The Wolves of Fairmount Parkby Dennis Tafoya
In The Wolves of Fairmount Park, Dennis Tafoya's lyrical, intense, sometimes tragic and sometimes hopeful second novel, the details of a drive-by shooting of two teenagers in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood are filled in from four perspectives: Brendan Donovan, a cop and the father of the boy shot and left comatose; George Parkman Sr., another father, this/i>
In The Wolves of Fairmount Park, Dennis Tafoya's lyrical, intense, sometimes tragic and sometimes hopeful second novel, the details of a drive-by shooting of two teenagers in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood are filled in from four perspectives: Brendan Donovan, a cop and the father of the boy shot and left comatose; George Parkman Sr., another father, this one of the boy who was killed; Danny Martinez, a cop whose job it is to investigate the killing; and Orlando Donovan, the junkie uncle of the cop's kid, who happens to live nearby.
No one knows what the two boys were doing in front of a dope house on Roxborough Avenue in the middle of the night, what business they might have had with gangs like Green Lane or the Tres Nortes. Even though they had a thousand dollars with them, they were good boys. Everyone says, "They were good boys."
Through the fast-paced interweaving of these four distinct voices, Dennis Tafoya, author of the acclaimed Dope Thief, tells the moving story of two kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the lengths that the people around them will go to find the truth.
“Dennis Tafoya returns with The Wolves of Fairmount Park, a dark and lyrical novel filled with passion, heartbreak, gorgeous imagery, and devious twists. Brilliant and beautiful.”
-Jonathan Maberry, internationally bestselling author of The Dragon Factory
Praise for Dope Thief
“While it bears all the hallmarks of a crime novel, it is also something more, a finely nuanced character study of a criminal trying to get out of the downward spiral of his crimes. . . . Tafoya’s prose alternates between a staccato, hard-boiled cadence and a beautiful, near-florid style. . . . Over Dope Thief’s final ninety pages, Tafoya’s coda elevates his book to the extraordinary.”
-Las Vegas Weekly
“A classic story . . . First-time novelist Dennis Tafoya has a nice sense of how and where his characters live, revealing in stark detail the hardscrabble life of the petty thief.”
“Raw and redemptive . . . A boy ‘born into the life’ makes a wrenching attempt to change course or die trying in a first novel that marks Tafoya as a writer to watch.”
“Tafoya’s book starts at a sprint and hits its marks.”
-Philadelphia City Paper
“A fine first novel . . . Tafoya is off to a promising start. . . . The plotting is solid, and the action has a hard, violent edge that recalls Richard Price.”
- St. Martin's Press
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The Wolves of Fairmount Park
By Dennis Tafoya
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Dennis Tafoya
All rights reserved.
When Michael Donovan and George Parkman Jr. were shot in front of the dope house on Roxborough Avenue on a Thursday night in June, Mia and Tisa were standing on the stoop at Pechin Street. They had some time, a little break before the next johns — the fat, shy Jewish kid who always brought blow and the old Polish guy from the neighborhood who smiled wide and told dumb jokes and kept his money in one of those little plastic things that you had to squeeze to open, like Tisa's grandmother had to keep her nickels and dimes in. It had the name of a bank on the side of it, she remembered. So on nights when the old man came by that was what she thought about, her abuela, a nice old lady from Ponce who always smelled like baking.
Tisa moved to the edge of the porch and lifted the hair off the back of her neck because it was hot inside and she was sweating a little, and Mia followed, digging in her bag for her smokes and bringing out two. A single moth ticked against the porch light. Tisa watched Mia screwing up her face to see the end of the cigarette, and it always made her laugh when she was high, which she was a little.
Mia lit her cigarette and then Tisa's and then waved out the match, leaving blue trails of smoke, and because she was high, Tisa had to watch them curl and dissolve in the hard white light until they were gone. They picked up their conversation from earlier, talking about how Mia's man was getting out again and how did she feel about that? Mia said he was so good to her when he wasn't loaded, and Tisa gave her a look and said, "Yeah? When was that?" With that look like will you please? That was when they heard the shots, like popping noises from up the street, and saw the black car go by, the radio blaring and a girl screaming, "No, no, no."
Michael Donovan's father, Brendan, was getting in his car at the Roundhouse at Eighth and Race, the Police Administration Building that was supposed to look like a big pair of handcuffs, and wondering if he was doing the right thing asking to get off the street. He sat in the car and watched motorcycle cops come and go and thought about his own father standing on a chair at the Shamrock and toasting Brendan in his new uniform the day he graduated from the academy. The only time he could remember the old man really drunk, his eyes shining and rimmed pink. The place was full of cops, the guys the old man had worked with, the stone-faced Irish and Italian guys who voted for Rizzo because he was one of them, the guys Brendan thought of as his uncles.
