Nobody’s Fool: A Jack Reacher/Batman Crossover Novelette

Chapter 1

    “So, where are you headed?”

    “I’m trying to get to New York City.” Reacher said.

    “Hop in, I can get you as far as New Jersey.”

    Reacher walked around the car and hopped in on the passenger side. He pushed the seat all the way back, but it still wasn’t far enough for his legs to stretch all the way. Reacher was used to that. His massive 6’5”, 250 lb frame didn’t fit well into most vehicles. Actually, he preferred it when truckers picked him up because he was most comfortable in the cabs of eighteen wheelers. Unfortunately, Reacher had to take what he could get. Thumbing rides was getting increasingly more difficult, especially for a big guy like him.

    “What’s your name, boss?” The driver asked as he pulled back onto the highway.

    “Jack Reacher, but everyone calls me Reacher.”

    “Well, Reacher, my name is Bill Parks. But most people just call me Bill.”

    Reacher smiled. “Do you make a habit of picking up hitchhikers?”

    Bill shifted gears as the car finally reached a reasonable speed. “No, sir. Just a momentary lapse in judgment I think.”

    Reacher laughed. “It’ll be okay. In fact, we have a long drive ahead of us, so I’m willing to buy you dinner whenever it’s time.”

    “Well, just hold your horses there, sonny.” Bill said. “We can cross that bridge when we get to it. What brought you out here hitchhiking in the first place?”

    Reacher paused. This was the part that tended to scare people. Ironic that someone willing to pick up a big man like Reacher would suddenly be spooked once they found out what he was doing with his life. He had watched many a driver get second thoughts after he talked about himself.

    “I move around a lot.” Reacher said. “And I don’t own a car. So, I rely on public transportation or hitchhiking to get from place to place.”

    “I see.” Bill replied, looking at Reacher from the corner of his eyes. “You move around a lot for work?”

    “Mostly for recreation.” Reacher said. “I spent my entire life on army bases. My dad was a marine, and I later joined the military police.”

    “I didn’t know I had an army man.” Bill said. “Did you see any action?”

    “Lots.” Reacher said, looking out of the side window. “As military police, I’ve been in some dark corners of the world.”

    Bill nodded. “Well, someone would have to be a damn fool to mess with you. You’re a big ole fella.”

    Reacher smiled and continued to look out of the side window. “There’s some nice country through here.”

    Bill nodded. “You said it. It’s a great place to live. People talk bad about Jersey, but there’s lots of nice places in the state.”

    Reacher saw the sign a few miles back when they crossed the Delaware Bay. He had been wandering all over the country since he left the service, but he never spent a lot of time in New Jersey. He supposed it couldn’t hurt to spend a little time there.

    Bill continued to talk as Reacher sat in silence. Part of his attention was on Bill’s stories, but he was mostly focused on the road and the scenery in the area. Bill spent the next hour telling Reacher about his life and growing up in the little town of Hammonton, NJ. He said that Atlantic City overshadowed the whole area, and that tourists often came to town looking for trouble. Reacher nodded along with the stories, but he was only tuned in to the important parts.

    “Hey, there’s a diner about two miles up the road.” Reacher said. “Why don’t you stop and I’ll buy you dinner?”

    “Well, I sure do appreciate the offer, son.” Bill said. “But I’m in kind of a hurry to get home. The ole ball and chain is becoming a lot more chain than ball lately if you get my drift.”

    Reacher smiled. “I avoid relationships for that reason.”

    Bill laughed. “Well, it sounds like you’ve got the world figured out. Ever think about what you are going to do next?”

    Reacher shook his head. “I spent the first 36 years of my life having my whole life mapped out and planned by other people. Now I’ve kind of taken the opposite approach. I go where the wind takes me.”

    “That kind of life sounds like it would be fun for a while.” Bill said. “But I think it would eventually get old. Just because you ain’t in the military no more doesn’t mean you can’t have a little structure to your life.”

    “I would agree for most people.” Reacher said. “But I’ve tried to settle down, and it never works out for me. The things you own end up owning you.”

    “Well that’s a bitch slap of truth right there, fella.” Bill said. “Sounds lonely as all hell. But you ain’t wrong. Do you want me to drop you at the diner?”

    “No, that’s okay. I’d rather hang with you as far as you can take me.” Reacher said. “Finding rides out of town isn’t the easiest thing to do.”

    “Okie dokie.” Bill said. “I can take you as far as Gotham, which is about a half hour north of here.”

    “Sounds like a plan.” Reacher said.

    Bill turned on the radio for the rest of the drive. He listened to some country/bluegrass station for a while, but then he turned it to a news radio show where some politician was rambling on about this or that. Reacher never really paid much attention to politics. Too messy. Politics was often a roadblock in his line of work, and politicians were some of the slimiest characters he had known.

    A half hour later, Bill let Reacher out at the exit to Gotham city. Reacher thanked him and started walking toward the city. He could see the city in the distance, but it was still a couple of miles away. Soon he reached the city limits where a sign said: “Gotham City: Home of The Batman.”

    “The Batman?” Reacher mumbled to himself. “I’ve got to see this.”

Chapter 2

    Reacher’s stomach was growling, so the first order of business was to find a place to eat. When he was in a new place, he would often try places at random. Sometimes he’d ask the passerbys where the best place to eat was. In this case, he decided to ask a few people where he should eat, and they all said the same thing: The Iceberg Lounge.

    Twenty minutes later, Reacher was at a table in the lounge. He looked around and realized that the place was a weird mashup of nightclub and restaurant. Restaurant by day, nightclub by night. The place was practically empty, except for a man working the bar, a woman who was waiting tables, and one other table across the room with what looked like a woman and her husband.

They wanted to put Reacher near them, but he requested a table along the back wall so that he could see the entire room. Force of habit leftover from his days in the military. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

The waitress set a glass of ice water on the table. “What can I get you, honey?”

She was a middle-aged woman, still fairly slender and good looking, but the years hadn’t been kind to her. There were lines along her face where wrinkles were starting, and there were a few streaks of grey in her hair.

“Coffee. Black.” Reacher said.

“Anything to eat?” She asked.

“What do you recommend?” Reacher asked.

She smiled at him, and tapped her pencil on the pad she was holding. “Get the Big Kahuna Breakfast. You look like the kind of guy who could handle it.”

Reacher smiled back at her. “Then I’ll have that, please and thanks.”

He closed the menu and handed it back to her. She took it and went off to fetch his coffee. The man at the bar kept glancing over at him. The waitress returned a few minutes later with his coffee.

“Mind if I ask you a question?” Reacher said as he unfolded his silverware from the napkin it was wrapped in.

“You can ask me any number of questions for however long you’d like.” The waitress gave him a coy smile.

“Where can I find the Batman?” Reacher asked.

The waitress snorted, stifling back a laugh. “Why would you want to do that?”

“I’m new in town. I want to see his show.” Reacher said.

“Show? There’s no show.” She replied. “You don’t find Batman. He finds you.”

“So, it’s not a show?” Reacher said.

She laughed. “No. He’s more of a vigilante. But you only have to worry if you’re a criminal.” She eyed him up and down.

“Vigilante?” Reacher said. “Well, now I really need to meet him.”

The waitress laughed and went back to the kitchen. Five minutes later, she brought him his food: eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, and a short stack of pancakes. It was a lot of food, but he hadn’t eaten since the day before and it was already noon. He ate all of the food and must’ve drank a whole pot of coffee. He leaned back in his chair, feeling full and content.

A chubby man came from the back. His belly stuck way out in front of him. He wore a black pinstripe suit and carried a cane. He was smoking a cigarette (in a cigarette holder) and wore a tall hat. He looked over at Reacher, then started walking towards him. He sat down at the table across from him.

The man stared at Reacher, and Reacher stared back at him. They sat like that for several seconds. Reacher was a military man with training. He was patient, and nobody intimidated him. He learned a long time ago that, if a man stares you down, you don’t back down. You don’t look away. You maintain eye contact until they turn away. Reacher could hold that gaze for days if he had to.

Finally the man spoke. “You were asking about Batman in my club. I want to know why.”

Reacher was silent for a moment. Then he spoke. “What’s it to you?”

“It’s my club.” The man said. “I don’t want no friends of Batman in my club.”

“I’m not his friend.”

The man’s face wrinkled and he squinted his eyes. “That’s not how it seems to me. What do you want with him?”

Reacher held up his hand to the waitress. “Check, please!”

She nodded and walked over to the cash register. The man continued to stare at him. Reacher looked at him like he was a bug, some kind of pest that he would need to swat away. Reacher’s mother told him that he needed to give others a chance to walk away before a fight, and he lived by that rule pretty religiously.

The man slammed his fist on the table. “I’m talking to you!”

“It’s none of your business.” Reacher said. “It’s nobody’s business but my own. If you can’t accept that, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Do you even know who I am?”

Reacher looked him up and down. “A really bad dresser?”

The man’s face turned red, and he reached into his jacket to pull out a gun. A revolver. Six shooter. Reacher recognized the make and model right away. Smith & Wesson 500 double action five shot with a stainless steel revolver. Before the man could aim it at him, Reacher snatched it out of his hand and pointed it back it him. But only for a second. He spun the cylinder out of the gun and the bullets dropped onto the table. Then he took the gun apart and laid it on the table.

The waitress returned with his check, and Reacher threw a twenty dollar bill onto the table. Then he stood up and turned to walk outside.

“Okay, boys.” The man in the suit said. “Get him.”

Chapter 3

Two large bouncers came from behind the man and stood in front of Reacher. Reacher was a big guy, but these guys were almost the same size. They both looked like they spent most of their days in the gym. One guy was bald with a goatee and a plain black shirt. The other guy had long hair and a long beard, the hair pulled back into a ponytail. And he was wearing a suit.

“You don’t want to do this.” Reacher said.

“I think we do.” The guy with the ponytail said.

“You can leave when Mr. Cobblepot says you can leave.” The bald guy said.

“Cobblepot?” Reacher said. “Look. I’ll make you a deal, Mr. Cobblepot. I’ll throw another twenty on the table for damages, and you let me walk out that door. And we all forget we ever knew each other.”

“Damages?” Cobblepot said. “What damages?”

Reacher grabbed the long-haired guy by his ponytail and yanked backward. Then he punched him in the throat. The guy fell into the table, knocking off the silverware and dishes, clutching his throat. The bald guy looked at Cobblepot, who held up his hand as if to tell him to wait a minute.

“You’re very quick with your hands, Mr…what’s your name?”

“You can call me Reacher.”

Cobblepot moved past the bald guy and stood in front of Reacher. “Well, Mr. Reacher, nobody comes into my club and starts whacking my guys around.”

“I didn’t.” Reacher said. “I was minding my own business and you came to me, remember?”

“What do you want, Mr. Reacher?” Cobblepot asked.

“I just want to be left alone.” Reacher said. “Now, I’m going to leave. You can tell your boy to stand aside, or I can do to him what I did to your other guy. Your choice.”

The bald man looked at Cobblepot. Cobblepot sighed and said, “Okay. You asked for it.”

The bald guy moved closer to Reacher and took a swing at his head. Reacher ducked and, on his way back up, drove a punch right into the guy’s ribs. He stumbled backward, gasping for air, but he managed to catch himself. He lunged at Reacher and tackled him to the floor. He was trying to get on top of him, but Reacher was too fast. When his back hit the ground, he focused his energy on twisting sideways, throwing the guy off of him. Within seconds, he was back on his feet.

The bald guy was in the process of standing up when Reacher moved on him and kicked him in the face. The guy flew backward into a table and chairs, all the silverware falling onto him as he crashed through to the floor. Then Reacher moved to stand in front of Cobblepot, who looked at both his men grunting on the ground.

“This isn’t over!” He shouted, turned, and ran out of the room.

Reacher made his way to the door and stepped out onto the street. The sun was shining, but there was a dark aura about this place. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but he could tell that Gotham City was not your typical tourist city. He decided to walk around and get a feel for the lay of the land.

In the distance, he saw a skyscraper and, on the side, was a huge sign that said Wayne Enterprises, Inc. He decided he would head toward that and see what he could see. A few blocks later, he heard a siren. A cop car swooped in behind him with its lights flashing. In the split second that he had a choice, he mulled over his options: stay and be arrested or run away. He decided that he’d get more answers if he stayed. So, he put his hands in the air and turned around slowly.

Two cops emerged from the car with their guns trained on him. “Don’t move, asshole.” The driver said. “You’re under arrest.”

The other guy quoted him his rights, put cuffs on him, and put him in the back of the cop car.

    From the backseat, Reacher leaned up to the cage between him and the officers. “So, does Cobblepot have all of Gotham PD in his hip pocket? Or is it just you guys?”

    “Shut up, asshole.” The driver said.

    Fifteen minutes later, Reacher was sitting in an interrogation room. It was kind of dim because one of the lights was burned out. There was a cheap old camera on a tripod in the corner. The table and chairs were made of metal. A camera was recording them from the ceiling. He thought it was odd that there were two separate cameras, but he shrugged it off. After sitting for a half hour, the door opened and a man walked in.

    “Jack None Reacher.” He said. “Formerly of the 110th. Military Police. Topped out at major. Lost the title and wound up earning your way back to it. One silver star. One purple heart. Did I miss anything?”

    Reacher looked up at the man. He was tall with strawberry blonde hair and a thick mustache. He wore glasses, but he looked rough around the edges. He was built solid, like he worked out, but he wasn’t huge like the bouncers at Cobblepot’s night club.

