man with petty reasons and a terrible need for a shower.

From beyond the crookedly hung door, in the room that made up the other half of the shack, there came a trio of knocks.

Smith could hear Blue Parka, the one who’d tazed him, rise to answer the summons.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve lost one of my tourists, have you seen an idiot in a hoodie stumbling around out here?”

Smith knew the woman’s voice, longed, in fact, to hear it say just a few more words, but Red Parka’s arms stiffened at the intrusion, and the gun barrel hovered above his knees.

It would do no good, Smith knew, to drag Molly into the calamity.

She’d been the one who’d summoned him to the Arctic Circle. They’d been introduced when he’d had need of a bush pilot on a previous job, and she’d been impressed enough with his work to ask for assistance when the small community of Suinnak had charged her with rum running.

Her email had been as straight to the point as Blackhall herself.

I realize chasing bootleggers sounds a bit ridiculous to a fellow who can walk a block and pass three bars and a booze megastore, but these folks generally see limited supplies, and a sudden bump in the market can cause a lot of havoc. I’ve been the only one in and out lately, so they figure I must be the source, and I haven’t been able to spot any amateur moonshiners while waiting for my court date.

I hate to have to ask - and I think you know it - but I could really use some help.

In truth, Molly’s face, and his trip north, had floated to mind more than once in his idle hours parked outside cheap motels and heavily-curtained bungalows, and he’d been eager to be of assistance.

“I haven’t seen him,” answered Blue Parka.

There was a pause, and Molly lost the majority of the politeness in her voice.

“I heard he was coming here to visit,” she insisted.

Red Parka had the stock of his weapon under his arm now, the barrel endangering the ground midway between Mulligan and himself.

“Nope,” said Blue Parka, “probably best to go back to your plane and wait to see if he shows.”

The door closed. Smith felt his shoulders relax.

At least she’d be safe.

When he’d arrived, a day earlier, it had been an easy enough thing to locate the real origin of the free-flowing liquor. His filing cabinets at home were filled with letters from his ex-police-sergeant father that provided advice along the lines of, “it takes money to catch money,” and he’d known exactly how to begin the search.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall ChronicleLocating the most notorious drunk in town had only taken three sets of questions, and, as the PI had told Molly when he’d retrieved his bribe from his travel bag, it wasn’t as if the community was about to be overrun with 18-year-old single malt Talisker scotch.

She’d grown red faced and angry when he’d handed the cup to a fellow obviously killing himself with such.

At the first drink, the man had denied knowing anything about locals involved in distilling.

At the second, both men were chuckling, and Molly joined them in a sullen cup.

At the third she too was laughing, as Mulligan laid out his usual jokes and admitted, sheep facedly, that he rarely drank.

At the fourth, the interviewee, still denying he knew anything, did admit it was better booze than the locally made stuff.

When they’d reduced the bottle by half, the private investigator had found his feet suddenly, thanking his host for his time.

“Perhaps you could top my glass before you go?” the drunk had asked.

“Sorry, I need to save some reward for someone who can help,” Smith had replied.

The tippler’s face went to war with itself for thirty seconds, twisting between resolve and thirst, then the man had stood to point at the shack on the hill.

Smiths’ victory was quickly forgotten, however, as Molly landed on a decision that seemed to have been hovering at the edge of her mind for a while, and dragged him back to the cabin she occupied when visiting the remote hamlet.

Two hours later, half-sobered and sweating from exertion, she’d apologized for growing angry over tweaking the old lush’s weakness to dig for an answer.

“We Blackhalls have always had a temper,” she explained.

They’d fallen asleep soon after.

Awaking to her satisfied snoring had given him the chance to creep up the hill and be tazed.

He’d expected to find a still - instead, seconds before being electrified, he’d discovered just a spout to collect snow and a pot-bellied stove that struck the PI as a fire hazard, especially in an all-wood shanty.

That’d been half an hour ago, but now there was a hitch in his chest as he realized the distance between them was so close that he could hear her muttering as she followed the thin trail down the hillside.

“Oh,” she was saying, “I’m-a go back to the goddamn plane…”

In the next room, Blue Parka returned to murmuring. He’d been at it when Smith had originally arrived, and until this second interruption the chanting had been the only relief from Red Parka’s thick mouth-breathing.

