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Father Figure is Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore. All Rights Reserved.
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background on the excerpt
Daryl and Sally get drawn deeper into the mystery within the novel in this section, snooping around like the Bobbsey Twins in the Anchorage apartment of Sylvia Gold, the woman whose love-making opens the novel, and whose strangulation during that love-making pulls Daryl into the mystery, much as Sally herself is now pulled in.
Gold's apartment is actually the same apartment as the one used in my short story Sex on Sheets, airlifted from Santa Barbara to Anchorage, with the furniture slightly rearranged and a few extra props carried in, like the chock-full freezer and the stacks of pornographic magazines.
This section also introduces the homosexual element in the novel, which will rear its head again in the "I Don't Want to Squeeze the White Part" excerpt of the novel available on this site, and which will become fully realized in Parts Two and Three.
in someone else's apartment
excerpt from the novel Father Figure
They crossed the narrow street to the two story building halfway up the slope on the other side. Daryl put his sports jacket on.
Somewhere beyond the neighborhood a chain saw started up, biting into a tree. Dogs began barking in backyards.
A wide, rickety porch stretched across the front of the building. At its nearest corner an enclosed wooden staircase led upstairs.
At the bottom of the stairway was apartment 1.
Daryl squared his shoulders, then knocked gingerly on the frosted glass pane set in the door.
A light came on from behind, throwing the border tulip etchings into relief.
The woman answering the door went, "Oh!", disappointed at who it wasn't.
She stood as tall as Daryl, with dark pigtails, horn-rimmed glasses, and a man's lumberjack shirt over a pair of walking shorts.
She kept one hand on the doorjamb, one on the door, blocking entry.
She blinked behind her glasses.
"My name is Daryl Putnam, this is Sally Dolumbo, I believe you've received a call from the Anchorage Police Department authorizing us to search Sylvia Gold's apartment."
"You the police?"
"I'm the coroner for the town of Lodgepole. Sheriff Robert Cable has deputized me to conduct this investigation."
She looked over her plaid shoulder into the interior of the apartment. In a hallway at the rear of the apartment a short, dark barrel of a man, completely naked, stood under a light, clenching his fists, messy hair crimped with dozens of different colored ribbons. "Don't want none!" he shouted angrily.
"It's about the woman upstairs," she called back. "The one the cops called us about."
"Don't want none!"
Mrs. Kesedan reached into the front pocket of her shorts, pulling out a single brass key. "This is a bad time. Leave the key in my mailbox. When you're through."
Sylvia Gold's apartment was at the end of the hall. All the doors they passed had lines of light underneath, TV's going.
As he fit the key into the lock, Daryl could no longer suppress the surge of excitement he felt. He and Sally were going to be able to legally snoop into someone else's life, going over her belongings like he had gone over her corpse.
The air inside smelled of cigarettes, the nicotine as sharp and identifiable as lemon.
All the lights were off.
Sally found the switch behind the drapes. Two matching table lamps went on, on either side of the sofa. "Or should I not touch anything?"
"No, it's fine." He went through the apartment turning on lights, getting the layout.
The front door opened right into the living room. Behind it was the kitchen. A wide archway with a sliding room divider on the left of the living room opened into the bedroom. Down its short hallway, lined with sliding closets on either side, was the bathroom.
There were only two windows in the apartment, both sliding, both on the side of the apartment they had entered through: a large one in the living room, and a smaller, shoulder high one in the bedroom set over the headboard. Evidently the back of the apartment abutted the back of another apartment on the other side.
All the rooms were small, with cheap pine paneling sheets over the walls, giving the place a dark, depressing look. None of the walls held pictures, decorations or knick-knacks.
The long coffee table meant for the sofa had been moved under the living room picture window, a large TV on it.
The furniture looked like it came with the apartment.
Daryl turned the TV on. It was color. There was a box on top of the set with cables running out of it. He slid the selector handle left and right across the numbers, amazed at the number of channels clicking on the tube.
He smirked at Sally. "Want to leave it on?"