    “That about sums it up.” Reacher said. “Are you on Cobblepot’s payroll too?”

    The man laughed. “I wouldn’t be caught dead at Cobblepot’s night club. Let alone let him buy me off. My name is Gordon, and I have a few questions to ask. If I like the answers, you can walk out of here.”

    “That’s very kind of you.” Reacher said.

    “Let’s cut the shit.” Gordon said. “Why are you here?”

    “Your goons arrested me.” Reacher said sarcastically.

    Gordon sat in the chair across from Reacher and sighed. “I figured an ex-military cop would be cooperative. You know, a little professional courtesy.”

    “Professional courtesy goes both ways.” Reacher laid his cuffed hands on the table. “Come on, now, detective. You know you want to make me feel like you’re on my side by taking these off.”

    “That’s commissioner. Not detective.” Gordon said, pulling out a ring of keys and removing the cuffs.”I’ll ask you again…why are you here?”

    “Isn’t it a little odd for the police commissioner to do a basic interrogation?” Reacher asked.

    “You know what they say: if you want something done right…”

    Reacher shook his head. “That’s not it. You’re practically foaming at the mouth. I think you’re here because you know who the Batman is.”

Chapter 4

    Gordon was silent for several seconds before he replied. “What makes you say that?”

    “I’m a random drifter.” Reacher said. “And, while you don’t know how much of a threat I pose to your city, the odds of me doing anything truly damaging are pretty low. I’m just one guy.”

    Gordon laughed. “You really don’t know Gotham City at all, do you?”

    Reacher shrugged. “I don’t, but that doesn’t matter. My point is that I am low-hanging fruit. I’ve done nothing but beat up a couple of bouncers…bouncers who attacked me first, I might add…in some seedy nightclub. That kind of thing shouldn’t even get on your radar. So, considering the way Cobblepot reacted when I asked about the Batman, I’m assuming it’s a touchy subject. I’m betting you’ve told your staff to tell you when someone talks about the Batman so that you can interview them personally. Where I’m from, that’s called covering your tracks.”

    Gordon nodded. “You must’ve been one hell of a detective, Mr. Reacher…”

    “Just Reacher.”

    “Well, Reacher, the only flaw in your logic is assuming why I would want to know about anything Batman related.” Gordon replied. “I’m the commissioner of police. The Batman is a known vigilante and a fugitive from the law. He’s literally one of the biggest investigations we have going. Don’t you think that’s my job to talk to anyone who might know something about him?”

    “You’re not a poker player, are you Gordon?” Reacher asked. “Because you’d be pretty bad at it. Notice, first and foremost, that you didn’t deny anything I said. So, you do know who the Batman is.”

    “Before I comment on that, I have to know one thing.” Gordon said. “What is your interest in the Batman?”

    “Pure curiosity, which gets stronger by the minute as people keep acting strange every time the Batman is mentioned.” Reacher said. “I saw him mentioned on the sign to the city when I got here. I thought he was some sort of performer, like with the circus or something.”

    Gordon shook his head. “Why didn’t you say that to Cobblepot? You could have avoided all of this.”

    Reacher sighed. “Because it was none of his business. I’m not obligated to talk about anything unless I choose to. That’s the difference between me and you, Gordon. I don’t back away from my principles just to avoid a fight.”

    “Maybe you haven’t heard of the phrase ‘pick your battles.’” Gordon replied. “You don’t have the fight today because you are still gathering intel. Only a fool would go looking for a fight.”

    “I’m nobody’s fool.” Reacher said. “And I never go looking for a fight. Trouble usually finds me.”

    Gordon stood up. “See that’s the difference between me and you, Reacher. Trouble rarely finds me because I don’t go looking for it.”

    Reacher was silent.

    Gordon tapped on the glass as he left the room. “Let him go!” He shouted to the people behind the glass.

    “Gordon!” Reacher said.

    Gordon paused in the doorway. “Yes?”

    “I’d like to meet him.” Reacher said.

    Gordon sighed. “Be back here at 10 PM.”  Then he walked through the door and it slammed shut.

    Ten minutes later, another officer came and got him. They took him to the front and paired him with an older cop who was in charge of releasing people from custody.

    “A wad of cash totalling two hundred and eighty eight dollars.” The man said. “An expired passport. And one folding toothbrush.”

    Reacher gathered his things and left the station. The day had gotten away from him. It was now 6:30 in the evening, and he was hungry again. This time he found a little diner near the station. He ordered a cup of coffee, a cheeseburger, and french fries.

    When he was done his meal, he walked around looking for a hotel. If he was going to meet Gordon at 10 PM, he figured he’d better find a room. He didn’t like to leave a place in the middle of the night, especially if he didn’t have a ride. There were no seedy motels nearby, which is what Reacher would have preferred. But he ran into a high rise hotel called The Hotel Belle Monico.

    Reacher requested a room on the ground floor. He didn’t like the idea of only being able to use the stairs or the elevator to leave the building if there was an emergency. It limited his options. He wanted to be able to go out a window if he had to. Part of his training: pick the safest place with the most exits that is reasonably secure.

    He got his key and walked to the room. He decided to take a nap. Sleep while you can because you might not get a chance to later. He had the same philosophy about food. Some things never change. He set the clock in his head to 9:30 PM, laid on the bed, and took a nap.

    At 10 PM he was at the station. Gordon was about ten minutes late, but Reacher wasn’t in a hurry.

    “You say you want to meet the Batman?” Gordon said. “Follow me.”

    Gordon took him to an elevator and pressed the button for the top floor. When they reached the top floor, Gordon led him down a hallway to the exit, which was stairs that led to the roof. They stepped out onto the roof and walked across to what looked like a spotlight.

    Gordon turned the spotlight on and light shot through the darkness. Reacher looked up at the sky and saw the bat signal for the first time.

Chapter 5

    “Is this a joke?” Reacher asked.

    Gordon shook his head. “You said you wanted to meet the Batman. This is your best chance.”

    “So, you shine this light in the sky and he what?” Reacher said. “He just flies in to meet you like a bug?”

    Gordon laughed. “This spotlight is faulty. It comes on at the strangest times. And, if you leave it on long enough, you can see strange things.”

    “Now I really do believe you know who he is.” Reacher said.

    “Believe it or not, I don’t.” Gordon said. “I never really cared who he was. He’s more of an ally in a common fight. He helps us in the areas where things get a little gray legally. If you know what I mean.”

    Reacher nodded. “I know exactly what you mean. But I’m surprised the Feds don’t come in and shut this down. You working with a known vigilante can’t be good press.”

    “We don’t work with him.” Gordon said. “Not officially. The official policy is to arrest the man known as Batman on sight.”

    “You live in a delusional world, commissioner.” Reacher said. “The only reason the Feds don’t come in here is because they have bigger fish to fry. They aren’t going to waste their time on a guy who is actually helping take scumbags off the street. So, you don’t have to play this silly game. The one where you pretend like you aren’t aiding and abetting a known criminal. Because, if the Feds ever DO show up, you’re going down for this.”

    “I bet you have all sorts of friends, don’t you?” Gordon said sarcastically.

    “I just call things the way I see them, commissioner.” Reacher said. “People just don’t like the truth.”

    Before Gordon could respond, they heard a noise behind them. Reacher turned and saw a man in a giant batsuit. The man was tall, but just a bit shorter than Reacher, with the same sort of build.

    “You wanted to see me?” Batman said, his voice masked by electronic means.

    “I wanted to meet you when I thought you were a circus act.” Reacher said. “Now I have about a million questions for you.”

    “No questions.” Batman said. “You met me. Now you need to be on your way.”

    “Everybody’s trying to get rid of me.” Reacher said. “But you should know that I don’t take orders from nobody. Not anymore.”

    “It’s for your own good.” Batman said. “Gotham is run by crime bosses and thugs. It’s not a very safe place for tourists.”

    “I can handle myself.” Reacher said.

    Batman moved closer to Reacher and looked him in the eye. “You stay in your hotel room tonight, and be gone first thing tomorrow morning.”

    Reacher turned to Gordon. “Who does this guy think he is?”

    Then he turned to reply, but he was gone.

    “He does that.” Gordon said, flipping off the bat signal.

    Reacher went back to the hotel for the night. He set the alarm in his head for 6 AM and laid down to sleep. When he woke up, he was very aware that it wasn’t morning. He was disoriented, so he rolled over and looked at the alarm clock, which read 1:23 AM. Then he heard it. The sound that woke him. A scratching sound coming from the window. He walked over and peered out through the curtains. As he did, someone crashed through the window and landed on top of him.

    “Hello, darling, your pussy…” She paused. “…cat is here.”

    Reacher threw her off of him and jumped to his feet. The woman was wearing a tight black leather suit and a mask. The mask made her ears look like a cat.

    “Does everyone in this town dress up in a costume?” Reacher asked.

    She did a front flip toward him. “I am Catwoman. Hear me roar!”

    Reacher was silent.

    “A little birdy told me that you are looking for Batman.” She said.

    “Cobblepot?” Reacher said.

    She nodded seductively and moved closer to him. He could feel her breath on his neck as she sniffed his body. He pushed her away from him.

    “Easy, tiger.” She said. “I just want to have a little fun with the guy who beat up the Penguin’s men.”

    “I don’t want to hit a woman.” Reacher said. “But you need to leave.”

    “Ooh, big tough guy gonna make me leave?” She said, purring afterward like a cat. “But we are just getting to know each other.”

    She moved closer to him. He tried to back away, but he was up against the wall. Before he could speak, he heard the sound of knives on metal. The Catwoman had claws in her gloves, and they were out. She ran a claw down his cheek. Reacher grabbed her and threw her out of the window she came in.

    He climbed through the broken glass to get outside, where she was already on her feet. She ran at him and, with the claw on her right hand, swiped at his face. The blades from two fingers caught his forehead and he started bleeding. The blood ran down his face and into his eyes.

    He turned toward her and stood with his hands in a boxing stance. He moved toward her, but she flipped by him, this time slashing his side.

    “Come on, baby.” She said. “I love it when men play hard to get.”

    Reacher squared up in front of her again. This time he made a move like he was going to punch her, but he pulled back instead. She was in the middle of another flip, when he caught her arm and one of her legs. He flung her sideways into the trash cans on the street. He moved toward her like he was going to get on top of her. Before he could, he was knocked over by someone else. From the ground he saw Cobblepot, and he was floating above him with his umbrella.

Chapter 6

    Reacher was no stranger to fighting more than one opponent, but this might have been the weirdest fight he’d ever been in. Being attacked by a woman in a cat costume and some guy who looked like (and actually identified as) a Penguin was not something he would have ever guessed he’d be doing.

    He stood back to his feet. Catwoman and Cobblepot were both in front of him now.

    “Cobblepot.” Reacher said. “What are you doing here?”

    “You made a mess of my club.” Cobblepot said. “Now it’s time to pay the price.”

    “No, your bouncers made a mess of your club when they tried to mess with me.” Reacher said. “Some people learn not to mess with me fairly quickly. Seems you’re not that type of person.”

    “You’re so adorable.” Catwoman said, as she moved to the side.

    Catwoman and Penguin both moved to either side of him, trying to hit him from the side. Before they could get beside him, Reacher moved quickly toward Cobblepot and landed a punch to his stomach. He bowed over quickly, gasping for air. He turned to defend against the Catwoman, but she was gone. He looked around and saw her climbing the hotel building. Reacher turned back to Cobblepot and punched him in the face. He went backwards onto the ground and laid on the pavement groaning.

    “Take the hint, and leave me alone.” Reacher said and walked away.

    He decided to find another place to stay. He would need something a bit more incognito. He had managed to talk the people at his current hotel into half the price for a room, but they made him give him his real name and show them ID proving it. His passport was expired, but it was all he had, so they let it slide. He hailed a cab and told the driver that he wanted to go somewhere a little more off the radar. The driver brought him to the narrows. He could see that it was run down and crime ridden. A real slice of hell on earth. His kind of place.

    The driver dropped him at a seedy motel that still charged by the hour. He talked the clerk into giving him a room for $40. He went to the room and laid down. The clock in his head said it was 3:06 AM. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.

    He awoke at 6 AM like he originally planned. He found another seedy diner and had breakfast. He took his time, drinking lots of coffee and eating a big meal. His task for the day was to do some research on the Batman. When he was finished eating, he threw a big tip on the table and walked out. He took a cab to the library.

    Reacher was never the type to embrace technology. He only needed a handful of things to live, and computers and cell phones were not a part of that. But Reacher knew that computers could be useful for digging up information. He remembered how crude they used to be when he was in the army. The machines they had were big boxy things that sat on desks. Now, computers seemed sleek and stylish and futuristic. Like something from the Jetsons.

    He spent a couple of hours researching and looking up incidences of the Batman and Gotham City. Gotham’s story was that of mob bosses and whack jobs who dressed up in costumes to terrorize the city. During his research, he noticed something about the Batman. Whoever he was, he was well funded. In two separate stories, there was talk of a car built a bit like a tank and an airplane that looked like a bat.

    He had been convinced that Gordon knew who Batman was. Maybe Gordon was telling the truth. But there was one person in town that Reacher was convinced had to know, even if he didn’t admit it. He shut off the computer and left the library. When he was outside, he hailed another cab.

    “Where to?” The driver asked.

