He rode the mare sensibly to the pub, a distance of about seven miles. He breathed in the refreshing coolness of the evening, with its mild, westerly wind blowing off the Great Plains. To Paul it seemed that the winds were alive and beckoning him to follow them. As he reflected on what had transpired over the past several hours, he could only imagine what kind of reaction he would receive when he informed his friends of his intentions.
When he was still a couple of miles from the pub, the dense forest relinquished its hold and gave way to a swaying sea of corn. The clear, starlit sky transformed to heavy overcast. On the western horizon, a long, arcing flash of lightning slashed through the dark. Amaria jolted nervously as Paul gently spurred her to quicken her pace. They both wanted to be safely sheltered when the approaching storm finally made its grand appearance.
As they rode up to the Lone Wolf Pub, Paul guided Amaria to the livery stable next door. He tipped the stable-boy an extra fifty-cent piece and instructed him to rub down Amaria and give her the freshest stall in the rear of the stable, away from the front doors and the brunt of the storm. Nodding in agreement, the boy led the horse away. Satisfied, Paul went on up to the pub.
He took hold of the cast bronze wolf’s head doorknob, and with a fluid turn, he pushed open the door. Stepping across the threshold, he closely surveyed the large crowd scattered about the bar and assorted tables. Not seeing anyone he recognized, Paul milled about the room and checked the tables further in the back—the ones not able to be seen from the entrance. No one. Paul couldn’t believe it. He had sent a letter weeks ago to John, his closest friend, to tell him that he would be home today. John’s reply was for Paul to come to the Lone Wolf Pub at eight o’clock on Friday night. This Friday night.
“It’s now almost ten o’clock,” Paul thought. “I can’t imagine that no one would wait, especially John.”
But here he was, alone among strangers. Suddenly, above the din of the crowd, a shattering thunder blast split the air and a deafening crash shook the floorboards of the pub. Paul’s enthusiasm wavered. Not only did his friends not wait for him, but he now had two choices: leave and go back home through what was going to be the worst storm of the summer thus far, or stay with a bunch of strangers and wait the storm out until morning. He decided to have one more look around, just to make sure. If he couldn’t find them, maybe they would see him.
Paul moved deeper into the pub and maneuvered around the tables near the bar. The group sitting on the left consisted mainly of iron-mill workers, spending their week’s meager wages on liquid solace and trying to convince themselves that they were truly in command of their lives. On the right were several political figures, councilmen who regularly met in this out-of-the-way spot in order to burrow their way below the watchful eyes of their constituency. The worst thing for them would be to have some “no good do-gooder” squawk in the public forum about their vices. The middle tables were made up of various combinations of men and women discussing certain services and the prices of said services. Paul did not recognize any of these people, nor did he care to.
He turned his attention to the bar, where sat more iron-works employees not allowed in the former group, a few local farmers, and a couple of soldiers in clean, blue uniforms and apparently on leave. Paul continued moving down the bar, closer to the back of the pub. As he walked past the second soldier, their eyes met. The look he gave Paul caused his heart to drop into his stomach. Paul reversed his direction, but not fast enough. The second soldier nudged his accomplice, and moving as quickly and smoothly as cougars, they sprang from their barstools. Before Paul could react, they had both of his arms twisted behind his back. As his fingers touched each other, Paul let out a cry of pain and surprise, but with all of the noise and merriment around him, his plight went unnoticed. Besides, these were soldiers, and everyone assumed that they had a good enough reason to harass him.
The two soldiers rushed Paul into the back room before some drunken, brave soul might decide to become a hero and get involved in matters that didn’t concern him. Paul’s face was tomato-red with rage and speckled with droplets of nervous sweat. He dug his heels into the floor, but to no avail. The men pushed him roughly through the door that led into three medium-sized rooms, which usually served as the living quarters for the owner and his family.
Once they were inside, a third soldier kicked the door shut. Paul was released and shoved into the center of the room. He spun around, looking to punch the nearest soldier and hoping to do as much damage as possible before the other two could react. But instead of having to administer a lightning-quick attack, Paul watched as all three soldiers doubled up with laughter.