Sins of Two Fathersby Denis Hamill
Hank Tobin had it all: a popular column in a New York newspaper, a Pulitzer prize, and wealth that enabled him to live his boyhood dreams. But his world is shattered when his son - himself an aspiring journalist - follows an anonymous tip to a can't-miss front-page story: the firebombing of a Brooklyn mosque. Hank's son is accused of the crime, arrested, and thrown… See more details below
Hank Tobin had it all: a popular column in a New York newspaper, a Pulitzer prize, and wealth that enabled him to live his boyhood dreams. But his world is shattered when his son - himself an aspiring journalist - follows an anonymous tip to a can't-miss front-page story: the firebombing of a Brooklyn mosque. Hank's son is accused of the crime, arrested, and thrown into prison. Hank soon discovers that his son was framed by a man who has been waiting a decade to have his revenge.
Sitting in a seedy New York bar ten years earlier, Hank overheard a janitor bragging that his son torched the home of a minority family to keep the neighborhood white. Hank's story of the event made the front page. The boy spent ten years in prison and the family was destroyed - a minor event in the life of the columnist, a life-altering event for the janitor and his family.
Hank's life is in ruins. Divorced from his wife - whom he desperately wants back - and estranged by his daughter, Hank has lost his reputation, his career, and his family. To save his son from a long prison sentence, Hank must confront the vengeful man whose life he once carelessly destroyed.
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Sins of Two FathersA Novel
By Denis Hamill
Washington Square PressCopyright © 2003 Denis Hamill
All right reserved.
PrologueSomewhere in the Middle...
Thursday, July 27
Hank Tobin hit bottom.
Lower, Tobin thought, watching the white-bearded parkie spear a fast-food wrapper with the pointed pole and stuff it into the big, green Department of Parks garbage bag. I've sunk past the bottom into the subbasement of hell.
He shifted on the wooden park bench, gripping the pint of Stolichnaya concealed in the brown paper bag. Like a park-bench bum, he thought. He hadn't had a drink, not one drop of alcohol, in four years. Hadn't really been tempted. The booze had helped wreck his marriage, had clouded his thinking on the night he wrote the most reckless newspaper column of his life, had strained his relationship with his kids. But right now he was hungry for a drink. For escape. He needed something to make the pain of his son, Henry Jr., facing life in prison go away.
Tobin gripped the sealed bottle cap. Contemplated twisting it, like a suicidal man with his sweaty finger poised on the cold trigger of a pistol. He knew if he turned the cap, broke the seal of his sobriety, that this time there would be no going back.
He watched a group of children in the Marine Park playground squeal through the sprinklers. He used to take Henry here as a kid, when Laurie was still in diapers. Julie would open a big picnic basket she'd have prepared at home - cold chicken cutlets, tubs of salad, pretzels, fruit, cold lemonade, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids. They'd all eat and toss crumbs to the birds. Then Hank and Julie would play for hours with the kids on the swings, the seesaws, the sandbox, and the sprinklers. It seemed like yesterday. And then as Tobin drew a deep, humid New York breath, it felt like two lifetimes ago. Part of another man's sweet and happy and normal life.
He cinched the vodka cap in his hand, sweating, gazing around the park.
Almost a quarter-century earlier he'd walked hand in hand in this park with Julie when he was still courting her. Now, four years after the divorce, he was trying to summon the nerve and the precise words he would need if he ever worked up the courage to knock on Julie's door asking for her help. If he couldn't find those words or that courage, he'd crack open the bottle of vodka.
Julie lived three blocks away, but he knew he had to get the words perfect because Julie didn't suffer fools. Especially Tobin, who was the biggest fool in her life.
Tobin knew that when his world tilted off its axis, when the wheels spun off his life, all the hot babes, front-page stories, boldface gossip items, best-selling books, movie deals, and A-list parties added up to nothing but a grubby mirage. It was a piss-poor substitute for a good marriage and a close family.
When you need help, Tobin thought. There is only one place to go to circle the wagons and fight back. To save your kid. To ask for help. Home. But that's if Julie will even open the door for me.
The parkie put the spear and the bag into his idling Parks Department truck and grabbed a broom and a handled-shovel and approached Tobin, the peak of his army-green uniformed hat pulled low over his sunglasses, visoring the blinding morning sun. The parkie's face was gaunt and yellowish. Tufts of white hair spilled from under the hat. He looked like a down-on-his-luck Santa with a part-time summer job.
"Excuse me, fella," said the parkie, sweeping up cigarette butts and candy wrappers from behind and under Tobin's bench. He collected discarded newspapers, bunching them under his arm, wearing work gloves for his dirty chores.
Tobin shifted on the bench to let the man do his job and said, "Sorry."
"Sorry" was the operative word for Tobin's life now. No detox ward, rehab, or AA meeting could rescue Tobin this time. No twelve-step program could turn this one around. No loud, breast-beating, quick-fix Hank Tobin column would save his son from jail.
