"I've found the third most pathetic sound in the world," Jocko Madigan announced, breaking the uneasy silence in the room. "After a child in pain and running water from a tap, it's the sound of a man lying to his partner." He looked down at the man in question- Pat Novak, part time boat-renter, full time troublemaker, currently lying across his chest as they rested in Pat's bed.
"Who's lying?" came the flippant reply.
Jocko sighed, reaching down to card his hand through Pat's hair. "Patsy, you're trembling. And as eager as you seemed to see me as soon as you got through that door, I doubt my lovemaking skills brought this about. So I'll ask you again- what's wrong Patsy?" Jocko's voice softened as he repeated his question. He was used to worrying about Pat Novak, a man who saw homicide investigators more frequently than their own wives did. But tonight was something else, something worse. He hadn't had much of a chance to learn the details earlier.
Pat had tracked him down in a bar, nothing out of the ordinary there. On the hook for two murders he obviously didn't commit, Pat had needed Jocko's expertise in clearing up a few matters. Until recently, Jocko found he hadn't been good for anything except drinking the night away, but for some reason Pat had seen potential in him, and now he spent quite a few nights running around San Francisco, checking out newspaper morgues or digging up witnesses, whatever Pat needed in the moment.
Jocko had been there, meeting in Pat's apartment to relay some information, when the call from homicide came in. Another body, and Pat knew who was behind it. He said something about being stabbed in the back, and was out the door, yelling back to wait up for him. And so Jocko waited, and worried. Pat Novak didn't often speak of other friends. He was a solitary figure, afraid to let others in. Jocko knew it was a big deal that Pat trusted him, and he tried his hardest not to let his friend down, even if that conflicted with his drinking. So that's why he refrained from taking a swig from his flask during his vigil, just in case.
Pat finally returned home hours later, well past 2am. He shut the door behind him, and leaned against it for a moment, taking a deep breath. He looked wrecked. His face was ghostly pale, and there was a faraway look in his eyes that scared Jocko. Aside from that, he was still injured from before- earlier in the night, he picked up a shiner from a boat captain knocking him out, and a split lip from Inspector Hellman taking offense to one of his remarks. Overall he gave the impression of a lost puppy, apprehensive and sad.
"Patsy?" Jocko offered cautiously, afraid to startle the man. "Are you alright, son? What happened tonight?"
"Hm?" Pat looked up, surprised he wasn't alone. He must have forgotten he asked Jocko to stay behind. But in his current frame of mind, he was glad he had. He approached Jocko, who waited nervously by the couch, and walked him purposefully backwards towards the bedroom.
And that was where Jocko found himself now, in bed with a man who wouldn't tell him the full truth. Despite being a washed up drunk, Jocko wasn't stupid. He could be perceptive. And for as often as Pat covered up any emotions with a sarcastic reply or deadpan joke, Jocko knew he was as capable of feeling and hurting as any other man. Something truly awful must have happened tonight, and Jocko refused to let it go.
Pat lay there, as stubborn as he was troubled. Jocko had all the time in the world however. He kept stroking Pat’s head for a few minutes, and when that didn’t encourage conversation, he got out of bed. Pat finally looked over, face full of concern.
“Back in a minute, lover,” Jocko said reassuringly. He crept into the kitchen and wet a towel, slinging it over his shoulder. After wrapping up some ice in a dry towel, he started to return to the bedroom, before making a detour back to the living room. He found his overcoat lying across the couch, and wormed his flask out of the inside pocket.
All prepared, he rejoined his despondent friend in the bedroom. Pat was still lying listlessly in the bed, staring at the pack of cigarettes on the bedside table. Jocko clapped him on the shoulder as he got back into bed.
“C'mon Patsy, let’s get you all cleaned up.” Pat rolled over, his face still blank. It hurt Jocko that Pat couldn’t even muster a flippant comment. It was going to take some effort to drag Pat back from his catatonic state.
