Reacher/Chroma Crossover

Okay, I started reading the latest Jack Reacher novel and was appalled at the writing style change and lack of attention to Reacher’s signature character. Fans of the Lee Child novels know both his and Reacher’s style to be one-in-a-million. I found myself reading Sentinel with growing frustration, telling myself that even I could do better. Then I told myself to prove it.

The following is the response to that, written in the classic Reacher style. (To be clear, for copyright purposes, I do not own the character of Jack Reacher, though the rest is entirely my own. This is fanfiction, and I’m not ashamed to say it.) I included interactions with the delightful cast of the Chroma Series, because, well, I can.

Reacher knew something was wrong the moment he walked into the town square. That instinct, born a thousand generations ago, told him that a predator was nearby.

He lingered at the edge of the small Arizona town square. It was called a park, but was tiny compared to the one he’d just left in New York. He’d traveled south for the winter, following the advice of birds in search of a warmer Christmas.

The town’s park may have been tiny, but the folks there must have taken great pride in it, as every tree had been festively adorned with lights and gigantic ribbons, despite the gloomy weather overhead.

Reacher stayed near the edge of the open area, close to the building he’d just departed, scanning the crowds of shoppers for what had tipped off his instincts. He trusted them innately, but couldn’t identify anything out of the ordinary. A Methodist choir singing carols. A toddler stubbornly face-down in the grass, one arm aloft as his mother tried to pull him to standing. An absolutely stunning woman sat on a bench in the center of the park, idly reading a hardback. A reporter and her cameraman were setting up a shot.

None of them was suspicious.

“Excuse me.” A young man squeezed past Reacher, aiming at the door behind him.

Reacher knew he should be moving. Standing still was a sure way to attract a predator. He stepped out of the way, letting a long-haired man pass.

It was a lingering bit of training that clued Reacher in to the threat. Back in Beirut, it was common to have snipers on the roofs on cloudy days, waiting to ambush soldiers from above. He’d never seen a sniper in the states, but the habit of scanning the rooftops when entering a public area still lingered.

Something moved on the roof of the strip mall on the other side of the park. Reacher moved south, toward it, keeping his eyes on the blotch even as he moved to get a better angle. It was larger than a bird by far. Unlikely to be a dog. If the roof’s ledge had a bit of height to it, it could be hiding most of a person.

Reacher was nearly due south of the park when the figure shifted again, this time producing binoculars seemly out of nowhere. They pointed down, near the center of the park.

The presence of a spotter told Reacher two things. First, the spotter had to have a target. Possibly the reader, from the direction he was pointing. But he couldn’t do anything more than look from his perch. That meant that, second, he had a team somewhere.

Reacher upped his pace as he moved around the choir, now nearly a third of the way around the park, eyes back on the crowd. The scene had gone from no suspects to suspects everywhere. How long had that van been parked in front of the pub? How many laps around the park had that woman jogged?

His eyes came back to the reporter as he turned north along the west edge of the path. He was too close to the buildings the spotter occupied, but it wasn’t exactly like the man could go far. The reporter was facing a storefront, with the camera pointed clearly over her shoulder. Reacher drew a map in his head as he walked. The camera and the spotter’s watch both intersected at the reader in the middle of the park. Not that he blamed them, exactly. She was definitely enjoyable to look at. But if the van was part of their team, they had nearly every exit of the park covered.

She wasn’t getting out of there alive. Not without help, anyway.

Reacher scanned the edges of the park as he diverted his path into it, this time eying the buildings more than the people. She’d need an escape route. He could stay and fight if he had to, but she’d have a hard time running for her life in those heels.

The woman’s eyes flicked up at him from her book as she turned the page. Without a second glance, they landed back on the text. She was clearly unconcerned about his presence, despite his haggard appearance.

“Mind if I sit here?” Reacher asked, indicating to the far end of the bench she occupied.

“It’s a public park,” she responded without looking up.

He let the camera get a good look at him as he sat. He didn’t particularly enjoy being on camera, but it got their attention off of her.

But how did he get her to safety? If she left the area, or even went inside, she’d be out of range of the spotter. Safe, at least temporarily. He could at least tail her until she made it safely back to her car.

“Might rain soon,” he tried.

“Hm.” She glanced up at the overcast sky. “Not yet.”

Damn it.

The driver of the van was just sitting there, tapping the steering wheel to some unheard tune as he wasted gas letting the engine idle.

The best egress was a thin alley closest to the spotter. Between a game store and a coffee shop. Unlikely they’d risk witnesses on the way there. He needed to get her out before whatever trigger they were waiting on got pulled. Hopefully not a literal one.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” He’d just finished one, but always had room for another.

“Look,” she sighed, lowering her book to meet his eyes. “I’m sure you’ve got a wonderful personality, but I guarantee you aren’t more interesting than him.” She tapped a manicured nail on the text before lifting the book again.

The van driver shifted, buckling in and checking his mirrors without a change in his cargo. Whatever they had poised to happen would happen soon. Reacher would need a less subtle approach, then.

“It’s time for you to leave. If you don’t, someone’s going to hurt you.”

“Are you threatening me?”

What little window they had would be closing any moment. “Look, one of two things is about to happen. Either you’re going to go with me through that alley right there,” Reacher was highly aware the camera could see where he was pointing.

“No way in hell.”

“Or I’m going to carry you.” She couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred thirty pounds soaking wet.

The van pulled out into the traffic.

“Time to choose,” he announced, standing and grabbing her wrist.

She obeyed, snapping her book shut and standing just in time for him to take off. Together they ran through the trees, past the struggling toddler, across the street, dodged around Christmas shoppers before finally making it safe to the alley.

They were halfway to the other side when the reporter’s cameraman stepped into the space ahead, blocking their light at the end of the tunnel. Chin low and shoulders rolled forward aggressively, his hands were now empty and free to execute whatever plan he had in mind. No gun visible to take advantage of the urban canyon. The man simply waited for Reacher and the woman next to him to exhaust themselves running toward him.

So Reacher didn’t. He stopped halfway down the alley. If the man wanted a fight, he’d have to come to Reacher. They stared at each other a moment. Reacher was highly aware how perfect this spot was for an ambush, but so long as they didn’t shoot, he could outlast them. He wasn’t sure about the woman yet.

“Let her go, man,” a new voice ordered from behind them.

Reacher nearly smiled outwardly when he heard the voice. Es, they had both exits covered, but guns were no longer an option. If either side fired, they’d be as likely to kill their friends on the other side as they would hurt Reacher or their intended target. An old military story came to mind as he turned to face the speaker. “Captain, they’ve got us surrounded!” “Great. Now we can shoot in any direction.”

Reacher finished his turn toward the speaker, trusting his hearing to let him know if the cameraman moved down the alley toward them.

The speaker looked like a friendlier version of the one on the other end of the alley, minus the faint scars decorating his face. “Scarlett.”

All he had to say was the woman’s name before she wriggled free of Reacher’s grasp and trotted over to him.

Reacher had it the wrong way around. The trap wasn’t set for her, but rather set by her.

For him? How could she have known he would be there? He didn’t even know he’d be in that town until that morning.

The jogging woman appeared, taking her place on the other side of the scarred man. “That’s not him.”

“You’re sure?” the scarred one answered.

“One-hundred percent. Description had a man with longer black hair, maybe five-eight.” She pondered Reacher a moment. “Could be an accomplice.”

“No record of one.”

“Maybe that’s the piece we’ve been missing.”

Reacher let them talk, listening and following as much as he could. They’d set the trap for someone else entirely, and it was only coincidence he’d been snared instead.

“He has to be involved,” the woman – Scarlett – stated. “He tried to get me alone with him.”

Reacher heard more than saw the van pull up behind him, joining the silent one in blocking the other escape route.

“Who are you?” the scarred one asked him.

“I have a rule,” Reacher answered. Technically it was his mother’s rule. “I have to give you a chance to walk away.” He met the gaze of both the women before settling on their apparent leader. “This is that chance.” He spoke low and slow so he couldn’t be misunderstood.

“Who are you?” the man asked again, unphased.

“Nobody.” It was at least as accurate as the name on the expired passport in his pocket.

“Orion?” The leader’s gaze drifted up.

Right. The spotter.

Reacher looked to the rooftop in time to see the wrong end of a massive gun swing over the edge. The alley was a barrel, and Reacher had suddenly found himself a fish.

Very little sound warned him of the pain that erupted by his collarbone. Reacher snapped his gaze right to find an enormous dart had blossomed there. He immediately yanked it free, but not before much of the liquid had drained into his bloodstream.

“Better do a second. He’s a big guy.”

Another dart landed on his other shoulder, painfully scraping the bone this time as it struck right above his heart.

The assembled audience only watched as Reacher went down.

The first thing Reacher noticed when coming to was his sore shoulders. Not just the pinpoint bruises on top, where the darts had pierced him, but the deltoid in front of the joint too.

He’d been seated in a wooden chair and had his wrists bound low behind it. Unconscious, they’d left him to dangle as all his weight drooped forward.

He blinked several times against the darkness, but it didn’t help. Still, he straightened, easing the burden on his shoulders.

His bindings clinked behind him. Reacher twisted and tested them, even though he was fairly sure he knew what they were. Handcuffs, likely attached to something else that bound him to a crossbrace of the chair. Awake now, the posture was comfortable enough.

The handcuffs were an interesting touch. Kidnapping people off the street, and as a team? Likely mercenaries, but mercenaries liked rope or duct tape. Maybe zipties if they were former military. Handcuffs meant law enforcement, probably local. But their methods definitely were not law enforcement. Not unless their policies had changed quite a bit recently.

Reacher waited in the darkness for about ten minutes, stretching what muscles he could to relieve the soreness. The chair was wooden, so he was reasonably certain he could break it down enough to free himself when the time came. But he wasn’t in any particular hurry, and was admittedly curious.

The lights flicked on with a fluorescent hum, revealing what looked to be a windowless, empty bedroom. They had placed him in the exact center, with nothing but dull gray carpet for six feet in any direction. The door was directly in front of him, and opened about thirty seconds after Reacher’s eyes had fully adjusted to the light.

The reporter’s camerman walked in, this time holding nothing but a folding chair. He jolted it, dropping it a couple inches before yanking it back up, coaxing the metal to unfold before he set it down. He took his time sitting in it, and contemplated Reacher a moment before finally speaking.

When he did, it wasn’t in English. “Savez-vous qui nous sommes?” Do you know who we are?”

“Devrais-je?” Should I?

The man clearly understood, contemplated Reacher’s answer, but didn’t say anything more. Instead, he put his elbows on his knees and folded his hands in front of himself, and just watched him in silence.

Reacher said nothing.

For nearly half an hour, they watched each other, moving only to blink. Reacher was familiar with the interrogation tactic. Silence drove most men crazy, and they’d fill it with all kinds of information, answering questions without them needing to be asked. But Reacher was not most men.

So he said nothing.

He was the brother of the scarred man, Reacher decided. Some kind of family operation, perhaps. If so, the woman yesterday was definitely adopted. Her nose was a cute ski slope, not the massive wedged planted like a backwards doorstop on the face of the man in front of him.

The next time the door opened, the scarred man and the jogger came in, neither bringing something to sit on.

“Anything?” the scarred one asked his brother.

“Parisian. Not Canadian.” He’d judged Reacher’s accent?

“But he speaks French?” the woman flapped a hand in Reacher’s direction, talking about him as if he weren’t there.

“Lots of people do.” The scarred one – and apparent leader among those Reacher had seen so far – was looking right at Reacher. “You’re not our guy, are you?”

“Nope.” Whomever their guy was.

“Right place, right vic, right language,” the woman insisted.

“Wrong accent, wrong profile, circumstantial evidence.”

The athletic woman sighed, looking at the leader like she knew he was right but didn’t want to admit it. “You’re going to let him go, aren’t you?”

He was still studying Reacher. “Unless we shouldn’t?”

Reacher stayed silent. Of course he wanted his freedom, but a little voice in his gut was curious about the project they were working on.

“If you’re wrong,” the woman insisted, “he’s seen our faces. They’ll come after us next.”

“That’s why we’re here.” The leader fished in his pocket a moment. “Better us than whomever his next target is.” He found what he was looking for, walked around where Reacher sat to kneel behind him. A smart choice – out of headbutting range – as he unlocked the cuffs. “I hope you’ll forgive us for this misunderstanding. Out the door and to your right, the hall will take you to another door and a van. The man in the garage can take you home. Just tell him where you want to go.” Home. A foreign concept, but a rare opportunity to determine his own direction.

The cuffs fell free, allowing Reacher to stand and enjoy his moment of freedom. They’d been fair, and surprisingly good at what they did. In another life, he might have joined them.

“This guy you’re looking for – you’re sure it’s a guy?” Five-eight and longer hair sounded more like a feminine profile.

The athletic woman in front of him bristled as if he’d just told her she had broccoli in her teeth. “We have half a dozen women who are pretty certain.”

Serial rapist. A sour flavor rose in his throat at the thought. “Well, I hope you catch him.”

“Me too.”

Reacher headed the direction their leader had indicated, but stopped as he filled the door frame. He shouldn’t get involved. Not his problem. Even if he did, victim number seven would never thank him. Likely never even know she was going to be a victim.

If Reacher helped.

He had no particular place to be, and all the time in the world to get there.

“You got a map?” he heard himself ask.

“Like on paper?” the woman asked.

He always preferred something he could touch. “Yes.”

The woman and the quiet French-speaking cameraman both looked to their leader, who shrugged.

“Sure.”

“And a cup of coffee, if you’ve got it.” No harm in asking.

“Black?”

“Please.” It wasn’t until he noticed the leader was looking at his brother that Reacher thought he might have misunderstood the question.

Still, the brother dipped his head and waited for Reacher to clear the doorway.

The scarred leader led Reacher to an adjacent room, which was barely more furnished than the first. A long dining table filled the center, with folding chairs spread nearly evenly around it, minus a gap to his right where one was missing. A small mug for some realty company had a handful of pens and markers in it, but otherwise the table was empty.

“You can call me Monday,” the leader announced. “The woman you saw this morning is Scarlett.”

He remembered – he wasn’t likely to forget that image anytime soon – but didn’t say anything. Reacher didn’t wait for an invitation to help himself to the coffee. Its bearer pressed a cup for his brother, then another for himself, letting Reacher get his own.

“My brother’s called Perseus, and the woman who went for the map is Quartz.”

At first he wasn’t sure, but the new information confirmed they were all using code names. Reacher never saw the point, but would call them whatever they wanted to be called. “I’m Reacher.” The spotter who’d tranquilized Reacher had been called Orion. “Who was the guy in the van?” He might as well have a list of everyone.

“Cyan.”

“And the reporter?”

“Andromeda.” There was a little affection in Monday’s voice as he said the name.

“Fans of Greek mythology, are we?”

The linguist – Perseus – slipped into the room behind Reacher, setting a carafe of coffee and several paper cups on the table. “Constellations, actually.”

“Coming through,” the woman called Quartz announced herself, a large sheet of paper unfolded in front of her and flapping in the wind. The group cleared the path, and she pressed the paper flat onto the table, smoothing the folds with her hands.

Half a dozen purple Xes were scattered across the map, each numbered. Small blockish font in the corner boasted the title, GREATER PHOENIX AREA.

Quartz wasted no time in taking over, explaining as soon as she knew she had Reacher’s attention. She pointed to the X marked with the number 1 in the northeastern portion of the map. “Two months ago, a woman nearly bled to death in an alley.” Her finger slid almost all the way across the map, to the number 2 southwest of Phoenix. “Woman here was attacked with her garage open as soon as she got home. One month ago.” Her finger found the number 3. “A week and a half later another woman was attacked on her way to her car.” 4. “Two days later, a woman attacked at a bar.” 5. “A week after that,” and one week ago, “a woman was attacked after she got off work. Heard someone following her, called 911. Dispatcher heard the whole incident go down while the police were still on their way.”

“That was how you heard the French?” Reacher asked the bearer of the coffee.

Perseus’s jaw clenched as he silently nodded.

Quartz’s finger slid to the sixth and final X on the map. “Three days ago, a woman was attacked while checking her mailbox. Broad daylight.”

Monday took over the conversation again, in a smooth transition that gave Reacher the impression they’d done this kind of thing before, and were all comfortable with the command structure. “He has a type, and he’s accelerating his attacks.”