He was sitting in the car and lost in his head, remembering the bitter shellac taste of the Scotch and Patsy McDonnell's sister Iris pulling him to her in the corner by the big old Rock-Ola jukebox all those years before. He was thinking about those days, when women were mysterious and unknown to him as visitors from another country, then the radio made its hissing squeal and reported shots fired on Roxborough Avenue, and Brendan had the thought, Someone else's problem now.
Asa Carmody and Detective Danny Martinez were down at a strip club on Front Street. Danny was on the edge of getting hammered, feeling the vodka starting to work in his blood. His eyes shining, he was watching a red-haired woman dance while he was trying to sort out fives from ones on the bar in front of him. Asa was buying rounds and calling attention to himself like he was wearing a sign, I'm here. Remember me here. Wearing a green T-shirt with a yellow shamrock from a bar on Ridge Avenue, and the leather vest that was the only thing his father left for him when he disappeared down a rabbit hole when Asa was nine. Looking at his watch every few minutes and making a circle in the air with his finger for Doreen to set them up again, Danny and him and a couple of rummies from the neighborhood. One more round, the night was young, yeah? Danny was trying to put this all together in his mind, but he was slow tonight. He watched Asa peel off bills and stick them in the girl's G-string and whisper something and point to Danny. Asa with his stiff ginger hair and his hooded eyes, all business all the time. Thinking he was looking like a guy having fun at the bar with the friend he grew up with. Danny knew Asa, and knew he wasn't ever having fun. It wasn't in him.
The woman's eyes were guarded, hard to read, but she nodded. So then Danny knew she was his to take home with him, and something wasn't right about that. The woman was tall, and her hair was a hard, opaque red, like plastic, and she smiled shyly at him, but it wasn't like she was attracted to him. It was more like she was afraid. Danny was wondering how many more vodkas it would take for him not to care, how many more to shut off that voice in the back of his head that said he was being played. Being moved as if by magnets under the floor. When the cell phone went off, he was relieved. Now he could make excuses and get away from Asa. Get his head straight and get back in the game.
George Parkman Sr. was leaving his girlfriend's apartment on the river, wiping his mouth compulsively like he always did, trying to erase the perfumed waxy residue of her lipstick and wishing the wind would pick up and blow the smell of her out of his suit jacket. Telling himself he'd stop coming here. Call her and end it. Give her a few bucks, help her get set up with that store she was always talking about opening, Jesus, whatever, he had too much at risk to be so fucking dumb.
It was just that out on the floor at the plant, the metal stamping shop out on Rising Sun Avenue he had inherited from his father, he could feel his life going by in a rush. That green light that made them all look like they were dying, all the guys in their blue shirts and safety glasses and the smell of the cutting fluid that used to smell like money to him and now it felt like he was drowning in it. Home was no better, with a strange, delicate son he didn't know and Francine telling him the same story every night about her mother's cataracts or some shit. So he needed something real in his hands, someone he could hold on to who looked back at him with eyes that weren't lined with disappointment at what the money never bought. Was that a crime? Was that a sin? Was it?
Orlando Kevin Donovan, Michael's uncle, Brendan's half brother, was nodding, lying on a tattered couch on the roof of his girlfriend's house, a needle in his slack white fingers, his eyes opening and closing, opening and closing, the orange light from the street caught in the mist blowing down Green Lane toward the river.
He was still new with the needle, getting used to the hard rush of light into his head. He was carried along in a warm current and he had a lurching sensation of motion in his stomach and he remembered the first time he went on a real roller coaster. Dorney Park, somewhere up in the country, it took forever to get there. It was summer and Brendan had taken him and brought a girl and Orlando loved it all, being with his older half brother and the shy, pretty girl and eating hot, greasy funnel cakes white with sugar and the crush of people all around. He remembered sitting in the rigid bench of the coaster and the bar going down in front of them with a hard clank and the feeling of the chain catching under the car and the long ride up into the cloudless sky. The feeling in the pit of his stomach now was the same as that day when they crested the rise and teetered on the summit, Brendan grabbing his hand on the bar and saying, Are you ready? Are you ready? and Orlando shrieking and shaking his head and laughing.
Now, on the couch, the dope blowing up in his head, he was thinking that summer was coming, July was coming and another birthday and he was still alive. Still here, the blood tunneling through him and the lights pulsing in his eyes, red over green over white, the city coming awake in the dark and the faraway popping of guns a signal, a salute to him. The black sky was an ocean and he was suspended in it, the winking lights all around like the glow of phosphorescent life pulled in the current, and the echoing rumble of his heart resonating with the crack and shift of the plates in the earth.