So Jocko got to work, cleaning the dried blood off of Pat’s lip, and wiping down his whole face for good measure. Then he got Pat lying flat on his back, so he could balance the makeshift ice pack directly on his blackened eye. He took a small sip from the flask, before putting it firmly in Pat’s hand.
Pat glanced down, confused. “It’s not empty?”
“No, it is not,” Jocko answered proudly. “I resisted temptation all evening, in case I could be of assistance again. But I think you need it more than I do right now.”
“I didn’t know you could go this long without a drink,” Pat finally replied.
Shrugging off the insult, Jocko smiled. “I can when my friends need me. And I know you need me right now, Patsy. I can wait all night if need be, but you won’t feel any better until you get this story off your chest.”
Pat weighed his options for a moment. His eyes darted towards the window, and Jocko knew he was debating taking a three storey fall to get out of the conversation.
Sensing no way out, he sighed. “Hold the ice for a minute?” He asked. Jocko acquiesced, and Pat sat up to knock back half the flask. He passed it back and swapped it for the ice, repositioning it as he lay back down.
He paused for another moment, unsure where to start. “He was my friend,” he said simply.
Jocko reached over and rubbed his arm comfortingly. “Take your time, Patsy.”
Pat nodded gratefully. He was still trying to process the evening himself. He knew that he owed Jocko a full explanation- firstly because he asked an awful lot of Jocko, dragging him out of a nice warm bar late at night, and giving him such complicated and time-sensitive tasks. It wasn’t fair to make a man work so hard and not unravel the whole spiel at the end. But more importantly, Jocko cared. No one had given a damn about Pat Novak for some time, and while it was hard adjusting to this again, Pat knew that Jocko needed his trust. Hell, he’d more than earned it, and by not divulging, he was putting Jocko in an awkward place. Having a place in a man’s bed but not his heart was no place at all, Jocko had said once, after some spat that now seemed insignificant, and tonight especially, those words were echoing around Pat’s head.
“We came up together, Sam Toliver and I. Were good friends for a while. Real close.” Pat looked at Jocko with his one unobstructed eye. “Probably about as close as you and I are, now. But we grew distant after I moved out here. Sam was a gambler type, and I wanted something a bit more honest. It was fun while it lasted though. Some days I miss having fun without the cops breathing down my neck. That’s always how it was with Sam though, always easy.”
He stopped to lick his lip, having re-split it in the middle of the story. In a flash Jocko was ready with the towel again, and dabbed it clean. Pat gave him a grateful look before continuing. “I wrote him sometimes, but not recently. So it was a surprise when he turned up in my office tonight. Said he needed help, and wanted me to pick up and deliver a package for him. Something about the whole proposition seemed fishy, but he’d never let me down before. And sure enough I got a raw deal, almost right from the get-go. You know most of the details already though. Sam was gambling on tomorrow’s election, and wanted to plant some dope in one of the candidate’s offices, to completely torpedo their chance. He double-crossed his accomplices, wound up killing three people, and had me and the cops at gunpoint right up until the end. Hellman shot him. Died right in my arms.”
“Oh Patsy, I'm so sorry-"
“It’s funny,” he went on, voice getting harder. “I haven’t thought about Sam Toliver in months, except for yesterday. I was still hungover from our night out, and all I could think about yesterday morning was this one bender Sam and I pulled. He won big in some dice game, and we celebrated for days, hitting every high class joint in town. But all I could think about yesterday morning was how it paled compared to splitting that whisky bottle with you the other night.”
He propped himself up on one elbow, and removed the ice pack to make eye contact with Jocko.
“When I was with Sam, life was good. But the way it all ended tonight shook me up a bit." He swallowed hard. "Life's good now. I don't want us to grow apart, and I don't want you to die on me." Suddenly embarrassed, Pat rolled over to face the wall again. Jocko smiled sadly. He reached over Pat's head to turn out the light, and planted a quick kiss on his forehead.
"I don't want you to die either, Patsy," he said, winding an arm around Pat's smaller frame, trying to find a comfortable place in the bed.