    “Wayne Enterprises.” Reacher said.

    Ten minutes later he was in the lobby. When he approached the entrance, he felt very tiny against the backdrop of the skyscraper in front of him. He felt the same way in New York City, where he’d occasionally drop by to visit his old girlfriend, Jodie Garber. They had decided to part ways, but he thought about her often.

    Reacher had to decide what tactic to take. Should he walk to the front desk and ask to meet with Bruce Wayne? He figured that a guy like Wayne probably had gatekeepers with specific instructions to keep guys like Reacher out. So, in the end, he decided to go about it in a more covert manner. He bought a baseball cap and a bouquet of flowers and walked in like he was a delivery person. The people at the front desk looked at him as he went by, but they didn’t say anything.

    He found a placard on the wall that had a list of people’s names and offices. Bruce Wayne was pretty much the only person of interest on the top floor. He imagined that it was sort of like a penthouse suite in a hotel, where his office was unnecessarily large to show off how much power and money he had.

    The elevator door opened to a huge reception area with lots of desks and busy people working. He approached a woman who was sitting at the front desk with a headset on.

    “Can I help you?” She asked, only moving her eyes up from the computer screen where she had been typing.

    “Yes, I am here to see Bruce Wayne.” Reacher said.

    “What’s the name for the appointment?” She asked.

    “Tell him Reacher is here to see him.”

    “I don’t have anyone by that name on record.” The woman said. “You’ll have to make an appointment and come back another time.” She went back to typing and ignored him.

    Reacher leaned across the desk and pulled a wire from her computer screen. “I’m going to need you to call him now, please.”

    “I’m calling security.” She said and picked up the phone.

    Reacher snatched the phone from her hands and put it back in the cradle. Then he walked past her desk into the office space behind her. There were cubicles everywhere, but he eventually found the corner office. He opened the door to Wayne’s office just as a security guard showed up behind him.

    Bruce was in his office and looked up when the door was opened. His mouth dropped open just a little bit in surprise.

    “There’s the look I was expecting.” Reacher said.

    “Excuse me?” Bruce said.

    “I’m here to continue our conversation.” Reacher said. “From last night.”

Chapter 7

    Bruce Wayne dismissed his security and invited Reacher to have a seat at his desk. He walked around to his plush, high-backed chair and sat down.

    “I expected you to deny it.” Reacher finally said after a long moment of silence.

    Bruce leaned forward on the desk. “How did you figure it out?”

    Reacher chuckled. “It’s not that difficult. All it takes is someone willing to do a little digging.”

    “What do you want, Mr. Reacher?” Bruce asked.

    “Just Reacher. Honestly, I just wanted to meet the Batman.” Reacher said. “My initial reason was pure curiosity. Then Cobblepot sicked his goons on me because I talked about it. Gordon had me arrested. Cobblepot and the crazy cat lady show up at my hotel room last night. I guess I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

    “Wait, so you took on the Penguin and Catwoman by yourself?” Bruce said.

    Before he could reply, Bruce’s secretary poked her head in the door. “Mr. Wayne, I think you should check out channel 9.”

    Bruce grabbed a remote from  his desk and hit a button. A cabinet opened on the wall across from him, and a TV emerged from a hole in the wall. He pressed another button, and the TV came on. He turned it to channel 9, where the Joker was standing behind a woman who was tied up in a chair.

    “I’ve been trying to show you Batman’s true colors for years!” The Joker yelled into the camera. “Now it’s time for another demonstration.”

    “This is the strangest city I’ve ever been to.” Reacher said.

    Another person emerged from behind the Joker. He was wearing an all green suit with a white dress shirt and a black tie. His hat was also green, with a question mark on the front. He had a scepter in his hand that swung freely as he walked.

    The Joker clapped slowly and jumped so that he could click his feet together in mid air. He let out a long, growling, scary laugh. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Riddler!”

    “Okay, does this city just manufacture lunatics in costumes?” Reacher asked. “Why are there so many of you that dress up like that?”

    Bruce smirked. “Gordon once told me it was escalation. That me wearing a mask invited others to step up and do the same.”

    The Riddler came into the frame and spoke into the camera. “Batman will have to solve three riddles if he wants to find her.”

    The camera panned over to their hostage. Upon closer inspection, the hostage was revealed to be Barbara Gordon, the commissioner’s daughter.

    The camera panned back over to the Riddler. “And here is your first riddle. I have branches, yet I have no leaves, no trunk, and no fruit. What am I?”

    The Joker came back on the screen. “You have 12 hours to solve the riddles or we put a bullet in the girl’s head. See you soon!”

    The screen went black for a second, then the newscasters came back on to discuss what had happened.

    “So, do you have any plans for the next 12 hours?” Bruce asked.

    “Yeah, me getting out of this goofy town.” Reacher said.

“Are you joking?” Bruce said. “Yesterday we couldn’t get rid of you. Now you’re just going to up and leave?”

“I did what I came here to do.” Reacher said. “It’s nothing personal. I don’t stay in one place that often.”

“Yeah, but they have the commissioner’s daughter.” Bruce said. “That doesn’t bother you?”

“I don’t even know who she is.” Reacher said. “How can I be bothered if I don’t even know her?”

“Some might say that’s a callous attitude to have.” Bruce said, standing up from his desk. “The Joker and the Riddler are both formidable on their own. Together I’m going to have trouble dealing with them. I need someone watching my back.”

“I don’t work well with others.” Reacher said, also standing up.

The two walked to the door and out to the elevators.

“I don’t work well with others either.” Bruce said. “But I could use your help. You took on the Penguin and Catwoman by yourself. I could use someone like you watching my back.”

“You need a sidekick.” Reacher said.

“I had one.” Bruce said, the color draining from his face. “But The Joker…well…he…I don’t have a partner anymore.”

Reacher was silent. He could tell that the issue was a sensitive one, so he left it alone. The elevator dinged and opened on the ground floor.

“At least come to my house.” Bruce said. “You said you wanted to meet the Batman. How about a tour of his cave?”

“You live in a cave?” Reacher asked. “Why would you do that to yourself?”

“I don’t live in a cave.” Bruce said. “And you’re definitely going to want to see this.”

When Bruce stepped outside, a limousine swiftly pulled to the curb. A man in a suit got out and opened the rear door. “After you, sir.”

“Thanks, Alfred.” Bruce climbed into the back of the limo and Reacher followed.

“You don’t seem like the kind of person for all of this.” Reacher motioned with his hand at the car and the building.

“It’s not me at all.” Bruce said. “But the best disguise is a personality that nobody thinks could take on the Batman. I play a billionaire playboy during the day so nobody questions my activities at night.”

“Smart.” Reacher said. “But it sounds exhausting.”

“You have no idea.” Bruce said, then opened the hatch to the driver’s seat. “To the cave Alfred.”

Alfred gave Reacher a funny look, but all he said was: “Yes, sir.”

Chapter 8

    “I take it back. I’m glad I stuck around to see this.” Reacher said, looking around the cave.

    The cave really was a sight to see. The entire shell of the cave was made of rocks forged over millions of years of change. The equipment Bruce installed in the cave existed as if it sprung from the cave itself. A large multi-network computer system sat at the center of it. The Batmobile and the Batplane sat near the opening. Along one wall were several suits, not all of them made just for Bruce. There were different sizes and shapes.

    “I’m glad you like it.” Bruce said. “But I’m more worried about the commissioner’s daughter right now.”

    “Here’s the way I see it.” Reacher said. “They are using the girl as bait to draw you out. Which means they have some sort of trap set for you. Assuming the trap isn’t the riddles themselves, which are also meant to make you jump through hoops, tire you out, etc.”

    Bruce looked at computer screen and played the recording again. The Riddler’s words echoed through the cave as he spoke.

    “I have branches, yet I have no leaves, no trunk, and no fruit.” Reacher repeated.

    “Keyword there is branches.” Bruce said. “He’s talking about a bank. The question is, which bank?”

    “Obviously Gotham is going to have national chains and banks with headquarters in other cities.” Reacher said. “But this is personal to them. They want to hit you where you live. How many local banks does Gotham have?”

    “Just one.” Bruce said. “There used to be two until the recession drove the other one out of business. Gotham National Bank.”

    “That’s it.” Reacher said. “You’ll find your next clue there somewhere.”

    “Yeah, but Batman doesn’t go out during the day.” Bruce said. “And people are going to wonder why a billionaire playboy is running around solving clues. I could really use your help. If it’s a matter of money, I could pay you whatever sum you want.”

    Reacher held up a hand and waved the last comment away. “I don’t want your money. I’ll help solve your riddles. When I’m done, you can take care of the bad guys on your own.”

    “Well, I hope you change your mind, but I’ll take what I can get.” Bruce said. “I can fit you with an earpiece so that we can talk to each other. I’ll stay on the computer if you need me to look something up, and you can be the man on the ground. Is there anything else you need?”

    “I don’t suppose you have a gun?” Reacher said.

    Bruce shook his head. “Batman doesn’t kill people.”

    Reacher smirked. “Why not?”

    “It’s what separates me from them” Bruce said. “I’m taking the law into my own hands. I need to have a boundary somewhere that I don’t cross. Or else I’m no better than them.”

    “First of all, you’re already better than them just by deciding to do something.” Reacher said. “So many people sit around and watch their world fall apart. They complain, but they don’t do anything about it. Our world is built by individuals, people who decide to rise to meet whatever challenge is before them. You don’t have to wait for permission to act.”

    “Tell that to the police.” Bruce said. “Gordon is sympathetic to the Batman, but by law he is supposed to arrest me on sight.”

    “The public owes you a debt of gratitude.” Reacher said. “You serve their interest, and you do it for free.”

    “That’s great, but I still don’t want you to kill anybody.” Bruce said.

    Reacher shrugged. “I may not be given a choice. The difference between me and you is that I’m willing to do what is necessary, even if it means my hands get dirty in the process. Get your retaliation in first. If you don’t, you’re damning yourself to this life forever. Prison bars and insane asylums won’t hold these lunatics, not when they are this far gone.”

    The weight of Reacher’s words moved Bruce to total silence. He’d never thought of it that way. That by not killing criminals such as the Joker, he’d been damning himself to be the Batman forever. Perhaps his choice to not kill really was keeping him from hanging up the cape and cowl for good.

    “Still, I don’t have any guns here.” Bruce said. “I have body armor if you want it. Grappling hooks. Batarangs. Stuff like that.”

    Reacher held up a hand. “I’m okay. I don’t really need any of that for what I’m going to be doing anyway.”

    “Okay, then let’s get you to the bank.” Bruce said. He pressed a button on the computer dashboard. “Alfred, ready the limo. Reacher is going back to town.”

    “I’m already ready, sir.” Alfred said. “I anticipated that you’d say that.”

    A half hour later, Reacher was at Gotham National Bank. The first thing he did was scan the outside of the building for anything looking like a clue. He saw nothing, so he went inside and approached the counter.

    “I’d like to open a savings account, please.” Reacher said to the teller.

    She instructed him to have a seat in the waiting area and that someone would be with him shortly. He moved to the waiting area and sat down. He could see most of the bank from where he was sitting, but nothing caught his eye as being out of place. He scanned the waiting area, looking for clues. There were chairs along the wall, surrounding a small table that sat in the middle. On the table were some blocks and toys for kids. A stack of magazines sat at the end of the table.

    Reacher stood up and walked over to the magazines. There were several, and he started flipping through them. When he got to the bottom, there was a magazine with a clown on the front. He picked it up and thumbed through it and a small card fell out of it onto the floor. He picked it up and flipped it over. It was a joker card, and the next riddle was written on it.

Chapter 9

    Reacher stuffed the card into his pocket. He stood up and walked to the counter and cancelled his appointment, claiming that he wasn’t feeling well. Then he stepped outside and pulled the card from his pocket to read it.

    “Bruce, can you hear me?” He said.

    “Copy.” Bruce replied. “I hear you loud and clear. I see you too. I hacked into the security system at the bank.”

    “I found the next clue.” Reacher said. “It’s written on a playing card.”

    “What does it say?”

    Reacher looked down at the card. “You’re nearer to finding us than before, you’ll never know what’s in store. Reading questions is your penance, where can you finish a book without finishing a sentence?”

    “That one is kind of tough.” Bruce said. “It seems to me that the answer should be a prison.”

    Reacher thought for a moment. “Maybe. The thing about a riddle, though, is that it’s designed to lead you to think one way to trick you. Your immediate answer is too simple. It can’t be just a prison.”

    “Or maybe they are making the clues easy as part of the plan.” Bruce said. “Sending us on a wild goose chase is entertaining for them, but I know the Joker. He likes confronting me. He toys with me.”

    “Because you won’t kill him.” Reacher said. “I read this riddle and the word that sticks out to me is ‘penance.’ That implies a self-punishment, which is the most brutal punishment of all.”

    “Of course!” Bruce exclaimed. “Arkham Asylum. It’s where the Joker and the Riddler were locked up.”

    Reacher walked back to the limo. “Alfred, can you take me to Arkham Asylum?”

    Alfred nodded and opened the door for him. “Right away, sir.”

    Twenty minutes later, the limo sat outside of the Asylum. Reacher started to get out, but Alfred stopped him.

    “Arkham Asylum is no joke, sir.” Alfred said. “Do be careful.”

    Reacher nodded and stepped out of the car. The sun was starting to go down, and the giant castle-looking building before him seemed more eerie because of it. He stepped to the entrance and pushed open the giant wooden door.

