Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and forty-eight.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Talk Nerdy 2 Me!
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 finds himself entering a den of iniquity with questions on his tongue.
Mulligan Smith in Wants & Needs
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
It wasn’t Mulligan’s favourite sort of place, but he was a man who believed deeply in an answer to every need – even if that need was not his own.
The Hungry Lion was situated in a former Chinese buffet that had had its windows blacked out by thick red curtains. The parking lot was well paved and the cement walkways leading to the disreputable business had clearly been recently refinished.
“Let me tell you about needs, Leo,” Mulligan was saying as he pushed his companion’s wheelchair along the ramp to the Lions curb. “The guy who runs this dimly lit cabaret needs to be at the center of things.
“Sure, the cash is good – he once told me that he even operates Seated Sundays as a non-profit charity, then rents himself the building for the write off – but I happen to be pretty familiar with Murray, and I know he must have been the sort of kid who grew up at the edge of every game of spin the bottle, of every pool party, of every prom. You know the type: In all the stories, but never the main player. He wasn’t the big chinned jock, the smart one, or, frankly, any of the Breakfast Club characters – but he does have The Hungry Lion.”
As he had repeatedly since first being fetched for this interview, Leo gave a mildly confused “huh” of agreement.
They pushed through the darkened glass doors and the first wave of bass hit their ears.
“Everyone needs a place,” Smith continued as he pulled open the interior entrance.
The darkness inside meant Leo’s unadjusted eyes could see only the woman writhing in the spotlight. She was wearing a pair of purple booty shorts, a Hello-Kitty-as-samurai tattoo, and a “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker over her heart that had had ‘Anya’ written in with a thick black sharpie – and nothing more.
“Anya, for instance,” said Smith, “is a nice lady who had the misfortune to fall for a jackass in a polo shirt that left her to raise twins on her own. She’s as sweet a human as you’ll ever meet, but she doesn’t like math and her winning smile made her teachers soft on her.
“She’ll be damned if she’ll let her kids starve, and, besides, she likes making people happy.
“It’s like I was saying: Everyone needs a place, even if that place has a bad rep.”
As he seemed to be hypnotized by Anya’s rhythmic swaying, the PI could no longer tell if his seated companion was paying him any attention. Approaching a round brown-topped table at the approximate center of the room, Mulligan was sure, at least, that he had not noticed the fact that the rest of the dozen or so patrons were also chair-bound though no seating had been supplied by the establishment.
After three minutes more of a White Zombie remix, Leo finally turned back to his apparent inquisitor.
“Uh, you’re from Haymaker right?” he asked, “so what’s up with this place?”
“You’re not listening, Leo,” Smith replied. “Everyone needs a place. This one is Seated Sundays.
“Most of these mooks paying too much for pitchers of domestic draft are injured vets who’ve come back from the war. It may surprise you to hear, but it can be tough for a paraplegic to get a girlfriend when buried in medical debts and suffering from the occasional bout of PTSD.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t need a little tender attention though. That’s how Murray got his idea for the charity, Seated Sundays. No cover charge for anyone in a rolling recliner, and a free lap dance for those who can show their dog tags. Donations are always welcome though, as Murray would gladly tell you.”
Leo’s too-small eyes grew closer together. “You brought me down here to pass the hat for a strip joint? Uh, thanks.”
Smith shrugged. “I wasn’t lying to you when I said I wanted to interview you on behalf of your insurance company, but, as you you’ve probably figured out, I’m no suit juggling actuary tables – but, hold on a sec, here comes a friend of mine, One Leg Mick.”
Having spotted the hoodied PI, the man with the lone lower limb had launched himself in their direction with sturdy arms. His high-speed stop was sudden, and spoke of long practiced braking.
“Hey, Mick, I was just telling my pal here about miracle flights,” Mulligan offered as his hello.
“Miracle flights?” asked Leo. His confused squint had only strained further at the newcomer’s appearance, but, as Anya pranced from the stage, his attention was again absorbed by the announced arrival of Veronika.
Despite the distraction, Mick said, “Hell, used to happen constantly when I worked at the airport, especially when security started ratcheting up.
“‘Miracle Flights’ are what the cabin crew called ‘em. Some frequent flyer who knows the system claims they need a wheelchair from the airport. They’re rolled on by the flight attendant, but somehow they walk out cured. Hell, where was that sort of healthcare when I came back from the war? Ha!”
“Huh?” asked Leo.
“It’s for priority seating,” answered Smith. “They fake a condition so they can get on the plane ahead of the rabble.”
Without warning the detective had Leo’s full focus.
“Everyone needs a place in the world,” Mulligan repeated to him. “You should’ve done some research. Your paperwork states your spinal cord injury – your SCI – is complete. Do you know what that means?”
“I can’t play badminton and Haymaker owes me an ass-ton of money?”
“Yeah, and it pays out better than being SCI incomplete, but it also means you shouldn’t be so pleased to see Anya and Veronika. Actually, these folks are all SCI incomplete – it’s the fellas with totally severed nerves who have trouble, uh, raising the flag in salute.”
Veronika swung wide on the pole, her thighs slowing her descent to the floor.
Red faced, Leo’s forearms dropped to his lap for as much coverage as possible, but One Leg, his smile now a sneer, backed away and returned to the group in fatigues that he’d left at his own table.
Smith, however, was not done: “What bothers me isn’t just that you’re taking money from people who need it – no, it’s more direct than that. Your wants give their needs a bad rep.”
As word of the forgery traveled from lips hovering above overpriced beer to ears aching from too-loud grind music, wheels began to align themselves towards the pair.
Mulligan turned, nodded to the DJ, and left to stand on the curb outside.
Veronika did not break her wiggle.
Of course Smith’s client, Haymaker Insurance, couldn’t accept an errant erection as proof of a fraudulent claim – but the investigator’s hastily snapped cellphone pictures showing Leo sprinting from the strip club ahead of a mob of angry ex-military men would certainly serve.
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