She rolled her eyes, delighted as he was. "I'll try to get MTV. They'd probably have that, right?"
He snorted. "Looks like they have everything." Towering piles of magazines and newspapers rose on either side of the TV, some of the inner stacks spilled against the sides of the set. "When you get a chance, could you go through these, please? Just give me some idea of what's there."
He lifted the cushions off the sofa. A few pennies and a long white scroll. He turned the scroll over: a cashier receipt from Safeway dated two weeks ago.
The kitchen had all the appliances against the right wall, with a table and four chairs crowded into the center of the floor.
A wicker basket sat on top of the refrigerator. He brought it down, setting it on the table.
Laying within were about 40 heads of garlic, a dozen small, cellophane boxes of shallots and a couple of pounds of stoutly-limbed ginger root.
He opened the freezer door at the top of the refrigerator. The cubical interior was crammed with smoking bags of ice. He took them all out, two at a time, filling the aluminum sink.
Behind the ice were three sandwich bags, each stuffed to the point of roundness with a green-brown filling. He undid the twist tie at the top of one, carefully pulling the plastic away from the frozen bulk inside. Buds, stems and seeds.
He opened the refrigerator door.
The top shelf was packed with beer. None of it American. The shelf underneath, and the side door, held a hundred or so jars of spices, herbs and sauces, many of the labels in a foreign language.
The bottom shelf was stuffed wall to wall with one-pound boxes of butter.
He had to yank on the vegetable bin to get it open. Inside were rubber-banded, white tipped bunches of scallions. He took them out, counting 63 sheaves.
The cabinet over the refrigerator was empty.
The cabinet over the sink was packed with booze, mostly bourbon and scotch, probably fifty bottles altogether, some of them crammed in sideways. Up front stood a cluster of absinthe, illegal in the United States because of the brain damage it can cause, but legal in Canada.
The cabinets over the stove held stacks of chocolate bars piled right up to the top. All the American brands, plus a wide variety of foreign ones. He pressed his thumb and forefinger into the tight stack, working a package of chocolate free.
The box was about the size of a hardcover book, but not as thick. Two kittens were painted on the cover, the word Katzenzungen above their pointed ears. He opened the lid, looking at the thin bars laid neatly inside, each one shaped like a rounded, slim-sided bow tie.
He picked one out, broke it in half and smelled it, then took a bite. It was chocolate.
Under the sink were institutional size jars and cans of jumbo green olives, Greek olives, jalapeno peppers, garlic pickles, cornichions, gherkins, cucumber pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup and ballpark and dijon mustard. The spaces between the large jars' necks were filled in with bottles of Tabasco and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Against the back wall of the kitchen was a floor model freezer with four boxes stacked on its lid. All four contained mushrooms, two of them the common supermarket mushroom, the other two a variety of fresh and dried mushrooms: shittaki, oyster, enoki, straw, tree ear and a large group that looked like it had been picked in the wild.
The freezer's setting was on high, about refrigerator coolness. Inside it was packed, left to right, with bell peppers, celery, onion, parsley, cilantro, heavy cream in milk-size cartons, and several dozen different types of chilies.
On top of the stove was one dutch oven and one skillet, both cast iron, both clean.
No other pots and pans, no utensils, no towels or wash cloths, no dish soap, no trash can, no meat.
He went back out into the living room.
Sally was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, magazine stacks of different heights around her. She looked up from what she was reading. "This is really strange."
"What do you mean?"
She looked uncomfortable. "Well, to start with, these are in all different languages. Like maybe twenty different languages. Some of 'em are just daily newspapers from all around the world, but mixed in with 'em are a whole bunch of different types of magazines. I separated 'em into different piles for you." She leaned forward, long black hair sliding around her face. "There's cooking, movies, books, muscle building, records and tapes, politics and current events, and what I guess you'd call pornography." She indicated with a disdainful point of her sneaker the largest pile.
Daryl went down on his haunches, picking up one magazine after the other from that pile, glancing at their covers.
"I made a list while I was waiting for you."