Dogs began to bark then, first one, close by, then others, blocks away, and he remembered his mother telling him when he heard the dogs at night it was the wolves, the wolves in the park that had never been caught and never would. She'd lean over his bed, her breath sweet with wine, swaying drunk and her eyes on fire, and afterward he would lie awake for hours and listen for them, see them moving in a line down the trails in the dark woods, silver and black under the moon and their teeth snapping, bone white.
An hour later, Orlando was on the street, watching the frantic light show of ambulances and cop vans, the families clumped at the curb (ready to go at any hour, empty eyes drawn to the dancing lights, surging at the TV cameras like fish hoping to be fed). He hung back, wanting to observe but not be observed, still rolling with the dope, the dwindling chemical jolts becoming a music that moved him along the river of black road.
He had been a student at Temple, but he floated away from that like the last man from a sinking ship. Let it all go when his mother, Maire, turned up dead, wedged behind a Dumpster off Oregon Avenue. His mother finally gone, he walked the streets and fed his growing habit, bumped along in the current like a stick in the black rainwater, and wasn't it all so terrible and grand? Some nights he could hear the throb and hum in his legs and chest, while he stood under the last working light on the block, his slight black form outlined in white.
Now he stood and watched the uniformed cops clumped by their cars, the detectives with their badges out and huddled by the bright splash of blood on the steps of the house Orlando knew was a dope house run by some Dominicans from Kensington. As he got closer he saw the bullet holes in the front door and a kid in a blue jacket using chalk to circle a bright shell casing in the street. Another cop, a young Hispanic guy in plainclothes, bent close over a bunch of glassine bags and frowned, then looked up and said something to an older guy wearing nylon gloves and working a pen in his hands, clicking it, twirling it in his fingers, clicking it again in a way that Orlando found hypnotic. There was a low, buzzing hum and one of the TV crews turned on one of those intense blue-white lights that Orlando knew was called a sungun, and he fished in his leather jacket and put on his shades.
He saw one of the uniformed cops narrow his eyes and then bend to the ear of the young Hispanic detective and point out Orlando and whisper something. Shit, what was that about? He turned then, slowly, as if his attention had been caught by something back up the street. He began to wander away, his head down, when he heard someone shout behind him, and then he started to run.
He kept close to the line of cars, running hard for the dark at the end of the street, whipping off the sunglasses and holding them in one balled fist. The circling lights of the ambulances and cop cars played in the wet trees and across the houses, the world going red and black, red and black. He hadn't run flat out in a long time and felt it as a burning in his chest and a hot line in his flank, and his jaws hung open and wet like a dog's.
He had loved to run as a kid, but that was a long time ago, and he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. He felt every step, his boots hitting the street with a painful smack that rattled his knees and jarred his head. At the end of the street he grabbed the bumper of a sagging Olds, bent double, and vomited hot bile into the shadows, hearing now the easy stride of the young cop, the tap, tap of his small feet, and he braced himself for the flashlight so when it snapped on he was ready, a grimace pressed into his face and his eyes screwed up, and the cop said his name while Orlando waved the light away and nodded, thinking, Shit, shit, it was going to be a good night, and now what?
Now the cop was saying, "Orlando, man, why you running from me?"
Orlando heaved, his throat too burned to talk, but he stood upright and managed a shrug, like what else was he going to do? It was the game, like cowboys and Indians. Junkies and cops. You chase me and I'll run.
"Orlando, isn't Brendan Donovan your brother?"
"What do you mean, why? Is he or isn't he?" With that exasperated cop voice, tired from listening to dipshits lie all day. His brother had it, too, that voice.
He began to put it together, the lights and the splash of blood. "Did Brendan get hurt? Is that what this is?" Making a big sweep with his hands, taking in the lights and the cop cars and the news vans. Feeling guilty now he had run. And his brother (half brother, Brendan was always quick to say) lying in a hospital, or worse?
The cop cocked his head, moving the light over him, and Orlando wondered how he looked. Black leather jacket, black jeans hanging off his skinny ass, his pale skin even whiter now than usual. His pupils tiny as pinheads in his face, his white-blond hair growing out in spikes and barbs from when they'd cut it when they had him up at PICC, the prison in Northeast Philly.
"No, Brendan's okay," the young cop finally said. "His son's been hurt."