    “This is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.” Reacher said. “I don’t even know where to start.”

    “I do.” Bruce said. “Go to the desk and request to visit the Riddler’s former cell. If it’s not there, then it’s probably in the Joker’s cell.”

    “They aren’t going to just let me back there.” Reacher said. “These guys obviously broke out. Maybe I am to figure out how they did it so that I can break in.”

    “Go outside and wait for my signal.” Bruce said. “You’ll know it when you see it.”

    Ten minutes later, the Batplane flew past the Asylum. Reacher looked into the sky and saw Bruce eject from the plane wearing the Batman suit. As he fell to the ground, his cape turned into a wing-shaped parachute, and he floated safely to the ground.

    “Nice entrance.” Reacher said. “You masked superheroes sure like to ramp up the drama, don’t you?”

    “It was the fastest way here.” Batman said and walked inside.

    The people at the desk stopped when they saw Batman walking toward them. The whole office went quiet.

    “We need to see the Riddler’s former cell right away.” Batman said.

    The receptionist hit a button and the door to the cells unlocked. “Come on back.” She said.

    Reacher and Batman found the Riddler’s former cell with the help of one of the nurses.

    “Search the room.” Reacher said. “I’ll stand watch.”

    Batman was in the cell for a few minutes before he emerged. “I couldn’t find anything.” He said.

    Reacher thought for a moment. “The other key to that riddle is ‘without finishing a sentence.’ The whole riddle is about breaking OUT of Arkham.”

    “Good call.” Batman said.

    He walked back into the room and started tapping on the walls, looking for loose stones or any clue for how they may have gotten out of the cell. Several minutes later, he found a loose stone at the bottom of the wall under the bed. He pulled it loose and found a giant metal box behind it. He pulled out the box and opened it. Empty, except for one playing card laying face down at the bottom. He took it outside and handed it to Reacher.

    Reacher read the card. “Now you know how it feels, locked inside with no appeals. You’ll find us waiting with no reservation, near an animal who’s on vacation.”

    “That’s an elephant joke.” Batman said. “It’s a play on the old joke ‘what has four legs and is always ready to travel?’ The answer is an elephant, because it has a trunk.”

    “They are at the circus.” Reacher said.

    “Not just any circus.” Batman said. “Haly’s circus. It’s a slap in the face.”

    “Why?” Reacher asked.

    “Because that’s where the Joker killed my last partner.” Batman said.

Before Reacher could respond, the door to the cell slammed shut behind them.

Chapter 10

    Batman ran to the door and started tugging on the bars. The door was locked. He tried to see who pushed the door, but the corridor was empty.

    “Tell me you’ve got something on that belt to get us out of this.” Reacher said.

    Suddenly, the building rumbled as if there was an earthquake.

    “What was that?” Batman asked.

    “That sounded like an explosion.” Reacher said. “Can you get us out of here?”

    “I have a small torch on my belt.” Batman said. “I’ll use it to destroy the lock on the cell.”

    Alarms were going off all throughout the building, but the cell remained locked. A few years back, Arkham built a special wing for criminals like the Joker. Normally, the alarms being set off would open all the cell doors. But in this wing, it worked from a separate system designed to keep an outside attack from freeing people like the Joker.

    Batman put the torch to the lock. He could hear people yelling from beyond the wing they were in. A few seconds of fire and the lock popped, opening the cell door.

    “Let’s get out of here.” Reacher said. “It’s time to go to the circus.”

    “Oh, so you’re coming with me now?” Batman asked.

    “Nobody puts me in a cage.” Reacher said.

    “The Batplane is on the roof.” Batman said. “Follow me.”

    When they made it to the plane, Reacher strapped in beside of Batman in the copilot’s seat.

    “What’s our play?” Reacher asked.

    “Go to the circus. Capture the Joker and the Riddler. Free the girl.” Batman replied.

    Reacher shook his head. “I meant more of a plan for how to do that.”

    “You’re the military man.” Batman said, steering the plane off of the roof and into the air. “What do you got?”

    Reacher thought for a moment. “Dammit! How did I not see it before?”

    “What?” Batman asked.

    “This whole thing.” Reacher replied. “We thought it was a ruse to draw you out. To trap you. But that’s not what they were doing at all.”

    “What were they doing?”

    “It’s like Garber always said: work the clues.” Reacher said. “We were chasing the riddles, thinking that their significance was only in finding the next clue. But it’s not. The answer to the riddle is actually a part of their plan. What were the answers to the riddles?”

    “Bank. Asylum. Circus.” Batman said.

    “Right.” Reacher said. “Each answer represents a part of their plan.”

    “They are going to rob Gotham National Bank.” Batman said. “But to do so, they needed to lock us up.”

    “Hence the asylum.” Reacher said.

    “So, what does the circus have to do with it?” Batman asked.

    “I haven’t figured that out yet.” Reacher said. “Perhaps that really is where they are keeping Barbara.”

    “We’ll go to the bank first.” Batman said.

    Moments later they could see the bank. There was a huge hole in the side of the building. People were making their way out over top of the rubble. Emergency crews were on the scene. It was chaos.

    “Look around.” Batman said. “Find a vehicle that’s moving overly cautious. They have to know that we weren’t going to stay locked up for long. It must’ve been a simultaneous hit. One of them locked us up, while the other hit the bank.

    “Look.” Reacher pointed south towards Gotham Harbor. “See the van?”

    “Got it.” Batman said.

    “Hang back.” Reacher said. “Don’t get too close. We don’t want them to know we are following them.”

    They tailed the van all the way to the harbor. Batman landed the Batplane in a parking structure several blocks away.

    “Let’s go.” Batman said.

    Reacher and Batman walked to the docks. As they approached, they could see that Barbara was tied up. Her face was gagged, but she was trying to talk. It came out muffled and unclear. Batman pulled the gag off of her mouth.

    “It’s a trap.” She said.

    Before they could turn around, they could hear laughter behind them.

    “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ho. Ho. Hee.”

    Reacher and Batman turned around. The Joker was holding a detonator.

    “Give it up, Joker. We figured out your little game.” Batman said.

    The Joker feigned being scared and then laughed again. “This is the game. You see, I’ve rigged the dock with explosives. When I push this button, the supports to the dock will explode and you’ll be pulled into the water. See those fins in the water? A little gift from the circus. Their newest shark tank exhibit.”

    The Riddler stepped up beside of the Joker. “And I have put together a little shock collar for them to get them in a good mood for you.”

    The Joker laughed. “You lose, Batman.” Then he pressed the button and the dock exploded.

Chapter 11

    Reacher sprung into action. As the dock was falling, he ran and leapt towards Barbara, who was still tied to the chair.

    “Do you have a knife?” He yelled, grabbing the chair and pulling her to the surface.

    Batman swam toward them, pulled a batarang from his belt, and used it to cut Barbara’s ropes. “Stay with me.” He said. “Grab onto my belt.”

    The fins in the water were circling them, getting closer with each passing second. The force of the docks sliding into the water was pulling them away from the shore. Batman wasn’t trying to swim to the shore. He was treading water.

    “Do you have a plan before we get eaten by sharks?” Reacher gasped, sucking in a mouthful of water.

    “Be patient.”

    Moments later the Batplane was hovering above them. Batman pulled a grappling gun from his belt and shot it towards one of the wings. When the rope was secure, he handed it to Reacher.

    “Get her to safety.” He said.

    Before Reacher could speak, he pressed another button on his belt and the plane flew upward. Barbara grabbed onto Reacher and the two were pulled out of the water by the plane, which dropped them onto the shore moments later. Batman was ready to bring the plane back, when one of the sharks bit into his arm. The teeth broke through the suit and into his skin. He screamed in pain.

    Reacher yelled from the shore. “Lower the plane!”

    Batman punched the shark in the back of the head several times and it released him. When it did, he press the button and the plane lowered. Reacher jumped into the plane and into the pilot’s seat.

    “Does this thing have any onboard weapons?” Reacher asked.

    “Missiles and guns.” Batman said, fighting off another shark near him.

    Reacher flew the plane out to where Batman was. He aimed the plane’s guns at the fins in the water and fired a few rounds. He could see the water turn red where the bullets hit. Another shark had bitten through Batman’s suit, this time in the left leg. Reacher fired again and the shark went belly up.

    He looked around but saw no other fins. He opened the hatch to the plane and climbed out onto the edge. He stretched out his hand.

“Grab it!” He yelled.

Batman swam towards the hand, and held his own hand in the air. Still too far away. Reacher slid back into the cockpit and lowered the plane a bit more. Then he climbed back out onto the wing and held out his hand again. This time, Batman’s hand wrapped around his, and he hauled him up onto the plane. The two slid back into the cockpit, shut the hatch, and flew back to the shore.

The Joker and the Riddler were there. The Joker was standing behind Barbara, holding a gun to her head.

“Don’t even think about it, Batsy.” The Joker yelled. “Get out of the plane and we’ll talk.”

Before Batman could reply, Reacher fired the gun from the plane and it hit the Joker right in the shoulder, spinning him around and knocking him back. Another shot hit the Riddler in the leg and knocked him down.

“I’m tired of talking.” Reacher said.

Moments later, the plane was on the ground and Reacher went to Barabara to check on her. He could hear sirens in the distance. The cops were coming.

“We have to go.” Batman said weakly. “They will arrest both of us on sight.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Reacher asked Barbara.

Barbara nodded. “Yes. I’ll take care of this. You guys go. Thanks for your help.”

A half hour later they were back at the Batcave. The computer was playing the news, and the newscasters were talking about the newest attack by the Joker. Reacher helped Bruce dress his wounds.

“Do you plan on staying in Gotham for long?” Bruce asked.

Reacher shook his head. “I’m out first thing in the morning.”

“You can sleep here tonight.” Bruce said. “And tomorrow you can have Alfred take you anywhere you want.”

“Thanks.” Reacher said.

It was several hours before Reacher could get to sleep. He set the alarm in his head for 7 AM and closed his eyes. He dreamed of clowns and sharks and bats. It was the weirdest dream he had ever had. In the morning he awoke to a huge breakfast made by Alfred.

“Damn.” Reacher said when Alfred brought him a tray. “I could get used to this.”

Alfred smiled and walked away.

An hour later Alfred dropped Reacher at the edge of town.

“Are you sure I can’t take you somewhere else, sir?” Alfred said. “You don’t have to hitchhike. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

“No, thanks, Alfred.” Reacher said. “This is what I do.”

“Seems like a lonely existence.” Alfred said. “You and Master Bruce have that in common.”

Reacher smiled. “That we do.”

“You’re welcome at Wayne Manor anytime.” Alfred said and held out his hand.

Reacher shook his hand. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Alfred got back into the limo and drove away. Reacher looked at the sign next to him. “Gotham City: Home of the Batman.” A signed that lured him into one of the strangest cities he’d ever been to. He took a deep breath and looked at the sky. Something streaked across the sky.

“Must’ve been a bird.” Reacher said. “Or a plane.”

Then he shrugged and put the sign to his back and started walking. A half mile down the road he was standing at an entrance ramp to the interstate. He put one foot on the road and one on the shoulder, and when he heard a car, he stuck his thumb out.

Scooby Doo Meets The Impractical Jokers: A Short Story Fanfiction

Chapter 1

    “Check the map and see where we are at, Scoob.” Shaggy said. “This fog is intense.”

    “Roh-kay.” Scooby said, and tried to open the map.

    The Mystery Machine was inching down the highway through fog that was so thick you could only see a few feet in front of the vehicle. Shaggy and Scooby were supposed to meet up with the rest of the gang in upstate New York, but at some point they got lost.

    Scooby fumbled with the map, his paws not having the opposable thumb that would make the task easy. He managed to get it open, but he struggled to hold onto it.. He tried laying it on the dash, but it slid down to the floor. Then he tried putting it in his lap, but it kept folding up the middle.

    “Come on, Scoob.” Shaggy said. “I’m driving blind over here.”

    “I’m trying, Rhaggy.” Scooby said.

    “Maybe I can see better if I open a window.” Shaggy said. “There’s fog on the inside and the defroster isn’t working.”

    Shaggy grabbed the handle and rolled down the window. As soon as the window was all the way down, the outside air sucked the map from Scooby’s lap right out the window.

    “Ruh roh.” Scooby said. “The map!”

    “Like, zoinks!” Shaggy shouted. “You let the map fly out the window.”

    “Sorry.” Scooby grunted.

    “There’s an exit up ahead.” Shaggy said. “Let’s get off there and see if we can find a new map.”

    “Roh-kay.” Scooby said.

    The Mystery Machine puttered on into the foggy night. The exit came up after a few minutes, and Shaggy took it. He pulled the van into the parking lot of what looked like an all night gas station in the middle of nowhere. There were three other cars in the lot because it was after midnight. They were supposed to arrive at the mansion that night, but the fog held them up. Shaggy realized that they were going to have to find a hotel somewhere for the night.

    “Stay here, Scoob.” Shaggy said. “Like, I don’t want to get into any trouble, and the store might not let dogs inside.”

    Scooby nodded his head up and down. “Rime hungry.”

    “Like, hold your horses, Scoob. We need to figure out where we are first. Then we can eat.”

    Scooby made a sad face as Shaggy shut the door and walked toward the entrance. Inside, Shaggy saw a man looking for a drink at the back of the store. A woman was getting coffee over by the front window. Behind the counter was an Indian man, and he was sitting on a stool watching a TV that was on the wall behind the counter.

