Welcome Thomas Tibor to today’s blog, with an excerpt from his book, Fortunate Son
Publication Date: February 2022 / 338 Pages
A powerful, evocative novel that transports the reader to a tense period in America, Fortunate Son is set on a southern college campus during the turbulent spring of 1970. Reed Lawson, an ROTC cadet, struggles with the absence of his father, a Navy pilot who has been Missing in Action in Vietnam for three years.
While volunteering at a drug crisis center, Reed sets out to win the heart of a feminist co-worker who is grappling with a painful past, and to rescue a troubled teenage girl from self-destruction. In the process, he is forced to confront trauma’s tragic consequences and the fragile, tangled web of human connections.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited
Here’s an excerpt:
…An hour later, Adam watched with amusement as Reed drenched himself with Brut cologne, rubbed most of it off, and tried on different outfits.
First, he tried the hippie route—faded jeans, one of Adam’s worn-out flannel shirts left untucked. Nah, too affected. Next, the country-club look—light-blue button-down oxford, chinos, and Bass Weejuns. Too square. Finally, he settled into his comfort zone—polo shirt, jeans, and white Adidas.
“You’ve never spent this long getting ready for a date.”
“Yeah, well. This is different. She’s different.” Late the night before, Jordan had called and asked him to pick her up at six.
Driving to her house, he recalled the fantasy that had kept him aroused the night before.
He rolls up to Jordan’s house.
Dressed in skimpy cutoff jean shorts and a low-cut T-shirt, she greets him with a deep kiss.
As the Mustang rumbles along country roads, she tosses her windblown hair, laughs at Reed’s witty jokes, and praises his well-rehearsed left-wing propaganda.
And when they arrive at a lover’s lane deep in the woods, they waste no time.
Naked, she straddles him as they make passionate love in the front seat.
Reed waited on her doorstep in the glow of the sinking sun. Despite his fears about Annabel’s state of mind, perpetual anxiety about his father’s possible fate, and trepidation about talking to his mother on Easter Sunday, life was looking up in his small corner of the universe.
That is, until Olivia opened the door, blew her nose into a handkerchief, and glared at him as if he were a Bible salesman.
“Oh, it’s you.” She retreated, replaced by Jordan, who was looking sexy in tight jeans and the raised-fist feminist T-shirt.
“Hi, do you mind if Olivia tags along? She’s been psyched to see this flick.”
Reed managed a polite smile. “Yeah, no problem.” But it was a problem. Three’s a crowd. What was she thinking? He wanted to hold hands at the movie, share milkshakes afterward, drive somewhere and make out—your basic, grade A, All-American Date.
Olivia reappeared in her usual baggy overalls and work boots. “Let’s split. I want a good seat.”
Like air slowly hissing from a punctured balloon, his hopes for the evening dissipated on the way to the theater. Jordan sat in the passenger seat. Olivia sprawled lengthwise in back, the soles of her boots rubbing dirt on the immaculate vinyl.
Reed glanced back a few times before saying anything. “Sorry, but do you mind keeping your shoes off the seat?”
Rolling her eyes, Olivia reluctantly moved her long legs.
Jordan turned on the radio news.
“Yesterday,” the announcer was saying, “President Nixon announced further troop withdrawals from Vietnam over the next year, contingent on progress at the Paris peace talks.”
“What a load of bullshit,” Olivia said.
“Why is it bullshit?”
“Simple. Because the peace talks are bogus, a cover for Tricky Dicky to keep the war going.”
Reed scoffed. Everything Nixon did was bogus or outright evil to Olivia. “Why the hell would he do that?”
She leaned forward, head between the front seats, frizzy hair brushing his shoulders. “How naive can you be? Because it’s an imperialist war. We claim to defend democracy but undermine it instead. Do you realize the U.S. has supported the French colonialists in Vietnam since World War II? Do you realize Ho Chi Minh would have won eighty percent of the vote had elections been held in ’56? And do you realize just who prevented those elections from taking place? We did.”
“So let me get this straight . . . according to you, we’re the bad guys, and the North Vietnamese are the good guys?”
“That’s exactly right. Vietnam’s been fighting for its independence for decades, first against the French and now us. Ho Chi Minh is like, you know, their George Washington.”
“You have got to be shitting me!” Jordan switched off the radio. “Enough already. It all sounds like a broken record. By the way, I think you missed the turn a few blocks back.”
The movie was Midnight Cowboy, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. Reed sat next to Jordan, Olivia on her right. The acting was good but the story was tedious, so he only feigned interest. Mostly he focused on Jordan’s thigh—an inch from his own—and mentally rehearsed draping an arm around her shoulder. Just when he finally worked up the nerve to lift his arm, he glanced over at Jordan—who was holding hands with Olivia.
He lowered his arm, slid down in his seat, and prayed for the “date” to end.
Afterward, though, Jordan wanted to drive into the countryside, and he glumly agreed. She inserted a Jefferson Airplane tape, Olivia lit a joint the size of a small cigar, and the car soon morphed into a cocoon of psychedelic music and pot smoke.
Olivia thrust the joint toward him. “Want some?”
“Fuck no,” he said, venom in his voice.
Jordan smiled knowingly—must be enjoying his misery. He punched the radio on and twisted the dialed until a newscaster’s voice materialized from the crackle of static:
“In related news, the League of Families expressed satisfaction with the president’s call for North Vietnam to provide more information on the whereabouts and condition of American prisoners of war . . .”
