The Lost Shepherd
A Reacher Companion Story
L E Fitzpatrick
The Lost Shepherd
By L E Fitzpatrick
Copyright © 2015 L E Fitzpatrick
Read more about L E Fitzpatrick
The Reacher Series
The Running Game
Other Titles by L E Fitzpatrick
The Dark Waters Series:
Flames and Blood
They moved on foot, eight in total, tracking through the abandoned city only an hour behind their prey. Mace was in charge. Mace was always in charge. He was the largest, the toughest, the scariest. He’d only been challenged twice for his position as leader, and he carried the teeth of the challengers around his neck. His clan resided on the other side of the city, it was a small gathering of brutes and cutthroats that had seized a foothold on one of the major footpaths of the country. A lot of the travellers roaming the countryside moved in groups, some too large for Mace and his clan to go after, but smaller groups and solitary travellers were easy prey.
Mace raised his hands. He was missing two fingers; a punishment from his childhood. The pack stopped and sniffed. Two of their scouts positioned themselves ahead, their automatic rifles poised and ready. Mace’s men dominated the area, but there were always rival gangs trying to encroach on his territory. He waited, listening to the light breeze whistling through the abandoned buildings. The air was damp and moist, but at least the rain had stopped.
Mace dropped to a crouch to inspect an indent in the soil; a footprint made by the old man. They had him now. Mace licked at his chapped, broken lips, exposing a mouth of sharp black teeth. A lifetime in the clan had made him more beast than man. His skin was like leather, his eyes wild and sharp. Some travellers buckled at just the sight of him and they were right to; Mace was far crueller than he looked. Mace dropped his hand and nodded. The pack began to move.
A rumble of thunder started the crescendo of the impending storm. Thick heat had been swelling on the abandoned city for hours. It would give at any moment. Another rumble, a flicker of lightening, barely visible in the afternoon light. The dull concrete buildings blended into the heavy clouds; a symphony of grey in this urban desert. Then, abruptly, the oppressive desolation of the city was shattered by an aggressive downpour of rain. The percussion was deafening and victorious.
The priest wasted no time in unpacking his umbrella. His boots were water tight and, despite his arthritic knees, he skipped around the water-filled potholes with the confidence of an experienced traveller. He wasn’t troubled by the rain, or the dampness of his clothes. The shower wouldn’t last long and once it was over the clouds would likely clear, exposing another oppressively hot September sun. He could have stopped and taken refuge in one of the empty buildings, but if he stopped every time the weather turned it would be Christmas by the time he reached London.
He was eager to leave the abandoned city too. It was the third he had passed through since he’d set off on his journey and there were hundreds of them throughout the country. The relics of suburban England, with their average sized homes and convenient high streets, were all that remained of a buckled civilisation. There were lots of reasons towns failed; economy, disease, conflict, but the relics all looked the same in the end. The absence of life seemed to drain the colour from the buildings, like an old photograph faded from exposure. Sometimes, to the priest, they felt like Godless places and walking through them played on his conscience and troubles.
When he reached the edge of the city the rain started to break. The road widened and for the briefest moment a glimmer of sunlight shone on the surrounding countryside. The break between the urban and the rural always seemed abrupt to the priest. It felt like stepping directly from one room to another, rather than the slow transition that used to happen before the world fell apart.
He was more comfortable on the open road, despite the abundant dangers of travelling without cover or protection. There was something about being out in nature that made him feel closer to God and being with God now was essential. His pilgrimage had been long overdue. For over a year he had lost the faith he had in himself and his cause. He felt he had misinterpreted the messages he had once been so certain of and now he searched for some guidance to lead him back to the path from which he had strayed.
He walked five miles from the town until he found a place to camp for the night. Walking in the rain was fine but walking in the dark was a step too far even for the old priest. He unpacked his backpack, putting up a crude tarp shelter, unrolling his sleeping bag and gathering the matches and paper he needed to start his fire. In a couple of experienced minutes his camp was set up and the sun was starting its descent. He sat on his sleeping bag and put a can of stew on the fire to cook.
It was a peaceful evening. Somewhere in the distance he could hear a car and the sound brought a smile to his face. The country often looked like all life had disappeared but this so called End of Days had continued to roll on. There was still civilisation, still a future, it had just relocated south. And there were still clusters of communities further north that continued to thrive or at the very worst struggle on. Most of all there was still hope in even the darkest places of Britain. The priest had witnessed it, in the past he had thought himself a bringer of hope. Now he traced his way back through the old paths he used to take, trying to find some of that hope for himself again.
When dusk finally settled the priest followed suit. He rested by the fire, waiting for his dinner to cook through. The urge to move had come to him a few months ago, when he was more a drunk than a man of the cloth and he had given in, hitting the road for a chance to clear his mind and his bloodstream. The journey had led him back through a landscape of memories. He had reacquainted himself with old friends of his church and precious refugees that passed through his old hands. But nothing quite distilled the unsettled feeling that was burdening him. He had made a mistake and the shame of it was weighing heavier and heavier. He looked around at the barren wasteland and then up at the indigo sky.
“All these miles and all the old faces from the past, it’s cleared my mind you know, but it changes nothing. I’m not the man I was. Just older, bigger blisters on my feet, and as lost as when I started out.” He smiled at himself and shook his head, imagining the man upstairs making some comment about having faith and mysterious ways. But the priest’s humour failed him, he thought back to two little girls and having to choose between them, knowing one would live and the other would suffer a fate worse than death.
Angrily he glanced back up at the sky. “She is just a child. One of the ones I pledged my life to protect. And yet I just let her go. It would have been better to kill her. It would have been merciful. She has no hope where she is.” There was nothing but silence.
Hidden behind a jagged knoll in the landscape two boys watched the glowing light of the fire. Charlie, the eldest, gestured that they should fall back. The day before he had made the decision to stop hunting the travellers going northwards and to try their luck with a solitary target. They tracked him through the town, expecting him to stop in one of the buildings for the night. But the old man had continued on, choosing to camp out in the open where anyone could find him. He was either incredibly dangerous, or incredibly stupid.
Charlie glanced at the younger boy. John was thirteen, four years younger than Charlie and a good foot shorter. But despite his age, John was the one most skilled in hunting. The younger boy had eyes geared towards prey and an inability to feel fear. John sat back against the embankment, his mind still calculating the possibilities of the hunt, his senses perpetually alert and on guard.
