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We Would Drink Until We Couldn't Speak, And I Could Still Hear 'Em Calling to Me, Baby

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Like most of his problems, this one started out by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Specifically, his office, during working hours. He’d been hired to take a couple out into the bay, a nice young couple by the look of things. Until they were a good three hundred yards from the shore, and the guy pulled a gun on him. So much for his sense of judgment.

Why did it always end this way? Pat Novak, renting boats by the hour in the San Francisco bay. It should have been an easy life, a job no more dangerous than a taxi driver. Nothing ever seemed to go the way it should.

It was just after seven when he was getting ready to close up shop for the day, and they entered. The man introduced them as Mr and Mrs Nelson, and asked if he’d take them out into the bay. It was their anniversary, you see, and the Mrs, well she likes boat rides and-

Once Nelson pulled the gun he called the shots. Pat was smart enough to follow directions, but stupid enough to let a few snide remarks slip. He was known for his loud mouth, and for getting knocked around on account of said mouth. Tonight was no different and the guy let him have it, the barrel crashing hard into his cheekbone.

He was silently mourning his damaged profile when it came into view- an old steamer, looking in good condition for its age. It was anchored not far away, and he was ordered to cut the engine as they drifted close.

“Ok, hang tight. Don’t move a muscle ‘til I say-”

A large searchlight shone right in their eyes, launched from the steam yacht. They were still trying to regain their sight when a familiar, grating voice called out from a bullhorn.

“Dinty Nelson, we know you’re out there. There’s nowhere to go. We’re throwing a rope down. Climb aboard and surrender yourself peacefully.”

It was Inspector Hellman, one of San Francisco’s finest blowhards. Figures he’d be here. Pat didn’t like his options, knowing Hellman would love nothing more than slap the bracelets on him just for inadvertently being hired out to help- what exactly? A fugitive? An active criminal? He looked over at his client-turned-captor, trying to figure out what the move was.

Dinty looked worried, his girl too. She was clinging on his arm, asking him what they were going to do. The rope fell down, hitting the deck, and all three watched it, frozen.

Finally Pat leaned down to pick it up, and started tying it around the rail.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Nelson growled.

He didn’t bother looking up. “My knitting. What the hell does it look like I’m doing? Those are cops on that boat. I don’t know what you two were planning tonight but the fun’s over, and we’re getting towed back to shore.”

Dinty didn’t like that much, and showed Pat just how much by slapping him with the barrel of his .32 again.

He staggered, recovering by leaning against the rail. “Hellman! The line’s secure, you’re good to go!”

He wanted to say Hellman was surprised to hear him, but his augmented voice sounded dry and emotionless. “Thanks, Novak. Hang on.”

The steamer roared to life as Dinty rounded on him again. “You were in on it from the start.”

Pat rubbed his sore jaw. “Buddy, I don’t even know what it is. It’s not my fault you’re not on the level, but if I’m getting hauled in for questioning tonight, I want it on the record I’m cooperating to get a reduced sentence. It’s not my time to serve.”

Dinty glared at him one last time, disgust on his face. “Should’ve known. Mabel, keep an eye on him.”

He pocketed the heater, and grabbed the rope without another word. In a surprising display of agility, he climbed up the rope, and slipped unseen onto the deck of the yacht.

Left alone, Pat glanced nervously at the girl. She glared back, reaching into her purse and showing a small switchblade, glinting in the light. He smiled, trying to be disarming, but he could feel his split lip smearing blood everywhere. He could taste it on his teeth, and she recoiled a little at the sight.

The boat rocked unsteadily, and he used that to his advantage, taking a step forward. The dame watched him cautiously, eyes wild like a cougar. They both heard her boyfriend scuffle with Hellman further down the deck, and the telltale sound of a gun being pulled out.

“You’re all washed up, Dinty! Don’t do anything stupid!” Hellman’s voice carried across the dark night, and Pat sensed his chance.

“Listen, doll, it’s all over. Hellman’s got your man, just put down the knife.”

She sneered, her face losing any trace of the sweetness he had admired earlier. “You think I’m stupid or something?”

A shot rang out, and he turned towards the noise- another in a long line of mistakes he made that day. Distracted, she got the jump on him, hitting him right across the forehead with her heavy purse. He staggered like a baby deer before taking another step, this one right off the side and down into the bay.

Submerged for a thirty second span that felt like thirty years, the cold water seeped through every layer and assaulted every sense he had, disorienting him further. He thrashed out, limbs in every direction, unable to discern which way was up. His eyes stung, the salt water burning and making him blink, stalling him further. In the last few seconds before panic fully set in, he turned again, and saw something in the water.

It was a face. A woman’s face, and one he didn’t fully recognize, but it rang a few bells on a distant switchboard in his head. She floated there, glowing softly in the dark water, neither beckoning him closer nor pointing the right way. A lazy siren, perhaps, sensing he wasn’t worth the full effort. He was going to die anyway, so why bother luring him? His arms stopped moving as he took her in. Staring into her sad eyes, the downcast look of her smile, it kept nagging at him that he couldn’t place her. His lungs nagged at him too, an all-consuming burning like they were going to claw themselves right out of his chest. The water around him now still enough to navigate, he kicked upwards, back towards the air.

Surfacing, he dimly heard Hellman's voice somewhere out in the fog.

“Novak! Novak, you out there?” A tinge of worry permeated his gruff demeanor, and he wondered if he’d hit his head during the fall. After a few ragged gasps, he tested out his voice, coming out as a harsh, high-pitched croak.

“Sorry Hellman, my funeral’s postponed. Unless you get me out of here soon.”

Hellman laughed, possibly more out of relief than amusement. “Hang on Novak, we gotta get the light on you.”

An eternity later, the searchlight was wheeled back to the edge of the boat, and flashed in his direction. Now blinded, Pat swam toward the light, not particularly concerned if it was heaven or Hellman. A trawling net was unceremoniously thrown in his face, and he clung to it as they hauled his frozen body up.

