This time his patience didn’t last ten minutes. No matter what he did to position the dish, he got gibberish from the basement. As he pondered what to do next, he remembered Hank the bartender. He had not heard a word from him about the sting.
“It’s about time to pay that piece of shit a personal visit.”
He strapped on his shoulder holster and checked the gun before putting on his jacket. If Hank had chosen to be nonresponsive, he might need more than a few broken bones to get his cooperation. Things could get ugly, and he wanted to be ready to leave a lasting impression.
Outside the bar he noticed more cars in the street and expected to see a few more customers at the bar. He stepped through the door, and the first person he saw was a man sitting at a table with his right arm slung in a cast.
“Hey, what’s up?”
At the end of the bar, the burly man was eating lunch, forced into an awkward position by the cast and brace on his left leg.
Hank saw him enter the bar and was watching with a calm John found threatening. Before he could figure out what might have been set up in anticipation of his arrival, he heard movement behind him. He turned and saw the barrels of four guns pointed at him.
“I hope you like the reception committee,” Hank giggled.
Another man approached cautiously, frisked him, found the gun, took it and put it on the counter in front of Hank. Then he took a device from a shoulder bag that John immediately recognized as a Zap-Checker. The man ran it over John’s body a couple of times.
“He’s not wired,” the man whispered. Then he rushed off as if he were late for an appointment.
John remained silent.
He had miscalculated and was badly outgunned. He had to figure out what Hank’s intentions were, and Hank seemed to be in no hurry.
A few minutes later the man who searched him returned, breathing heavily. “I checked around the bar and talked to guards to make sure. There are no support or backup cars.”
“So, you’ve come alone.”
“I’m here to check on our agreement,” John said as if nothing out of ordinary were happening. “What’s the latest on your plant?”
Hank responded by yelling at the top of his lungs.
With angry red eyes, and a voice that cut like a knife, he said, “I lost my best boy to your fucking sting. Instead of he getting the professor, the professor got him.”
John couldn’t believe his ears. Guys like Hank were eternally committed to the cause. There was no way of convincing them otherwise. How Solon changed the plant’s mind, he did not know.
Hank took a deep breath, leaned over the counter and said, “His name is Joshua, my youngest brother. He is now studying philosophy and wants nothing to do with the militia, or me. It breaks my heart to see such beautiful boy wasted.”
John still did not know what to say or do. He thought of jumping over the counter and taking Hank hostage behind the bar, but four guns were trained on him, and Hank had his gun.
“Do you know why you’re still alive?” Hank asked.
John did not answer.
“You’re alive because Joshua asked me two favors, not to harm you or the professor. I understood why he didn’t want the professor killed. But you? He said something about forgiving the enemy. The kid must have gone loco, but I promised to do what he asked. So, turn around and walk out. But hear this: if I see you again, one or both of us will die.”
John took a slow step forward, carefully took his gun from Hank’s hand, and holstered it. Then he turned around and walked leisurely to the door.
At the door, passing the man with the arm in the slink, he could not resist slapping him on the arm in a friendly gesture. The cry of agony momentarily brightened what had been a dismal afternoon.