The great Hank Tobin is powerless, neutralized, impotent, Tobin thought. Exposed as the fake I could never look in the eye in the mirror. When others offered praise, congratulations, and awards, I secretly knew that the career was held together with smoke and mirrors and bluster, like some manufactured boy band. Maybe before I became an asshole, swallowed by my own self-importance, there was a time when I was a pretty good reporter and not such a bad guy. I must've been a decent man once. Or else a great woman like Julie Capone would never have given me a second look, never mind married me.
Then she gave me two great kids. We had a special marriage. A wonderful, nutty, loving family. A helluva life. Then came The Column. And I threw away all those things that really mattered. For cheap headlines, talk shows, gossip items, fancy restaurants, deals, glamour, celebrity. For The Column, which I wore like a suit of armor to protect myself from the truth of my own inadequacies.
And as I wrote myself into a figment of my own imagination, only two people knew I was a fraud - Julie and me. So Julie filed the divorce papers, but I wrote the script.
Now my son's life is on the line and all my celebrity, fame, and connections are useless, Tobin thought. I wrecked the lives of strangers with my arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and reckless newspaper column. And instead of bringing the long overdue bill to me, the piper is making my kid pay. My son is paying for my sins.
Oh... my... god. What did I do? What do I do? Where do I turn? Who can I trust?
He tightened the grip on the vodka bottle cap as the parkie groaned, checked his watch, and sat on a bench facing Tobin, across a six-foot-wide cobblestone pathway.
"Time for my five-minuter," the parkie said, sitting with the bright sun behind him, making him a dark silhouette to Tobin. "Scorcher."
"Yeah," Tobin said, hiding the vodka bottle next to his leg.
"At least the kids are cool," the parkie said, nodding toward the children in the sprinkler, a rainbow arcing through the frail mist.
"Kids are always cool, period."
"Used to bring mine here once upon a better time."
Tobin nodded. "Me, too."
"Ah, well, funny how things turn out later."
"When they're this age, you think nothing'll ever go wrong for them."
Tobin nodded, his blood screaming for booze, and said, "Oh, man..."
"You and them both figure that you'll always just be there to protect them."
"Yeah," Tobin said, squinting at the parkie.
"You stand behind them on the swings, make sure they don't fall," the parkie said, nodding toward a couple of fathers pushing their kids on the toddler swings. "You stand under them on the monkey bars to make sure they don't get hurt. You check the sandbox for glass and needles before you let them dig. When they come shivering out of the sprinklers, you wrap their little defenseless bodies in big warm beach towels, and hug them in your arms. You hold their tiny hands when you walk them home to make sure they're safe. You promise yourself that if anyone ever tries to hurt your kids that you would die, surrender your very life, to save them. You would hurt anyone who ever hurt your kid. You try to be the daddy that your daddy never was to you and..."
Tobin shielded his eyes with his left hand, gripping the vodka with his right, peering at the white-haired silhouette, and said, "Hey, I know you, buddy?"
"I know from the way you look at the kids that you're a father," said the parkie.
Tobin nodded and pulled a photo of a man named Kelly from his shirt pocket. Except for the hair and beard, the parkie sort of resembled the bald man in the photo.
"Like me," the parkie said, standing up. "Just another father who misses his kids."
Tobin squinted at the old parkie, whose dark wraparound shades reminded him of the wary eyes of a horsefly. A welcome rolling breeze blew in from the direction of Jamaica Bay across the flat meadow of Brooklyn's Marine Park, sweeping between the two fathers. The parkie checked his watch, dropping some of the old newspapers. He stamped his foot on a loose front page of the New York Daily News. Tobin glanced down at the headline that was about his twenty-two-year-old son, Henry Jr., facing twenty-five-to-life in jail for something that Tobin knew his son didn't do. Which Tobin believed was a frame-up. He was convinced the man in the photo had set up his son to get even with Tobin for a hurtful column he'd written a long time ago. Could this be him in the flesh?
"What makes you think that?" Tobin asked the old parkie, gripping the bottle, palming the photo.
The parkie bent, grimacing in pain, and picked up the newspaper page. The man's hat fell off his head, and Tobin thought he saw the man's hair move as a single piece, like a loose wig. The parkie caught his hat, jammed it on his skull, and straightened the wig as he stood with a half-smile. He stared at Tobin, who saw his own distorted reflection in both lenses of the bubble sunglasses, like an out-of-body experience. The parkie balled and twisted the front page of the newspaper in a slow deliberate gesture, as if strangling someone.
The parkie walked to his idling truck and climbed behind the wheel, his white wig now askew on his head. He gunned the engine and shifted the gear into drive.
"Because you and me are a lot alike," the parkie said. "So much alike that you will now feel the pain I have felt for the past ten years, Hank Tobin. You are going to know what it is like to have your son suffer for the sins of his father, which is the worst pain any man will ever know."
Tobin lurched toward the parkie's truck. But the parkie hit the gas and sped off into the blazing sun.
Tobin held the vodka bottle in his hand, staring at it and then at the disappearing truck. If he had any doubt before, Hank Tobin now knew more than ever that he would need to summon the courage to ask Julie to work with him to help save their only son. He didn't know if he could find that courage as he stood staring at the bottle of booze....
Excerpted from Sins of Two Fathers by Denis Hamill Copyright © 2003 by Denis Hamill. Excerpted by permission.
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