This wasn’t his first time in the bay, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it had been just long enough since for him to forget just how awful it could be. Sure, the initial cold was bad. But getting out was worse. The harsh night air was scarcely warmer, and the shock hit him instantly. His limbs shivered violently, and his whole body felt heavy in waterlogged wool.

Hellman evaluated with a dissatisfied look on his face. “Don’t make any dates with Esther Williams,” was his helpful remark. He wanted to slug him but his arm was too heavy to lift. Instead he grunted as Hellman led him into the wheelhouse and slung the captain’s coat over his shoulder. “Just gotta steer us back to the dock. You’re not gonna turn into a popsicle in the next five minutes are you? “

He grunted again, focusing on keeping his breathing level, and keeping the creeping darkness at the edge of his vision at bay. He watched Hellman, stooped over the command, looking as out of place as he always did. The man was made to be a dirty cop, and he only looked right when he was standing around a crime scene, cracking jokes over a corpse.

Hellman had tried to nab him on a sodomy charge once, but they both knew he couldn't make it stick. For one thing, the aggressive party can't be the accuser. Come to think of it, the arresting officer can't be the accuser either.

Pat had made sure he was seen with a dame on his arm for the next three months. Not that he didn't like women, far from it, but the ones in San Francisco were tougher than the men, even under the threat of being locked up. And as used as he was to getting knocked around, that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Hellman had really only gotten tough after Pat declined his advances a second time, somewhat proving his point that it wouldn't be a good life as a dick's gunsel. He put up with a few nights in the drunk tank on trumped up charges, figuring it would be harder trying to fight it. He thought Hellman had gotten the hint, until he kept popping up. He always seemed to be the first officer on the scene, no matter what the trouble was, on the docks or in the city. The first few times he’d tried laying homicide charges Pat got scared, until like all the other wrongs of the world, they soon became a part of daily life on the waterfront. The brine in the air, coarse and cut hands that never healed or softened, being arrested by a man with a sneer on his face but a hungry look in his eyes.

“His name’s Dinty Nelson, and the girl’s Mabel Walker,” Hellman starts, eyes on his work. “They’re with the circus, he’s an acrobat and she’s a dancer. They’re also the loose ends of a smuggling ring we brought in last week. We were hoping they could point us to the supplier, so we tightened the noose, but they got wind and tried to lam it. We got a tip-off that they’d be going out to sea, so I tried calling you. And since you were out, I figured you had to be involved somehow.”

“Didn’t- I didn’t have anything to do-”

“Yeah, yeah, tell it to the judge,” Hellman says, but there’s no heat behind it.

The conversation was getting harder to follow, especially if Hellman was playing games again. He’s still shivering, and his head’s pounding where Mabel had decked him. She must’ve been carrying rocks in her bag, or maybe his head was getting soft from all the hits.

The familiar lights of the shore slowly came into view, and Hellman finally took pity on him. “We’re not bringing you in tonight. So long as you don’t think you need to go to the hospital, you’re free to go.”

Pat thought it over, weighing his options. Freedom over health. “No, no I’m good.”

“You sure?”

‘In the pink,” he replied weakly.

Hellman snorted derisively, but nodded. “You’re to report in tomorrow, by 2 o’clock at the latest. If you don’t show, I assure you it will bring me no pleasure to tear your front door down and haul you in by the ear. Understood?” He turns to see Pat nod once, before turning back, his shoulders tightening. “You’re being released into Madigan’s custody, and I’ll have him back in the drunk tank if you don’t show tomorrow.”

“Jocko?” he looks up, confused, but sees him standing on the dock, instantly recognizable. The gentle giant, former doctor turned cheerful wino. His best friend, or maybe his only one. “This on the level?” he asks, not quite convinced.

“As much as you are,” came the smart reply, as Hellman helped him up. “Now give me that coat back. It’s evidence.”

_____

Jocko Madigan lived in a cheap rooming house not far from where they’d docked. It was closer than Pat's place, which he assumes is why Jocko took him there. That, and he had more than enough supplies to make hot toddies all through the night. He was busying himself in the kitchen making a batch in a large pot when Pat returned from the communal shower down the hall. Jocko pulled him in a tight hug before bundling him in as many layers as possible, not minding the fact that his clothes hung off of Pat’s more slender frame, making him look like a particularly sad reject from the Byrd expedition. It wasn’t until Pat was sitting on the couch, working on his third steaming, potent mug when he finally confronted the issue. “Patsy, do you remember last week when I told you I was just waiting for the day when the cops call me to tell me you died?”

He shakes his head, genuinely unable to remember. It earns him one of Jocko’s long-suffering sighs, and he revels in it, a wonderful sound he didn’t think he’d ever get to hear again. He hadn’t really processed what had happened out in the bay, but upon seeing Jocko again, it got him shivering again.

Jocko didn’t notice, so wrapped up in telling him off. He came back into the sitting room with another coat, grumbling all the while. Some words stuck out, “thought I’d lost you”, “told you this would happen”, and “Patsy Novak, age 31, died as he lived, being a complete fool” being the main ones.

“So that’s why you were there? Hellman called you?” His head still hurt but he was trying to piece together the loose ends.

“Aye. He says he was looking for you in connection to a case, and when there was no answer at your’s, he tried mine. Of course I didn’t know where you were.” He settled next to Pat on the sofa, not quite crowding him but definitely taking up much of the available space. It was nice, like a soft furnace, and instinctively Pat leaned into him.

“I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to do this again.”

Jocko sighs. “Maybe you should think about that the next time you decide to turn into a polar bear and take a dip in frigid waters.”

“I saw a face down there,” he says, the words feeling foreign on his lips. “In the water I mean. There was a woman in the water and she was waving at me.”

Jocko wrapped an arm around him, engulfing his shoulders in one fluid, well-practiced move. “You jumped in after her? You tried to save her?”

He shook his head, hoping that would help clear it. His mind was still as foggy as the evening sky. “No, no, I was the only one who went in. She was already down, underwater.”