    “Like, do you have any maps, sir?” Shaggy asked the man.

    The man turned to look at him, revealing a name tag that said “Harley.”

    “Over there.” Harley said, pointing to a rack that stood by the drink machines.

    Shaggy walked over to the rack and found a couple of maps. He got one of the whole state of New York and one of New York City and its burrows. Then he decided to get a drink and some snacks for the road. He walked to the front of the store and laid everything on the counter.

    “Like, what’s up with this fog?” Shaggy asked as he handed the cashier the money. “Does it get that bad here all the time?”

    Harley shook his head as he put Shaggy’s stuff in a bag. “No sir. It vetty strange.”

    “You can leave the maps out.” Shaggy said, and took them from the counter.

    “Have a great day.” Harley said as he handed Shaggy the change.

    As Shaggy was walking out the door, a headline in the New York Times caught his eye. Six Foot Cat Terrorizes Park Goers. Shaggy stopped walking and moved over to the paper.

    “How much for the paper?” He said to the cashier.

    “$3.18.” Harley answered.

    Shaggy walked back and dropped a $5 bill on the counter. He collected his change and walked back to the van. Inside the van, he read the article. It was short and only a couple of paragraphs.

Authorities responded to a call today in Staten Island, where reports of a man wearing a cat costume has been terrorizing people. Locals say they have seen the man walking along the highway and around the Staten Island Mall.

Local police have responded to distress calls from citizens, but when they arrive the cat is nowhere to be found. Local residents have said that the cat will try to chase people and upset trash cans.

If you see the cat, dial 9-1-1 and report it right away. If anyone has any information regarding the cat, please call 555-5309.

    Shaggy laid the paper on the steering wheel. “Wow, Scoob. I think we were meant to be held up. Let me take a look at the map.”

    Shaggy opened the map and looked at his options. They were approaching from D.C., so they were headed north on I-95. They were currently at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, which was still about an hour south of New York City.

    Shaggy pointed to the map. “Like, Staten Island is only an hour away. Let’s find a hotel there and stay for the night.”

Chapter 2

    “Today we are at the market playing a game we like to call ‘Puts Pocket.’” Joe Gatto said.

    Q, standing to his left, chimed in. “The goal of the game is to get as many pencils onto an unsuspecting shopper as possible.”

    Sal pushed Q into Joe and then said. “If you can’t get the most pencils onto a shopper, then you lose.”

    “‘Ello mate. I have no lines in this intro.” Murr shrugged. The guys all started laughing because he was wearing his pants way up to his chest like Steve Urkel.

    Joe looked at Murr. “That’s just offensive.”

    “Can we be done with the intro?” Sal asked sarcastically, and he rolled his eyes at Murr. The rest of the guys laughed.

    “Cut.” Simmy said from behind the scenes.

    The guys had a table with cameras set up in the stockroom. Q, Sal, and Murr went to the back while Joe hovered around the meat aisle.

    Joe shoved an entire cannoli into his mouth.

    Sal laughed from the back room and spoke into the mic. “Where did you get a cannoli?”

    “I’m a fat fuck.” Joe said. “You should assume I always have a cannoli somewhere.”

    The guys all laughed.

    Q grabbed the mic. “Yeah, but do we really want to know where?”

    Joe shrugged. “Let’s get this show on the road, boys. I have things to do today.”

    “We’re almost ready.” Simmy said from the side. He was giving directions to the camera crew.

    A few minutes later, Simmy gave the go ahead to start the scene. Joe carried a stack of pencils with him. The goal was to get as many of them onto a stranger as possible. He had played the game many times before, so he wasn’t really nervous. After a few minutes of shooting the shit with the guys, a shopper came down the meat aisle. It was an old woman who looked like she was in her sixties. She had short, gray hair that was done in a perm. She might have been five feet tall. She was hunched over the cart, pushing it towards the meats.

    “How about this old lady?” Murr said into the mic. “Time to see how many pencils you can get in her.”

    Sal looked at Murr with a smirk. “In?”

    The guys all laughed.

    “You know what I mean, asshole.” Murr said, half serious.

    Joe tiptoed behind the old lady. The thing he liked about this game was that, no matter how many times he played, it was always a challenge. It never really got any easier, which meant that it stayed relatively fresh as a bit for the show. It was always good for a few laughs and loads of fun for the guys to bust each others’ balls.

    “Oh, it looks like Joe is going for the loose purse.” Sal said into the mic.

    Joe had positioned himself beside the old lady, and he was hovering around her purse, which was hanging from her left shoulder. He wasn’t sure why she didn’t just put the purse into the cart, but at this point he didn’t care. Within seconds, he had put two pencils in the purse without her even knowing he was beside her. After the second one, she made a motion like she might have felt the pencil, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was. So, she kept shopping.

    Joe turned to look at the camera, and he held up a stack of pencils and smirked. Then he took the whole stack and basically shoved them into her purse. He quickly retracted his hand and then pointed at the meat on the shelf beyond her, trying to act casual.

    “Did she catch him?” Q asked.

    The lady looked over at Joe, but then looked back at the meat. Joe did a quiet dance in the aisle, and then moved toward her to put more pencils in the purse.

    “He’s going back for more?” Sal said. “We get it, Joe. You win. Now you’re just rubbing it in our faces.”

    Joe scrunched his face into the camera, and held up another small stack of pencils. He snuck back around the lady and stood, waiting for the perfect chance to act.

    “Hey, do you know if this meat is any good?” He asked the lady, trying to distract her.

    The lady looked at him and shook her head, and then started pushing the cart away from the aisle.

    Q laughed. “You spooked her, Joe.”
    “Screw it, boys.” Joe said. “I’m getting it.”

    The guys laughed. Joe quickly moved to follow her out of the aisle. He came up behind her and, just as he was about to put the pencils into her purse, she stopped and turned toward him. He took the pencils in his fist and then crossed his arms across his chest like he was thinking. He stood and stared at the meat while the lady stared at him.

    Sal laughed. “It’s a showdown! Who’s going to move first?”

    Joe stared at the meat. The lady stared at Joe. Gridlock. Then Joe pointed to the meat again, trying to distract the lady. But this time she was wise to it. She stood and watched him.

    “Can I help you with something, ma’am?” He asked sheepishly.

    “What are you trying to do?” The woman asked. “Leave me alone or I’m calling the police.”

    “No.” Joe said. “Wait. You’re on a TV show called Impractical Jokers. I swear I’m not trying to rob you.”

    The lady looked at him skeptically.

    “Check your purse.” Joe said. “I just put a bunch of pencils in there.”

    Joe could hear the guys laughing in his ear.

    The lady reached into her purse and pulled out a pile of pencils. Then she smiled.

    Joe laughed. “It’s a hidden camera show. I was supposed to see how many pencils I could get onto someone. Looks like I got 13.”

    “Lucky number 13!” Sal said.

    “Cut!” Simmy said. “Great work guys. Let’s get set up for Murr’s turn.”

    Sal turned to talk to Murr. “Hey, dummy, it’s your…”

    Murr wasn’t next to him anymore. He wasn’t in the room. After several minutes of trying to find him, they gave up. Murr was missing.

Chapter 3

    Shaggy and Scooby were in the Mystery Machine. They had spent the night at a hotel in Staten Island and woke up fairly early to get a jump on the day. Shaggy was still tired because Scooby was snoring all night long.

    “Like, I’m wiped out.” Shaggy said as he put the van into gear. “I think I need a cup of coffee to wake me up.”

    As the words came out of his mouth, he noticed a coffee shop in a little strip mall off to his right. He pulled the van into the parking lot. The coffee shop was actually a part of the supermarket at this particular complex. Shaggy parked the van, and he and Scooby got out and walked toward the door. There were a couple of police cars at the door, and it caught Shaggy’s attention.

    He made his way to the entrance, where he saw a whole bunch of people standing around talking.

    “Like, look, Scoob.” Shaggy said. “What do you suppose this is about?”

    “Rye don’t know.” Scooby said, shaking his head side to side.

    Shaggy and Scooby stepped further into the store.

    “OH MY GOD!” A voice to the left of Shaggy scared the crap out of him. He looked to the left and it was a middle-aged, chubby man. And he was pushing people out of the way, as he scrambled to the back of the crowd. “GET THAT FUCKING DOG AWAY FROM ME!”

    Then one of the cops came toward Scooby, who was spooked and decided to run. The cop chased him up and down the aisles. Soon, two more cops joined the chase. Scooby was in the dog food aisle and noticed all the food. For a brief instant, he was distracted looking for Scooby snacks. Then, a cop tackled him out of nowhere.

    “Like, take it easy!” Shaggy shouted. “You’re going to hurt him. Calm down, Scoob!”

    Soon, Shaggy and Scooby were sitting in the employee break room with a cop standing over them. The nametag on his shirt read “John Rickles.” He had a buzz cut and looked like he worked out.

    “So, why did you run?” Officer Rickles asked Shaggy.

    “I don’t know, maybe because you scared him?” Shaggy said sarcastically. “Like, how long is this going to take?”

    “As long as is necessary.” Officer Rickles replied.

    “So, all of this because a dog got loose in your store?” Shaggy asked.

    “None of this because a dog got loose in the store.” Officer Rickles said. “I think you know what really happened here. That’s why you ran.”

    “I just wanted a cup of coffee, sir.” Shaggy said. “We are on our way to upstate New York and have a long drive ahead of us.”

    Officer Rickles slammed his fist on the table. “I know you took him, and I’m going to find out how you did it!”

    Shaggy and Scooby looked at each other. Scooby started giggling. Shaggy looked confused.

    “Like, took who?” Shaggy asked.

    “Come on, you know.” Officer Rickles replied. “Don’t tell me you don’t realize that you wandered onto a TV show in the middle of filming?”

    “TV show?” Shaggy looked at Scooby. “Are we going to be on TV?”

    “More likely that you are going to jail.” Officer Rickles said.

    Shaggy and Scooby looked scared, but, before they could reply, another person entered the room. He whispered into the officer’s ear, and then he left.

    “Okay, if you won’t talk to me, maybe there’s some people here that you will talk to.” Officer Rickles said.

    The door opened, and Shaggy saw three men enter. The first guy was clearly Italian, with grey hair and thick eyebrows. The second guy was chubby, with short, well-maintained hair. And the third guy looked like he was homeless.

    “Like, where did they find you guys?” Shaggy asked. “In the dumpster out back?”

    The guys looked at each other and then started cracking up laughing.

    “We are the Impractical Jokers.” Joe said. “I am Joe, that’s Sal, and that’s Q.”

    “The name is Shaggy. That’s my pal, Scooby.”

    “Rerro everybody.” Scooby said skittishly.

    Joe and Q looked at each other and then at the dog.

    “The dog talks?” Joe asked.

    “Like, of course he talks.” Shaggy said.

    “What could he possibly talk about?” Q asked sarcastically. “The last shit he took or how he licks his balls?”

    Q and Joe laughed. Sal stood behind them looking a little skittish.

    “Like, what’s wrong with your friend?” Shaggy asked, pointing to Sal.

    “Sal can’t handle anything even remotely dirty, and he’s not a huge fan of animals.” Q rolled his eyes. “We’ve been putting up with this shit for twenty years.”

    “No offense,” Sal said quickly, holding up a hand towards Scooby. “But dogs carry all sorts of diseases.”

    “Riseases?” Scooby looked confused.

    “Can you quit screwing around and tell us why you have arrested us?” Shaggy asked impatiently.

    Joe chuckled. “We aren’t cops. We’re part of the TV show that we are filming here today.”

    “You film a TV show at the supermarket?” Shaggy asked.

    “Can you think of a better place to film?” Joe asked.

    “Rye can’t.” Scooby said.

    Joe pointed at Scooby. “I like this dog.”

    “So, why are you here?” Sal asked from behind Joe and Q.

    “Like, I was up all night, and I needed some coffee.” Shaggy said.

    “No, I mean, here on Staten Island.” Sal said. “The cops said you guys have California plates and licenses.”

    “That’s kind of a long story.” Shaggy said. “We were on our way to meet the rest of our group, when we got slowed down by the fog and had to spend the night in a hotel. We’re on our way to upstate New York to solve a mystery.”

    “A mystery?” Joe asked. “So, you guys solve mysteries? How convenient for us. Maybe you can help us find our friend.”

    “Like, who is your friend?”

    Q spoke up. “His name is James Murray. He’s a skinny, ferretty looking dude.”

    Shaggy shook  his head. “We were already in the middle of another investigation. Like, look at this newspaper story.”

    Joe looked at the paper. “You realize this is from a tabloid, right?”

    “Like, those are the best papers to read when you’re hunting g-g-ghosts.” Shaggy shuddered.

    Joe laughed, then turned and whispered to Q and Sal. “This guy is nuts.”

    “Hey, I heard that!” Shaggy said.

    Sal was quiet. He was reading the clipping.

    “Um, guys.” Sal said. “You should definitely look at this.”

    There was an artist’s rendition of the cat that the article talked about.

    “Holy shit.” Q said. “That’s Benjamin Cat.”

Chapter 4

    “Did someone steal the suit?” Joe asked.

    “Like, it’s more likely that the person terrorizing the city is someone who works on the show.” Shaggy said. “Might even be the same person who took your friend.”

    Sal started screaming.

    “Calm down, Sal, it’s just a dog.” Joe said.

    “The biggest dog I’ve ever seen.” Sal replied. “But that’s not what I’m talking about. Look!”

    He pointed and there was a bright apparition floating in the air above them. It was just a face, and the face was Benjamin cat.

    “Like, it’s a g-g-g-g-ghost!” Shaggy shouted. “Run!”

    “Heed my demands!” The face said. “You will bring one million dollars in small, unmarked bills to the penthouse suite of the Waldorf Astoria. You have twenty-four hours.”

    “24 hours until what?” Q asked.

    “Until I kill your friend.” The face said, and then it started laughing uncontrollably. “And don’t try to stop me, either!”

    “Y-y-y-yes s-s-sir, M-m-mr. Ghost.” Shaggy said.

    The apparition disappeared and everyone was silent for several seconds.

    “So, what do we do?” Q asked.

    “Maybe we can break in and get him back.” Joe said.

    “The Waldorf Astoria has pretty tight security.” Q said. “How do you propose we even get by the front desk? Let alone up to the penthouse suite and past a crazy asshole in a catsuit.”

    “We come up with a distraction.” Sal interjected. “Someone will have to run interference for us.”

    “I know just what to do.” Joe replied. “I can take care of the distraction.”

    Q looked at Joe. “What are you going to do?”

    “Just get me a spoon and a big bowl of potatoes.” Joe said, smiling. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

    “Okay, so we have a distraction.” Q said, smiling. “Any other bright ideas?”

    “Like, I have one.” Shaggy said. “What is a cat most afraid of?”

    “What is this, some kind of riddle?” Q asked.

    “A dog.” Shaggy said. “Maybe Scooby can distract the guy with the cat costume while we get your friend.”

    “Roh no!” Scooby shook his head and then jumped into Shaggy’s arms.

    “Get down you big dope!” Shaggy said. “All you gotta do is get him to chase you.”

    Scooby shook his head and buried it into Shaggy’s chest.

    “Would you do it for a Scooby snack?” Shaggy asked.

    Scooby stopped shaking his head as if to think. Then he shook it again.

    “How about…three…scooby snacks?” Shaggy asked.

    “How about the whole damn box.” Sal said.

    Q and Joe laughed.

    “Like, those snacks ain’t cheap.” Shaggy said.

    “Are you really going to skimp on dog food?” Sal asked. “Am I going crazy?”

    “I’m sure the crew of Impractical Jokers can swing the cost of a box of dog food for you.” Joe said.

    “A whole box of Scooby snacks?” Shaggy said, looking at Scooby.

    Scooby was silent for a few seconds. Then he shook his head up and down. “Roh-kay.” He said.

    “Okay, so we have distractions at the front desk and in the room.” Q said. “Sal, Shaggy, and I will grab Murr after you guys do your thing.”

    “You know, we could just let the police handle it.” Sal said.

    “Like, you’re as big a scaredy cat as Scooby.” Shaggy said.

    Sal crinkled his face. “I’m just the voice of reason in the bunch.”

    “Big surprise there.” Joe said. “Sal is scared of cats, so this is like his worst nightmare. You think he freaks out when this guy in the cat costume comes on the show. Wait til you see him when he knows the guy in the cat costume might kill him.”

    Q laughed. “Are you going to be okay, Sal? We need you, buddy.”

    “I’ll be fine.” Sal answered angrily. “As long as you keep the big cat away from me.”

    “So, let’s get this show on the road, boys.” Joe said.

    Shaggy pulled the Mystery Machine up to the entrance of the supermarket. Scooby was sitting shotgun. When he got to the curb, the three jokers opened the side door of the van and got in.

    “Cool set of wheels, bro.” Q said. “I used to have a jeep until these bozos destroyed it.” He pointed to Joe and Sal.

    “I think I’m going to get a contact high from the smell in here.” Sal said.

    “Hey, I’m the one with the big nose.” Joe said. “The rest of you have nothing to worry about.”

    The three jokers cracked up.

    “Like, you guys are never serious, are you?” Shaggy asked.

    “Only when we have to be.” Q said.

    “Which is pretty much never.” Joe said.

    The three laughed again.

    “Like, wow, Scoob.” Shaggy said. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

Chapter 5

    The trip across town took them over an hour due to heavy traffic. It gave them all a chance to get to know each other. Shaggy learned about the show and how the four guys were all friends from high school who had dreams of being on TV. They realized their dream, and life was good for the jokers. Shaggy told them about Velma, Daphne, and Fred. He talked about Mystery, Inc., and how they spent most of their time solving mysteries of the supernatural sort.

    A little over an hour after everyone got into the van, they arrived at the Waldorf Astoria. Shaggy thought the building seemed rather plain-looking, despite its massive size. The outside of the building was nothing spectacular, but he’d seen movies and pictures of the inside, and it was the epitome of luxury in the city.

    Shaggy pulled in front of the hotel. A well-dressed man came out to greet them.

    “Welcome to the Waldorf Astoria.” He said. “I’m here to park your car and to get your bags.”

    “No bags.” Joe said.

    “Yeah, here’s a hundred bucks.” Q said, peeling a hundred from a roll of cash in his pocket. “There’s another hundred for you if it’s still running when we get back.”

    “Yes sir!” The man said, excited about the tip.

    The gang walked to the entrance.

    “Joe, do you have what you need?” Shaggy asked.

    Joe held up a wooden spoon and giant bowl of potatoes. “Locked and loaded.”

    “It’s showtime.” Sal said.

    The gang walked inside. Huge pillars stood on either side of them, and a long, rather majestic walk to the front desk. Gold and silver spirals lined the edges of the walls. Marble floors, white with black shapes, led to the large, wooden front desk, where two men and a woman were working at various computers.

    “Joe, this is all you, buddy.” Q said, slapping him on the back. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

    Joe smiled and started walking toward the desk. “Scoopski potatoes, motherfuckers.”

    “Like, that guy is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.” Shaggy said.
    Q laughed. “You have no idea. Just wait. It’s about to get better.”

    Joe made his way to the front desk, where he placed the bowl on the counter.

    One of the men working the desk looked at him and at the bowl of potatoes. “Can I help you, sir?” He asked.

    “Scoopski potatoes?” Joe said, sticking the wooden spoon into the bowl.

    “Excuse me?” The man said.

    “You got the scoopski, I got the scopski.” Joe said, and flung a spoonful of potatoes on the counter.

    “Sir, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” The man said.

    “Scoopski potato?” Joe said, throwing potatoes on the counter. “Ah! Scoopski po-TAW-to.”

    “Like, this is our chance, gang.” Shaggy said. “Let’s go.”

    Joe was causing a huge commotion at the front desk, and pretty much everyone in the room was staring at him. The people behind the counter were absolutely dumbfounded. The woman picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

    “You got the scoops? I got the scoops.” Joe kept repeating as he flung potatoes everywhere. “Scoopski potato? Scoopski po-taw-to!”

    Sal and Q were trying to stifle their laughter as they got onto the elevator. The last thing they saw as the doors were closing was Joe spinning in circles with the spoon vertical by his head. And he was shouting loudly: “Scoopski potatoes!”

    As the elevator door went shut, Joe glanced over and winked and shouted: “Larry! Potatoes on aisle 1! Larry!”

    Inside the elevator, Sal laughed so hard that he fell into Q, who, in turn, bumped into Shaggy and Scooby.

    “Like, keep it together guys.” Shaggy said.

    Q and Sal were still chuckling as the elevator stopped at the top floor. The doors opened and everybody got off. The penthouse suite was at the end of the hallway to their left.

    “So, like, Scoob you’re going to knock on the door and see if you can confuse the guy.” Shaggy said. “The rest of us are going to go in and look around.”

    “Roh-kay.” Scooby said, and started down the hallway. He paused for a moment at the door, then he knocked loudly.

    “Who’s there?” A voice asked.

    Scooby knocked louder and then barked.

    The door flung open, and in the doorway was Benjamin Cat. Scooby pounced on him and tackled him into the room. Q, Sal, and Shaggy ran to the door. Scooby and the cat were wrestling. Q and Sal went through the room to the bedroom to see if they could find Murr. Shaggy moved to help Scooby, who had the cat on the ground and was holding him down.

    “Way to go, Scoob!” Shaggy said.

    Q and Sal emerged from the back with Murr, who still looked a bit shaken.

    “Now, let’s get a look at who it is.” Shaggy said.

    Shaggy reached down and flung the cat mask off of his forehead. Underneath the mask was Joey Fatone.


    “I gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming at all.” Q said.

    “You guys have had me on and off the show for years.” Joey said. “And all this time you don’t invite me to participate in the challenges.”

    “So, you decided to wear the cat costume and go terrorize people in the city.” Sal said. “Trying to make the show look bad.”

    “Not just look bad.” Joey said. “It’s time that it got cancelled.”

    “Joey, buddy, you’re like the only recurring guest we have on the show.” Q said. “That should tell you how much you mean…er…meant…to us.”

    “Yeah, and in all that time, I went nowhere.” Joey retorted.

    “Like, now you are going to jail.” Shaggy said.

    The door opened and the cops came in. Joe Gatto was behind them.

    “Looks like Murr isn’t the only one with a ‘foolproof plan.’” Joe held up air quotes at “foolproof plan.”

    “Yeah, well, I’d have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that damned dog.” Joey said as they hauled him out of the room in handcuffs.

    “Don’t forget the stoner guy.” Q said.

    “Like, I don’t know what you mean.” Shaggy said.

    All four of the jokers laughed.

    “Well, I know one thing is for sure.” Joe said. “I’m so hungry I could eat the south end out of a north bound bear.”

    “Ree too.” Scooby said.

    “You said it, dude.” Shaggy said. “Like, what I wouldn’t give for a ginormous pizza right now smothered in cheese and mushrooms and pepperoni.”

    “And ranchovies.” Scooby said.

    “Y’all are sick.” Joe said. “But I like it! Dinner is on us, guys. To show our appreciation.”

    Within an hour, the whole gang had eaten. Shaggy and Scooby said goodbye to the jokers and hit the road. As Shaggy and Scooby pulled onto the exit, a hologram of Benjamin Cat’s face stared at them from the sky.

If you enjoyed this story and want to read more by author James Leatherman, then be sure to visit this page and read some of his original works.

A Leap for Chewy: A Star Wars/Quantum Leap Crossover Fanfic


    Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Doctor Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own, and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap… will be the leap home.

    When he arrived, he immediately knew something was wrong. Most leaps came with a form of disorientation, the swiss cheese effect doing its work. He could remember parts of who he was and most of what he had done while leaping around in time. But this was different. He looked around the room. He was sitting on a half- moon-shaped booth. To his left was a circular door leading to a tunnel. It reminded him a bit of a movie set. In front of him was a hologram of some sort of animal that was kicking its front legs into the air.

    He slid to the edge of the booth and stood up. His first instinct was to look for a mirror. He glanced around the room but didn’t see one anywhere. There were plenty of nooks and crannies, though. And a closet on the far wall. He walked over to the closet and put his palm on the handle. Before he could open it, he heard a crash behind him. It sounded like it came from the big circular corridor to the left of the booth. Then he heard footsteps running toward him.

    An older man appeared in the doorway to the tunnel. His hair was grey and his face wrinkled, but he had the presence of a man who still had lots of energy. He was wearing a leather jacket, a white cotton shirt, and brown pants. On his hip was a gun holster holding a strange-looking pistol.

    “Chewy!” He said. “I found it!”

    Sam looked at him for a moment, then said: “Found what?”

    Except it didn’t come out like that. The noise that came from his mouth sounded like a cross between a bear and dog. A low rumbling growl.

    “What do you mean ‘found what’?” The man said. “I found the Falcon. We’re about to jump out of hyperspace, so you better get your hairy butt up to the cockpit.”

    “Cockpit?” Sam asked.

    The man turned and ran back the way he came. Sam pushed the lever to the closet and the door opened. There was a small mirror on the door.

    In the mirror was the hairiest face he had ever seen. He looked like some kind of yeti. Or maybe he was bigfoot. He couldn’t tell.

    His mouth dropped open, and he stood there for several seconds in silence.

    “Oh boy!” He said.

Chapter 1

    Sam found his way to the front of the ship. The old man was sitting in a chair on the left. There was an empty chair to his right. Dead ahead was a window, but what he saw didn’t make sense. Bright flashes of blue light extended forward into the distance. It looked like a tunnel with long lines of light all around the sides. He still had no idea where he was.

    Where are you, Al? Sam thought.

    He sat down in the chair next to the old man.

    “Strap in, pal.” He said. “We’re getting ready to come out of hyperspace.”

    Hyperspace? Sam thought. Were they in space? Or was this some sort of movie set? He had leapt onto movie sets before. Several times. In one instance, one of the actors was crazy enough to think that he had built a time machine. In fact, he learned later that his younger self came up with the theory behind the quantum accelerator from the very show he leapt into.

    “Roger that.” Sam replied.

    The man looked at him funny. “You okay, Chewy?”

    Sam nodded his head. “I’m fine. Just a little under the weather is all.”

    Sam could feel that the words he were speaking were not English. He was continuing to grunt and howl, but the old man was able to understand him somehow.

    “Dropping out of hyperspace in 3…2…1…” The man pulled a small lever towards him and, suddenly, the tunnel of lines disappeared and the ship slowed down. In front of him was a planet. It reminded him of Mars.

