Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixteen.
Tonight we present Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle
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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, 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.
“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.
Locating 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 https://www.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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