“Trust you to stumble across a dead body while you’re almost dying yourself,” Jocko said, faintly amused despite himself. Up until now he sounded uncharacteristically serious, but the familiar lightness was creeping back into his voice. “Alright, tell me about her. I know you. You won’t be able to rest until you start to solve this mystery.”

“About thirty,” he said, scrunching his eyes closed as he tried to picture it. “Pale as a ghost, dark hair, dark eyes. She looked so familiar, but I can’t place her. I tried to help her but I-” He trailed off, lost in thought as he felt Jocko gently brush the hair from his forehead, unable to resist leaning into the touch.

“Sounds like a real looker, and if you knew her, she must have been,” Jocko says with a low whistle. “Let me get you another drink and see if that’ll nudge your frozen memory at all.”

His fingers had warmed up from holding the mug, and he slowly rubbed his temple to see if that would help, carefully avoiding the tender spots where he had been hit. He opened his eyes to Jocko staring at him from the doorway, a look of intense pity on his face. “I don’t believe you’ve ever looked so pathetic,” he proclaims, handing over the drink before rejoining him on the couch. “Half drowned, half frozen, half beaten- you know, I’d call you a glutton for punishment, but that implies you get a kick out of this.”

He takes a long sip of the drink, feeling the warmth spread down his chest, before burrowing in closer to Jocko. He slides one hand under the crook of Jocko’s knee. “Your treatment almost makes it worthwhile.”

Jocko sighs again, this time sadder, and somehow deeper. “You never thought much of me, Patsy. You still don’t.”

He pulled back, brow furrowed in confusion. Like with Hellman earlier, he was struggling to follow along. “What are you talking about? You’re my friend.”

The doctor gets up then, the couch creaking with the movement. “Friendship doesn’t mean spending four nights a week in a man’s bed and wondering if he’s dead the other three. It doesn’t mean having that hellion Hellman calling me up to say you’ve gone missing and might be literally tied up with some sort of smuggling ring.” He paused and turned to look out the window, his body sagging in defeat. “I don’t know if I can keep up with you much longer, kiddo.”

Pat wrapped his arms around himself, trying to keep warm without the help of the embrace. He was too cold and his head hurt too much to figure out what was going on. They often gave each other a hard time, but there was no trace of humor in Jocko’s words. “But I love you.”

Jocko turned to look at him, looking hurt and touched all at once. He called Pat lover at least five times a day, but it was an unspoken line on Pat’s side, and probably would’ve stayed that way if his blood wasn’t half whiskey. But all the same, he meant it, and he hoped Jocko would understand.

Instead the doctor got up and left the room, not returning for several minutes. “The bed’s all ready, if you want to try to sleep.” He said it simply, not making eye contact.

Pat nodded, shedding only the outermost layer, a heavy fisherman’s coat with thick wooden buttons that would be hell to sleep in. He followed his silent friend into the adjoining room, and slipped onto the right side of the bed, closer to the window.

He knew Jocko slept on the left. They’d spent enough nights together by now, mostly back at his place. He remembers the first night he spent at Jocko’s, drunk out of his mind, but laughing the whole time. Jocko had picked him up in a bar not far from there, and they’d headed back to Jocko’s for some unfinished business.

“You promised me a dance!” Pat whined, staggering up off of the couch. There was very little furniture in the place- just a couch and a small table and a radio, nothing to trip over. One whole wall was a bookshelf, albeit mostly empty, and Pat looked it over while Jocko slipped back into the kitchen to fetch another bottle. Mostly scientific books, with long titles full of big words. Medical jargon it seemed. Pat could figure it out if he wasn’t so drunk. “You’re some sort of doctor?” he asked, when Jocko returned.

Jocko sighed as he poured the drinks, a lovely rich sound that Pat wanted to bottle. "I was," he says simply.

He leaves it at that, taking the offered glass and rejoining him on the couch. "So how about that dance?" he tries again. He can't even remember how the topic came up- some joke back at the bar, maybe. All he remembered was saying he was an excellent dancer, and Jocko's eyes narrowing on him.

"Prove it."

He could never refuse a challenge, and he was just drunk enough to try to pull Jocko on the dancefloor then and there, not giving a damn who saw. The other man was sensible enough to refuse, but Pat's a tenacious bastard when he wants to be. The unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, leading them to this moment, alone together in Jocko's apartment, crawling into his lap and kissing his neck, all the while insisting "I do a mean two-step, if you'd just- ".

Two years later and he still occasionally asks for that dance. Jocko usually laughs it off.

He wished Jocko would laugh now, or sigh, or say something, dammit. Instead he settles on the bed behind him, rolling over to envelop Pat's smaller, still cold frame.

"Thanks," he murmurs in reply, rocking back into the tempting heat. One large hand snakes around his front, worming under all the layers until it finds bare skin. His fingers flatten out, spreading across nearly his entire chest, moving slowly until they settle right over Pat's heart.

"You only say that when you're in trouble," he says, a little sadly. "You only say it when you need help, and one day it'll be the last thing I ever hear you say."

He doesn't know what to say, his smart mouth letting him down for once. He knows he should try, to reassure Jocko or something, anything, but he's too tired, too beaten down to do anything but drift into an uneasy sleep.

_____

In the morning there's coffee and toast. He's not feeling up to anything else- he thinks it's the entire bottle of rum he consumed, but Jocko disagrees.

"It's all the damned salt water. You probably inhaled an entire fish tank last night." He's back to his usual jovial self, but there's tension in the air, sharp edges sticking out against their comfortable routine.

He grumbles when Jocko reassesses him, just enough to make it sound genuine. There's nothing he can do about the bruising, and that's the brunt of the damage. Some aspirin for the headache, a slug of whiskey to get him level, and then there's nothing to do but go check in with Hellman.

“Thanks for patching me up,” he says, inwardly flinching because he knows it was the wrong thing to say. Jocko just grunts in reply, putting things away in his old bag. Pat leans down and kisses him on the cheek softly, then slips out before he could cause any more damage.

