Stanley Cup playoffs, Blackhawks and Lightning tied at two games each. How Boom-Boom Warshawski, Blackhawk star as well as VI’s cousin and closest childhood friend, would have loved to be in the middle of the fight!
My second novel, Deadlock, introduced Boom-Boom, although he sadly entered the series as a murder victim.
Over the years, VI has often thought about Boom-Boom and recalled some of their more hair-raising adventures together. In Brush Back, on sale out in July, Boom-Boom plays a major part of the backstory. I originally had planned to open the novel with a flashback to his Blackhawk debut, but as the story worked out, I had to remove that opening chapter. (By the way, you can pre-order Brush Back now by following the link.)
With Stanley Cup mania going on, I thought it might be fun to share this outtake chapter with you:
Up near the rafters the noise shook our bones. We were on our feet, slamming our chair seats up and down, stomping, screaming, whistling.
“Boom Boom!” slam. “Boom Boom!” slam. “Boom Boom.”
The foghorn under the scoreboard bellowed. Down below us, on the ice, my cousin raised his stick from the middle of the scrum, then skated to our side of the rink. Of course he couldn’t see us, with the stadium lights in his eyes, but he bowed in our direction.
Frank Guzzo hugged me so hard we both almost toppled into the seats below us. Mayhem in the Madhouse on Madison: Boom Boom’s first game as a Blackhawk, his first goal, his first victory.
Frank shouted something at me, but I couldn’t hear it, even with his lips near my ear. I screamed back, but our words were swallowed by the sound. The old Chicago Stadium, decibel level around 130 on average, up to 300 when all noise-makers were turned on.
We followed the rest of the crowd down the steeply-banked stairs and went to wait by the player exit. It was April, near the end of the regular season, a warm enough night that none of us put our jackets on. My dad and his brother Bernie were grinning at each other like teenagers and the rest of us were teenagers, or near enough.
Boom Boom had spread tickets around like confetti, to me (of course) and his folks and my dad, his best friend Frank Guzzo, even to some of his lumpy cousin’s on his mother’s side. Another couple of dozen people from the neighborhood had paid their own way: this was going to be a night to tell their grandchildren about: I was there when Boom Boom Warshawski scored the winning goal against the Flyers.
Boom Boom had even given Frank a ticket for his sister Annie, who was still in high school.
“I don’t know where she is,” Frank said, when I asked. “I just drove in from Nashville for the game. You remembered to get the ticket to her, right? You haven’t become so snooty at Red U that you forgot your old pals, have you?”
Red U. That was an old insult for the University of Chicago, dating to the Nineteen-fifties, the McCarthy era, long before my time on the quads. It’s what all our neighbors called it in South Chicago, though, and it added to the hostility toward my mother when they learned she had her heart set on my studying there.
I punched Frank in the ribs. “I’m slumming with you, aren’t I? I hand-delivered the tickets. Your mom said Annie wasn’t home so I left the envelope with her, okay?”
“Warshawski!” Frank saw my cousin before the rest of us. “You dang hotdog, you. You trying to upstage the Golden Jet?”
Boom Boom laughed. “No way, man. Lucky shot. Not like that homer of yours against Nashville on Monday.”
“Yeah, speaking of which, I gotta head out now. I’m already running a ninety-dollar fine for being AWOL, can’t make it two days in a row.”
Boom Boom walked across the parking lot to Frank’s car with him, tripping on the deep grooves in the gravel. “Your turn’s coming, Frankie, your turn’s coming. When they call your name in the starting line-up at Wrigley, I’ll be there hollering, you’d better believe it. Thanks for making the trip up here, man.”
Frank Guzzo, Boom Boom Warshawski—they were the biggest stars of my neighborhood. When they graduated high school three years earlier, the school held a day in their honor. They were given special plaques, they got to choose the menu in the cafeteria, the gym was renamed the “Guzzo-Warshawski Gym.”
All over this city, poor kids dream of becoming sports legends, but Boom Boom and Frank were the rare boys who got to live the fantasy, Boom Boom on ice, Frank in baseball. Two years after Boom Boom’s debut—when my cousin had already turned into a legend of sorts—Frank was called up to Wrigley Field. The same crowd that had gone to see Boom Boom turned up for Frank.
All those hardcore White Sox fans who’d sooner spit than say “Ernie Banks” made the long L-ride north to cheer the home boy. I was in my first year of law school then, but I blew off a paper to join my dad, Boom Boom, my dad’s police buddies, and my uncle Bernie in the bleachers.
His third game at Wrigley, Frank’s turn ended. The Cardinal second baseman, leaping to get the catcher’s throw, came down hard on Frank as he was sliding into second. The Cardinal’s cleats ripped muscle from bone. Frank had a half dozen surgeries, two years of rehab. When they were finished with him, Frank still had an arm better than anyone on the south side, but nowhere near good enough for Major League ball.
My cousin’s been dead a lot of years now and so has my dad. I don’t hear news from my old neighborhood very often and I’d almost forgotten Frank. Until the day he walked into my office.