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background on the excerpt

All other excerpts from Father Figure are from Part One of the novel. This is the only selection from Part Two (the novel has three parts).

Along with a second dead body turning up, other strangenesses start manifesting themselves in the town, such as the sudden prevalence of rabid dogs and dead skunks.

As I was creating the character of Sam, it occurred to me someone so evil might in fact be a magnet for all the worse in life, that whenever Sam moves to a new area, the area might soon be flooded with increased madness, depression and sickness, because of his presence. I wanted the reader to think, outside the novel, that any news about birds falling from the sky, or unexplained increases in birth defects, or a rise in suicide attempts, might be the shadow of Sam falling across the community from which the story was filed, the bleached blonde stringer, holding a black microphone in front of her face, with a green field or gray town backdrop, in danger.

big dark hole
excerpt from the novel Father Figure

On his short drive in Sally's station wagon from the hospital to Cable's house Daryl spotted three dead skunks lying in the road, their ripe smell rising.

By the time he pushed the ivory doorbell at Cable's front door he was feeling queasy.

The two little girls answered the door, solemnly stepping back like suddenly-separated Siamese twins.

Sheriff Cable was laid out on his back on the sofa in the dark living room, both hands folded on his chest, holding the remote control.

He gave Daryl an invalid's smile from under the quilt, turning down I Married Joan. "Thanks for coming. I feel really sick."

Daryl held Cable's thin hot wrist by its pulse, glancing at the sweep hand on his wrist watch. With his right hand he felt around the glands under Cable's sweaty jawline. The sheriff slid his tongue out unasked. A greenish-black furrow ran down the middle. "I never had this before," he said in a meek voice.

"You should be in a hospital."

"Can't. More missing hitchhikers." He gave Daryl a self-pitying look. "I can't even help you move the corpse."

"I'll do it myself."

"It's out back, in the garage. My wife's been dumping ice on it all afternoon. Is that awful smell me?" He looked up fearfully.

"There's some dead skunks out on Main Street."

Cable shut his eyes, relieved.

"Nancy doesn't want me in charge of the autopsy."

"She called me a minute ago."

"There's a question if I got the blood type wrong. I know I didn't."

Cable ran his tongue over his lips. They looked like orange leather. "I didn't tell her everything over the phone." He gave Daryl a wink. "Our little secret."

"What's our little secret?"

"It's in the vet's freezer, that's where I decided to store it, so only he and I know. Sylvia Gold's body. Some of it's missing."

Daryl put a forefinger on Cable's left eyebrow, thumb on the soft skin at the top of his cheek, and stretched his lids apart vertically, watching the eye roll wetly in its socket, veins and gloss. He tried to keep the unease out of his voice. "A cataract's forming over your left iris. Did you have that before?"

Cable answered in a hushed tone. "No. Never."

"What do you mean part of her body's missing?" He prodded Cable's thin abdomen through the sheriff's plaid shirt, watching the man's pale face for any reaction. "Are you talking about the internal organs? I only kept cross-sections because that's all the hospital had space for in its storage unit."

"I'm not talking about her insides, Daryl." Cable looked miserable. "Doc Waterman called me a couple of nights ago. He was gonna move her body 'cause he needed the space for all the rabid animals he's been getting lately. Her private organ is gone."

Daryl sank to his knees beside the sofa. He looked warily at Cable.

"Her vagina?"

"Yes!" Cable raised himself up feebly. "They took her breasts, too. Waterman slid her body out of the storage tray, and there was a square hole between her legs, and two big red holes in her chest."

Something bulky lay covered by a large black tarp over in a far corner of Cable's garage. A thin trail of ants busily disappeared under one of the shape's tented corners.

Some of the upper folds held a few ice cubes.

The cement floor around the tarp was wet and dark where the rest of the ice had tumbled off and melted.

Daryl stood in front of the tarped shape. It came up to his waist. Using thumb and forefinger, he grasped one of the black, dusty pleats. Through the greasy material he felt something hard and cylindrical.

He felt around it, rubbing the upper pad of his thumb up and down over it to gauge its shape.

A big toe.

Up by his waist.

He pinched the tarp at a slack section sloping away from where the big toe poked it up, then started pulling the shroud off what was underneath.

The tarp was heavier than he thought it would be-- he wound up having to use both hands to get it moving off the body.

Once the wide back edge slid over the uppermost part of what was underneath, the tarp slid easily down the front and off.

A male Caucasian body rocked stiffly on its spine.

Its legs and arms were bent up into the air, frozen there in rictus like a huge, dead, blonde-haired bug.

Its jaw was dislocated, the mandible hanging off its hinges in the slack bag of flesh that used to form its face. Both rows of teeth were shattered.

From the unnatural width of its hips Daryl guessed the pelvic bones had also been forced out of their sockets.

He squatted down in front of it, the bluish-white feet hanging in mid-air over his head, to look between its legs.

The anus was ruptured, the big dark hole dilated to the circumference of a coffee cup.

All that was left in front between the legs was a bitten-off stump the color of cured meat.

Daryl shuffled over to the side of the garage, throwing up on a pyramid of old paint cans, making them rattle in the early evening silence.

When he had control of himself again he stared back at the distorted corpse in the corner, then turned around to look past the wide wooden square of the garage doorway at the sloping green lawns of the neighborhood, the brightly colored mailboxes, a distant cluster of bored kids poking a stick at one of the dead skunks.

What the fuck was going on?