His headache finally subsides a little, and he starts thinking as he walks towards the precinct. He’d be lying if he didn’t know where Jocko was coming from, but the suddenness and timing of it threw him for a loop.

He remembers how things were before Jocko came into his life. How much harder it was, both physically and mentally. The way Jocko comes out of nowhere to save his life so often, it’s a miracle that they’re both still kicking. Between his bad luck and having the cops always hanging around, he really does owe Jocko his life. And he can’t forget his presence. Having someone to come home to, or even knowing that someone out there cares for him, well it’s a lot more than some of the other guys have. Men shrivel up and die working on the docks. It’s easy to lose the will to live out there, with nothing but the hard work and the cold, unforgiving world hastening their journey. Pat knows he’s lasted as long as he has only because of Jocko.

And he’d been on the other side a few times himself. Late nights where he’s calling every bar he knows, unable to find any trace of the man. Taking to calling police stations, asking if they had any particularly amiable oafs in their drunk tanks that night, before finally walking the streets, balled fists in his pockets, wandering aimlessly.

He really truly loved the man, when it came down to it. And between his work and Jocko’s drinking, there was bound to be plenty of worries for both of them. They’d made it this far though, and he didn’t see why they couldn’t go on as they had.

The austere front of the local dispatch of the San Francisco PD loomed over him, and he stowed his thoughts away so he could concentrate on the bigger problem.

Luck seemed to be on his side since he managed to time his arrival with Hellman’s lunch break. After checking with one of the few desk clerks he didn’t recognize, he was led into an interrogation room on the second floor.

A small desk, two chairs on one side, and one on his- a hard wooden thing that had stabbing pains shooting up his legs after fifteen minutes- and a bare bulb swinging from the ceiling were all he had to look at, but it was still nicer than some of the places Hellman had taken him.

Another investigator joined him after about ten minutes, a Detective Silva. He was pushing fifty and looking every bit of it, but he seemed less threatening than most of the cops Pat was used to dealing with.

He asked the usual questions, seemed to like the answers, and the whole thing was over in 45 minutes. “Hang on a minute, Novak,” he said, when Pat made to stand up. “I’m through with you but we might need one or two more statements. Someone will be in with you in a minute.”

Pat got up as soon as he left, stretching his numb legs and working the knots out of his back. Those chairs had elicited more than their fair share of false confessions, to the point where he wondered why they even bothered with police brutality anymore- the furniture did half the work for them.

He paced for a while, sitting on the floor when that grew too boring. He watched the sun traverse the wall, until it grew dim and the shadows from the street lamps grew too long. There was no clock but he knew it had been at least a few hours, based on the darkness outside.

When the door finally swung open, he didn’t bother to look up.

“On your feet, Novak.”

He shambled upwards, and was immediately knocked backwards into a chair by a big fist. Hellman asked the same questions, and he gave the same answers, with a few colorful phrases thrown in here and there. He got slapped anytime he got too smart, and it wasn’t before long that his head was pounding again, causing his answers to get more jumbled, and the whole process to start over again.

After a particularly painful hit, Hellman leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Still don’t believe your story, Novak.”

“You were there,” he spat out, anger creeping into his voice. They could hold him all night if they wanted to- he still had another 12 hours before legally they had to charge him or free him- but he was in no shape for Hellman to push him around for that long. “Hellman, you know I had nothing to do with it. You know I helped you bring them in. You’ve got nothing on me and you know it.”

“I think there’s something you’re not telling me,” Hellman countered. “These two weren’t the loose ends we thought they were. I think there’s more to this story, and you’re holding back.”

The face in the water flashed before his eyes again, but he shook his head, resolute to keep his story straight and get the hell out of there. “I was hired by a couple, I took them into the bay, they pulled a gun. You showed up, I took a swim, now I’m here. Either I’m the dumbest accessory of all time, or I’m a criminal mastermind for moving out here ten years ago and waiting for that smuggling ring to show up.”

Hellman’s smile always came out more like a grimace, a grotesque display of teeth with no mirth behind it. “If I find out you’re sitting on some evidence-”

“You’ll be breathing down my neck before I can call for a lawyer?” He finished, eliciting a grunt that passed for a chuckle.

It was close to seven by the time they let him free, and his stomach had been rumbling for hours. He grabbed a quick and unsatisfying sandwich at a deli near the station, before hailing a cab and heading back to his apartment.

It had been a while since he spent a Saturday night at home, but his headache had returned, and he wasn’t feeling well enough to fix things with Jocko yet. So he took a couple of aspirin, washed it down with a beer he found at the back of the icebox, and listened to the radio until it felt late enough to pretend to go to sleep.

_____

Sunday morning arrives, and he's feeling better. Physically at least. There's something still nagging at the back of his mind, like a tag sticking up in his collar. He knows salvation is beyond his grasp but he figures absolution is still on the table. So he showers and shaves and tries to think of the last time he was presentable before noon on a weekend.

It had been years since he set foot in the church. He'd tried to attend weekly mass at first, as a promise to his mother. But then his Saturday night activities made him squirm in the pew every Sunday, and before long it became another source of guilt he pushed down into the dregs of his soul. Climbing the stairs to the cathedral, he was surprised at how little had changed. The same crumbling stone, the same faded walls, even the same chill in the air that somehow both reassured him he wasn't about to be sent to hell and convinced him he was about to be struck down by God that very moment.

He stopped in the foyer, reading messages pinned on a community bulletin board to stall for time. Lost dogs, piano lessons, that sort of thing. One stuck out to him, and he tore off a strip with the phone number attached. He slipped it in his pocket, and tried to build up some mental fortitude as he walked a half-remembered route down the hallway.

The confessional was open, and he stepped inside, muscle memory guiding him all the way.

"Hello Father. It's been, uhh," he begins, stopping to check his watch, "three years since I last confessed. And I-I'm not looking for forgiveness for everything. I know there's things I can't atone for."

