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Goodnight, Lover

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Sure, I’m Pat Novak, for hire. I rent boats, and do other small jobs to pass the time. I used to ask nothing illegal or strenuous but that never stopped anyone, and I started saving my words for homicide investigators.

That was how I first met Jocko Madigan. I was up in the Mission district, trying to lose a beat cop that was hot on my tail. I’d been hired to deliver a package to a small grocer that turned out to be a front, and now the law was on my back. I turned a corner and ducked into a small basement bar, the kind even rats are ashamed to visit.

I took a spot at the bar and ducked my head. Sure enough I saw the telltale steps of a flatfoot walking by outside through the dirty window.

I breathed a sigh of relief and got ready to leave when the man next to me got my attention. He was a lush, obviously, a big, boisterous type. Everyone’s friend, and not shy about it either. He’d apparently noticed me slink in and watch the street nervously, a remarkable feat when you’re five sheets to the wind.

“Running from something, laddy?” He asked in a warm Scottish brogue. “You can always tell when a man has troubles he’s running away from. You can tell because he hasn’t ordered himself a drink!” He laughed heartily at his own joke.

I mustered a chuckle and a noncommittal agreement before trying to leave again.

He plopped one of his heavy mitts on my shoulder and asked me to stay. “If you need a place to lie low, you’ll never find a more invisible place. Seedy enough to be avoided, not so seedy the cops are interested. Stay for one drink with me!” He bellowed.

“Yeah, alright, one drink, Rummy. Make it a quick one.” I said, less snippy than I intended. I wasn’t sure about this guy, but for some reason he seemed pretty disarming.

One drink turned into five, for him. I nursed my watered-down beer for close to an hour though, while he told me tales of the old country. When he told me he’d been a doctor, I laughed in his face.

“A doctor? Is that part of the wino handbook these days- tragic backstory of a respectable profession?” I barbed.

He didn’t take the bait however, just laughed good-naturedly. “Yes, it’s an old yarn, isn’t it? True in my case though. I was a fine sawbones in my time.”

“Could still be your time, if you ever felt like sobering up.” I countered. He was older than me, roughly middle-aged, and looking a bit worse for wear from the boozing. But if could turn himself around in time, he’d make one handsome, legitimate doctor. Wait, handsome?

I didn’t get time to question my train of thought, as he grabbed my shoulder again and shook me like an elephant shaking a tree. “No, sonny, it’s a little late for me. Yourself however, isn’t it time you went straight?”

I sputtered. “I am straight! I work on the docks-”

He shook his head. “Men on the up-and-up don’t need to hide in joints like this. What’s your real racket?”

“I’m telling you, I rent boats by the hour. It’s just, sometimes I lend myself to other odd jobs, and in San Francisco, odd stands for illicit.”

“Ahh, so you’re a Patsy then,” he summarised, looking all-knowing behind his twinkly eyes, the redness diminishing the impact slightly.

I was about to argue, but stopped myself. I had told this complete stranger an awful lot about myself, and offered it willingly. He was a likeable drunk, and that might be the problem. For men in my field, likeable drunks who knew too much could be trouble.

“Yeah, guess you’re right. Sorry, Rummy, drink’s up,” I knocked back the last few sips, and my taste buds protested. “Thanks for the company. Drop a line if you need a boat or a pallbearer.” I don’t know why I said that, and turned and left before I could make more of an ass of myself.

 

———————————–

 

The next night, I was in a similar jam. A well-to-do businessman had rented my boat, and next thing I know there’s an unconscious broad on my office carpet. She seemed alive, for now, and I was hellbent on keeping her that way. Couldn’t take her to a hospital though, that might be a dead giveaway to whoever slugged her in the first place, and last thing I wanted to be a part of was a shootout in an emergency room.

I paced back and forth around the blonde on the floor until I remembered the previous night. It might’ve been drunk talk, but part of me believed that guy when he said he used to be a doctor. Well, now’s as good a time as any to make him prove it.

I grabbed my hat and coat and ran down the wooden docks, hoping to catch a taxi on the main road. I stopped when I saw a familiar shape inside the local dive bar. It couldn’t be. But there he was, Doctor Boozebag from the night before. Did I really not catch his name? You’re slipping, Novak.

What a coincidence though, that the man I needed was in my neighborhood. I walked in, trying to seem casual, and lightly tapped his shoulder.