    “Where are we?” Sam asked.

    “It’s a small desert planet called ‘Jakku.’” The man replied. “We’re at the Western reach to the galaxy’s inner rim.”

    Sam figured they must’ve been on some kind of movie set. He kept looking around, trying to find someone else. But, at the moment, it seemed like it was just him and the old man. He didn’t even know the man’s name. Sam continued to play things by ear.

    “Why are we here?” Sam asked.

    “The Falcon has finally showed up on our scanners. It’s been a long time, Chewy, but we finally found her.” The man’s eyes sparkled as he talked.

    “Falcon?” Sam said. “We’re looking for a bird way out here?”

    Han’s face wrinkled, and he looked at Sam from the corner of his eyes. “What’s the matter with you?”

    Sam shrugged and remained silent.

    “Anyway,” The man said. “I figure our best bet is to wait here until they decide to make a move. The Falcon is showing up on our scanner because someone is flying it again. We can assume that they will eventually leave the planet and try to jump into hyperspace. So, we’ll be waiting for them when they do.”

    “Aye-aye, Captain.” Sam said.

    The man rolled his eyes and stood up. “I’m going to the back to check on the rathtars. Stay here and try to keep us in orbit.”

    Sam was stunned. He kept waiting for a director to say “cut,” but it never came. There was no one else with them. Maybe they were just practicing their lines. Or maybe they were in an underground bunker somewhere, and the old man was just crazy. Before he could chase that thought, he was interrupted by a whirring sound behind him.

    He jumped a little when he saw him. Al had finally locked onto him and was standing in the ship behind him.

    “Oh my god, Al!” Sam said. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”

    Al shook his head and pointed to his ears. Apparently he couldn’t hear anything. Al tried mouthing the words: I…CAN’T….HEAR…YOU.

    “Crank the juice on Ziggy, Al.” Sam mouthed back. “Give her more power because we seriously need to talk.”

    Al tapped some buttons on his device. “Can you hear me now?”

    Sam shook his head. “Yes, thank god. Al, this leap has got me feeling like I’m crazy.”

    Al was silent.

    “Well, come on, Al! Tell me where I am.” Sam said. “I figure I’m on the set of a movie or something, but I don’t see any of the other crew. And why did it take you so long to get here? I’ve been dying trying to keep up with this charade.”

    Al sighed. “Sam, please calm down.”

    “Calm down?” Sam shouted. “You have no idea what it’s like to be stuck in some kind of weird bunker with a guy that you think might be crazy.”

    “He’s not crazy, Sam.” Al replied calmly. “The reason it took me so long to find you was because we couldn’t locate your signal anywhere on earth.”

    Sam was silent for several seconds, then said, “Wait…what? What does that mean?”

    “Well, whenever you leap, the person you leap into comes back into the waiting room.”

    “Duh, Al. I know that. I designed the thing, remember?”

    Al hit some buttons on his handlink. “Well, when that happens, some residual is leftover from the leap that allows us to lock onto you.”

    “I’m losing my patience here, Al.”

    “We were unable to get a lock this time.” Al said. “At first we thought maybe the equipment was malfunctioning, but all the diagnostics came back okay. Then Gooshie got the idea of going into the waiting room to talk to whoever leaped into you.”

    Al’s face went white, and he shuddered.

    “Well, who did I leap into?” Sam asked.

    “Not ‘who,’ Sam.” Al said. “‘What.’”

    “Yeah, I know. I’m inside a gorilla or something.”

    Al shook his head side to side. “It’s worse than that. Your name is Chewbacca, and you are the co-captain of the Eravana, which is the ship we are on right now.”

    “So, this isn’t a movie?”

    “No, Sam.” Al replied. “This is going to be hard for you to hear, but you’re not on earth at all. You’re in another galaxy.”

    Sam put his hand to his heart and breathed a heavy sigh. “That’s not possible.”

    “Ziggy isn’t sure what happened.” Al said. “I thought the guy was looney toons when he told me that. But, just in case, we started pinging radio signals to the coordinates he gave us. It’s how we managed to lock onto you.”

    “What are you saying?” Sam asked. “That I’ve not only traveled in time, but I’ve leapt across the universe? That’s crazy. It’s outside of the scope of what we designed Quantum Leap for.”

    Al pointed to the ceiling. “But it’s not outside of…er…his…jurisdiction.”

    Sam scoffed at the notion. “So, God or fate or whatever has leapt me across the galaxy. For what?” Then, to himself he said, “This ought to be rich.”

    Al tapped the handlink with his right hand. “Your name is Chewbacca. You’re co-captain of this ship, the Eravana. You’re here with Han Solo, and you’re trying to find your old ship, The Millenium Falcon.”

    Sam scoffed again. “You sound crazy, Al. So, what am I here to fix?”

    Al tapped the handlink again. “We’re not sure about that yet. This Chewbacca character wasn’t exactly the friendliest guy to talk to. He tried to choke me out when I first approached him. We had to hit him with a tranquilizer and some truth serum to get him to talk.”

    Before Sam could reply, Han returned.

    “Rathtars are sleeping,” Han said. “So, I guess there’s nothing else to do but wait. You take first watch, Chewy. I’m going to get some shut-eye.”

    Han checked the gauges on the ship and walked out of the cockpit.

    “Yes, sir.” Sam replied, and looked at Al.

    Al shook his head and took a puff of the cigar he was holding. “You’re way less formal than that, Sam. This Chewbacca may owe Han a life-debt, but they are more like family than co-captains.”

    “Good to know.” Sam said.

    “Anyway, Chewbacca gave us details on some old archives that exist in this galaxy. Ziggy is trying to get a lock on it now. When he does, I’ll be back to tell you why you are here.”

    “You know, Al, just once it would be nice if you could show up AFTER you get me the information I need.”

    Al tapped a few buttons on the handlink, and a door of light appeared behind him. “What would be the fun in that?”

    Sam watched as he disappeared into the door of light. “Oh, boy.” He said again.

Chapter 2

    Sam sat in the cockpit and stared at the planet in front of him. He really didn’t know what he was looking for, but he kept watch anyway. He thought back to his first leap. He’d leapt into an airplane pilot and had to learn how to fly an airplane. If he could get through that, he could get through this. He looked down at the dash before him, a giant rectangular array of buttons, knobs, and lights. He didn’t have the first clue what any of them were for.

    He sat in the cockpit for what felt like hours, staring into space. The thought of being in another galaxy was both exhilarating and frightening all at once. Knowing that his project was leaping him not only in time, but in space as well, was maybe the apex of his entire life’s work. He could fill a book with the technical details, and this leap would definitely make for a whole section of that book. To be the first human to leave the Milky Way. He was officially the first human to accomplish interstellar travel. The possibilities were endless.

    Suddenly, one of the lights started flashing and an alarm started whirring loudly throughout the ship. He stared at the console and the flashing light, but didn’t have a clue what to do about it.

    “Han!” He yelled over his shoulder. “I think we got something!”

    He listened. Han didn’t reply, but he heard a thud in the back followed by footsteps thumping through the corridor to the cockpit.

    “Now we’re talking, Chewy.” He said as he sat down next to him.  He flipped a switch on the console and the the buzzing stopped. “Look! Over there!”

    Sam followed Han’s finger to the left of the planet before them. Another ship leaving the planet in front of them.

    “We’ll get them.” Han said. “Hang on.”

    Han took the controls and steered the ship towards their target. He flipped another switch and hit another button on the dash and the ship began to pick up speed.

    “We’ll come in behind them,” Han said. “Then we’ll lock onto them so they can’t get away.”

    The ship sped forward and they got within a half a mile of the other ship. Han pulled a lever above his head, and a tractor beam began pulling the other ship towards them.

    “Get to the back and open the hatch, Chewy.” Han said. “We’re about to see who is dumb enough to steal from me.”

    Sam ran to the back of the ship. “How do you open the hatch?”

    Han’s voice came back with frustration. “Did you hit your head or something? It’s the panel with buttons on the wall next to it you big hairy dope.”

    “That hurts.” Sam said to himself as he randomly tapped buttons on the panel next to the hatch.

    The hatch slowly started opening, much like the door on a garage. Sam stood at the opening and looked out. The background of stars and galaxies was breathtaking. The other ship came floating into the bay. Sam thought it looked terrible. He couldn’t understand why Han would be out looking for such a hunk of garbage.

    Han came running in. “Okay, Chewy, let’s go see what kind of party awaits us on the ship.”

    He started walking towards the ship, and Sam followed. The door opened and the two ran up the steps. When they were inside, Sam saw Han stop for a moment and the look that came over his face was a little sad, like he might be remembering someone or something from long ago.

    “Chewy, we’re home.” He said.

    Then he ran further into the ship. Sam looked around and then followed him. He heard a familiar sound and a door of light appeared in front of him. He tried to stop, but wound up running right through the hologram of Al that appeared before him.

    “Whoah, take it easy, Sam.” Al said and took a drag of his cigar.

    “Where have you been?” Sam whispered angrily. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

    “I was waiting for Ziggy to get the data.” Al said. “Remember, you told me not to show up until I had the information you need?”

    “Meanwhile, I’m looking like an idiot to this guy.” Sam whispered and kept walking after Han.

    “Damned if I don’t, damned if I do.” Al said to himself. “I’m sorry, Sam, but we need to talk.”

    “Where are the others? Where’s the pilot?” Sam heard Han say.

    Sam looked over Han’s shoulder and saw a black man and a white woman, both looking scared and jittery. They were talking. Sam gave Al a little shrug. He didn’t want to leave Han until they found out who the people were.

    “Who stole it from me!” Han shouted. “Well, you tell him Han Solo just stole back the Millenium Falcon for good!”

    The girl’s eyes lit up. “This is the Millenium Falcon? You’re Han Solo?” The words came out as much statements as they were questions.

    Han walked to the front of the ship. The man and the woman followed. Sam figured this would be a good time to hang back with Al.

    “Okay, Al.” Sam said. “What am I doing here?”

    Al tapped on the handlink. “You’re Chewbacca and your friend is Han.”

    “We covered that.” Sam said impatiently.

    “The other two are Finn and Rey.” Al tapped the handlink again. “Finn is a stormtrooper who denied his citizenship with the First Order, the evil regime trying to take over the galaxy. On his first mission he got spooked and decided to run away. Rey is a scrapper, a long time junk-seeker who has been waiting on Jakku for her parents since she was a young child.”

    “So, I’m here for them?” Sam asked, walking back and forth in the hallway.

    “Ziggy says there’s a 98.26% chance that you’re here for this Chewbacca character.” Al said.

    “What could possibly be wrong with him?” Sam asked.

    “In a few days Han cries…wait…cries?” Al slapped the handlink. “Oh no, Sam.”


    “In a few days, Han dies.” Sam said. “And Chewbacca, in his anger, kills the man who did it. This sets off a chain of events that leads to the galaxy’s destruction and Chewbacca’s suicide.”

Chapter 3

    Before he could reply, Han, Finn, and Rey came walking back into the hallway. They were talking to each other, but Sam kept eye contact with Al, who had positioned himself near Rey.

    “You know, Sam,” Al said, eyeing Rey up and down, “she’s not too bad on the eyes. A little dirty, but that’s nothing a shower couldn’t fix.”

    “Al!” Sam said in a loud whisper. Al pumped his left arm and the left half of his body as if she was pulling him towards her.

    “He’s carrying a map to Luke Skywalker!” Finn said.

    A look of recognition flashed across Han’s eyes.

    “You are the Han Solo who fought with the rebellion.” Finn said. “You knew him.”

    “Yeah, I knew Luke.” Han said, his eyes looking off the in the distance. “I knew him.”

    Suddenly, a distant metallic CHUNK! sound came from the back of the ship.

    “Don’t tell me a Rathtars gotten loose.” Han said as he ran out of the hall. Finn and Rey followed.

    “Al, what do I do?” Sam asked.

    “A Rathtar is a…” Al tapped the side of his handlink. “It’s a…well…let’s just say you won’t like them. I’ll go see what is going on.”

    Al disappeared through the wall. He was gone for several seconds, long enough for Sam to get jittery and start pacing, ready to go to the back of the ship. Before he could act, though, Al was back.

    “He’s telling the others to hide underneath the ship.” Al said. “Go in there and back him up.”

    Sam went after Han and found him getting ready to go negotiate with whoever had boarded the ship.

    “Where have you been, Chewy?” Han asked.

    “Just checking the ship.” Sam said.

    “You big oaf.” Han said. “Follow my lead before they kill us both.”

    Sam thought Han was kind of cocky and full of himself. He didn’t like the way he talked down to Chewbacca. He believed that you should took care of your pets and treat them like one of the family.

    “Sam, they are behind you.” Al said from behind him.

    Sam turned and a group of men were gathered at the opening to the hallway they were in. Sam watched as the men accused Han of stealing from him. Han must have been quite a character. Stealing and swindling people all over the galaxy. And now, suddenly, two different groups on either end of the hallway. A second group had shown up, and the first group announced their presence.

    “Tell that to Kanjiklub.” The leader of the first group said.

    What happened next was kind of a blur to Sam. They all started shooting at each other. They ran towards the other ship, the ship that Rey and Finn arrived on. The one that Han said belonged to him.

    “Sam!” Al shouted as he ran with them. “That thing on your back is a gun.”

    “Are you ever going to start shooting?” Han said, frustrated.