He pauses, hearing a small chuckle from behind the grate. "I'm sorry, my son, but that’s a relief. I'm only here until two o’clock, and three years is a long time to account for."

Figures he'd get a priest with a sense of humor.

“Go on, please.”

He doesn’t even know where to begin. “I’ve uh, I’ve got this job. And it gets me into trouble sometimes- nothing illegal! Well, sometimes the police are around. But that’s not the problem.”

The priest laughed again. “That’s not the problem?”

His fingers fumbled trying to get a cigarette out. “No, no, it’s bigger than that.” He paused to strike a match and the priest picked up on his nervousness.

“Is it about love?”

He froze again, only moving when the match burned down to his fingertips. “Yeah, yeah I suppose it is.”

“She doesn’t agree with your line of work?” the priest continues, mercifully not as perceptive as he thought he was.

“Not exactly. I get pushed around a lot. Sometimes it’s dangerous.”

“Ahh,” he says, “she worries.”

“Yeah, that’s about the size of it.”

“She told you that she’s worried?”

“Yeah, we had a fight two days ago. J- She made it sound like she’s gonna leave me.” His voice comes out small and weak, and he hates himself for it. “I’m the- I make the money. I provide for us, and I’m happy to, but- I take all the risks, and that was fine, until now, suddenly it’s a problem.”

“Love is a risk.”

“Yeah, sure it is. Thanks,” he mutters, getting up to leave. This was a mistake, he doesn't know what possessed him to come down here in the first place. All the empty platitudes in the world wouldn’t help him get out of this fix.

“Talk to her,” the priest implores. “If you really love each other, then there’s no problem you can’t talk yourselves out of.”

“Thanks,” he repeats, managing to make it sound slightly less sarcastic this time.

 

_____

Jocko never liked to talk about his past. Once, in a fit of afterglow induced romanticism, Pat had marveled how they'd managed to find each other, out of all the people in the world.

"We're at the edge of the Earth, Patsy. The last outpost of western civilization, for people with nowhere left to go besides into the sea and on to their maker."

He didn't attempt pillow talk again for a while, and always steered the conversation away from autobiographical topics. Jocko didn't pry either, their relationship always being of the moment. They lived for the present, never making plans more than a few hours or drinks ahead.

There was something big and painful in Jocko’s past- men didn’t hit the bottle that hard for no reason. But Pat also had things he wasn’t proud of, and it had seemed easier to let sleeping dogs lie in exchange for getting laid. It wasn’t so simple anymore. They knew each other, cared about each other. Saw all they had to offer the world and decided that it was more than enough.

He tried calling Jocko when got home, but there was no answer.

_____

The next few days pass by in a blur. There's a convention in town timed perfectly for a few days of unseasonable warmth, the sun being a slightly more welcome guest than a bunch of bigshot businessmen from Utah and Colorado, but he makes money hand over fist providing these guys an authentic seafaring experience. It isn't until Thursday night hits, and he realizes he hasn't seen Jocko in five days, a rarity for him. Even before, when things were less nebulous, he checked in at least every three days. More out of guilt than anything. Even before he loved the man, he cared about him, worrying about his hard living habits.

Love. He sighs at his desk, tapping the phone receiver against his chin. Maybe Jocko would have forgotten by now. The way he drank, you could never be sure how much he retained. But he remembered that face, that stricken look passing over his furrowed brow. He didn't like that look. On the other hand, he didn't like not seeing Jocko. He was running out of hands and he'd never learned to juggle.

He tries Lupo’s first, one of their favorite haunts. Mrs Lupo herself answered, sounding impatient. "Yes, hello?"

"Good evening madam. It's Pat Novak. Is Jocko in tonight?"

He smiled at how angry she still sounded. "Oh it's you. Yeah, he's here. He's been in every night this week," she said, her voice turning even more sour. "And always alone. I thought you two came as a matching set."

He shifts uncomfortably. "I've been busy all week."

"Sure you have-"

He cuts her off, not quite ready for a lecture. "Listen, I'm coming by right now. Keep him there, but don’t let him know it was me.”

She snorts in disbelief, but he's already hanging up the receiver.

He makes it there in fifteen minutes, and Jocko’s holding down the end of the bar, brightening as he sees him approach. “Patsy, I saved my first drink to have with you!” He toasts with a half-filled cup. “To the handsome purveyor of more wine!”

“Thanks,” he says tightly, sliding onto the next stool. “How’d you know it was me?”

“No one else has bought me a drink in years. Especially not one of Mama Lupo’s nicer vintages.”

Pat turns, glaring at the woman who couldn’t look more angelic as she wiped a table by the window. “Think nothing of it,” he says, turning back to the recipient of his unintended generosity. “I owe you a few more anyway. So what have you been up to this week?”

“Research, mostly. About that woman you saw. There’s been no reported drownings in the last two months,” he starts, counting every item off on his fingers. “And none involving women in the past six months. I scoured the obituaries but nothing sounded like the face you described. I did everything short of go through the missing persons log, mainly because Hellman promised he’d hit me next time I walk into the precinct.”

Pat props his chin on his hand, unable to keep the admiration off his face “What did I do to deserve you?”

“Not nearly enough,” Jocko continues, not breaking his stride. “From what you’ve told me, the body couldn’t have been there more than a few days and still look tempting enough to keep you in that godforsaken bay. So unless a major story breaks soon about a woman dying last week, I think we might have to chalk this one up to your always inventive imagination.”

He ignores the jibe and tops up Jocko’s glass. “Is that all?”

Jocko’s eyebrows rise. “I also checked the Oakland Tribune. Short of knocking on every door in Alameda County and asking if they’re missing anyone, I’ve done it.”

He reaches for Jocko’s hand on the bar, gently lacing their fingers together. “I believe it. Let me make it up to you?”

They make it a short night by their standards, hitting up the all night Chinese restaurant on the corner shortly after midnight. He gets maybe three bites out of a chop suey meant for two, but doesn’t mind when his fortune cookie nearly makes him lose his appetite. Your tenacity will be your undoing.

