Whereas the lawyer’s office had appeared completely different from how Franklin had expected it to look seeing it on the outside, the taxidermist workshop was just what he’d always assumed one would be like. Not being a hunter himself, Franklin had never found any occasion where he’d needed to visit one. Still knowing what went on in them was enough to give him ideas.
Stacks of plywood sat resting along the walls with various animal hides tacked to them while jars of glass eyeballs were arranged in a row along a shelf behind the cash register. The burly tattooed man named Joe who ran the place appeared completely at home sitting there in the stark fluorescent lighting of the shop. He was reading a magazine about trucks when they’d entered and he rose to greet them, crew cut, with a heavy metal t-shirt and smoking a cigarette.
“Hey ‘Garth.” Joe said approaching the counter from the other side and extending his hand towards the lawyer. “You come in about that big assed buck I saw out in front of your office?”
“Absolutely!” The lawyer said giving the man’s hand a quick pump. “You think you can get the head off him and put it on a mount for me?”
Joe dipped his head giving a quick affirmative gesture. “That your car?” He asked turning to Franklin.
“Yes.” Franklin said. “A train hit the elk. I didn’t run into it.”
“Shoot.” The taxidermist chucked. “You don’t even need a gun to bag most of those deaf son’s of bitches around here anymore. Did I see it right that the horns were jammed in your roof?”
“I’ll have to go out and get a look at it.” Joe said snuffing out his cigarette and grabbing his coat off a nearby stool. Turning to the lawyer as he come out from behind the counter and made his way towards the door he asked, “You call Tim down at the garage to cut it off?”
“Sure did.” Hogarth answered following the taxidermist out into the pale evening. “He won’t be able to get it off until tomorrow so you’ve got time to figure out what you want done.”
Outside Joe walked around the car looking at the beast. Occasionally he would mutter something to the lawyer reaching out with a finger to draw a line where the antlers met the dented steel of Franklin’s roof. “We’ll need to cut some holes around this point.” He shot, turning in Franklin’s direction while pausing to trace a circle around a point where the horns had hooked themselves in pretty bad. “You mind?”
Franklin shrugged his shoulders. He already knew that the car would most likely be a complete loss so what did he care if they cut holes all over it. Right now he just wanted to get back inside out of the cold and to the business of asking about his father.
Satisfied, the taxidermist motioned for them to follow him back to his shop. “Is this your head?” He grunted at Franklin while lighting another cigarette.
Hogarth answered for him. “No Joe.” The lawyer retorted, an incredulous smile in his tone. “He’s the one whose car it’s on but he doesn’t want the head. I’m taking it. I’ve got a spot just above my fireplace back at the house where it would look perfect.”
Pulling open the door and directing them both inside the taxidermist shrugged. “It makes no difference to me I suppose.” Propping the entryway open with his foot he stopped there to scratch a spot on his nose. “What the hell brought this guy to our shitty little town anyway?” He asked thoughtfully. “‘You suing him or something Garth?”
The lawyer shook his head. “No such luck Joe, he’s Franklin Moore’s son.” It was the first time that Franklin had heard his father’s complete name spoken in a conversation. Oddly, it felt at first as if they were referring to him when he’d heard it said.
“Moore.” Joe said contemplatively. “I’ve still got his last order in the back. He never came and picked it up. I guess he was getting pretty sick towards the end.”
“Did you know him?” Franklin asked eagerly.
The taxidermist took one final drag off his cigarette and threw it out into the growing darkness. Turning he closed the door behind him. “I can’t say I knew him that well.” He said coughing as he walked back around the counter and began to strip off his coat.
The lawyer took off his coat as well draping it over his arm. “Well Joe,” He began, sounding a little bit reluctant to broach the subject as he did so. “He stopped by your place more than he did anyone else’s in town so I figured that you might be able to tell Franklin here whatever you do know about his dad.”
The taxidermist sat down shifting his gaze between them.