He stole a look into her lap to see what she was reading. Bon Appetit.
"There's 72 bondage magazines, 36 girly magazines, but the girls look really young, 54 orgy magazines, 63 cruel-type magazines, nine pregnant lady magazines, and 297 homosexual magazines."
Daryl looked up from his cover-flipping, embarrassed.
"All of them are really hard-core, Daryl. Really gross. Whoever this woman was, she musta been really sick."
"Or else whoever was with her was really sick." He came across some issues of Fresh Flesh, but didn't bother opening them. He looked through something called Inside World instead. In the center was a pinup of two teenage boys, both naked, one sitting on the edge of a bed, the other boy sitting in the first boy's lap, facing him, legs wrapped around his ribs. Their lips were open against each other in a passionate tongue kiss, the upper boy's arms around the other's broad shoulders, the boy underneath pressing his left hand against the small of the other's back, drawing him even closer, his right hand pulling lightly on the other's cock. His own cock was buried up the other boy's asshole.
Daryl stared at the picture a moment longer, first out of shock, then out of curiosity to see what it looked like when two males made love: the one set of muscular legs atop the other, the bare arms around each other, the taste of the closed-eyed kiss.
Even with the lights on the bedroom was dismal and shadowy.
A small metal trash can stood by the side of the bed. He pulled out wads of crumpled facial tissue. An empty jar of Tabasco rolled around the bottom.
The bed was made.
He and Sally pulled the cover down, then the top sheet, like the Bobbsey Twins getting ready for bed. The bottom sheet was thickly crusted with semen. When he tried lifting the sheet off the mattress, a long lightening bolt broke across the glazed surface with an audible pop.
Sally's cheeks turned red. "Guess she never did any laundry."
He moved to the short hallway leading to the bathroom, sliding the closet doors on the left open.
Inside were the first items he had found in the apartment, aside from the copies of Fresh Flesh, which he associated with Sylvia Gold: a crammed array of mini-skirts, shorts, tube tops, leg warmers, tee shirts, nightgowns and, on the top shelf, a silky, colorful pile of bikini underwear, all of them crotchless. Next to them, looped around nails in the wall, were several dozen thin-skinned bras, all with quarter-sized holes where the nipples would fit.
Sally sniffed. "How old did you say this woman was?"
"Fifty-four." On the closet floor, ninety or so high heeled shoes faced him.
On a hunch he picked one up, then several others. The ninth one he examined, made entirely out of a mirrored material, came from Alfonso's. Size 6. He felt a chill, remembering last night, the way his lips had held the two big toes, tongue switching from one lively underside to the other, feeling the toes bend back with pleasure.
Of course, that may be a popular brand. He looked up at Sally. "Have you ever heard of Alfonso's?"
"What is it?"
"A shoe manufacturer." He held up one of the mirrored shoes.
"No." She turned her wide face back towards the bedroom, the unmade bed. "I don't think it's my style, Daryl."
The other sliding wall closet had a bureau on one side, filled with more nighties and underwear, and a rod across the other loaded with furs. On the floor under the furs were two sets of dumbbells, each with 6 pound weights, and one barbell with 30 pounds of weight.
Sally followed Daryl into the bathroom.
The mirrored cabinet held diuretics and purges, and three boxed enemas. Daryl turned to Sally. "I'm looking forward to when this part of our trip is through, and we can just have fun. Like we did seeing the whales."
"And the doe." Her face got less tight. She looked around the claustrophobic bathroom walls. "I want just a normal relationship. I mean I like the idea of wearing sexy clothes, I'd really like to do that, you know, show off for, you know, in the bedroom and everything, but none of these magazines or chemicals or stuff. That's not love."
Daryl lowered his head. "I know." He felt a sickening surge of guilt about last night, made worse because it still excited him. "There's so many weird things people do. Because they're unhappy. Or lonely. Or think they deserve to be treated that way. Things people let other people do to them because they hope after it's over they'll get love. Or at least someone who'll stay. There's a lot of stupid, embarrassing things men do because of sex."