“What’s the type?”

“Tall, blonde. Academic, mostly.”

Quartz interjected. “Except for–”

“This one?” Reacher asked, pointing at the purple 4 between them.

She eyed him skeptically. “How’d you know?”

“She wasn’t one of the victims. Of your guy, anyway.” She’d been attacked in a public area, and everyone else had been alone. Her timeline didn’t fit the established rhythm either.

Reacher put his palm on the map, obscuring the incident and looking at the rest. Together they formed a near-perfect ring outside east Phoenix. A comfort zone for the guy to operate. A forty-five-minute buffer away from home, but still close enough to be convenient.

Monday was the first to arrive at the point Reacher was trying to make. He grabbed a green marker and circled the region. “You think he lives in this area?”

Reacher dipped a finger into his coffee, allowing a drop to stain a particular neighborhood inside Monday’s green circle. “He lives here.”

Quartz was watching him, not the map. “How can you possibly be so certain?”

Reacher sipped the coffee, wanting to finish it before it cooled. “I used to do this sort of thing.” A long time ago.

Monday smiled. “Ah. And here I was guessing military.”

“You’re not wrong.”

“Marine?”

“Army. MP.”

Perseus lifted a bill from his pocket and slid it to his brother.

Monday accepted it with a smile before addressing Reacher again. “Well, thank you for your help, and your insight.” Was he dismissing him? Monday’s gaze drifted over the map between them. “This makes a lot more sense.”

“What’s your next step, then?” Reacher knew what he would do, but would they?

Monday’s eyes lost focus a moment before he nodded slowly. When they focused again, they landed on Perseus. “Cyan?”

The brother nodded and slipped silently out of the room, behind Reacher.

Monday answered by pointing at the map again. “We have a good guess where he lives, but he should be striking sometime today.” He tapped once in the largest gap between the dots along the circumference of the circle, then again in the second largest gap. “I’m guessing here, or here.”

“You don’t want to go after him first? Strike first?” Quartz asked.

“I don’t want to risk missing him and letting him find another victim because we’re here.” He tapped the coffee stain. Between the choices offered, Monday was protecting the people first.

“Does he ever move his victims?” Reacher asked.

Quartz looked at the map, clearly thinking before answering. “I guess not.”

“Which spot is he going to choose, you think?” Monday asked the room.

Reacher studied the map again. The guy had been bouncing back and forth around the circle, careful not to go too close to his latest victim when choosing his next. An attempt at evading detection that actually made him easier to predict. The two gaps Monday had pointed out were both about the same distance from the purple 6. Equally as populated.

But he wasn’t alone. As much as he enjoyed his Bohemian lifestyle, he readily admitted that working with a team had its advantages. “Can we cover both?”

“We only have one Scarlett.” Their bait for the trap that Reacher had fallen into.

Then he could be on the other team. Find the vic first, and he’d find the villain next.

The van driver entered then, with Perseus sweeping in behind him. He found his original spot and his cooling coffee, while Cyan took up the head of the table between Reacher and Quartz.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, all smiles. Up close, he exuded charisma, with easily more money spent on his latest haircut than Reacher’s monthly budget for clothes.

Monday summed up the situation quite quickly. “Bad guy likely lives here. But we’re guessing he’ll attack here or here by the end of the day.”

Reacher had gotten the impression Monday was in charge, but his asking Cyan made him doubt. They both seemed submissive to the other. Was there another somewhere, above them both?

Cyan barely glanced at the map before answering. “I can go in and stir the hornet’s nest. Get him out of the building, and let you know which direction he heads. You split up everyone else and stop him when he gets there.”

“You okay sitting out of the action like that?” Monday asked.

“So long as Scarlett goes on his team,” Cyan answered, indicating to Perseus. Why he’d want the woman to go with the linguist, Reacher could only guess.

“Okay by me,” Monday answered with a smile. “Orion should go with, too.” He swung his gaze around the table. “Quartz?”

“I’m keeping an eye on him,” she answered, pointing to Reacher. He wasn’t sure what he’d done to draw her ire, but it didn’t really faze him.

“What about Andromeda?” Cyan asked.

“She’s staying here.” The reporter wasn’t much use for bait, anyway. Short and dark hair was about as far from the victim profile as she could get.

“I guess that means I’m going with you,” Monday announced, looking up at Reacher.

“You’re sending your best bait with only a gunner for backup?” Reacher asked, incredulous. Quartz could clearly handle herself in a fight. Monday definitely knew how to move, at least. But they were all with Reacher. “What happens if the guy gets too close to her?”

Every eye in the room landed on the linguist to Reacher’s right.

Perseus only shrugged at their attention. “I’ll do my best not to kill him.”

What was his plan? Talking the guy to death? Still, Reacher let them figure that out. Instead, he looked to Cyan, curious. “How do you plan on stirring the nest?” he asked, referencing the man’s earlier words.

His shoulders went up with a mischievous smile. “Knock on doors I suppose.”

“You plan on getting a warrant for a neighborhood and a half in less than a few hours?”

“Warrant?” Cyan scoffed. “Nah. I’ll be spreading the good news of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Monday stifled a laugh before refocusing the group. “Alright. We set out in ten. Quartz, can you show our guest to the restroom? Perseus, stay a moment.”

Reacher pumped another helping of coffee into his paper cup before following the woman back into the hall.

Reacher was frankly glad when Monday offered to drive. To his surprise, they ended up almost exactly where they’d started. With the paradigm shift that public places were off-limits, Monday had chosen a two-story parking garage not far from the town square. The sun was getting low in the sky, and they’d soon need streetlights to continue their search.

They were stopped outside the structure, pointed at the entrance, watching for any sign of unusual activity. Reacher had taken the front passenger seat and stretched the seat as far back as the mechanisms would allow for maximum leg room, and Quartz had taken the place behind Monday.

With as far back as his seat was, he barely had to twist in place to look Quartz in the eye. “Academic?” he asked, breaking the watchful silence that had fallen over the vehicle.

“Yeah,” Quartz answered, clearly wondering where he was going with the question.

“How does he know?” Reacher understood how they knew, with victim profiling and all. “I’m good at what I do, but I couldn’t tell someone was an academic just by how they checked their mail.”

“You think he stalked them first?” Monday asked, keeping his gaze on the mirrors as well as the windshield. Reacher wasn’t worried about watch. The guy would show himself when he was ready.

Quartz answered with Reacher’s thoughts before he could voice them. “An accelerating spree like this? Planning ahead would be unlikely. He’s operating on his schedule, not theirs. They’re targets of opportunity.”

“Then how?” Monday echoed Reacher’s question.

Reacher thought through the incidents. Alley. Outside work. In a garage. In front of the home. On the way to her car. “Did anyone visit the crime scenes?”

“Some of them,” Quartz answered.

“The alley? Or the mail?”

“The mail.”

“Was there a car in the driveway?”

She paused, eyes flicking between two faraway objects as she went through the memory. “Yes.”

“You think their cars tipped him off?” Monday asked, dipping his chin as he checked the mirrors again.

Reacher was still looking at Quartz. “A bumper sticker?”

She shook her head slowly, then nodded with a jerk as she realized something. “Parking permit. Red, with a white twenty on it.”

“What about the others?” Reacher pressed.

Quartz shook her head again. “Couldn’t say for certain.”

“It’s a starting point. Good enough for me, anyway.” Monday relayed the information to the other team, then looked to Reacher. “Army MP?”

Reacher didn’t answer. He’d already told the man as much.

Monday shifted in his spot to better face Reacher. “If it came down to it, could you physically stop him? Or would you rather drive on the off chance he gets past the two of us?”

“Monday–” Quartz started.

The man only needed to shoot her a look to remind her who was in charge. “Well?”

“I’d rather be on foot,” Reacher answered honestly.

“Okay. You and Quartz find the car and the victim. I’ll honk if I see something suspicious. Quartz, you’re in charge of getting the victim to safety. Reacher, you find him, and you chase him to me. Got it?”

Reacher wasn’t particularly fond of running, but he nodded. “Do you have arresting powers?” he asked, still unclear on who exactly he was working with. Too organized to be lackadaisical law enforcement. But they hadn’t once checked in with an authority higher than Monday, so mercenary was unlikely.