“Look,” Franklin said interrupting the silence. “I didn’t even know that I had another father up until about four days ago.” Hesitantly he approached the counter taking up the space between them. “I mean, I’ve got a good dad back home… back in Las Vegas where I was raised… but before I got Hogarth’s letter I didn’t even know that I was even from here.”
Joe leaned forward. “Hogarth?” He said sounding amused. “Around here we just call him Garth. He’s an idiot but we love him all the same.”
The lawyer laughed good-naturedly. “I’m sorry.” He chucked closing the space between himself and Franklin and clapping him on the back. “I should have told you, Joe’s the community asshole around here.”
Franklin nodded. “Well,” he said trying to smile along. “I’d really appreciate knowing whatever it is that you can tell me about my dad.”
The taxidermist sighed as he looked up at the ceiling seeming to search for a good answer to Franklin’s question. “Well,” He muttered after a long pause. “I guess if there’s one thing that could be said about your dad it’s probably that he was the real community asshole around here; at least before he died.”
“Now Joe!” The lawyer quipped making a pleading motion with his hands for his friend to be a little bit more delicate. “That’s no way to talk when Franklin here’s just come from his father’s funeral.”
“No, I mean it.” Joe said sitting up a little straighter. “He was a grade-A asshole! Everyone around here knew it!”
Strangely, Franklin didn’t take offense to the taxidermist’s words nor was he surprised. He had no real reason to defend a father that had never made any attempt at contacting his only son. There hadn’t even been any friends gathered at the man’s funeral. Instead, he wondered what had caused him to be so unloved.
“No one liked him?” He asked trying to sound more curious than indignant. “Why do you say that?”
“Well,” The taxidermist spoke, rising to his feet and pulling down a photo album from one of the shelves. “first off, he owned about half the town and he never cut anyone around here any kind of break, ever. Secondly, and speaking from personal experience, he came in here at least once a month wanting all this weird shit stuffed and mounted and he was usually a complete dick about it all.” Dropping the book onto the counter he opened it to reveal page after page of huge ornate wings placed against dark wooden trophy backgrounds.
Franklin bent to inspect them closer. The lawyer had mentioned the wings but before seeing them for himself he hadn’t expected them to be so large. Any single one of them seemed as broad as a car.
“At first I’d ask him about them; you know, because I needed to get an idea about what kind of animal we were talking about in order to get it posed right.” The taxidermist continued flipping through the pages as he spoke. “All he would ever tell me is that they were trophies and that he wanted them mounted with no questions asked.”
“Show him the one with the fish.” Hogarth said pulling the book closer.
“You mean fish tales.” Joe corrected, reaching around behind himself to pull a much smaller album from the shelf. “He didn’t bring in as many fish tails as he did angel wings.”
“Angel wings?” Franklin asked, taking the book from the man.
“Yeah.” Joe said bitterly. “I got pissy with him once and threatened to call the Fish and Game Administration if he didn’t tell me what the fuck he was bringing in here all the time. He owned my house so that kept me quiet for a time but after a little while I figured hey, I always pay my rent on time so there’s no way this old son of a bitch can evict me. I figured, what’s to stop me from kicking his ass if he don’t tell me exactly what I need to know to do my job, right? I mean, he paid well but I don’t like shifty people you know?”
Franklin nodded silently, looking through the pictures in the smaller album. Once again, the fish tails were much bigger than anything he’d ever seen before. Each of them was a huge scaly thing at least half the size of a full grown man.
The taxidermist went on. “Anyway, he fucking looks me straight in the eye and tells me that their angel wings. Not only was your father a total asshole who, by the way, once kicked my granny out on the street for being a month late on her rent but he was also batshit crazy. I figured I could have pressed the issue but you could just see it in his eyes that he really believed that insane shit. It was like he was telling me some sort of deep dark secret, you know?”
“And the fish tails?” Franklin asked. He paused on a page in the book pointing to a large blue tailfin draped across a wooden plaque. “Where did he say they came from?”
The lawyer chucked. “I’m sure that you could probably guess. I mean, judging by what he chose to be interred in and all.”
Franklin gave them both a quizzical look.
“Mermaid tales!” They both answered in unison.