Sally looked up at him. "You look like there's something else you want to say."
He shook his head. "I've just-- I've been really lonely, you know? Like for years. It felt like my life was over. Like I'd never meet my person. My partner. And you get really interior after awhile. I don't know. I've felt for a long time that something's prevented me from living up to my potential. Drained my ambition every time I tried, like lips fastened on my life. Like working as a lab technician instead of as a doctor." He looked uneasy at talking about himself without being asked to. "This is my first date in years. Or I could be wrong. Is this-- maybe I'm presuming, I don't mean like we're boyfriend and girlfriend, you might see us as just--"
Sally smiled warmly, touching his cheek. "It's a date. Far as I'm concerned." She looked down, shrugging her shoulders nervously. "Far as boyfriend and girlfriend, far as I'm concerned--" she shrugged again. "If you wanted me, I'd be real proud to be your girlfriend." She looked up at him, smiling shyly. "Yeah. You're kind, and gentle, and very good-looking. And smart. And you make me laugh." She shrugged again, looking vulnerable.
Daryl touched her shoulder. "That's what I'd like. Boyfriend and girlfriend. I was scared to say it. To ask it. I don't just want you as a friend."
"Me neither." She nodded to herself.
Daryl looked at the cabinet doors under the vanity. "Let's get this over with."
Behind the cabinet doors was a rattan basket filled with cotton strips, each about three inches wide and two feet long. Behind the basket, coiled like a nest of snakes, was an interlaced pile of men's belts. Daryl pulled several out, measuring them against each other on the bathroom floor. They were all the same length, meaning they could all have conceivably belonged to the same man.
Daryl drew the shower curtain and staggered back, stepping on Sally's foot.
She hopped over to the wall, wincing with pain. "What?"
A small dog lay on its side in the bathtub, head near the drain hole.
From behind, Sally tensed her hand on Daryl's shoulder. "It doesn't look right."
He nodded his head, looking down into the bathtub at the small corpse, trying to figure out what was wrong about it.
Sally stood closer behind him, fronts of her thighs against the backs of his. "It's too flat. Look at the head, Daryl. The head's normal, but the body's all flattened out."
He put the tip of a pencil under it all the way up to the eraser, flipping it over.
It went over too easily, like a hand puppet.
He put one foot up on the side of the tub, leaning over for a closer look.
He was convinced it had been a real dog. He reached down, gathering its middle up between his fingers, lifting it up off the porcelain, away from the grey jerky line of pencil leading up to it.
The head flopped straight down, hanging off the side of his palm while the long, plumed tail hung off the other side.
It didn't feel like a normal puppy. Too light, too dry, too flat.
He brought it over to the vanity, its weight only a little more than a glove.
The dog's pink lips were frozen so far back from its fangs the opened mouth took up three-quarters of its triangular face, eyes squeezed into tight, furred slits from the gargantuan effort of its last scream.
Sally, rummaging on her knees under the claw-footed bottom of the bathtub, said, "Oh my God."
Daryl rubbed the two soft-furred sides of the dog's abdomen between his fingers, feeling through the fur a crinkly interior. It felt like a glove with aluminum foil inside.
Sally handed him what she had found under the bathtub. A funnel.
He held it in his hand like a robot's breast, looking at her quizzically.
The sloped inside walls still held the sharp scent of gasoline.
He angled the dead dog's head until the light from the ceiling shone into its mouth.
The fangs were blackened. Not in front. Their incurved backs.
Looking past the fangs, he saw at the end of the charred cavern of its mouth the burnt stump of tongue.
Sally bit her knuckles, looking from the blackened mouth to the funnel. "Did someone force gasoline down his throat?"
Daryl was studying the burn patterns inside the mouth. "The tissue is burnt in the wrong direction for that. The flames didn't go into the throat." He looked at her. "They came out of the throat."
He turned the dog around, feeling the ashes shift inside it, and lifted the furry tail.
The anus was dilated, heat-discolored. He held the bottom of the funnel's hard metal tube against the anus' dilation.