    Sam took the gun out and aimed it at one of the men. He fired and the recoil of the gun knocked him backwards. He managed to stay on his feet. Barely. He looked down at the gun and up at Han, whose mouth had fallen open in surprise.

    “I’ve got the door!” Han shouted. “Cover us!”

    Sam fired down the hall as Han crossed the corridor. The little droid called BB-8 followed Han. Sam continued to exchange blaster fire as Han worked the controls. The hatch opened, leading directly to the Falcon, just as a blaster shot hit Sam in the shoulder.

    “Ouch!” Sam screamed and grabbed the shoulder.

    “Chewy, are you okay?” Han asked, taking the bowcaster gun from him and shooting the controls.

    Sam nodded.

    Han shot the bowcaster and watched as it knocked the guy over. “Wow.” He said looking at the gun. “Come on! Come on!”

    Han and Sam ran into Finn and Rey, and they all boarded the Falcon. Blaster fire whizzed past their heads, hitting the ship behind them. The shots deflected from the ship as if there were some sort of invisible shield.

    Han and Rey went to the cockpit. Finn tried to help Sam to the back of the ship. Al stood behind Finn and looked around at the chaos.

    “Hang on back there!” Han yelled from the cockpit.

    “I’m trying to take care of this dying hairy thing!” Finn shouted, accidentally squeezing the wound too hard.

    Sam yelled in pain and grabbed Finn by the neck. “Take it easy!” He grunted and then fell back onto the bed in the med bay. His shoulder hurt like hell, but it was unlike him to react with violence like that. Sam wondered if part of this Chewbacca character had imprinted onto him. That kind of thing had happened before in previous leaps.

    Sam could feel the change in speed when the ship jumped to light speed. And suddenly, everything went quiet. Finn wrapped Sam’s arm in a bandage and made his way to the front of the ship.

    “Finally, a chance to talk.” Sam said, sighing and taking a deep breath.

    Al walked through the wall and stood next to the bed. “This ship doesn’t look like much, but it’s got it where it counts.”

    Sam nodded. “Okay, Al. So, I’m here to stop this Han from dying?”

    Al looked at the handlink. “Ziggy says no.”

    “How can I not be here to save him?” Sam said. “He’s obviously a very capable person, no matter how much of an ass he is. Someone like him would be very valuable in a war.”

    Al shook his head. “Ziggy says that his death rallies people to their cause. He thinks that if you save him, the resistance won’t have as much cohesion as they do when they find out the great Han Solo was killed by…” Al tapped on the handlink. “Kylo Ren.”

    “I don’t give a damn what that hybrid computer says, Al.” Sam retorted. “If I can save a man’s life, then I need to try.”

    “It doesn’t look like it’s in the cards, Sam.” Al said. “What is more important? One man’s life? Or the fate of an entire galaxy?”

Chapter 4

    The next few days were a whirlwind for Sam. Not only were there ships that could drive from planet to planet and all across the galaxy, but the whole galaxy was actually teaming with life. It was a discovery so monumental, so worthy of a Nobel Prize, that Sam could hardly contain his excitement. Not to mention that he’d seen and set foot on a couple of different planets in that time.

    He pieced together the struggle that Han and his crew were facing. It was a war torn galaxy, ripped to shreds by an evil empire that was eventually defeated. In the time since that defeat, the band of rebels that won the fight tried to stitch the galaxy back together and get a functioning democracy going again. In the 30 years or so since the fall of the Empire, the galaxy was well on its way to peace and democratic control.

    However, a new regime that called itself The First Order had risen from the ashes of the Empire and was making a play for control. This conflict with the First Order was starting to unravel all the progress made by the New Republic.

    Sam stood in the control room at the base on D’qar. The little droid (another fascinating invention) was displaying a map when they learned of the First Order’s newest attack. An entire solar system wiped from existence, and the resistance base was the next target.

    “So, we blow up their big gun.” Han said to the crew a little later. “There’s always a way to do that.”

    Sam was impressed with the poise and control that Han displayed. Sam had leapt into many people and seen many places, but very few people had the presence for leadership that Han Solo possessed. Sure, he was a bit of an ass, but Sam was learning that you came to love him in spite of that. He was a swindler, but only insomuch that it “paid the bills.” To those closest to him, Han was very loyal, direct, and honest.

    “I can disable the shields.” Finn said. “But I have to be there…on the planet.”

    “We’ll get you there.” Han said.
    “Han, how?” Leia asked.

    Han shook his head. “If I told you, you wouldn’t like it.”

    Poe stood up. “So, we disable the shields, take out the oscillator, and blow up their big gun. Let’s go!”

    People scattered, each with a sense of purpose and duty. Sam went outside and started helping Finn load supplies into the Falcon. Sam watched as Han interacted with Leia. He could sense a lot of history between them.

    “Love is a beautiful thing, Sam.” Al said out of nowhere.

    Sam jumped. “Al, you scared the bejesus out of me. Can you not do that?”

    “Sorry.” Al said and took a drag of his cigar.

    “Do you have an update for me?” Sam asked.

    “Yeah, that’s why I am here.” Al said. “Ziggy is saying that it’s absolutely crucial that you let Han die today. Everything is riding on it.”

    “Come on, Al.” Sam said as he stepped past him. “There’s nothing we can do to save him?”
    Al shook his head. “Not according to Ziggy.”

    “Well then we are right back to where we started.” Sam said. “Why even come at all if the answer is still the same?”

    “Because…” Al tapped the handlink. “According to Ziggy, Kylo Ren still dies. Which means that you still shoot him.”

    “Isn’t this Kylo character the bad guy?” Sam asked. “Why do we let a decorated man like Han Solo die while one of the most dangerous criminals in this galaxy gets to live?”

    Al looked at the handlink. “Because this Kylo Ren isn’t the real bad guy. There’s a much worse guy behind him named Snoke. And Kylo Ren is the only one who can kill Snoke.”

    “But aren’t Kylo and Snoke on the same team?” Sam asked as he loaded the bag.

    “According to Ziggy, there’s a 76.53% chance that Kylo will betray Snoke if he is allowed to live today.” Al replied. “But he can’t do that if he doesn’t survive.”

    Sam shook his head. “I don’t know if I can do it, Al. Watch a man die, knowing I could have helped him. And a good man, with a family, to boot.”

    “It’s about the greater good, Sam.” Al said. “You make the necessary sacrifice today so that you live to fight tomorrow.”

    “That sounds like the kind of thing a villain would say, Al.” Sam stuffed more of the explosives into the bag.

    “Chewy, check that donal capacitor.” Han said as he approached the ship. “Come on. Let’s go. Finn, be careful with those. They are explosive.”

    Finn looked up in distress. “Now you tell me?”

    Leia showed up again to talk to Han. Sam looked at the two, realizing that they would never see each other again. Sam could feel the tears welling up behind his eyes. Was that his emotion? Or was it the residual left over by Chewbacca?

    “If you see our son, bring him home” was the last thing Sam heard before he boarded the ship.

    He looked out of the window and Han and Leia were holding each other in a loving embrace.

    “I’m sorry, Leia.” Sam said, touching the glass.

Chapter 5

    Sam almost threw up when they landed on the Starkiller Base. Han made the descent at lightspeed so that he could slide through the fractional refresh rate of the shields. After a hard landing, they made their way into the base. They captured one of the officers and forced her to lower the shields. Then they went looking for the girl, Rey, who was kidnapped by Snoke. They found her climbing around on one of the exhaust ports. They met up with her and started making their way back to the ship.

    A major battle was taking place outside. Ships that Sam had never seen before were attacking the base and being attacked by other ships that Sam had never seen. It was chaos, and it was clear that the resistance was losing.

    “They’re in trouble. We can’t leave.” Han said to Finn, then looked at Chewy. “My friend here has a bag of explosives. Let’s use them.”

    The group split up. Finn and Rey went to disable the maintenance hatch and let them into the building.

    “We’ll set the charges to every other column.” Han said, pointing at the structure.

    “Wouldn’t it make more sense to set them all together?” Sam asked. “That way you can blow a hole big enough for those fighters to get inside.”

    “You’re right.” Han said. “That’s a better idea. You take the top.”

    Sam placed the explosives as directed and then stopped to look for Han. He had wandered away from the wall and was making his way to a platform that spanned the great chasm in the middle of the structure.

    “Ben!” Han shouted.

    One could hear a pin drop. Kylo Ren stopped in his tracks and turned around. Suddenly, it dawned on Sam why this was so hard for Han and Leia and what that embrace was really all about. Kylo Ren was their son, and they were there to try to rescue him.

    Sam watched as Han and Kylo met in the middle of the walkway. He couldn’t hear them talking, but could see Kylo remove his mask. They were having a conversation. Sam heard the beeping of Al’s handlink.

    “This is it, Sam.” Al said.

    Sam was silent, but suddenly pulled the bowcaster from his back.

    “Saaaaaaam.” Al said. “Don’t do it, Sam.”

    Sam pulled the bowcaster up to his shoulder and aimed it at Kylo’s head.

    “Sam!” Al shouted. “If you do this, you are dishonoring everything that Han stood for!”

    “Han doesn’t think he’s going to die, Al.” Sam replied, clicking off the safety. “I can help reunite a family. Perhaps Kylo can be turned if Han survives.”

    Al looked at the handlink as it beeped and whirred. “He won’t, Sam. And just how do you get Han out of here alive at this point?”

    “I’m going to shoot Kylo.” Sam said. “Right now.”

    Al’s face turned red, and he moved in front of Sam’s bowcaster to block his vision.

    “Get out of the way, Al!” Sam whispered loudly.

    “Sam!” Al shouted. “You can’t do this!”

    Sam slid sideways, but before he could aim at Kylo, he saw a flash of red below. It was protruding from Han’s back. Kylo stabbed him with what looked like a laser sword.

    Sam’s eyes filled with tears as he shouted. “Haaaaaaaan! No!”

    Kylo Ren looked up at Sam and they made eye contract for a brief second.

    Sam aimed the bowcaster at Kylo’s head…and then lowered it and fired. The blast left the gun and hit him in the side, knocking him back. Then he hit the detonator on the bombs and explosions rocked the structure. He could hear Rey screaming from above him, and he decided it was time to get out of there.

    “I’m sorry, Sam.” Al said. “But there’s something you need to do.”

    Al led him back outside and to the Falcon.

    “I don’t know how to fly this thing.” Sam said, as he sat in the cockpit.

    Al tapped the handlink. “Ziggy is uploading instructions.”

    Over the next several minutes, Al showed Sam what buttons to push and how to fly the Falcon.

    “You’ve come a long way since being a fighter pilot, Sam.” Al said, smiling.

    “Har har, Al.” Sam said. “I wish you could experience this feeling just once.”

    “The feeling that you are not in control and that you have no idea what to do next?” Al said. “Believe me, I’ve experienced it many times. I was in the army. And I was a prisoner of war.”

    Within minutes the ship was in the air. “Where do I go, Al?”

    Al tapped the handlink. “There. Ziggy has a lock on Finn and Rey over there.”

    He pointed out the window, and Sam steered the ship into the woods, where Rey was trying to help a wounded Finn. Sam left the Falcon hovering, walked outside, and brought Finn onto the ship.

    They made it off the planet just as a huge explosion rocked the core and the star that was sucked into their giant weapon destroyed the planet they were on. They rode home in silence. When they made it to D’qar, Sam stayed with Finn as he led them to the medical bay. When Finn was safe, Sam sat on one of the cots to catch his bearings.

    “Why am I still here, Al?” Sam asked as Al appeared through a door of light.

    Al read the handlink. “Ziggy says there’s one more thing for you to do.”

    Sam stood up. “What’s that?”

    “You need to get one of the droids working again.” Al said. “It’s in maintenance mode, and has been ever since his master disappeared.”

    “What do I know about droids?” Sam asked.

    “Quite a lot, actually.” Al replied. “One of your doctorates is in robotics.”

    Al led him to the droid in question. It looked more like a trash can than a robot. Sam opened a hatch on the front and looked at the electronics.

    “This droid isn’t in maintenance mode, Al.” Sam said. “He’s been manually powered down. Look! The switch is breaking the connection.”

    Sam flipped the switch and waited.


    “Got any other bright ideas, Sam?” Al smirked and took a drag of his cigar.

    “Yeah, I have one.”

    Sam kicked the droid. Nothing happened. So he kicked it again. Nothing. He went to kick it a third time, but, before he could, a little port opened and the droid zapped him with electricity. Sam spun around and tried to walk away. He saw the other droid, the little round one, roll past as he walked away. Just before he could sit on the cot again, he felt it. A bright flash of blue light, and he was gone.


    Sam woke up, disoriented. He couldn’t remember where he was or what he had done. The name Han stood out in his mind, but he couldn’t remember why. He looked around at his surroundings. He was in a car, but it wasn’t a normal car. There were far too many gadgets and electronics for it to be a normal car.

    He looked up and saw that the car was moving. He looked at the dash and the speed was 88 mph, and he was heading straight towards an old phone booth. Then he saw bright flashes of electric sparks all around the car. Suddenly, the entire landscape changed and he was in a field, running over a scarecrow. He tried to steer the car, but it was going too fast. He crashed into a barn just as the headgear from a radiation suit fell over his eyes.

    “Oh boy!” He said as the car came to rest.

If you enjoyed this story and want to read more by author James Leatherman, then be sure to visit this page and read some of his original works.