“What the hell is this supposed to mean?” he asks, showing Jocko the handwritten slip of paper.

He shrugs. “I’d say it was a threat, but then you get so many these days.”

“Yeah, yeah, I've missed you too,” he grumbles, happy that his constant misfortune can be a source of jokes again. “What’s your fortune say?”

“Good news will enter your life this week.” He looks up at Pat, smiling so wide that his eyes crinkle. “Well what do you know? They do come true.”

_____

He wakes up from the best sleep he’s had in a week to Jocko snoring next to him, one arm slung possessively around his waist. He takes a moment to appreciate it, stretching his legs as far as he can without disturbing his bedmate. Jocko wakes up anyway, rolling over and taking the blanket with him, grumbling about needing another ten minutes.

Now shivering, Pat reaches for Jocko, just to warm up a little, but one thing leads to another and-

Thirty minutes later and they decide to get breakfast together, at the back counter of the drug store three blocks from Pat's. It's not the closest, but it is one of the few places in town that does a poached egg that meets Jocko's highly discerning taste.

Pat watches him eat while he hesitates over his third cup of coffee. The face in the water is still nagging at him, even though Jocko eliminated nearly every lead. Jocko usually did a lot of the leg man work in their partnership, and could always be counted on to dig up the truth, no matter how hard someone tries to bury it. But in this case, something was telling him that the submerged body still held some secrets.

Too lost in thought, he didn’t notice Jocko trying to engage him in conversation. It took a gentle kick to his shin to finally get him back in the present.

“Now that you’re finally paying attention, what’s troubling you?” Jocko asked, while helping himself to a sausage off of Pat’s plate.

He took a sip, as nonchalant as he could manage. “Nothing.”

“Patsy I can read you like a book,” he grumbled, pointing the sausage on the fork accusingly. “You were fine last night but now you’re as glum as a rainy afternoon. If I-”

“No, no, it’s something else,” he rushed to explain, needing to diffuse any potential problem with Jocko before it even began. “No, it’s not you at all. It’s that face in the water. I can still see her. It’s like she’s haunting me.” He wraps both hands around his coffee mug, as if to draw in the warmth to keep him safe from his persistent ghost. “I know you spent all week following dead ends. I know there’s no answer here. I just can’t shake the feeling, is all.”

He looks up and Jocko’s still watching him, but there’s a tenderness to his gaze. “Oh Patsy,” he starts, lifting his hand as if to take Pat’s, but stops himself short. “Look, there’s- I can ask around some more. I’ve kept everything above board but with a murdered woman, maybe scrounging around some disreputable characters might turn something up.”

Relief washes over him, and he smiles gratefully back at Jocko. “I appreciate it. But don’t put yourself out too much or anything.”

Jocko nods, equally grateful for the recognition, and Pat feels like they’re getting better at communicating, that they’re finally maturing. He laughs it off a minute later when Jocko swipes his last bite off his plate.

They finish up eating, feeling a little easier, joking and laughing until it was finally time to leave. He paid for both their meals, and picked up a pack of cigarettes for himself. He lit the first one just as Jocko joined him on the sidewalk, and they lingered over goodbyes.

“Yeah, I’ll be seeing you.”

“Call me up if you want to get a drink.”

“Take care of yourself.”

“You too, lover.”

Jocko reached out, patting his arm twice. A completely benign movement on a crowded sidewalk in the middle of the day, but Pat’s heart thumped regardless. He smiled back, before turning away and forcing himself to head to his office on the waterfront.

It's just long enough of a walk for the overdue mid-November wind to bite at him, and he stuffs his hands in his pockets. His fingers twist and curl around a scrap of paper, and he pulls it out when he finally crosses the threshold and puts the chill behind him. It was the phone number he'd taken from the church on Friday.

Well. If nothing else worked so far, what did he have to lose?

He dialed the number as he sat on the edge of the desk, one leg thrown haphazardly over the corner. If no one picked up, he'd consider it a sign and get right back up, and move on with his life. By the third ring he was praying for someone to answer.

"Hello." The woman who answered had the most beguiling accent, drawing the word out into five syllables.

"Hi, I uh, saw a bulletin that said you provide séances?”

_____

He stopped by Lupo’s out of habit, perking up when he saw Jocko’s outline at the bar. It was dinnertime, and the joint was a little crowded, but fortunately the seat next to him was empty and Pat managed to sneak up on him.

“Evening, handsome.”

“Patsy! I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. Are you in another jam?”

He sighs in mock outrage. “You really think I can’t keep out of trouble for eight hours?”

“Yes,” he says flatly. “It’s as if you have a punch card. ‘Get picked up by the police ten times, and receive an eleventh beating for free’. It’s as if you’re a magnet, built to attract the most dangerous thugs in the city. Sure as night follows day, trouble follows you.”

“You finished?”

“Yes, I’m finished. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said, unable to keep the grin off of his face. “Well, I have to go out later, but I’ve got a few hours free. Dinner? Or are you drinking your meal tonight?”

Jocko tossed back his whiskey and reached for the menu on the bar. “I could be persuaded.”

They each put away a small mountain of spaghetti, earning a rare fond look from Mrs Lupo, as if she was proud to see them order actual food for once.

“What’s the job tonight?” Jocko asked around a mouthful of garlic bread, ripped in half to avoid the burned edges. There was a reason they usually ate elsewhere. “Or am I better off not knowing, in case I have to perjure myself?”

“Nothing special,” he lied. He thought about asking Jocko to tag along, but he didn’t want to complicate anything. He’d only just gotten Jocko back, and the thought of losing him over his own stubbornness left a bitter taste in his mouth that had nothing to do with the terrible food. “What about you, any plans?”

Jocko toyed with his glass before answering. “There’s a new pool hall I’ve been meaning to try, down by the old pawn shop. I’ve heard their bartender has no depth perception. He’ll pour you a single and it’ll come out a double.”

Pat laughed fondly. “Well, you scout it out, and if it’s worth it, maybe we can go together tomorrow night.”