Orlando's mind raced, picking things up and dropping them. Trying to remember the last time he'd seen his nephew, Michael, thinking of him as a little kid, but he'd be what, a teenager now. Fourteen? Something. His face was hot, processing all the guilt of being banished from his brother's life since the second time he'd been arrested, coming out of a store on South Street where he'd shoplifted a dozen hats while Zoe flirted with the kid at the counter. Having trouble even calling up his nephew's face. His nephew. Jesus.
"Michael? Michael was hurt back there?" Knowing he must sound like the dipshit junkie he'd become. His head steaming with the effort of calling up his own family, the gears and belts in his brain slipping while he blinked into the flashlight.
The cop shook his head, and Orlando dropped his gaze. He wanted to say, I'm not just this. I wasn't always this. He said, "Get that fucking light out of my face and tell me, is Michael okay?"
Kathleen Donovan sat in the chapel, balling Kleenex in her hand and looking at the tiny stained glass window, wondering at the compact, utilitarian version of faith represented by a chapel in a hospital. A couple of benches that stood in for pews. On the blond paneling in the front of the room, a design like a star that might suggest a cross. The same scuffed linoleum that ran through the corridors. What kind of generic God would hear your prayers here? Faceless, nameless, demanding nothing, offering some kind of bland good wish for a speedy recovery, maybe. This was not the God she knew from grade school at Holy Cross. The God of Holy Cross was a jealous and an angry God, full of judgment on the unrighteous, or even the lazy and unwary. His agents were bitter and frustrated nuns and snarling priests whose hands were stony and quick to mete out punishment. Whose tongues were as sharp and wounding as their hands.
Whose presence did she wish for now? From which God did she seek mercy for her son, bleeding down the hall in the ER, his face swollen, his eyes blackened? Dear God, she pleaded, dear God, but who was watching? The bland and nonspecific deity of this small room off a busy hallway, or the wrathful ghost of the hard stone church at Holy Cross? She worked the piled Kleenex in her hand like a rosary and thought again that she had always expected this night, the emergency room vigil, the tense faces of the cops, the practiced concern of the Captain, but in her mind it had always been for Brendan. She had spent so much time and imagination on warding off the image of Brendan shot down on some North Philly street, she felt blindsided by the news that it was Michael. She had wanted to argue with the cop who had called the house, say, no, it was Brendan found unconscious on the curb on Roxborough Avenue, surrounded by broken glass and cellophane wrappers, like something thrown away. No, not her son, Michael. You mean Brendan, my husband, she told the kid who had called. That's what she had been preparing herself for all these years. Then it was Brendan ringing through, and when she heard his voice she screamed.
Excerpted from The Wolves of Fairmount Park by Dennis Tafoya. Copyright © 2010 Dennis Tafoya. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
DENNIS TAFOYA was born in Philadelphia and now lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Wolves of Fairmount Park is his second novel.
Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia and now lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He is the author of the novels Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, as well as numerous short stories.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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In Philadelphia, a drive-by shooting at a dope house leads two teens rushed to an emergency room; one dies while the other is critically injured. The fathers of the victims are psychologically wounded too. Police Officer Brendan Donovan whose son Michael was severely wounded and local entrepreneur George Parkman Sr. whose son Jr. died in the incident wonder why. Both dads believe that Brendan's half-brother, Michael's Uncle Orlando a drug addict was the cause of the attack. PPD detectives Danny Martinez and Asa Carmody investigate the shooting that seems increasingly to affirm the theory of the fathers that Orlando was the motive for the deadly drive-by. This is a gloom and doom deep look at the aftermath of a tragic event as seen mostly through the rotating viewpoints amongst the four males not physically hurt by the incident; though other perspectives by family members, girlfriends and the female detective enhance the dark urban Noir. The fathers are the most fascinating as the cop prays for God to save his beloved son while the tycoon who ignored his offspring when he was alive insists on vengeance. Fans who appreciate a realistic walk on the wild side of the streets will want to read The Wolves of Fairmount Park. Harriet Klausner
In cities all over the world, the buying, selling, and using of drugs takes many lives. There is violence, guns, sex, cops, and a continual churning of the same. The Wolves of Fairmount Park takes us into this world,in one neighborhood in Philadelphia that is probably not much different than any other drug neighborhood. We get close to junkies and killers, and pretty much feel repulsed, but continue reading as Dennis Tafoya does not let up on the gritty details of this life. The cops themselves are victimized by a world they cannot control. One arrested and jailed is replaced by another, and the carousel continues on. With the billions spent on the "war on drugs" it is clear that it is an unwinnable battle. Somewhere, somehow, a different approach has to be taken. Drugs lead to violence- ask any Mexican trying to live safely in the midst of a battle to feed the American appetite for cocaine. This book does not necessarily break any new ground, but reminds us that we can't stand idle.