“It’s just like this lying government to keep calling them ‘prisoners of war,’” Jordan said.
“Hold on a minute,” Reed demanded. “What the hell else would they be?”
She took a deep hit from the joint, held the smoke, and exhaled slowly. “Think about it,” she said in a professorial tone. “This is an undeclared war. Never authorized by Congress. In fact, a lot of people think the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave Johnson the green light for this disaster, was based on fraud. Basically, Johnson and McNamara bamboozled the American people.”
“I’ve heard that bullshit theory,” Reed said. “Forget it. Those commie gunboats definitely attacked us. We didn’t do anything to provoke them.” Jordan shook her head mechanically. “Either way, what’s your point?”
“Simple. The North Vietnamese don’t feel bound by the Geneva Convention because they view this as an illegal war. So why should they release information about prisoners?”
Reed yelled, “Because they’re supposed to! Because it’s the goddamn moral thing to do!”
The Mustang barreled down the road.
From the back seat, Olivia scoffed. “Morality? Give me a break!”
Jordan continued calmly. “From their point of view, our soldiers aren’t official POWs.”
Reed’s foot pressed harder on the accelerator pedal. “That’s a lot of crap, and you know it!”
The lights of a one-stoplight town grew brighter. Jordan eyed the speedometer, which had edged above eighty. “Hey. You wanna slow down some?”
Olivia piped in. “Either way, if we’d stop bombing the North, they’d let those POWs go.”
“We stopped for two years, and nothing happened,” Reed countered.
“Is that what Rot-cee teaches you? Bomb Third World countries into the Stone Age?”
“How would you know what the fuck they teach me?”
A police siren wailed, growing louder until red flashers loomed in Reed’s rearview.
“The sad fact is the POWs have become pawns in the peace talks,” Jordan said.
“More like war criminals,” Olivia added.
Reed smashed his fist on the dashboard. “He’s not a goddamn war criminal!”
“Who’s not a war criminal?” Jordan and Olivia yelled at the same time.
Now the police car’s siren and flashers crowded the Mustang’s bumper.
“Shit! Son of a bitch!” Reed slammed on the brakes and veered onto the narrow shoulder, gravel flying.
“Fucking pigs,” Olivia muttered.
Reed ripped the joint from her hand and tossed it out the window. Leaning across Jordan, he yanked open the glove compartment and grabbed the registration. “Both of you—don’t move! Just shut the hell up!”
Unnerved by his rage, Jordan regarded him with a mix of curiosity and concern.
He jumped out, hoping to intercept the cop before he got near the car. What kind of a major dumbass shithead would drive into redneck country in a pot-infused car? Most of the people around here worked at the nearby state prison and hated hippies, drugs, and anything reeking of the counterculture.
Reed’s head swirled with panicked visions. Handcuffs clicking on his wrists. Judge’s gavel banging down—Guilty of Possession. Jail door slamming shut. Dismissal from ROTC. Eternal shame.
The cop was a baby-faced good old boy, standing over six feet with a sizable belly protruding above his gun belt.
Standing behind the car, Reed handed over his registration and license. Fidgeting, right hand opening and closing, he read a billboard outside a church across the street: Let the Power of Love Replace the Love of Power.
The cop studied both documents and took in Reed’s neat appearance and his pristine car. He wore a tiny gold lapel pin in the shape of a pig, an attempt at irony by the Florida State Police.
“Son, do you have any notion how fast you were goin’?”
Reed launched into a detailed justification, punctuated by a stream of obsequious Yes, sirs, No, sirs, and I’m sorry, sirs. Yes, of course he’d been speeding and was “very, very sorry, sir.” He’d already slowed down when the speed limit changed, “in only two blocks, from sixty-five to thirty-five. Isn’t slowing down that fast actually kind of dangerous, sir?”
The cop muttered several “uh-huhs” as he checked the license plate and glanced inside. Jordan’s and Olivia’s demure smiles beamed back at him.
“Pretty decent bullshit, son. I’ve heard worse.” Then he wrote Reed a speeding ticket and warned him to be careful. “Some folks aren’t too happy with you college kids and all this protesting goin’ on. If you ask me, it’s goddamn un-American.”
“Yes, sir. I understand, sir. Thank you very much, sir.”
Reed pocketed the ticket and made a cautious U-turn. He vowed to remain silent on the way back and stay well below the speed limit, though he couldn’t wait to get home.
Unfortunately, Olivia still felt the need to spew more left-wing sewage. Only Reed’s Leave It to Beaver clean-cut looks, along with his groveling and ass-kissing, had kept “that redneck Neanderthal from locking us up.” Fascists cops like him were “tools of the capitalist power structure, which is all about keeping women barefoot and pregnant, not to mention oppressing the poor and Blacks.”
If only he had his boxing gloves, he could jam his fist down her throat.
Jordan, who’d been glancing at him curiously, interrupted. “Before, you said, ‘He’s not a war criminal.’ Who’s not a war criminal?”
He didn’t want to answer, but what was the point of keeping it a secret? The night had gone to hell long ago.
“My dad. He’s a Navy fighter pilot. MIA.”
“Wow,” Jordan said. “For how long?”
“Three years. We don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”
“I’m so sorry. I really am,” Jordan murmured…
A veteran writer and video producer, Thomas Tibor has helped develop training courses focusing on mental health topics. In an earlier life, he worked as a counselor in the psychiatric ward of two big-city hospitals. He grew up in Florida and now lives in Northern Virginia. Fortunate Son is his first novel.
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