Smith returned to the impossible task of finding some leverage that might keep him out of a shallow permafrost grave.

He considered using his increasingly angry bladder as an excuse to attempt to run, but he doubted he’d make it far from Red Parka’s rifle given the barren white slopes that surrounded the hut.

Blue Parka’s droning stopped, and Mulligan’s bladder doubled its demands.

He had little interest in finding out what the pair had in mind once done singing for the day.

It was apparently just another interruption, however.

“You gotta see this,” called the crooner, “there’s a - I think it’s a wolverine? - out front. Bring the rifle.”

Red Parka stood and pulled the door shut behind him.

Through the flimsy barrier Smith heard Red Parka ask, “is it dancing?”

“Maybe it’s rabid?”

The slamming of the outside exit cut off any further conversation.

Breathing heavily, the PI began to thrash in his bonds. The chair went over sideways, but did not break. The zipties dug into his ankles and the flesh of his wrists, but did not give.

Still, it was shouting and gunshots from the far side of the cabin that brought his flailing to a halt.

Then the air filled with the scream of a chainsaw.

As he lay askew on the rough planks, the tip of a high-speed cleaver pushed through the wall and sliced downward in a long diagonal stroke.

Two more incisions followed, and the splinter-edged triangle fell inward.

Molly Blackhall said, “so, sometimes you’re out in the woods and some bloody beavers start lodging up on the river you figured you could use to exit. I keep this Mama Jama to clear the runway, as it were.”

“You shouldn’t have come back,” answered Mulligan, “they’re armed with worse than chainsaws. If that animal hadn’t come along…”

“Oh, she’s part of the plan too.”

“You have a pet wolverine?”

“It’s not a pet, it’s more like a friend,” she replied. “Anyhow, talk less, escape more.”

She did him the favour of using a knife to remove his bonds.

Still, the PI could not resist a final peek into the adjoining room to see the product of the seemingly neverending incantations. He thought the man had been simply whistling while he worked, but the only changes he could spot in the plain chamber were the location of the barrel, which was now at the center of the floor, and the nature of what it held.

Then he was again being pulled along by Molly’s insistent grip, though this time through the ragged hole and down the hill.

White powder crunched underfoot. The mountain range on the far horizon watched impassively. Behind them echoed more shouts, and more gunshots, and perhaps even a gravel-throated chuckle.

It was at that moment Mulligan Smith realized he was in love, but he would be left wondering, for a long while afterward, how the Parkas had transformed a barrel of snow melt into wine.

He would not see the pair again, nor would the people of Suinnak, but the discovery of the supply - and the signed confession they nailed to the Game Warden’s office before they departed - were enough to clear Molly for a brief southward vacation.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP405 – Mulligan Smith in The Cheat, Part 3 of 3

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and five.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in The Cheat, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the works of Mike Luoma

 

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, private investigator Mulligan Smith finds himself at the center of an online web of deceit and broken hearts.

 

Mulligan Smith in The Cheat, Part 3 of 3

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

 

As Mulligan continued his tale the Tercel picked up speed, ramping onto the knotted highway that ran through Capital City’s heart.

“You’ve got to understand, I’m a little too familiar with Ashlin Wisconsin as it is. There are a half dozen companies aiming to hook-up bored married people too selfish to end their current relationship, and they’re one of the first things I look for when I stumble across a roamer’s credit card bill.

“When the call came in offering up the philanderer’s password, my client, a rather clever woman, held out on payment unless she met someone in person to hand the money across to. She’d been very convincing.

“That was all set up for the next afternoon.

“Before that was to happen, I got ahold of my former client, the wife of the dog-fight-gambler, and asked for a quick sit down. I may have implied it was over legal ramifications of her stiffing me, but I was very friendly about it.

“I’d already known her ex had an Ashlin Wisconsin subscription. Found it on the bill - which was easy since the classy guy was too in hock over his Escalade to get his own plastic, and was thus using my ex-client’s own cash to cheat on her.

“The payments stopped, which should have sent the account into hibernation and killed access to the site. Once the sales pitch arrived, however, it became clear that everything was still in place, and the back catalogue of messages could still be read.