He was sitting at the bar again, and seemed to be holding court, regaling some tight longshoremen with what sounded to be the usual lush’s tall tales. I bounced onto the seat next to him and hoped he’d turn around.

“In a minute, doll, I’m in the middle of something here,” he said, not even bothering to turn around.

“Sorry Rummy, I don’t have time to wait,” I grumbled, grabbing his arm and forcing him to look my way.

“Hey, I was in the middle of-Patsy!” he grinned, cheering up instantly. “Ah Patsy, what a coincidence. I came down to the docks to find you! But I only remembered I called you Patsy and couldn’t very well look that up in the listings. So I came here to ask around- none of these ruffians have been any help,” he added confidentially, before turning back to his audience and bellowing “I’ve found my Patsy!”. The assorted sailors and tradesmen gave a cheer in delight, most of them unaware of where they even were at the moment.

“Listen, Doctor, I came to find you. I need you for something important, and fast,” I said, cutting right to the chase.

“Well now Patsy, I’m a little old for that sort of thing-”

“Get your head on straight,” I interrupted. “There’s a girl at my place, knocked cold. I need to know if she’s gonna wake up again.”

“Oh, Patsy, you should be a lover, not a fighter” he said softly, but I felt the tidal wave of judgment behind it. I was drenched in shame myself, I didn’t need him piling it on. "

“I didn’t do it, it was one of the guys I rented my boat to today. Mama Novak didn’t raise me lamebrained enough to fool around with dames, or stupid enough to sock ‘em around. Now will you come help me before I’m hauled in for questioning?”

The man smiled. “Lead the way, Mr Novak. I’m Madigan, by the way, Jocko Madigan.”

Well, we made it back to my place before the cops did, but too late to wake up the girl. She woke herself up, and was fixing her face in the cracked mirror in my bathroom when we rushed in. She seemed perfectly fine, apparently used to running in tough crowds, and was even dippy enough to go back out, looking for another date for the night.

“You could use a drink,” Madigan suggested when she finally left. He sat down opposite me at my desk, where I was bent over trying to force a headache away.

“No thanks, Jocko, sleep will fix me up. But thank you, for tonight. Even if you didn’t get to show off your medical expertise.”

He smiled. “You still don’t buy me as a real doctor, do you?”

“Afraid not. I think we just got lucky tonight. But I’m glad I bumped into you again. Here’s a few, for your troubles. Buy a couple drinks on my behalf.”

“Sorry Patsy, you probably need that more than I do.” He grabbed some paper and a pen from the desk. “Here’s the numbers for the establishments I generally frequent, should you need my services again.” He walked to the door, and called “Goodnight Lover,” before slamming it shut.

 

———————————–

The universe finally cut me a few breaks, and I had a quiet stretch for over a month. The bills were paid, and I wasn't breaking my neck having to outrun any heels or cops. After one particularly successful day where I was handsomely paid for minimal work, I felt like tying one on. I glanced down to my messy desk and found that list of Jocko's, with about half a dozen disreputable bars and their telephone numbers written in a shaky scrawl. I couldn't explain why I had kept it around, maybe wistful thinking that I might need his help again. There weren't many guys around I would trust in a jam, but this relative stranger had come through.

I pocketed the list and turned out the lights on my way out. A few false starts were chipping away at my confidence, but at the third place I struck gold. Madigan's familiar form was at the far end of the relatively deserted bar, sitting alone save for the collection of empty glasses surrounding him. His head was down, his clothes slightly rumpled, and he hadn't shaved in a few days. I walked towards him, wondering if this was a mistake. But as soon as I sat down beside him, he looked up in surprise.

"Patsy! I was afraid you'd met some terrible fate at the hands of the police. Where have you been hiding yourself?"

"I've been working. Honest jobs," I added, sensing his disapproval. "Keeping my nose clean, staying out of trouble.

He didn't seem to buy it, but he smiled anyway. "Well, it's good to see you again, Patsy. What brings you around here tonight?"

"I felt like a drink. And thought maybe I could buy you one, as a thank you for your help last month." I'd rehearsed this all in my head earlier, but didn't feel as nervous now. There was something about Jocko that relaxed you, like he was a walking chamomile candle.

"You don't owe me anything, Patsy, but I'd be delighted to share a bottle of wine with you."

