The menu featured wurst, schnitzel, potato pancakes, noodles and dumplings. There were deer heads and antlers with brass plaques on the dark wood walls and scrolled mottos in gothic script. A polka was on the jukebox and the place was filled with hunters. At Ehrlichs many of the hunters had family members along. There were women and children, even babies. Happy couples danced. The entire place rejoiced in an atmosphere of good-hearted revelry.
"Boy, is this place ever different from the Hunters," Michael said. "Its not just the food."
"Know why?" Norman asked.
"Different people," said Michael.
"Different folks," Norman said. "This is Prevost County. Theyre Germans here. Theyre peace-loving. Orderly. You gotta love em."
"Sure. Whereas the Hunters is in the fucking swamp. Harrison County. Irish, Scotch-Irish, French Canadian. Theyre poor and surly. Theyre over at the Hunters getting nasty drunk and selling one another wolf tickets. While here, hier ist fröhlich."
He spread his arms and with a cold, false smile enacted a parody of gemütlichkeit.
"Maybe we belong over there," Alvin Mahoney said.
Michael and Norman looked at each other and laughed.
Norman raised his beer glass. "Heres looking at you, Alvin," he said.
Alvin laughed. He was nervous, drinkless. It might be safer driving, Michael thought, to let him have a belt.
Michael was aware of Norman watching him. "You didnt shoot today," Norman said.
As they were waiting for the check, Norman said, "I have to ask you something. Over at St. Emmerichs, what are they teaching my friend Paulie about abortion? Me, I dont think theres much wrong with the world that doesnt come from there being too many people."
Michael poured out the last of the beer.
"Im sorry," Norman said. "Youre the only person I know to ask."
For the second time Michael was annoyed with Norman. Of course, sociology was the mans job. And he had never been subtle or discreet. He had been to Vietnam. He owned the big questions.
"They dont talk about it," Michael said. "Not at that level." He put a paper napkin to a tiny puddle of foam on the table before him. "They talked about hunting the other day." What he said was not exactly true. Paul was being taught that life began at conception. The rest, of course, would follow. But Michael was not in the mood to defend the theses of St. Emmerichs Christian instruction. Embarrassed, he flushed and hid behind his beer. He felt besieged. As though they were trying to take something away from him. Something he was not even sure he possessed.
Because I believe, he thought. They know I believe. If I believe. But faith is not what you believe, he thought. Faith was something else.
A blond waitress with a pretty, wholesome smile came over to them but she did not have the check.
"Is one of you guys Michael Ahearn?" she asked.
"Me," Michael said.
"Sir, you got a phone call. Want to take it in the kitchen?"
He followed her across the room, resounding with polkas, laughter, the rattle of plates and foaming schooners. In the kitchen three generations of women, the oldest in her late sixties, the youngest a little older than his son, worked purposefully. The warm room smelled of vinegary marinades. His wife was on the phone.
"Michael," she said. Her voice was distant and, he thought, chill. It made him think of the woods. Or of the light shining at the bottom of the freezing stream. "Paul is not accounted for. He was at the gym and then I thought he was going to Jimmy Collingss. But hes not there. And his school books are here. And Olaf is missing." She paused. "Its snowing here."
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