“Whoa,” Cleve said. “Don’t kill him. Not yet.” Their captive pulled his knees up to cover his abdomen, wincing at his arm but doing his best to cover himself.
“Why not? He would have killed us if he had the chance. Right, asshole?”
“Just go check the damage. I doubt he did more than bang ’em up a bit. He doesn’t look smart enough to know how to destroy a bike with his bare hands, and I don’t see anything else he could have used. I’ll keep an eye on him.”
Tim feigned another kick, then turned and stomped away to assess the damage. Cleve squatted down and whispered, “I’m gonna ask you a couple questions. Nothing you need to worry about, as far as giving away anything, but personally I’d like to address you as something other than ‘Asshole.’ You got a name?”
He said nothing for a moment, then licked his swollen lips. “Joseph,” he whispered.
“Okay, Joseph,” Cleve said, “I know I shot you and smacked you around a little, but I saw wounds like that in Afghanistan and it ain’t gonna kill you if you don’t let it get infected. You think you’re up to walking a couple miles, especially since you disabled our transportation?”
“If you’re smart, you’ll just leave me here.”
“If you were smart, you wouldn’t have made all that noise down here and let us know we had company. And you wouldn’t have come alone. Your buddies would have come a-runnin’ soon as they heard the first shot, right?”
Joseph said nothing.
“You were right,” Tim said. “He just wrecked the wheels and dinged up a few things. Nothing that can’t be repaired, but we’ll have to carry them back. Or make him do it.”
“Good.” To Joseph, “I assume you would prefer to live, given a choice, so I’m gonna ask you one more question before I tell you a couple of things. You gonna try anything stupid, like yelling for help?”
Again, Joseph said nothing, but finally sighed and shook his head.
“Good. ’Cause if you did, I’d have to shoot out your knee. That would make a lot more noise, and your friends might get lucky and rescue you, but you’d never walk right without major surgery — assuming your leg didn’t come off. And I don’t see too many doctors outside a truck these days, do you?” Joseph shrugged.
“So this is how it’s gonna go. You’re gonna walk, and you’re gonna be quiet about it. You’re gonna go left when we say left, and right when we say right. But you also ain’t gonna be anybody’s bitch, I give you my word — as long as you don’t give trouble. What else happens to you, I can’t make any guarantees. Fair enough?”
“Where in Afghanistan were you?”
“Bagram. 455th Aerial Evac.”
Joseph nodded. “Yeah. I won’t give trouble.”
“Good.” Cleve lifted Joseph to his feet one-handed, keeping his other hand on the pistol. “Tim — can you carry both bikes, or do I need to take one?”
“I can get ’em both,” Tim said, “but I’ll have my hands full. You think we should each take one so we can have our shooting hands free?”
“Yeah. Okay, Joseph goes first. You’re gonna tell him which way to go, and —”
“Yeah, I’ll tell him where to go.” Tim looked grim.
“Just play it straight,” Cleve snapped. “You watch him and our front, I’ll cover our backs. If he tries anything, kneecap him.”
“You mean shoot out his kneecap?”
“That I can handle,” Tim said. “We got time for a pee break first?”
“It’s only four. We can be home in an hour. Go ahead.”
Tim slipped into the stairwell. “Your friend has an attitude,” Joseph said.
“Yeah. His girlfriend lived upstairs in the apartment we came out of. She killed herself. Pain pills. He’s looking for a reason to take it out on you.”
Joseph looked away. “Damn. My wife jumped in one of those trucks… I guess I know where he’s comin’ from.”
“Yeah. So don’t even let him think you’re trying to give trouble.”
Tim stepped back into the foyer, and Cleve got them moving. Outside, the truck’s whispering seemed to grow louder, perhaps sensing Tim’s distress and Joseph’s fear. All of them stood and stared, unwilling but listening: Join us. No sadness. No death. No fear. Leave all cares behind. After a long moment, Joseph spat, breaking the spell. Tim lifted a middle finger, from the hand wrapped around his damaged bike, then turned away.
It was a long hour’s walk, even with no incidents or trouble from Joseph. The sentries did a double-take, then waved to the others. Charles met them at the end of the block.
“What happened? We were about to send some people out after you!”
“Ran into a little trouble,” Cleve said. “We handled it.”
“Doesn’t look like the bikes did, though,” Max said. “What happened?”
“Our friend here had a little fun with them while we were upstairs,” Cleve said.
“So did you find her?”
“Yeah,” Tim said. “But not soon enough.” He glowered at Joseph one last time, took Cleve’s bike on his other shoulder, and walked away.
“Not good, then,” Charles said.
“Nope,” Cleve said. They stood quietly for a moment as some of the others gathered around. “So we caught this little redneck. What do we do with him?”
Charles looked Joseph over. “You wanna tell us anything about your friends?”
Joseph blinked. “Hell no.”
“He’s nobody’s bitch,” Cleve said. “I promised him that.”
“Well, what good is he? He won’t help us out, and nobody would want him for that anyway. What do we do with him, then?”
“Toss him in a pickup?” someone suggested. Some onlookers nodded or voiced agreement.
Joseph turned pale. “You’d do that? That ain’t right!”
“You and your buddies tried to kill us.”
“Yeah,” someone else said. “You came off the street like the pickups. Why shouldn’t you go away in one?”