I settled into my seat and shed my coat as he beckoned the bartender over and ordered. I deferred to his expertise, and we wound up with a surprisingly drinkable red. He had a head start on me, but I wasn't in any hurry to catch up. I was never much of a drinker, and the few times I did indulge it was always too much. But the company was good, the atmosphere wasn't too uninviting, and I was in a good mood. The hours ticked away as Jocko and I swapped stories like children trading baseball cards. It was all too easy to watch Jocko order a second bottle, and then a third.

———————————–

My head was pounding a samba when I woke up, assuming it was still early from the darkness in the room. Lying on my side, I could only open my eyes a crack, and couldn't make out much more than the glass of water on the nightstand table, with a couple of pills lying next to it. In the background heavy grey curtains covered the windows, with a few streaks of light fighting fruitlessly to make it past the edges. It was then I realized I didn't recognize the room, and a moment later I clocked the heavy presence against my back. I didn't get to investigate much further before a wave of nausea crashed down on my hungover beach.

I managed to locate the bathroom easy enough, it being the only other room around. After a few minutes, I was resting my sore head against the cool tank of the toilet, basking in the dignity of the moment, when I heard a chuckle behind me.

"Morning Lover," Jocko greeted, leaning on the doorframe. "Mm, doesn't look like that fourth bottle agreed with you".

"How'd you make it through unscathed?" I croaked out.

"Unscathed? What makes you say that? I'm starting to sober up."

"Very funny."

"It wasn't a joke, Patsy. Are you going to be alright now? I left out some water and aspirin for you." He reached out for me, and helped me off the ground where I belonged.

"Say Jocko, maybe you are a doctor after all." He smiled at the weak acknowledgement of his skills.

"I'm just an experienced lush. I took off your shoes too, so don't leave before you get them back. I figured you'd want to sleep in your clothes though. You can sleep the rest of it off too, if you need to."

I sat down on the bed, steady as a see-saw, and glanced at my watch. Ten o'clock, the prime waking hour on skid row. One night with Jocko and he had me living his wino lifestyle.

"Sorry, Jocko, I have to blow back to the waterfront. I'm long overdue as it is. But thank you, for taking care of me last night."

"Don't mention it, Patsy. I'd have taken you home, but I only know where your office is. Sorry my place isn't very glamorous". Here he gestured around vaguely, and somewhat unnecessarily. True it wasn't the nicest apartment, but it wasn't exactly a flophouse either. And the heavy curtains and dark furnishings were definitely appreciated this morning.

"Well, swing by my office sometime. I'll take you back to mine." I winced as soon as I said it, hoping it didn't sound as blatantly like a come on as it did to my ears.

Jocko patted my shoulder good-naturedly. "Any time, Lover."

———————————–

It became routine after that. Getting together a few nights every week, whenever I wasn't working late, or Jocko wasn't underground, in some dive bar I couldn't track down. For the most part I kept my drinking in check, and Jocko more than made up for me. The man could really bend an elbow, without getting too maudlin or handsy, and I had to admire him for that.

"Just practice, Patsy. Any time you want to pick up the pace, go right ahead."

I gave him a tight smile. "Sorry Jocko, not tonight."

He looked serious for a moment. "You don't mind me calling you Patsy, do you? I can knock it off if I'm bothering you."

"It's fine." I didn't want to tell him it was growing on me. I had even signed off a letter to my old friend Sam Tolliver as 'Patsy'.

"You feeling alright, Patsy? You seem troubled again?" Jocko's voice was dripping with concern, and I hated it. It had been a while since anyone showed any kind of care for me, and I didn't know how to react.

"Just a little tired. Maybe I should head home. Don't mind me, I don't want to ruin your night." I nodded to his drink, only his second of the night.

"Nonsense, Patsy,' he boomed, tossing the drink back in one. "Let me walk you home, at least. Knowing you, you'd stumble across a dead body or a gangland war."

I couldn't refuse the offer, and we walked in companionable silence the few blocks back to my apartment.

"Well, thank you for keeping me out of trouble. Do you want to come upstairs for a drink?"

"Patsy, was this just a ploy to get me to your home? I'd have said yes if you just asked me outright."

I laughed nervously. It was foolish to think I needed to try anything with Jocko. It had been so effortless from the start, when I hid in that bar and he'd seen right through me. He always saw right through me, and helped me get back on track.

"Alright. On the level, do you want to come upstairs Jocko?"

"After you, Lover".