“Every citizen has arrest powers,” Monday answered, checking the mirrors again.

Reacher nodded slowly. “Vigilantes, then.”

“Sort of. We don’t pretend to replace the police, or the justice system.”

“Quite the opposite,” Quartz put in. Was she the law enforcement, then?

“If we can help, we do.” Monday’s gaze shifted form the windshield to Reacher. “Are you trying to tell me you’re any different?”

“Maybe I am.”

Monday shook his head and faced the garage again. “You’re just like us. You see someone in danger, you help. Otherwise you would have left Scarlett alone this morning.”

He had him there. Reacher didn’t have a response, and didn’t try to offer one.

Monday’s phone buzzed. The moment he read the message on it, his lips went tight. “You two want to take that walk? See if you can find our vic before he does?”

Quartz was already opening the door. “Gladly.”

They checked the lower story first. Pinning the guy down vertically was much easier than horizontally. Almost a quarter of the vehicles had a sticker on them. Some kind of university town. Too many to try to watch and protect. Instead of spreading out and covering more ground, Quartz stayed within two rows of Reacher.

They’d checked nearly two-thirds of the lower level when a scream split the air. Reacher’s head snapped up, in the direction of the sound, to the concrete above him.

“Take the south stair,” Quartz ordered immediately, heading for the nearer north steps. She wanted a pincer move, stopping the guy where he was attempting to commit his crime.

Reacher wasn’t going to run, but he did jog in the direction he was told. It wasn’t long before shouting started above him. Quartz giving unheeded orders, by the sound of it.

He hit the bottom step when the guy finally started shouting back. High-pitched and panicked. Clearly not one who’d planned on being interrupted or met with any real opposition. Halfway up, Reacher turned the corner of the stairwell and was able to decipher the words.

“Let her go.” Quartz.

The back of some two-headed monster rose into view as he ascended the steps. No, not one body. Two, tangled together as if they’d just finished a run in a three-legged race.

“You’ll shoot me!” the guy accused.

Reacher hoped not. He would be in the line of fire. He knew Quartz was adamant about stopping the guy, but didn’t know her well enough to guess if she’d risk his life to do so. He silenced his step as he finished his ascent, getting a clear enough view of the scene. They were four people as three dots in almost a straight line. Quartz had taken up a decent shooting stance behind the engine block of a car.

“I don’t want to shoot you,” she answered. Reacher saw her notice him, but kept her gun steady and level. She’d practiced with it. “What’s your name?”

Reacher couldn’t tell if she was waiting on action from the guy or him, but either way, he continued his silent pacing toward them.

“Let her go,” Quartz ordered again. If the guy had a weapon, she probably would have tried to coax him to drop it as some point.

So Reacher assumed he was free to walk up to the guy and knock him out without risking harm to his shield. A swift knock to the base of his skull would drop the guy like a kid’s backpack after a long day of school.

In an adrenaline-fueled panic, the guy shoved his victim at Quartz and turned. Trying to run for it.

Straight at Reacher.

He snapped his arm out, slapping the top of the guy’s chest. The guy’s hurried momentum kept his body folding forward until his neck slid directly into Reacher’s massive hand. The scrawny man’s struggle did the work for him. All Reacher had to do was stand there.

A satisfied grin flicked on Quartz’s face as she saw what happened. Then her gaze shifted to the ground between them. “Are you okay, ma’am?”

“I – you – he–” she stammed, clutching her shirt closed as she struggled to push herself up from the pavement. No major injuries. She’d be fine.

Quartz must have reached the same conclusion, as she traded her weapon for handcuffs and met Reacher where he continued to stand with the guy’s neck in hand.

The guy was clawing, but it wasn’t doing much to ensure his freedom.

“Here we go,” Quartz said to no one in particular as she wrangled the guy’s wrists away and behind him.

The moment Reacher heard the second cuff click into place, he let the guy breathe again.

“I suppose I owe you an apology,” she told Reacher without looking at him. “I misjudged you.” She held the cuffs with one hand as she thumbed her phone with the other. “So thank you–”

Reacher didn’t stick around to hear the rest of what she had to say. The big Arizona sunset beckoned him, promising the best Christmas yet.

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