Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixty-nine.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Life in the Fast Lane, Part 1 of 1
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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight Mulligan Smith, PI, finds himself doing some fast driving.
Mulligan Smith in Life in the Fast Lane
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The sedan, rarely driven over fifty, was still moving nimbly at eighty.
Mulligan, behind the wheel, had banked onto the freeway while the redheaded woman to his right was distracted with her phone, and, as such, the sudden acceleration had come to her as a surprise.
Rita Perkins was fifty-two, wore her hair in a bushy loose ponytail, and was holding a clipboard emblazoned with a Learning Curves logo over her short green skirt.
“Where – why are we on this road?” she asked.
Though there was a brake at her foot the dense pack of high-speed traffic meant she could only use it with careful consideration.
Pulling smoothly left, Smith answered, “I thought I’d work on my lane changes?”
Rather than answer, his passenger took a moment to gather her thoughts as he weaved between a transport truck and a harried commuter shouting at his earpiece.
Watching the man’s bobbing tie as he argued into the air, she bit her lip and snuggled her seat, but, a mile later, with open road ahead, she made a second attempt to approach the conversation.
“You seem exceptionally comfortable behind the wheel.”
This was true. While waiting out a philandering husband in the parking lot of a Sheraton, the private investigator had recently calculated that he’d spent more hours that week in his Tercel’s driver’s seat than he had sleeping. Better yet, the little Nissan he was currently piloting handled quite like his rolling office.
Still, he had inquiries to make.
“Sure,” he said, “watch this.”
With a flourish of heel-toe work the car shifted two lanes, ducked in front of a merging minivan, then dropped onto the exit ramp.
There was another moment of silence as they reentered downtown’s molasses flow, but, once she’d regained her breath, Rita almost posed a question.
“You clearly don’t need any training time…”
“You come highly recommended,” Mulligan replied, as if it were an answer. He then retrieved one of the most useful weapons he carried as a PI: The goofy smile he’d practiced in the mirror as a teen.
It was a grin that could be forgiven anything. It had left most of his childhood punishments without teeth, and he hoped it might now bring he and his instructor closer now that she’d been reminded of her own mortality.
Grabbing the lip of her V-necked blouse, Ms. Perkins adjusted her cleavage with two indelicate yanks. From the corner of his vision, however, Mulligan judged that there was no change between the before and after – beyond having drawn his gaze.
He turned, his mask carefully in place, and she smirked back. Smith knew better than to move the conversation along, though – instead he set his left hand high on the wheel and his right across the thigh of his jeans.
Finally, after a half block, she came to the question he awaited.
“Who referred you?”
“Cory Winkler, poor kid.”
Rita asked, “Cory Winkler?” but he knew she meant, “Poor kid?”
“Yeah, I mean, clearly he suggested it before everything fell apart…”
The car had slowed, but Smith could tell it was now Perkins’ mind that was racing – he simply needed to keep it on track.
“It’s really too bad,” he continued, “such a handsome bugger and doing so well at school. I mean – sixteen is just too young, you know?”
Turning to give her his, “are you ok?” look, Mulligan took the opportunity to cast a reassuring pat to the knuckles kneading Rita’s clipboard.
She gobbled up this offered comfort with pinching fingers.
“What happened?” she asked.
To add to the gravitas, he waited for a red light before answering.
“It was one of those crazy new untreatable but hyper-aggressive strains of syphilis. One minute I’m watching him shoot three pointers in the driveway while talking stock options with his dad, the next I’m standing beside an open casket and trying to explain to the old man how sorry I am.”
“Syphilis?” asked Rita.
Single word responses were a nice sign of strain, and Smith thought he might just have the race in the bag.
“The doctors said he probably had it for maybe a year, but it was dormant. Then, a couple Friday’s back, bam, he got hauled into the ER by some hooligan friends who thought he’d drunk himself into a case alcohol poisoning.
“By Monday he was gone.”
“Oh my God,” said the woman. Her face was transparent beneath her blush, her lips blue behind her lipstick. She began to sob.
“You knew him well?”
“No – yes – sort of.”
His speed now a steady thirty, Mulligan gave a gentle squeeze from within his hand’s bony cocoon and asked, “you – you slept with him?”
“Yeah,” she said, then, with a hiccup in her voice, she repeated it. “Yeah.”
“It’ll be ok,” answered Smith, “but you’ll have to find a new job.”
“New job? I need to find a doctor, not a job.”
“Nah, I’m just messing with you. It was his Dad who put me onto you. Little Cory crashed the family Beemer on his test day. He was wondering if Learning Curves was maybe running a straight scam – you know, I’ll pay you a C and you give me an A – but it didn’t take much reading into the hormonal online reviews, written by pleasantly surprised teenage boys, to figure out what it was he learned in his time with you.”
The storm upon Rita’s face broke into a gale of relieved laughter, and Mulligan retrieved his hand.
There was something in her giggle that jabbed at the space just behind his right eye.
Pulling alongside his Tercel, he popped the memory stick from the driver-facing camera Learning Curves had installed as an educational aid. His client didn’t pay him for opinions, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Laugh all you like, Ms. Robinson, but if you were a fifty-year-old man macking on a sixteen-year-old student the judicial system would run you through a meat grinder.
“If there’s enough money in a civil suit Winkler Senior’s lawyer still might.”
Killing the engine, he stood.
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.
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