“When I asked why they’d be giving the milk away for free, my former patroness only said ,’yeah, isn’t that weird?’

“Now, there was a chance that some over enthusiastic sixteen-year-old has decided to turn spousal vigilante and start selling off stolen Ashlin Wisconsin passwords, but I had a notion that there was something more to it. My thinking was this: If the account had remained magically activated, maybe the responsible party was someone actually at the company itself.

“Figuring I had a morning to blow before the meeting anyhow, I did some leg work. Or finger work, I guess, since I was mostly Googling. Whatever the case, I discovered a few things, including the interesting fact that, despite their name, Ashlin Wisconsin was a local company.

“Well, by the time lunch rolled around I had my client convinced that I’d be the one sitting at the designated table in Spinerette’s, which is the kind restaurant I’d have to starve through five cases to afford.”

FP405 - Mulligan Smith in The Cheat, Part 3 of 3To his right, the PI’s father raised a brow. It was enough to pull a chuckle out of the detective.

“Yeah, I had a rack of lamb. It was alright,” replied Mulligan. “Anyhow, I’m halfway through my job-expensed meal when this woman comes in toting black Jackie O glasses and a trenchcoat that’d put most spy flicks to shame.

“She catches sight of me - I’m wearing a tie full of sheep grease and a collared shirt that’s seen one too many spin cycles - and she wheels on her heel, trying to make it seem like she’s suddenly remembered that she’d left caviar on the stove or something.

“I am clearly not the lady she is looking for.

“Still, I stand up and say ‘Hey, Anita!’

“She stops. She turns. She sits.

“Once everyone stops trying to side-eye us, I put the envelope on the table. Thing is, I’m already aware she doesn’t really need it.

“‘Don’t worry,’ I say, ‘I know everything but I’m not here to drag your name to the cops or the papers, well - probably not. Depends on how honest you are with me in answering the next few questions.’

“‘Fine,’ she says, but I can’t see how she’s taking it otherwise because her pupils are still lost behind her thick lenses.

“Not that I don’t admire it, but isn’t what you’re doing illegal?’ I ask.

“‘It’s all covered in the EULA, the legalese they don’t bother to read when they sign up for the site,’ she replies. ‘We tell them that none of the information provided is going to remain secret, if not in so many words, and we make ourselves very clearly not liable for any physical, emotional, or financial damages that may be incurred by people using the site. So far we haven’t had a judge test the wording, but it seems like most of the people who end up caught don’t want to push the point too hard.’

“‘How do you pick them?’ I ask.

“‘The tech staff maintains a supposedly-secret Post of the Week that they print out to hang in the shadows behind their filing cabinet, where they think I won’t notice. It’s incredible how fast they can find scummier messages to top each other with. People can be so foul and ridiculous and strangely beautiful all at once, and nowhere does that show more than in semi-anonymous online flirting.

“‘I also do personal searches through the database for accounts that’ve had dozens of failed password entry attempts. Those usually give me a good idea of whose wife or husband is already living with the fear that something is happening behind their back.

“‘I suppose it was the same back when there was such a thing as privacy, but today no one realizes there’s always some bored technician just down the hall from your digital hideaway, and she or he can hear everything you’re saying if they want to bother.’

“‘But you’re not some bored tech,’ I reply, ‘You’re Anita Bider, Ashlin Wisconsin’s founder and CEO. You’re also the unfortunate victim of a rather public divorce. I’d be pretty angry too if I discovered through the tabloids that my spouse was running around with a quasi-famous socialite heiress. I guess that’s why you started the site? To sell out the same sort of jerks?’

“‘She had that face, like maybe I was going to get a visit from her security staff later that evening, so I figured I’d just keep going.

“‘I’m not going to get in the way of your questionable legality, and I’m not even going to tell my client about this discussion. I am, however, going to give you a call when I pull a gig from a weeping husband or wife. I don’t mind splitting the fee if you’re willing to save me the footwork.’

“Anita simply shrugged, handed across a business card with her cell number, and left.”

The trio sat in silence for a moment, to digest both the tale and the Sonic they’d just eaten, then Mulligan again cleared his throat.

“Anyhow, all that to say: I’ve got a few extra bucks. Who’s up for miniputt? I’m buying.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com - but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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