They were gathered around me, lots of faces all staring down at me. The guy who was nearest to looked up from his notebook and in a business-like voice asked: "Is there anything else you can remember? Is that everything?"
"Sure," I croaked. "That's everything." I'd been talking a long time. It had sapped a lot of my strength and my voice was dry.
"Sign here," said the guy with the notebook.
I signed. They had to guide my hand because I hadn't the strength.
"I wanna drink," I said.
Two of the guys had white coats. One was holding my wrist and the other was staring straight into my face. The one staring straight into my face shook his head slowly. "It won't do no good, fella," he said. "Drinking will make it worse."
"What will be worse?" I asked. Something was going wrong with my eyes. Everything was so swimmy.
"The pain," he said softly. "Drinking will make the pain worse."
He was crazy. He didn't know what he was talking about. "I've got no pain," I told him. There must have been something wrong with his hearing, because he had to lean close to catch the words. I repeated them. "I haven't got any pain."
The guy in the white jacket shrugged his shoulders and said loudly: "Queer thing that. The bullet in the head has affected his nerve impulses. He's not getting any pain reaction. Peculiar what a head injury can do."
"I wanna drink," I croaked.
"Let the poor devil have a drink," said somebody.
The guy in the white jacket looked doubtful. Then he shrugged. "Might as well. It won't make any difference, anyway. He must used himself up. I don't know how he had the strength to go on talking like that."
In a dim kinda way I understood then that what had been happening was all written down. All that had happened to me was recorded on paper.
Somebody held my head, somebody else held a drinking cup to my lips. It wasn't any good. The whisky didn't make me any less thirsty. It ran down my throat like beads of mercury rolling across a dusty floor. No moisture, no soothing quality.
No soothing quality! A great sob rolled up from inside me. Without knowing how, I knew I'd lost the one important thing in my life.
There was no more Nick!
I would never again hear his soft, soothing voice telling me to take it easy. There was a great hole where my heart had been. The world was empty, and I was full of misery. There could never be happiness for me again. Only this unbearable loneliness and intolerable misery. I wanted Nick. I needed Nick. I wanted him and he could never soothe me again.
"He's crying," said somebody.
Imagine that! Somebody else feeling sad, too, crying the way I wanted to cry. Hell, I needed Nick! The words choked in my throat. "Nick," I pleaded, "I want Nick!"
They were bending over close to me. "He's asking for somebody," a voice said.
"Nick," I croaked. "I want Nick."
"Can you beat that?" somebody said. "The guy's crying for the fella he bumped off."
The white-jacketed guy said softly: "Leave him alone. He's not himself. He hasn't been for a long while. He's not got long…" His voice tailed off before I could hear what it was I hadn't got long for.
"About that dame," said a different voice. "She still keeps asking. We've got all we want from her now. Can we let her see him - get it over with?"
There was confusion, people moving around, faces swooping down, looming large, peering at me and receding rapidly. Suddenly one of the faces was hers; soft, tender eyes filled with tears. Her soft voice said: "Joey, Joey! Look at me, Joey!"
"I want Big Nick," I croaked.
"Joey!" she said again, and all her voice was a sob.
I felt warmed and comforted. It wasn't like it was with Big Nick, a warm softness inside me that swelled whenever he spoke to me, making me feel good through and through. It was not the same. But it helped.
"Say it again," I whispered.
"Joey," she whispered with a break in her voice.
I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks. But the softness of her voice warmed me so that I was almost happy.
"Say it again," I pleaded. "Say it again, say it again."
"Joey," she said.
"You'd better go now," a voice whispered softly. "He's going to sleep."
"The dopes!" I thought vaguely. "The dumb-bells! They think I'm sleeping!"
I closed my eyes. I felt good now. It was crazy to talk of being in pain. Why should I feel pain?
I wasn't worried any more. I knew Nick was gonna be around. I'd had a bad dream. I thought I'd lost Nick. But that was crazy. Nick and me was gonna be around together quite a deal from now on.