“It’s a date.”

_____

He left Jocko amiably on a corner and walked a few blocks to the cable car, rode it across town and then walked another mile.

It was an unfamiliar neighborhood, with big, leafless trees casting ominous shadows in the street, and a cold wind blowing up the empty sidewalk. Perfect occult weather, as if the universe was encouraging him.

He found the place easy enough, a simple unassuming house on the main road. The curtains were drawn and a bare bulb on the porch dimly fought against the dark night. It lost. He knocked once, waited, and after a minute the door seemed to swing open of its own volition.

“Hello,” he offered politely, but was met with silence. The vestibule was also dark, but the light was on in the sitting room. A woman was sitting behind a small card table, with a decorative tablecloth hanging over it. The walls were covered with tapestries and pictures, and every available surface had anywhere from two to eight books on it.

“Good evening,’ the woman said slowly, the unplaceable accent taking an inviting lilt. “You must be Mr Novak. Please come in.”

What followed was the most anticlimactic two hours of Pat’s life. The woman was nice enough, and seemed to be trying, or at least put enough effort in to convince Pat she was earning her ten dollars. But the spirits weren’t talking, and he left feeling more hopeless than ever.

“I’m sorry you were unsuccessful tonight,” the woman said, as he lingered in the doorway. “But perhaps we could try another time. Your future may have all the answers.”

“Right now the only thing in my future is a bed.”

She gave him a knowing glance. “I expect it won’t be an empty bed.”

“Is that your deduction, or did the spirits tell you? Either way it’s dead wrong.”

She shrugged gracefully. “Perhaps.”

He tapped his fingers on the doorframe impatiently. “Yeah, you’ve all been a real help. Thanks. And thank the spirits for me too, if they ever call you back.”

_____

He came home, tired and disappointed, to Hellman in his apartment, sitting on the bed with his hands in his lap.

“‘Bout time you showed up, Novak.”

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Heard from your boyfriend tonight?”

He ignored the intent behind the remark, and frowned in thought. “We had dinner at Lupo’s, around eight. He was going to a pool hall after that. I left him at a taxi stand on Geary at maybe nine-thirty? What’s this about?”

“We got a call around ten-thirty, from your favorite wino, looking for you. He said he found your face in the water, then all hell broke loose. Some kind of bar brawl and the line got disconnected. By the time we got a car down there, he was gone, and the one-eyed bartender wasn’t talking.”

“So where’s Jocko?”

Hellman frowned. “We don’t know. And we’re not going to find out until you tell me about the face in the water. I told you about keeping evidence from me Novak!”

Pat took a step back, but Hellman was quick on the jump and slammed the door shut with one powerful arm, towering over him.

“You’re not getting out of here until you tell me.”

He pushed against Hellman but it was no use. He was as thick as he was cruel. “I’ve got to find Jocko.”

“Tell me.”

He slumped against the door in defeat. “Last week, when I got knocked into the bay. There was a body in the water, just floating there. A woman, roughly thirty. She looked well preserved, and Jocko told me that meant she couldn't have been dead more than a day or two. He combed through the city looking for missing or murdered women but came up empty. But it kept nagging at me, and I pushed him to keep looking-”

Hellman snorted. “And now he’s missing, yeah I got it. This was right under the boat?”

“Yeah.”

Hellman leans back and then pushes past him. “Come on, I’ve got a car downstairs.”

Pat follows in a daze. Hellman can be all forward momentum when he wants to be, and usually Pat’s on the wrong side of it. But for once Pat’s grateful as he follows Hellman, who takes the stairs faster than one would expect of a man his size, and drives like there’s no tomorrow.

“Ok, so it’s probably tied up with the smuggling ring,” he says, explaining it all as he takes a corner going ten miles over the limit. “ And Jocko probably found a lead, was overheard, and was taken in by one of the gang. And we know most of their hideouts, so we know where to look. And we’d’ve already found him, if you told me this a week ago.” He sounded gruff but not angry, although he was yelling by the last sentence.

“How was I supposed to know that this body had anything to do with that case?”

Hellman hit his hands on the steering wheel. “Because you found the body at the crime scene! Christ, Novak, I may be a dumb cop but what does that make you?”

He doesn’t bother answering, and Hellman’s mercifully silent for once. They reach the first stop a minute later- a closed dry cleaners with the windows boarded up. It looks deserted, and a cursory look determines it is. So they pile back in the car and take off for the next place.

Hellman calls in to the station on his radio. After a minute of static, the operator confirms that a second car had been dispatched, but hadn’t turned up anything yet.

“Alright, keep me posted. We’re checking out the warehouse next.”

Pat looks over in surprise. “You've got another car out?”

“Of course. We’ve got to find him,” he says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I need to wrap up that smuggling case.”

-----

The warehouse proved to be a boathouse near the docks, but there was a car parked out front and light visible in one of the windows. They parked down the street, hoping to make a quiet entrance, and Hellman called in to report and request backup. The operator told them to wait, and Hellman agreed.

“Alright, we’re not waiting for them,” Hellman said, turning to Pat. “But we don’t know how many people are in there, so don’t make a fool of yourself, Novak.”

“You’re one to talk.” It felt comfortable, slipping back into trading insults. It reassured him, making him feel confident enough to take on a suicide mission to save Jocko’s life. “What’s the plan?”

Hellman laughed. “We walk in through the front door.”

“This is no time for jokes.”

“I’m not kidding. We’ve staked this place out, there’s no other doors besides the big overhead ones on the far side. We go in guns blazing and hope there’s not a crowd.”

“I’m not armed.”

“What?”

Pat glared at him. “I don’t own a gun and I never have. You know this- six months ago you tried to pin a murder on me.”

“I thought you were lying.”

“I-

He’s interrupted by the sound of metal screeching. They slipped out of the car and followed the sound, around the building, to the big doors Hellman had been talking about. A small boat was being launched, and in the dim light, Pat could make out Jocko’s outline on deck.