“He’s lit a fire,” Charlie said. The boys hadn’t been near a fire since the snow melted earlier that year. The light drew trouble and the boys had learnt a long time ago that darkness was their greatest ally.
John didn’t say anything. John didn’t talk much at all. Since escaping from the Institute nearly a year ago the younger boy had barely spoken to Charlie. They communicated mostly through body language, but Charlie wanted to encourage some kind of conversation, if only for his own sanity. Unlike John he had spent some of his childhood outside of the Institute and he desperately held onto his humanity in the hope that one day he could pass it onto John.
“Might be a trap,” Charlie said. He’d seen it before, young women sat all alone trying to draw in an easy kill. An old man was an easy target and he was making a beacon of himself out in the open. The question was whether it was intentional or not. Charlie glanced at John; it wouldn’t matter either way. He was outnumbered.
Like wild dogs they bounded towards the edge of the city, salivating at the prospect of a fresh kill. The supplies the traveller undoubtedly carried would be useful for their camp, but these men were focussed only on the blood they were about to shed. Craving it. Needing it. The wilderness had stripped away their conscience, making them feral and eternally hungry.
Mace led the pack, his strong legs no match for the debris underfoot. He broke free of the city, screaming at the awaiting wilderness. The others joined him; howling wolves on the hunt. And they focussed on the small glint of orange disrupting the impending night.
Had the man already succumbed to terror, Mace wondered. Would they find him with his life already taken? Would they find him running away? Would they find him begging for mercy? Mace hoped so, he didn’t believe in mercy, but he loved hearing the hope of it being pushed through desperate lips. He loved watching hope fail.
Mace’s eyes homed in on the shadowy silhouette of the old man. They had chosen the man over a group of nine travellers heading west. Mace had decided the man was a better certainty. His pack needed to be strong for the impending winter months and easy kills kept morale high. So they tracked the old man for several hours, homing their skills and growing hungrier with each passing minute. But Mace knew he would be sated soon. They all would. Soon there would be blood.
He drew his machete, abandoning his gun altogether. Bullets were hard to come by and for one old man he would take greater pleasure in slicing through skin by his own hand. His pack followed him, raising their knifes and spears, relishing the opportunity to draw blood by the blade.
They were almost on the old man. Mace would strike the first blow. He screamed, his voice filling the wilderness with fury. The old man turned and a flash of fear filled his face. Yes this is it, Mace though to himself, grinning maniacally. He raised his crude knife, ready to strike. But something was wrong.
It was stuck. He was stuck. Mid air, hanging by his own weapon, Mace couldn’t move.
The priest fell back. He raised his hands to protect himself from the blade, waiting for his forearms to scream with pain. But nothing happened. When he dared to look his eyes opened wide in disbelief. The man, the beast intent on killing him, was hanging in the air, his face twisted in confusion and fear. The priest scurried back on his hands and knees. The other men were closing in and there was no escape. Was this to be it, his redemption?
He heard a scream to his left and turned to see one of the men fall, a spray of red spattered the sky. Another scream and another body went down. The priest crouched low, backing into his tarp for safety. He stared up at the hovering man and then, behind him in the distance, he could make out a silhouette. The dark figure was smaller than the others. He stood, his arm outstretched, twisting the bandit with the power of his mind. Something moved to the priest’s left. He flinched and saw another shadow, one even smaller, whipping a blade across the belly of a grown man. It looked like a child but moved so quickly the priest couldn’t keep track of what it was. He concentrated on the larger figure, the one that had saved his life and watched as he retracted his hand, sending the bandit hurtling to the ground.
The bandit was shaken. He stared at the priest, as if he was hoping for answers. Then his gaze fell upon the remains of his fallen comrades. He turned back to the priest, his terrifying face transformed into a frightened child. The priest could make out the two shadows coming up from behind and, even though he knew what was coming, he flinched when he saw the knife slice over the bandit’s neck.
The clouds started to clear and the last sliver of evening light illuminated the scene. Eight men dead. And two boys with blood on their hands. The priest could see them more clearly now and neither looked strong enough to even wield a weapon. How had they done this? He sat back in shock.
The taller boy gave him a look and then nudged the younger. Immediately the younger boy turned his attention to the bodies, pulling their weapons and ammunition, piling the spoils up tidily at the side of the carnage. He checked each gun, his small hands making short work of the inspection. The priest could see the boy was dissatisfied with some of the weapons and, after disarming them, he threw them back towards the bodies. He was ruthless and methodical, seemingly undeterred by the death around him.
“Stand up,” the taller boy said.
It took the priest a moment to realise he was being spoken to. Apologetically he clambered ungracefully to his feet.
“Are you armed?”
The priest shook his head. All he had was a small utility knife in his rucksack. He didn’t believe in carrying weapons.
The taller boy clearly didn’t believe him. He waved his hand in he air, as though he were trying to detect a weapon with just his mind. His distrust changed. With a shrug he turned away.
“Wait,” the priest said, reaching out to stop him, but before he could make contact the boy turned. He raised his hand and Darcy fell back. He hit the ground, his body jarring with the impact. He turned back to the boys and it dawned on him what they were. Suddenly he realised why he had been walking cross-country all these months. “Don’t go,” he said from the floor.
The taller boy stood over him, his expression cold and unreadable. “We don’t need to kill you, best for you that it stays that way.”
“Please,” the priest said in frustration. “I need to talk to you.”
The taller boy frowned and then started to laugh. He shook his head and started to walk away.
“You’re Reachers!” the priest shouted.
The taller boy tensed. The younger pointed his recently acquired rifle at the priest. They were both listening, no doubt to hear the sounds of another ambush.
“Please, I’m here to help.”
The taller boy backed away, his eyes fixed on the priest. He helped pick up the pillaged supplies and both boys disappeared into the night.
“What’s he doing?” Charlie said from the sanctuary of their embankment. He watched as the old man lined up the bodies and muttered over their corpses. “He’s insane.”
John lifted his head briefly and then turned his attention back to his newly acquired weapons.
“Anything useful?” Charlie said.
“Two. Rest are crap. Six rounds between us.” He passed Charlie a rifle and threw the other over his shoulder.
