Family - A Reacher Short Story
At the time, standing between a loaded gun and a life of hardship in S'aven, the Smith brothers seemed like a good option. It was only later that Rachel realised they were her only choice. She was a Reacher, able to read and manipulate the minds of others. And she was a wanted woman. The government would see her dissected. Criminals would put her out to work. She’d tried to live under the radar but they had found her. It was only a matter of time before it happened again. She had no choice but to run. So she ran. With them.
But the road ahead was dark and cold and dangerous. And the men she had thrown her lot in with were darker and colder and infinitely more dangerous. They barely spoke. The pair so accustomed to life together they didn't need to chat. Rachel had that once, when she travelled with her own family, fleeing war in Red Forest. Since then she lost her family. Since then she had been alone. So Rachel sat in the back of their stolen car, suffering the silence and listening to the doubts in her head.
What did she really know about them? The younger brother, John, was a ruthless killer. He'd dropped body after body with machine like efficiency and, not once in the time since, had he shown any remorse. And Charlie, well Charlie was even more broken; an addict sliding down a pitiful spiral of his own making. He was a Reacher, like Rachel, but his dependency on painkillers had rendered him close to useless. They came to her rescue but they weren't heroes. So what kind of men were they?
They were a day out of S'aven, cruising the back roads of the south of England, trying to lose any tails that might have followed them out of the shanty town. They had left a lot of bodies in their wake. Even Rachel had blood on her hands and, as the night started to break, she felt the ghosts of aging gangsters and dirty cops watching them from the open road. The Running Game, that's what her father had called it.
The surrounding countryside was desolate, made even emptier by the impending winter breathing an icy threat from the north. The temperature had dropped, green turning to grey. Every now and then another vehicle would pass, reminding Rachel that, despite the desolation, there was still life out here. At the sight of each set of headlights the brothers tensed. Rachel had grown accustomed to doing it herself too. There were rumours about the country-folk, and she was from the Red Forest in the north, she'd seen isolation turn reasonable people into raving lunatics.
In the back of their cramped car, Rachel huddled up as best she could. She was cold and hungry. A bag full of money occupied the space beside her. She owned a third share of the cash, more than she had ever had in her life, but she would have traded it all in for a thicker jacket and a protein bar.
"Open service station in fifteen," John said. "Car needs fuel."
"We need to stock up too. Might as well do it in one trip."
Outside faint rays of purple touched the barren landscape. Rachel couldn't imagine they would find food or fuel in a place like this. Then the small road widened. They passed another car and hit a crossroad. John took an immediate right, clenching the steering wheel as they hit a larger stretch of tarmac. The scenery opened up, scarred by the stretch of road running into the horizon. There were more cars in the distance, all moving at a fast, constant speed.
John's head lashed around. He slowed the car, hitting a steady fifty rather than matching the other vehicles.
"What's wrong?" Rachel asked, feeling the air in the car tighten.
"Nothing, John's just being over cautious," Charlie assured her.
"Are you going to say that when we get jumped by some inbred cannibal waving a machete?" John replied.
Charlie nudged his brother. He turned back to Rachel, forcing a reassuring smile. "Sometimes the motorways can be dangerous, especially the further away from London you are. There are police check points ever fifty or so miles but in between you get gangs and local authorities hijacking cars. Don't worry we're only jumping on to get to the services and they're pretty well protected. It'll be fine."
"That's what you said last time," John murmured.
"We're still here aren't we?"
"Give Rachel a gun."
"I'm not sure I want a gun," Rachel said.
But John was adamant. He knows I've killed one man, he thinks I can do it again. Maybe I can.
Charlie handed her a small black snub nose from the glove box. She stuffed it into her jacket pocket rather than hold it.
Smoke billowed from the hard shoulder. The air acrid and sickly sweet. As they neared, Rachel could make out a vehicle smouldering on the verge. The contents of the car had been ripped out and spread over the cracked tarmac. Clothes caught in the braches of the surrounding trees. Underwear. Jeans. A girl’s dress. Rachel stared at the black lump of metal as they went past. A body smoked in the driver’s seat, alone in a motor coffin. She touched the snub nose in her pocket.
The brothers didn't talk about it.