“That’s him,” he said, nudging Hellman in the ribs. “He’s still alive.”

“Stop! Police!” Hellman yelled. So much for not making fools of themselves.

Two other shadows onboard moved. One headed for the controls, and the boat sped up. Pat took off, sprinting down the wooden planks towards the boat. He heard a shot, pinging off corrugated metal in the distance, but couldn’t figure out where it came from. He heard Hellman huffing and puffing behind him, hoping he would keep up but he couldn’t afford to spare him much thought at the moment.

The boat loomed ahead of them, and he jumped, landing awkwardly on deck, all elbows and knees taking most of the blow. He forced himself up and immediately started swinging, grappling with the one who had no aim. A loud crash behind him told him that Hellman had made it onboard, but he couldn’t spare a glance to see.

For someone who got knocked around as much as he did, Pat wasn’t the greatest at hitting back. He was barely hanging on in the fight, although he did manage to get a few solid connections with the other man’s chin. When his opponent staggered back a step, he chanced a look over his shoulder. He saw Jocko slumped against the side, his wrists bound in front of him. It was too dark to see anything else, but sounds of a scuffle further along the deck told him Hellman was taking care of the other half of the kidnapping team.

“Jocko.”

He looked up, and Pat couldn’t make out much in the dim light, but it was enough.

He turned back just in time to take a punch right on the nose, and it was his turn to stagger back, taking two steps in retreat. His opponent followed him and he took one more step back, right off the edge and into the water.

It was different this time, somehow both more and less urgent. It had a sense of finality to it, as if yes, this was supposed to happen, this is how it was meant to be. As if he was really supposed to drown the last time, and his surviving was a mistake. His head hurt again, but the cold water helped keep the pain at bay. He’d read about dying of frostbite, about how it gets so cold that you start to feel warm, lulling you into a false sense of security when you’re at the greatest risk. At the moment it sounded like a swell idea.

Then he remembered Jocko, tied up and beaten and gagged and lying on the deck of the boat. Would his injuries heal before he had to speak at Pat’s sparsely-attended funeral? And that’s if they even made it off the boat. Hellman was all alone fending those two creeps off, and here he was, drowning like a lollygagger. He kicked out hard, and tried to push his way back up, eventually surfacing about ten feet behind the boat.

It took a minute to get the water out of his ears, and another minute to figure out what the yelling was in the distance.

“Patsy!”

“Novak!”

“I’m here!” he forced out, kicking his way towards the boat. Both Jocko and Hellman helped him onboard, Jocko immediately pulling him into a tight embrace, and Hellman hanging back, a little awkward.

Jocko bundled Pat up in his coat, and refused to let go, only reluctantly stepping back just enough to give them both a chance to inspect the damage. Hellman had gotten the lights on, and now Pat could see a few bruises taking shape on Jocko’s cheek. Meanwhile Jocko had Pat’s chin in one hand, holding his face up to the light. “Oh Patsy, your poor nose. Hopefully bent but not broken, but I can’t be sure just yet.”

“Save it,” he said, stuttering and shivering just enough to sound pathetic. “What about you? How bad did they get you?”

“I’m as healthy as a horse,” Jocko countered, coughing slightly on the last word. “Well, my ribs might need a bit of a rest,” he amended.

“I’m sorry for getting you mixed up in this,” Pat said. “I never figured you were still working on it, otherwise I would’ve been with you all night.”

Jocko squeezed him tighter. “I should have told you what I was doing, but I wanted to prove I could still get you out of the trouble you insist on falling into. Looks like we both need practice communicating.”

Pat smiled. “At least we’ll have plenty of time while we’re patching each other up.”

Hellman cleared his throat. “If you two lovebirds are done cooing, I’d like to know what the hell happened tonight.”

They made their way to the small wheelhouse, stepping over the bodies of Jocko's would-be captors. Pat didn't feel up to discerning if they were dead or merely unconscious, but given how trigger-happy Hellman usually was, he could guess.

Hellman steered them back to shore as Jocko recounted his story, huddling up against Pat for warmth the entire way back.

“I was asking around all morning, and one of my elbow-bending associates mentioned overhearing something in a pool hall the other day. The owner of the establishment was exchanging heated words with someone, and the subject seemed to be about a major bust on the waterfront. I got five feet away from the building when I noticed something was missing, or rather someone. Remember that pawn shop on Valencia?”

Pat frowned in thought. “Yeah, the one with the mannequin in the window. I-” He trailed off, absolutely confused. “You mean that was a mannequin? In the water? I almost died, twice, over a mannequin?”

Jocko chuckled, a soft rumble Pat could feel even through all the layers. “A fitting end to your miserable life, no? Losing your life to save another, but it wasn’t even alive to begin with.”

“What do you mean, a mannequin?” Hellman asked, startling them both. Pat had honestly forgotten he was there.

“Well I got the gist when they were hauling me around like a sack of potatoes. The pool hall was to be their next front, after some dry cleaning shop was taken out of commission. They saw the mannequin next door, and stole it. With a coat of luminescent paint, it could be seen under the water at night, but look completely innocent during the day, making it a perfect way to mark their dropoff point without being caught. It wasn’t noticed last week, so the remaining culprits decided to keep going, and use their fancy new toy. I must admit, they were rather clever.”

“Yeah, real masterminds,” Hellman said, as he navigated them back into the boathouse. “Listen I-”

Jocko sighed. “Inspector Hellman, thank you for your assistance this evening, but as a doctor I have to insist here. Patsy is in no shape to answer your kind of questions at the moment. As with last week, I have to ask that you release him into my care, and I’ll be happy to bring us both in for questioning later.”

Hellman raised his eyebrow at Pat. “You ok with that?”

Pat only had eyes for Jocko. “Sounds good to me.”

Hellman asked one final question- “When’s the wedding?”

Jocko beat him to the punchline. “As soon as I take a few dancing lessons. I’ve got to be able to keep up with this one.” He slung his arm around Pat’s shoulder and guided them gently back towards the street, and towards home.