Local clans were always predictable, Charlie thought to himself. They’d only had to watch Mace for two weeks to understand the man and his habits. After that it was just a case of waiting for the right opportunity. Charlie knew as soon as he picked up the old man’s trail that he would be the one Mace would go for. He knew that Mace would take all his men and weapons, because the fool liked to feel powerful. He knew that it would just be a case of holding him back while John massacred the others. It had been too easy.
Neither boy relished in the killing. It just had to be done. They had to think about the impending winter and making sure they were ready to survive it. The summer routes would be ripe with supplies and having guns made robberies all that much easier.
Charlie looked back at the old man as he started to pack up his camp. Nobody wanted to sleep beside a pile of corpses, especially not in this heat. But Charlie wondered if there was something else going on. The solitary man had unsettled him. Without saying a word to John he gestured that they move out. They’d track the man for a little while longer and see where he went.
The priest was compelled to move off the road and walk through the night. He moved slowly but steadily getting as much distance as possible between himself and the massacre. He headed towards a thick copse of trees and decided that this would be where he would stay. It was a case of waiting now and hoping that the boys had followed him. He made his shelter between two hazel trees and then went to collect firewood for the evening.
He sat in his little camp and stared out at the dense foliage, feeling unsettled from the earlier night. The wilderness was plagued with godless people, people without hope, or humanity and he had faced a number of them in his time. He’d seen families butchered for bread and men defiled for sport. He’d wandered the fallen country for long enough to know his mission couldn’t touch those that had succumbed to the landscape. But he was beginning to doubt whether his mission would be able to do anything for those two lethal Reacher boys either.
The priest stared at the darkness in confusion. Reachers; the label the government had stamped over people with extraordinary psychic abilities. They called them Reachers, created a propaganda to encourage the rest of society to fear them, and now anyone with even a hint of psychic power was arrested and sent for experimentation in the Institute of Paranormal Studies. The priest and his church had devoted everything to keeping God’s chosen people safe.
For more than fifty years the priest had fought for Reachers. He had transported them from war zones, hidden them from people intent on doing them harm. His mission had been simple; ensure they survive.
In his time he had met and helped many Reachers, but he had never seen two like those boys. Most Reachers were harmless, trying to stay alive in a world that didn’t want them. But the boys were everything the government claimed Reachers were; dangerous, powerful, unstoppable. They were unlike anything he had ever seen before and their actions had unnerved him. He looked up at the sky, wondering whether he really could save them, wondering whether they even needed saving.
“Is this what it’s to be? To turn to the darkness now it seems the light is lost?”
The first glittering stars started to stretch above him and he felt a certainty build within him. These boys were different, different from other humans and different from other Reachers, but he had been sent to find them for a reason. Mysterious ways, he thought to himself glumly.
Charlie and John watched the old man from the edge of the wood. Another fire had been lit and, despite the trees, it was still easy to make out the camp. The old man had clearly learnt nothing from the previous night. After a couple of minutes a smell filtered through the foliage, one Charlie hadn’t smelt in years. He took a deep breath trying to remember exactly what it was. Then it hit him; the old man was cooking bacon. Charlie’s mouth started to water. He hadn’t eaten proper meat since before the Institute. It was then he looked at John and realised John had probably never had it at all.
“Let’s get something to eat,” he murmured to John.
The younger boy flashed a brief look of surprise.
“He’s on his own and if he’s stupid enough to cook openly then he deserves it. Cover me.”
John nodded and without a word began to move to a flanking position. He moved fast and silent. Charlie did the opposite. He didn’t want to startle the old man into running or doing anything stupid. He made his footsteps heavy, cracking twigs as he approached the camp.
The old man sat by the fire, prodding strips of bacon in a pan. He glanced up just once at Charlie.
It would be easy to rob him, Charlie thought. He had a gun and everything the man had would be his. It didn’t matter that he’d be left with nothing. You didn’t stay alive by caring about others he reminded himself. Charlie had to look after John; nobody else.
“Give me your supplies,” Charlie said, raising his gun.
“Do you want me to finish cooking first?” the old man said. “Sit down, it won’t take long. Do you like tomatoes? I picked some up a couple of days ago.” He carefully reached into his backpack and pulled out two plump tomatoes. Slicing them in half he threw them into the pan.
Charlie couldn’t help but lick his lips.
“Son, I’m too old to fight. Why don’t you sit down, anything you want you can have. I’m happy to give this to you.”
“It’s a trap,” Charlie said, although he didn’t believe it was.
“My name is Darcy,” the old man said. “Father Darcy.”
“So you’re a priest. Doesn’t mean you’re trustworthy.”
Darcy laughed. “No, I suppose not.” He prodded the bacon. “Here we go. I’ve got no plates I’m afraid.” He turned the pan so Charlie could reach the handle. “Save some for the other one, your brother?”
Charlie considered the word carefully and then nodded. “Yeah, that’s right, he’s my brother.” He couldn’t resist any longer. He fished a piece of bacon out, burning his fingers but he didn’t care. The taste overwhelmed him. He sucked the juices from his fingers and then forced himself to put the pan down, leaving the other slice for John.
“This is a dangerous place for two youngsters such as yourselves.”
“We get by.”
“Yes, I saw that. How long have you been out here?”
“Long enough.” Charlie took a piece of tomato and chewed it slowly. “Where’d you get all this stuff?”
Darcy smiled. “Supporters of the church mission.”
Charlie snorted at the absurdity. “What mission?”
“Protecting Reachers like yourself.”
Charlie paused, he left his second slice of tomato and wiped his hand on his trousers. He eyed Darcy with suspicion. “What makes you think Reachers need protecting? I thought we were dangerous enough on our own.”
Darcy glanced at the fire, there was a strange sadness in his eyes that Charlie couldn’t understand. “Your kind has been decimated. You are hunted, ostracised by those who should look after you. Most of your kind are in hiding, fleeing persecution. They claim it’s because you’re dangerous but you’re not. At least the ones I have helped before aren’t. Most of your kind barely have any paranormal powers at all. I’ve never met any that can do what you can. But the government doesn’t care. They claim you’re a threat to humanity but I know what they want you for. The potential. To see how your powers can benefit them. That’s all anyone wants you for. And because of that we help keep you safe.”
Charlie didn’t care about other Reachers. It had been just him and John for so long he couldn’t even comprehend that there were others like him out there anymore.
“And you can do that can you, get them away from the Institute?” Charlie couldn’t help the bitterness as he asked.
“We hide them as best we can.”
“Because I have faith that you are part of God’s plan and that he has charged me with the task of trying to keep you safe.”
“You’re crazy,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve heard this kind of bullshit before. You think we’re angels.”
“I think you’re God’s chosen ones.”
“Well we ain’t. We’re just people. That’s all. Regular people. And there ain’t no God or anything neither.”
“Maybe, but I’ve saved twenty-eight of your own kind so far and that at least means something to me.”
Twenty-eight destined for the Institute laboratories – that had Charlie’s attention. He could have been part of that number. But it was too late for him. They’d already caught him, they’d already opened him up and torn him apart.
“Twenty-eight?” Charlie asked.
“Twenty-eight.” Darcy’s focus was back on the fire, as though the number wasn’t quite right.
“Do they all make it?”
The old man shook his head. “No. Which is why I am here? The ones that I can’t save play on my mind.”
“What happens to ones that don’t make it?”
“They die. Or worse.”
Darcy shook his head adamantly. “No, never the Institute.”
“Then it doesn’t matter where they go. There’s no place in the world worse than there, not even out here.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Darcy said with a sigh.
“If you had been there you’d know.”
Darcy looked surprised. “You were in the Institute? Both of you?”
Charlie stood up, he didn’t even talk about their time in the Institute with John. That part of his life was over and done with. He didn’t escape to relive it all over again.
“Wait,” Darcy said with urgency. “Tell me about it. Tell me how you got out. If you escaped others may be able to too.”
“Nobody escapes,” John said coldly from behind Darcy. The younger boy stepped from the shadows, his gun held loosely in his hands.
Darcy turned in surprise. “Your brother was telling me that you both escaped,” Darcy said softly.
John circled the fire. He looked at Charlie and Charlie could see it was the word brother that had John most perturbed. Charlie gave him a quick reassuring nod.
“John’s right. We didn’t escape, we just got out. It’s different. You don’t escape. They take too much from you.”
Darcy gave them both a sympathetic look. “I understand and I’m sorry. You were sent to me for a reason, for a moment I thought that perhaps it was to save those I have never reached.”
Charlie frowned. “We weren’t sent to you. We were tracking the clan. We wanted their weapons.”
“Sometimes some motives are hidden from us,” Darcy said.
Charlie rolled his eyes. He’d dealt with his fair share of religious nutcases before he went to the Institute. Ignoring the old man, he gave John the pan of surplus food and encouraged him to eat it. Gingerly, John plucked a piece of the meat up and nibbled it. His eyes widened in surprise and he greedily devoured the rest of the meat.
“So this is what you do, wander around and hope to find Reachers?” Charlie said.
Darcy smiled. “No. Mostly they find me in my church. I only come out here when I need to clear my head.”
“Dangerous place to clear your head,” Charlie said.
“Perhaps you could accompany me some of the way,” Darcy offered.
Charlie snorted again. “I don’t think so.”
“Winter’s coming. We’ve got to survive it and it takes planning.”
“I can look after you during the winter months,” Darcy said with a nonchalant shrug.
The offer made Charlie tense. “Why would you do that?”
“That’s what I do, look after your kind.”
“We can look after ourselves,” Charlie snapped.
“I don’t doubt it. You boys seem more than capable of surviving out here, but after all you’ve been through wouldn’t you prefer a safe place to rest in?”
Charlie didn’t answer. Instead he watched John unashamedly run his finger over the pan and suck the last of the juices clean.
“I can see you want the best for him,” Darcy said to Charlie. “I can offer you a warm bed, ample food, and safety.”
“What do you get in return?”
“Nothing,” Darcy said. “Just like you expect nothing for looking after your brother, I expect nothing for looking after you.”
Charlie glanced again at John. He couldn’t deny he wasn’t tempted. John had never had anything comfortable or safe. Even if it just lasted a few months it was hard to deny him the opportunity.
Darcy stood up and gave the boys another smile. “You don’t have to answer now. The offer is always open. You’ll have to forgive me, all this walking has tired me out. Please help yourselves to anything you want.”
The old man retired under his crude shelter and in a few minutes he was happily snoring in his sleeping bag.
John was watching him, an unreadable expression on his face. He turned to Charlie and said, “Brother?”
“Yeah. My brother. What do you think about his offer?”
John looked back at the priest.
“We can go with him, if you like.”
John didn’t answer.
“Stupid old fool is going to get himself killed out here.”
“He saved twenty-eight Reachers,” John murmured.
“So he says. Maybe we should see him safe at least. We’ve got weapons now, it won’t be too hard to make up the lost time. He might even show us where he got his fresh food.”
John nodded and stood up. He started to kick out the fire, covering it with soil.
“I’ll take first watch,” Charlie said.
John settled himself away from Darcy, pressing himself into a nook in one of the larger trees. If anyone came they would easily miss him. Charlie sat between them, thinking about the priest’s offer. He didn’t want to spend another winter in the wild. It was too hard and if he dared himself to dream he wanted better for John. There was a world out there, a world the two of them could do well in, accepting the priest’s offer gave them a chance at life instead of just existence and John needed that more than anything else. He watched the younger boy and smirked to himself; his brother.
When Darcy awoke the camp looked deserted. He felt a pang of disappointment and went to prepare another fire to cook breakfast. Before he could even start the fire the younger boy, John, approached him seemingly from nowhere. With a quick turn of the head he gestured to a figure sleeping in the nook of a tree.
“No fires,” John said.
“Oh,” Darcy replied. “I suppose it will have to be old fashioned protein bars for breakfast then.” He routed around in his pack until he found three bars. He tossed John two of them. “One for your brother. Most important meal of the day.”
John sniffed the air and listened before crouching down to eat. There was something animalistic in the boy, as though he only looked like a boy and underneath he was something very, very different. He quickly finished his bar and put the wrapper in his pocket.
“You’re not much of a talker are you?”
John glared at the priest with piercing brown eyes.
“Don’t worry, I do enough talking for both of us. It’s John isn’t it? Very strong name.”
“You don’t have a weapon?” John asked.
“I trust God will protect me.”
John frowned. “You were almost killed.”
“But you came to protect me.”
“We came for the guns,” John said sternly.
Darcy smiled to himself. It didn’t matter that these boys didn’t believe. He knew why they had been sent and the feelings of doubt that had compelled him northwards were gone. His mission was still solid. His faith stronger than ever. Things would change, these boys were too different for Darcy to continue his operation in the same way, but that was the point. Things had to change. This world wasn’t a desolate wasteland, it was re-growing, regenerating and Darcy realised as he sat with the youngest brother, that these boys were the future. These boys were new hope.
Darcy watched as another summer storm ripped through the clouds. The purple sky above London twisted and convulsed violently. It was hot, so hot he’d removed his collar altogether and was contemplating standing in the garden and enjoying the heavy sheets of rain cascading on the city. With each flash of lightening he was reminded of the day he stumbled across Charlie and John.
It wasn’t long after finding the boys that Darcy’s knees had finally given out and his long trips across the country had to be abandoned. But by then his mission had already changed and moving Reachers became easier. His church had grown, his supporters strengthened and he received regular donations from the boys to fund his cause. Now he could provide Reachers with clean papers, money to relocate and bribe authorities to turn a blind eye when needed. It was no longer a legitimate faithful venture, but it saved more and more Reacher lives, keeping them safer for longer. Darcy had long ago accepted that sin was a sacrifice he had to make for his cause and, although he still carried some burdens, he could concentrate on the greater good.
Darcy’s reverie was interrupted by another scream from the room above. The sound made him flinch. He turned away from the window and his lamenting. The door to the little dining room opened and John stepped inside. The boy was now a man, probably the most unnerving man Darcy had ever met. He’d seen him grow, but to Darcy it was more like watching John just expand into his role on this world. He loved the boy as though he were a son, but he knew also that inside John was a darkness immune to all of Darcy’s guidance.
“Still going?” Darcy said, gesturing to the ceiling apprehensively.
John nodded and sat down at the old dining table. Darcy decided to join him.
“You know it was a night like this that we first met. I remember those men attacking and you and your brother coming to the rescue.” Another scream interrupted them.
“It wasn’t a rescue mission,” John corrected coolly. “We were after their guns. Then we were going to rob you.”
“I know, I know,” Darcy said, waving his hand flippantly. In all this time he never could get the boys to believe. “I never told you this but I took that walk because I had lost my way.”
“Should have brought a map.”
Darcy rolled his eyes at John’s dry humour. “You know what I mean. I never told you this but there were two girls. Sisters. The elder sister, Isobel, she was like Charlie. She’d do anything for her little sister, anything to keep her safe. They had been through so much but they made it to me. The authorities had just stripped the last church I had and taken everything we had raised. I had nothing to help the girls and I knew I was being watched too.”
Darcy paused. He would never be able to confess this to Charlie, but John had a clearer sense of duty and necessity. Another flash and another scream spurred him on.
Darcy looked at his old, dark hands. “I was offered a lot of money for one of the girls by a man who… Well it doesn’t matter what he wanted. The money was enough to see the other sister safe. I let Isobel go, sold like she was nothing so her sister could survive. The guilt of it weighed heavily on my mind. I lost faith in myself.”
“That’s why you went walking?” John said.
Darcy nodded. “And, until I found you, I had all but given up on my mission. But you boys showed me that sometimes it isn’t enough to make all of the right decisions. Sometimes we have to betray ourselves for the good of the mission.”
“Did she survive?” John said. This time the scream seemed to reverberate against the walls.
Darcy winced. “She’s still in a convent now, doing well too or so I’m told.”
“You can’t save them all,” John said.
“No. Even though you want to.”
“That’s what makes the decision the right one.”
“Ensure they survive,” John told him.
There was movement upstairs. Both men tensed, looking at the stained ceiling apprehensively.
“Do you regret it?”
“What?” Darcy said.
“Finding us,” a rare hint of vulnerability touched John’s eyes. “Now you know that we changed things.”
Darcy reached out and touched the other man’s arm. “Not once in all these years. You boys saved me.”
“I thought you saved us?” John replied, his eyebrow raised ever so slightly.
Before Darcy could answer there were footsteps coming down the stairs. Charlie rushed inside. His eyes were wide, there was blood on his shirt and in his hands was a tiny new born baby girl. She was wrapped in a blanket, gurgling and stretching her lungs. Charlie grinned proudly, his eyes welling up.
“She did it. She did it guys. Can you believe it? Look. This is Lilly. My daughter,” he said. “She’s a Reacher, Darcy. She’s one of us.”
Charlie handed him the baby. Darcy smiled at the child, his own emotions starting to claim him. Ensure they survive, that had been his mission. When he met the boys that night his mission had been reignited, his faith and been restored, but as he held this beautiful little girl he understood the future and that it all rested in her hands. Her new born Reacher hands. There was hope. New hope.
L E Fitzpatrick is a writer of dark adventure stories and thrillers. Under the watchful eye of her beloved rescue Staffordshire Bull Terrier, she leaps from trains and climbs down buildings, all from the front room of a tiny cottage in the middle of the Welsh countryside.
Inspired by cult film and TV, L E Fitzpatrick’s fiction is a collection of twisted worlds and realities, broken characters, and high action. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of her imagination and creating hugely entertaining stories.
This is Father Darcy’s story. Several years later Darcy sets out to repeat his actions, this time saving two sisters. You can read about this in Safe Haven another Reacher short story and follow John and Charlie in The Running Game.
The Reacher world is just unfolding you can find out when new novels or companion pieces like this one are released by following me on facebook:
The Running Game
L E Fitzpatrick
Five past eleven. Rachel’s shift should have finished three hours ago. She slammed her time-card into the machine. Nothing. She gave it a kick, then another until it released, punching her card and signing her out for the night. The hospital locker room was unusually quiet. There was a nurse signing out for the night, two doctors signing in. Nobody spoke to each other – it wasn’t that kind of place. Grabbing her threadbare coat from her locker, she drew it over her scrubs – the only barrier between her and the unforgiving October night. She walked through the ER waiting room, eyes fixed on the exit. You had to ignore the desperation. Three hours over a twelve hour shift, you had no choice but to pretend like you didn’t care. Push past the mothers offering up their sick children like you could just lay your hands on them and everything would be better. Push past the factory workers bleeding out on the floor. Push that door open and get out. Get home. You had to. In six hours the whole thing would start again.
The first blast of cold air slapped the life into her aching body. The second blast nearly pushed her back inside. She tightened the coat around herself, for the good it would do. November was coming, and coming fast. She quickened her pace, trying to outrun the winter.
She hurried past the skeletal remains of another fallen bank, a relic of the days when there had been an economy. Now the abandoned building housed those left to the streets; the too old, the too young, the weak, the stupid. Cops would be coming soon, moving them on, pushing them from one shadow to another until dawn or death, whichever came first. But for now they sat, huddled around burning canisters, silently soaking in the heat as though they could carry that one flame through winter. They didn’t notice Rachel. Even the really bad men lurking in the doorways, waiting for helpless things to scurry past, overlooked the young doctor as she made her way home. Nobody ever saw her. At least they never used to.
Three – two – one. Right on cue. She felt someone watching her. It was always the same place, opposite the third window of the old bank. He was hidden, not in the bank but close. So close she could almost feel his breath on the back of her neck. She’d watched muggings before, these were desperate times and people took what they could when they could. There were rapes too, five this week, at least five that had needed medical care. It was a dangerous city and getting worse. But this was different. He – and for some reason she knew it was a he – did nothing. For a week he had been there, never betraying his position or his intentions, but she could feel him and the longer he waited the more he tormented her. He knew where she lived, where she worked, the route she took to the exchange store. And he escorted her home each night without ever showing himself. It made no sense. And that made it so much worse.
She wasn’t intimidated easily, doctors in St Mary’s couldn’t be. It didn’t matter that she was only five feet tall and looked like a strong wind would knock her down, she had to take care of herself. But the stalking had spooked her. The sleepless nights followed, wondering who he was, what he wanted, if he knew.
There was nowhere for her to go in the city, no place she could hide, no escape. If she wanted to eat she had to work and he would be waiting for her outside the hospital – watching, doing nothing. She was tired of it, tired of everything, but there was something she could do. She could make it stop, one way or another. Whatever he had planned, whatever he wanted to do to her, he would have to look her in the eye as he did it, because she was done running.
She stopped walking and turned.
The street was empty. But she could still feel him there. The buildings pressed their darkness into the street and the spattering of hissing lamplights did little to expose the nocturnal danger below. There was noise, there was always noise; voices, vehicles, the persistent buzzing of the electricity struggling to reach the edges of the city. So much going on, so little to see – a perfect place to hide.
“Okay you pervert,” she whispered to herself. “Where’re you hiding?”
The road stretched back into a tightrope. Gingerly, her feet edged back towards the ruined bank. She scanned the buildings around her, the upper windows, the ground level doorways, waiting for him to pounce. One step – two step. Look. Nothing. She retraced her steps to the next building. Then the next. He felt so close – why couldn’t she see him?
“You want me, well here I am, you freak. Come and get me!”
There was a shout from the bank. Someone running. A man. Her stomach clenched. She braced herself. He pushed by her, hurrying away. It wasn’t him.
She turned confused and warm breath touched the back of her neck.
“Get down!” The world went white.
With her face pressed into the filthy, cold road, Rachel waited. The ground beneath her trembled but that was it. She frowned, waiting for something, trying to understand what she was doing laying in a stinking puddle at the side of the road. Hands were lifting her to her feet. She turned to the bank, but it was gone. Flames licked at the pile of rubble in its place. People stumbled from the wrecked building, choking and coughing, others with their eyes as wide open as their mouths. But there was no sound, just staggered movement and growing heat. Rachel watched, feeling more curious than afraid. The silent panic was fascinating. She made to move and her ears exploded with noise. The shock of it knocked her back. Screaming, cries for help, the ringing of sirens from every direction.
The ground shook again and the building exploded another mortar firework into the street. She felt her body being tugged away. But people were coming to help. People were still alive. She was a doctor, she was needed.
“I can help these people,” she shouted trying to fight off her restraint.
“It’s a lure bomb.” The voice was so cool it made her freeze. She looked at the stranger and swallowed the clumps of gravel lodged in the back of her throat. She had wanted to meet him face to face but not like this.
He stared at her with blank eyes. The dead and dying meant nothing to him. He was there for her and her alone. His hand still held her shoulder, holding her back. The hand that had pulled her to safety. So many questions ran through her head but she could only push one out.
“A lure bomb?”
A small explosion that drew in the police. Her mind raced to remember. Followed by the bigger bomb that would blow them to pieces. She turned back to the space where the bank should have been. More people were rushing to help, pulling at the arms and legs of the buried. If they were lucky bodies would come with them.
“We have to warn…” The man had gone.
The sirens grew louder.
Rachel drew in a steadying breath. Three hours over a twelve hour shift – you had no choice but to pretend like you didn’t care. She started to run.
Charlie jolted awake in his chair, his face sodden with sweat. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Pain coursed up his back, reminding him of his nightmare. The reoccurring dream of the day it all went wrong. He fumbled through his pockets until he found his pills. The placebo was instantaneous, the pain relief followed shortly after. He rubbed his eyes and returned to the camera positioned towards the apartment in the opposite tower block.
The lights were on, curtains open. Someone had come home and he’d missed it. His one job and he’d screwed it up. He kicked out at the crutch resting against his chair and watched as it skidded across the floor out of his reach.
He lifted himself from his chair too quickly and his right leg buckled, knocking over the camera – only the most expensive bit of kit they owned. The lens cracked.
“Shit, shit, shit.” He shouted from the floor. The shockwaves of pain started to subside. Anger and shame fighting their usual battle, while the voice inside his head urged him to just quit already. And as usual a persistent nagging from his bladder brought everything into perspective. He carried a lot of indignity on his shoulders, the last thing he needed was to be found sitting in a pool of his own piss.
Slowly, because nowadays everything had to be done slowly, he edged himself over to his crutch and, with it in hand, he managed to make it to the bathroom. It was a small victory, but it was nearly enough to cheer him up. That was until he caught sight of himself in the broken mirror fixed above the sink. He used to have charisma. He used to be able to smile his way out of trouble. Now he was lucky if people didn’t cross the street to avoid him. Greying hair, dull red eyes, pallid skin. He was thirty-three; he looked fifty; he felt like a pensioner. Things had changed so radically in just a year. One year, two months and eight days.
The lock in the front door turned. Charlie straightened his clothes. Everything was normal, everything was fine. He could cope, of course he could cope. He checked his smile in the mirror and stepped out of the bathroom as his brother kicked open the door and then kicked it closed again, to make his point.
“Everything okay?” Charlie asked.
His younger brother wore a scowl so deep it could have been chiselled into his skull. Everything was clearly not okay. But with John it was impossible to tell how far up the disaster scale the situation was. Charlie had seen that same scowl when a job went sour and he’d seen it when someone spilt coffee on John’s suit.
John glanced away. He was annoyed with himself – never a good sign. Charlie braved a crutch supported step towards him. There was a four year age gap between the two of them and it had never been more apparent.
Charlie gestured for them to sit down at the fold-up table in the dining space. Most of the time John had everything under control. It was rare for him to make mistakes, or miscalculations and when he did he would beat himself up over it for days. He would need Charlie, a professional in screwing things up, to put everything into perspective.
“She saw me,” John confessed.
“She saw you!” Charlie said in disbelief. “You’re like a creature of the night, how the hell could see you? Jesus, most of the time I don’t even see you and I know you’re coming.”
John’s fists clenched and unclenched. He stood up to work off the tension and started to pace; short, quick steps, squeaking his leather shoes against the linoleum floor.
“There was an explosion. Some bastard left a lure bomb right on her route. I had to pull her away before the goddamn building fell on her.”
Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose. Even when his brother messed up he still managed to do something right. “What you mean is you saved her?”
John glared at him. “You’re missing the point.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. Only John would get himself so worked up over saving the life of their mark. “Listen, do you think he’d pay us if he found out we let her die?” Charlie said.
“You don’t know that. We have no idea what he wants her for!”
It was true, they didn’t and the fact was starting to chafe. The infamous Smith brothers always knew the cards on the table before the deck was even dealt. Charlie planned jobs like he was writing a script. Nobody ever missed a cue. At least that was how it used to be a year ago. A year, two months and eight days. Since then the jobs had dried up. They were lucky to get the Rachel Aaron case and that was only because Charlie’s old mentor put in a good word for them. But luck and even the backing of an old priest didn’t make the unknown any less troubling. They were out of their depth and they were still only in the shallows.
“Maybe he wants her dead,” John stated.
“If he wanted her dead he would have asked us to kill her,” Charlie replied. “And if he wanted her dead he wouldn’t be approaching a priest to see if he knew any contract killers. He wants her found John, that’s all.”
“I don’t like it,” John snapped. “This whole job feels off.”
“I know.” Charlie took a deep breath, his next sentence shouldn’t have made him nervous but it did. “Which is why I’m going to do a little field work myself.”
John never looked surprised, or happy, or anything other than mildly impatient, but when something pleased him his right eyebrow would lift ever so slightly. As it rose Charlie felt a pang of guilt that he hadn’t said it sooner.
“I thought you were a liability,” John jibed.
“It’s surveillance in a hospital John, who’s going to blend in better, me or you?”
The eyebrow perched higher on John’s forehead. He’d been patient with Charlie, more patient than Charlie felt he’d deserved, waiting for his brother to get back in the game instead of going out on his own. John hadn’t lost his edge. He didn’t have a problem with stairs. He could drink what he wanted. Sleep when he needed. Charlie was holding them both back, but John still clung to the hope that one day his brother would recover and things would go back to normal. And Charlie needed him too much to tell him that was never going to happen.
“You sure about this?” John asked.
“We need the money.”
“What if he does want to kill her, or worse?”
Despite what Charlie had said it was always a possibility. They weren’t working for the good guys on this one and the girl had been hard to find, even with Charlie’s skills. It was not going to end well for her and maybe that was why Charlie hadn’t asked enough questions.
“We need the money,” Charlie assured him. “That has to be our priority.” That wasn’t him talking. Sure he’d done questionable things, bad things even, but he had morality and right now it was screaming inside his head that this was all wrong.
John nodded, sharing his brother’s sentiments. “Fine, but if it has to be done I’ll do it.”
“No, you don’t need this on your conscience. I’ll do it.”
John gave him a look. “Are we seriously going to argue about who gets to kill her?”
“Has to,” Charlie corrected. “When you say ‘gets to kill her’ you kind of make it sound like a bonus prize. And no, we’re not going to argue because I’ll do it.” He didn’t have to say because it was his fault all of this had happened – that was a given.
John folded his arms. “Okay, but I get to dispose of the body.”
Charlie scowled. “Did you mean to say ‘get to’?”
His brother smirked. He had a unique sense of humour.
Safe Haven grew like a tumour around the capital city. During the early 21st century swarms of refugees headed for London, as though surrounding the country’s leaders was going to make them realise how much they had screwed Britain over and make them see sense. It didn’t. Disease spread, terrorism battled prejudice and before anyone had realised it aid packets were being flown over from Germany and the Australians were holding rock concerts for British kids in poverty. Most of the country slummed, counties broke off and suddenly all that anyone seemed to care about was the thriving capital, where business men still wore Armani and sipped espressos.
People flocked to London to fill the rumoured jobs and sample the last remnants of the good life. And when they got there London was walled off with wire fences as tall as the buildings they were enclosing. The cops kept watch and if you couldn’t pay you weren’t coming in. The gathering clustered and culminated and eventually Safe Haven became a city in its own right; a city with rulers as powerful as any of the fat men sitting in parliament square, and just as ruthless.
Pinky Morris had been one of those men, or at least his late brother Frank was. Pinky was more of the Deputy Prime Minster, to cover the summer holidays. They arrived in S’aven, when it was still a town of tents and ramshackle buildings, to sell hooch and marijuana to the refugees. People were starving but they could all afford a couple of joints. Business grew rapidly and one day Pinky blinked and the Morris brothers were at the top of the pecking order with an entire city underneath them. Frank was the boss, all smiles and threats, and Pinky was always there to back his little brother up with brawn and attitude. Together they could do anything. And they did.
That was more than a decade ago, before Pinky lost his empire, lost his respect, lost his brother. He was about to turn fifty-five, he’d lost most of his hair, his stomach was starting to sag and he was back to running a small drug cartel in the back of his wife’s club like he was just approaching twenty. His life had circled and he was pinning everything he had on it starting again.
The walls of his office were plastered with photograph after photograph; a memorial to the good old days. The little frozen moments captured a time Pinky could barely believe had happened. Hundreds of historical faces stared at him from his cramped office at the back of the bar, scrutinising the state he was in. And why wouldn’t they, they were from a time when he was on top and meant something in S’aven. Those glossy faces that surrounded him in his youth were gone now, mostly dead or hovering in the vicinity as haggard and as old and as spent as he was. What did they think of him now? It was a question he’d try to avoid asking himself. The answers only ever made him angry. After all it wasn’t his fault he was fighting for space at the bottom of the sewers again; he was just a victim of circumstance.
But all of that was about to change. He could feel a ball vibrating in the pit of his stomach. It was ambition and it had been a long time since he’d allowed himself to dream. The depression was almost over.
His eyes fell on the face that occupied every single picture; his brother, Frank. Pinky had tried to change things when he died. He had to, Frank had left them penniless with a reputation as worthless as their bank balance. Pinky had watched Frank’s demise and he decided to do things differently. He didn’t want to rule the city in fear, watching his back in every reflection. He let things slide now and again. He let the Russians move closer to his territory. He went easy on his boys. And he watched as it all came apart. Frank would never have let it happen, Pinky could see that now. His brother wasn’t perfect, but he was right for the city. S’aven needed a man like Frank Morris and Pinky was just sorry it had taken him seven sorry years to realise those shoes needed filling not replacing.
The man sitting opposite him coughed, clearing his throat rather than trying to attract Pinky’s attention. He used to be called Donnie Boom and his face was scattered across the wall beside nearly every picture of Frank, not that anyone would recognise him. Most of Donnie’s face was melted away, scarring from the explosion seven years ago. Even Pinky had to second guess himself when Donnie first made contact again.
That was four months ago and Donnie’s grey eyeball still made Pinky’s stomach churn. But even before the scars Donnie was enough to give a grown man nightmares. Now he just looked like the monster he had always been inside. And after all this time apart Pinky had forgotten just how crazy his brother’s best friend actually was.
“You blew it up,” Pinky stated with impatience. He rapped his fingers against the desk. His nails were bitten to the pinks of his fingers, the skin on his knuckles cracked and sore. They were the hands of an old man.
“I did what needed to be done.”
“Under whose authority?”
Donnie eyed Pinky with intense frustration, that grey eyeball pulsating in its scorched socket. “Your brother’s. That bitch killed him, she needed to be taught a lesson.”
Pinky lifted his thick rimmed glasses and rubbed the tiredness from his eyes. Donnie didn’t understand the situation in S’aven anymore, or he just didn’t care. Blowing up the most reputable brothel in S’aven was like starting an underground war and he didn’t have the man power or the money to fight it.
“You need to lie low for a while.”
“I can help with…”
Pinky raised his hand sharply. “You want to fucking help, you keep your bombs out of my city!” Pinky yelled, surprising himself.
He sat back in his chair and stared at Donnie. His temper was starting to get the better of him these days. He couldn’t remember Frank ever yelling. He never had to, Frank commanded respect without it.
Pinky calmed himself and lowered his voice. “Enough buildings are going up around this place without you helping. People are going to be asking about you now Donnie. My people are going to be asking about you.”
“Then let them know I’m back. I don’t get all this cloak and dagger shit.”
“You don’t get it. You put a bomb under my brother’s table and blew him half way across S’aven!”
“I didn’t mean to kill them. I told you, the instructions were from Frank’s phone. I was set up.”
“Exactly and you want the people who set you up on to us, do you? Whoever it was I want them with their guard down do you understand me? You stay off the grid and don’t come round here anymore. I’ll call you when I need you.”
“What about when you get the girl?”
“I’ll call you. Once we have her, we have everything. But we have to play this carefully Donnie. Frank pissed off a lot of people. We can’t just assume it was Lulu Roxton that killed him. When we have the girl we’ll know.”
Donnie nodded. He was crazy but he wasn’t stupid.
“I appreciate what you’re doing,” he said running what was left of his hand through his matted red hair. “You didn’t have to believe me.”
“You took a risk coming back here, I figured you were either suicidal or telling the truth,” Pinky told him.
“I had to,” Donnie assured him. “I have to know who did it Pinky. I loved Frank, what they made me do to him…” Donnie shook his head, close to crying – it was an unsettling sight. “You’re right, I shouldn’t be here. Sometimes it’s hard for me to think. My head gets kind of messed up, from the explosion. I’ll get out of your way.”
He reached the door before he turned around. “You remember you said I’d get to finish them?”
Pinky nodded, he did remember. With that Donnie left. There was no way he was going to let some deranged, half mad pyromaniac finish anything.
“What did he want?” Pinky’s wife stood in the open doorway.
“Revenge,” Pinky replied.
Riva swayed into the room. For a woman in her forties she was still turning heads. She smiled at Pinky, it was a natural smile, unblemished by silicone and cosmetics like the rest of the wives he knew. Sometimes Pinky would look at her and wonder what the hell she was still doing with him. He wondered if she asked herself the same question.
“Any news on the girl?”
“They think they have her.”
“Do you want me to send someone to get her?” The question set Pinky on edge. He still had men, not as many as the old days, but there was still an entourage. Only now his wife had her own money from the club and she was investing it all in a legal security firm which were making his own boys look like school kids. Using them would be better, but they were Riva’s boys, Riva’s bodyguards, Riva’s heavies, Riva’s assassins. Not his. He didn’t like it.
Pinky shook his head. “I’m going to send a couple of the old guys.” He didn’t say ‘my’ guys for her benefit.
“What about those brothers?”
“We’ll deal with them when she’s safely locked away. This time it’s going to be different Riva. I’m going to get my city back.”
In a world devastated by corruption, Father Darcy has lost his faith. After letting down the very people he had pledged to protect, he decides to take a pilgrimage across the dangerous English countryside in an attempt to find his mission again. There he meets men hungry for his blood. A vicious, relentless landscape. And two boys more dangerous than anything he has ever seen before. But can he save these children, or will they his cause change forever? This is a Reacher short story set before the events of The Running Game.