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a novel by Tom Benford
This is another excerpt from THE LAST OF THE UNICORNS
Reilly’s Town Talk Tavern was aptly named, since it was a favorite watering hole of the ‘old crew,’ as they referred to themselves – a loose group of old men who were all born in Ireland and immigrated to America early in their lives. They enjoyed ‘shooting the breeze,’ drinking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company, but not necessarily in that order. Terrence “Turk” Reilly was the proprietor of the pub, and he took great pains to give it the look and feel of a traditional public drinking house in Ireland. Though Reilly was born in New Jersey shortly after his parents settled here after coming over from Ireland, he spoke with a thick Irish brogue. A staunch, flag-waving American through and through, he was also very proud of his Irish ancestry. “Turk,” a nickname he had earned because of his volatile temper, never grew tired of hearing tales of the ‘old country’ and thoroughly enjoyed all things Irish. The Wurlitzer jukebox in the corner of the bar had Irish records in it almost exclusively, and the walls of the tavern were festooned with green, white and orange Irish flags, cardboard shamrocks and other assorted Irish décor. There could be no doubt in your mind that you were in an Irish bar once you set foot over the threshold of the Town Talk Tavern – known as the ‘Turk’s place’ or the ‘3-Ts’ by the locals who frequented the establishment on a regular basis. It was shortly after 11:30 AM on Saturday morning, and there were a couple of young men in their early twenties drinking bottled beer and talking quietly between themselves when Mark Potter came in and sat on a stool right in front of the draft taps. “Morning Mark,” Reilly said, “and what would your poison be to start you off on this fine day?” “Give me a ball and a beer, Turk, if you don’t mind.” A ‘ball and a beer’ was the local vernacular for a shot of whiskey with a short beer chaser, a combination also known as a ‘boilermaker’. “Did you hear about Bat Lynch?” inquired Mike.
“No – heard what?” he answered while pouring 90-proof Fleischmann’s whiskey into the shot glass he had set in front of Potter. “Why, he’s dead – died in his sleep last night. I saw Doc Shapiro coming out of Bat’s apartment house with his black bag just a little while ago when I was getting in my car to take little Jeffie to the football game at his school – the grandkids stayed over last night. Anyway, he’s been our family doctor for years so I went over to say ‘hello’ and I asked him what was going on. You don’t usually see a doctor making a house call these days, so I was curious. That’s when he told me that he got a call from Bat’s wife asking him to come right over. She told the doc  she knew Bat was already dead but she wanted him to make the official pronouncement and take care of the death certificate rather than calling 9-1-1 and having the coroner do it.” By now Reilly had also filled a short glass with draft beer and put that down in front of Mark as well. Potter downed the shot in one gulp, following it with a long drink of brew that emptied the glass half-way. “Ah, gee, now that’s a real shame, it is. Bat was a nice fellow – salt of the earth, you know. I knew him for a great many years; he’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Heart attack, you say? Who would have guessed he had a bad ticker? He was in here just last week with Mike Halloran – they stopped in for lunch and to whet their whistle – Bat was helping him with his odd jobs – and he looked fit as a fiddle and in his usual good spirits, too. In fact, he even recited ‘The Unicorn’ for us and he was in fine voice – he was so very fond of that poem, you know. But that just goes to show it’s true what my old man used to say, rest his soul. He used to say when your number comes up, it’s up, and there’s nothing you, nor anybody else, can do about it. And that’s why you should live everyday like it’s your last one, because one day it will be!” Turk often philosophized and pontificated like this to his customers, who didn’t seem to mind in the least, since he’d generally let the house buy a round or two for a good listener.
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