Truth Is the Perfect Disguise
a novel in progress

FIVE

        The Daley Street Pub is roughly eight miles, three economic levels and five cultural eras away from the bucolic setting where I live. I drove there after showering and setting Wander up with fresh water, which he looked at disdainfully but would probably consume completely before I returned. He was a dog who liked to drink alone; I was of a different inclination.

        It was a simple enough journey I took, out the driveway and down the hill to the river road paralleling the expressway to an on ramp two miles away, exiting three minutes later just outside city limits, to crossed the river bridge and then enter the city on the other side, turning right onto Main Street of the hottest, hippest, commercial neighborhood of the past two decades. Down near the end of the increasingly garish street, just past the brewpub, I hung a left and then took the next right, just under a railroad bridge, onto a street lined on both sides with parked cars, most of them old and in need of serious repair, leaving a passageway so narrow that if anyone was coming the other way we would have had to make that mystical telepathic decision as to which one of us had the right of way. This time of morning, thankfully, there was no one else on the street. I wasn't in the mood for either compromise or telepathy.

        The Daley Street Pub was right in front of me on the corner at the left where the street dead-ended. I pulled over and parked next to the wall which I had paralleled since my final turn, just short of a stairway up to the elevated train station and the tracks which ran above the wall, leaving the car facing the wrong direction and in front of a hydrant, secure in the knowledge that no ticket writer in his, or more likely, her, right mind was likely to venture down these mean streets. The pub wasn't open in mid-morning, of course, but I walked down the right side of the building along the almost, but not quite established, path to the outdoor "terrace," a small square concrete slab behind a wooden fence which hid the sight of the overflowing trash bins if not the smell. I pushed open the unlocked door at the rear of the building and went inside.

        Big Dave was there, sweeping the floor and cleaning up the morning after the night before, as I knew he would be. Dave Wilton was an ex-cop who'd bought the place at a sheriff's sale and slowly turned it from a biker hangout to one of the city's cult beer bars. "There was more Meth than beer being sold here under Uncle Charlie," the previous owner, he told me the night a small, square packet dropped out from behind the jukebox play box mounted on the wall by the bar. He looked up as I stepped in, shook his head, dropped his broom and walked over behind the bar. I took my usual stool while he started pulling me a pint of stout from the traditional old hand pump, a draught system designed to deliver classic British session ales in proper condition, pulling the beer up from the keg to the taps without the pressure provided by a gas mixture but rather with pure arm strength. The Brits call them "beer engines," an affectation I attribute to the belief among many of them that the Steam Era will eventually return.

        Daley Street is both my refuge and my salvation and I need it in my life. It is the not so much the beer that I relish--not all the time, not this particular time-though relish it I do. What soothes whatever is left of my soul is the sense of the place itself and the images it conjures up of the Irish past of my boyhood wherein such establishments were the real churches of the male half of the population in our Pennsylvania mining town, and, though not spoken of in most of the "Paddy" stories, also of a few females of an enterprising bent and a very giving nature, at least in certain of the less savory neighborhoods.

        I always thought things out better and more clearly sitting at this bar with a pint in front of me, staring into the dark mirror at my reflection, half obscured by the whiskey bottles along the shelf beneath it. What I saw never changed, a middle-aged man whose worn face was hidden behind a slowly graying beard, a beard trimmed, if not neatly, at least carefully enough to indicate that its owner might cling to some faint hope that the future could still hold some promise. Look into his lonely eyes though, and it was clear that hope and possibility were long faded delusions. Taken all together, it was the face of a man in bitter conflict with his own life.

        Me.

        "Well?"

        Dave's voice, half gentle, half mocking, cut through my flicker of self-pity. He'd poured himself a pint to match my own and was waiting for me to begin the one he'd slid in front of me. I didn't show up here early mornings without wanting…needing… to talk.

        "It's the Riley thing you read about in the papers," I said, "And Jack Hanlon. He wants me to find Riley."

        "So tell me about it." He gave up on the courtesy of waiting for me and took a sip of his beer. "And from the beginning. I really do like hearing about this whole thing among you three lost souls got started." He offered up his glass, grinning and I clinked mine against it and grinned back at him, acknowledging our never-stated but clearly understood agreement.

        I was about to recount a story that he'd already heard too often, one I'd spilled out in too great detail on too many nights when he'd served as my putative confessor. No matter. It was a story I'd would readily tell again, a tale I needed always to tell one more once, nursing the impossible dream that this time the ending would somehow be different. Dave recognized and accepted that. He was probably hoping for a better ending one of these days as well.

        "It was September 1975," I began, "and I was a small town boy wondering if I was going to survive life on a big city college campus…"

(Chapter Six Coming Soon)

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Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin