Monday, May 26, 2014

Boystown 6: From the Ashes, a nick nowak novel excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In Boystown 6: From the Ashes by Marshall Thornton, it's winter 1984, and Private Investigator Nick Nowak has allowed his life to fall to pieces: he's stopped taking cases, lost his apartment and works as a bartender at a sleazy bar tucked under the El. All he wants to do is lick his wounds after the death of his lover, Detective Bert Harker. But, when the least likely person in the world shows up and asks him to take a new case he finds himself investigating the very un-suspicious heart attack death of a priest. Nick is convinced he's wasting his time until the clues begin to add up to.

Boystown 6: From the Ashes
MLR Press (May 23, 2014)
ISBN: 1-608209422 (print)
           1-020140247 (ebook)


St. Fortunata’s was the last place I ever wanted to go again. Aside from the fact that it barely looked like a Catholic church—it was modern and square, with a flat roof that was cocked at a jaunty angle to leave room for a sliver of stained glass—it was also the place where Harker’s funeral had been held.

I called ahead and found out that they had a six o’clock mass, which the pious could squeeze in between work and their favorite primetime sitcoms. I arrived at six forty-five. My workday had ended at five; I worked a twelve-hour shift five days a week. For that I was paid eight regular hours and four hours of free booze. Ludlow seemed to think this worked out better for him but I had trouble figuring out exactly how. The overtime hours would have been about seven dollars and fifty cents per. There were days when I managed to swill more than that in Johnnie Walker Red . That day I’d extended my shift by about an hour then stumbled my way through three different bus lines getting to the church. It might have been faster if I’d walked.

The congregation, weekday light, trickled out slowly. When I figured they were done, I stubbed out my cigarette and walked in. Just inside, I was confronted with the holy font. It stood there, sleek and modern. Like something you’d see in a bad sci-fi movie depicting a future that won’t happen. The last time I was there, I’d used the font by rote. This time I gave it the cold shoulder, walking by it into the nave. The pews were empty now. No one was there but a young priest wearing green robes with a white sash. He was returning the sacraments to the red velvet-lined boxes they were kept in.

As I walked up the aisle, he heard my footsteps and turned. His face was something of a surprise. Instead of the angelic look one might expect of a young priest, he was rough around the edges. Fair skinned, freckled, his short hair almost red. He had a broken tooth in front, and he hadn’t managed to shave very well. The overall look of him suggested that if he couldn’t win a back alley fight he’d at least hold his own.

He put down the chalice and stepped off the altar. As he walked toward me, I became very conscious of the fact that I smelled of stale scotch, cigarettes, and sweat from my shift at Irving’s. I hoped against hope that there was some trace of the Polo I’d put on about fourteen hours before.

The priest said, “I hope you’re here to sign up for altar boy. I can’t find much help during the week.”

“It’s a little late in the game for that, Father.”

“I could bend a few rules.” He smiled wanly and I felt a tug I didn’t want to feel. I was trying to get rid of the feeling when he asked, “What are you here for? I’m afraid you’ve just missed mass.”

I blushed. The whole thing was stupid and I was about to embarrass myself. “I’ve been asked to look into the death of Father Maniatis.”

He frowned. “Father Mani— Oh, you mean, Father Connie.”

“I do?”

“Yes, the Reverend Constantine Maniatis. He liked being called Father Connie. This isn’t his parish, though.” He looked me over closely, his eyes questioning.

“I’m sorry. My, um, client, I thought she went to this church. Her son’s funeral was here.” Mentally, I kicked myself. I’d made an assumption and it was wrong. If I was going to do this, I shouldn’t be doing it half-assed.

“It’s not always possible to have ceremonies in a parishioner’s home church,” he explained. “Scheduling conflicts, things like that. St. Fortunata is often used when the crowd is expected to be small.”

I glanced around. St. Fortunata had room for hundreds. But compared to St. Mary of Perpetual Help, the church I’d grown up in, it was miniscule. If Mrs. Harker’s home parish was any one of the grand old churches around Chicago I could see why she moved Harker’s funeral. She would never have wanted it to seem sparsely attended.

“And you are?” I asked.

“Reverend Joseph Biernacki.”

He reached out his hand and I shook it. He raised his eyebrows and kept them up until I complied with, “Nick Nowak.” He kept shaking my hand, refusing to take his eyes off mine. We played chicken for a long moment. He looked away and I won.

It surprised me that men still took an interest in me. I was thinner than I’d ever been and at six foot three felt like I’d begun to resemble a telephone pole. My eyes were an indecisive hazel with crow’s feet stomped around the edges. My hair was too long, too curly, and dark with a few strands of gray. I still had my mustache and forgot to shave often enough that people frequently asked if I was growing a beard. Every so often one of the drunks at Irving’s would tell me to smile. I suppose it’s saying something that in a place like that I was known as glum.

“Do you go by Father Joey?” I asked, taking back my hand.

“No, I don’t. Are you Catholic?”


“Joseph is fine then. Father Joseph if you’re tempted to rejoin the flock.”

I couldn’t help but smirk a little. My whole family would have been horrified by a remark like his, and would have set about cursing Vatican II and all its ill effects. In their mind, saints and sinners alike were to show respect to a priest whether he expected it or not.

“Did you know Father Connie?” I asked.

“Mostly I knew of him. We’d met. Several times. He’s been at St. Boniface the Martyr for the last two years, I think. I don’t know where he was before that.” It seemed redundant to tag “the Martyr” onto St. Boniface’s name. As far as I knew, all saints were martyrs.

“Where is that?” I asked.

Lincoln Square. Lots of Germans,” he said, as if it was supposed to mean something to me. Then he added, “St. Boniface is the patron saint of Germany.” That was one of the things I liked about Catholicism. Everyone got a saint. Not that I could ever remember which one was supposed to be mine.

“Thanks,” I said and began to walk out of the church.

Behind me, Joseph said, “I have some coffee in the back.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said I have coffee in the back. You’ve been drinking.”

“Yes, I have. And I’m not finished.”

“All right, then.” Illogically, he smiled. “I hear confession on Saturday from twelve thirty to four.”

I walked back to him and got close, too close. “You want me to tell you my sins?” I asked, with a flirtatious turn in my voice.

“If you decide you’d like to take communion, yes.”

Twelve thirty to four, huh? You’re going to need to set aside more time.”

And with a dirty smile, I left.

For excerpts from other books in The Boystown Series, see 11/8/10, 12/26/11, 4/30/12, and 5/27/13

To purchase from MLR, click
To purchase from Amazon, click


Jon Michaelsen said...

Terrific! I actually already got to this piece since I bought the book the minute it was available on amazon; I am in love with Nick Nowak!

Lloyd A. Meeker said...

This is such a satisfying, well-written series. Compelling heavy, fumbling atmosphere of someone who's had too much to drink, and a delicious sense of the opening mystery. Great job, Marshall!

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys.