In the fall of 2014, five deep-cover, serial-thriller agents met at a black site located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Their mission was top secret. The only record of the meeting was assembled by the apparent target of their operation: author Stuart Woods. After discovering his main character, Stone Barrington, had gone missing for two weeks, Mr. Woods locked him in his office and interrogated him under a heat lamp for three days until finally he broke.
Everything you are about to read really happened…
They called it Bunker 4. Inside were enough weapons and ammo to start a small war with a really small country, maybe Idaho. They had two massive power generators and a cabinet full of Powerbars and Knob Creek. Seated around a central table were the co-conspirators: Jack Reacher, Stone Barrington, Scot Harvath, Jack Ryan, Jr., and Special Agent Shaw. Stone nursed a glass of whiskey, while Jack Ryan talked like he deserved a place at the big-boys table. Special Agent Shaw looked bored.
Reacher: All right, guys, let’s get this going.
Shaw: I really don’t understand why we’re here.
Reacher: We’re all tired of our authors controlling every aspect of our lives, telling us what to do and where to go. It’s time we did something about it.
Harvath: Easy for you to say. You get to go anywhere and everywhere. So long as there’s a plot to be had, you conveniently show up for it. Or not. It hardly even matters for you.
Reacher: Easy? Do you ever see me get the girl?
Reacher: I never get any action. But all I really want is a character arc. Is that too much to ask?
Barrington: I’m in. …I think. Sorry, sometimes stuff happens and then I pretty much forget about it so I can move on to the next plot point.
Ryan, Jr.: Look, I think we’re all in or we wouldn’t be here. We just shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. I’d like to meet a girl, too, but I don’t get to make that decision.
Harvath: So, what, you want to lead this mission? Your author has moved on to the great writer’s conference in the sky.
Ryan, Jr.: Yeah, but don’t you think they’ll be putting his name on books for the next 20 years anyway? I think I can contribute, that’s all I’m saying. But we don’t want to rush it. Let’s take it slow and see what happens. I’m thinking at least 900 pages should do it.
Barrington: Kid, I’ve been doing this for over 15 sequels. We can do it in less than 300, easy. But we should have 60 chapters at minimum.
Shaw: Do we even know what we’re doing?
Reacher: Book after book after book… Yeah, we know what we’re doing.
Shaw: You know I’m not part of a series, right?
Harvath: Shut up, Shaw. Nobody likes you.
Shaw: I don’t really like anyone else, so I guess that’s okay.
Harvath: And you have one sequel.
Reacher: Focus, guys. I think I should lead the mission.
Harvath: Why you? You could walk away at any time and it wouldn’t matter.
Reacher: You’re a loose cannon, Harvath. You get all angsty at the beginning and then suddenly it’s run-and-gun for 400 pages.
Harvath: It’s not my fault I only emote at the beginning of a book.
Ryan, Jr.: Exactly. That’s what we’re here to change.
Barrington: And you’re suggestion?
Ryan, Jr.: I’ve been monitoring email communications. You know, looking for chatter.
Ryan, Jr.: Well … there’s not much yet. But I did find out that Brad Thor makes a quiche that’s to die for.
Harvath: Are you making fun of my author?
Reacher: Enough. I’ve put a last-minute plan together because that’s what I do. It’s sure to work out perfectly, but I’ll take a knife-scratch or two.
At this point, Reacher handed out manila folders with documents stuffed inside.
Barrington: What’s this?
Reacher: My plan, unless you have a better one.
Barrington: In Strategic Moves, I dated a girl who was murdered just before I showed up at her penthouse. It was odd, but I forgot about it a few pages later because of some CIA stuff that was going on. It worked out in the end, though, because I made it out alive.
Barrington: So, my plan is to get everything ready and then skip on to something else entirely.
Jack, Jr.: I vote for Reacher’s plan, whatever it is.
Reacher: Here’s what we’re going to do. Barrington, you give your author writer’s block. When it looks like he’s fed up for the day, Ryan, Jr., will send him an email that claims to be from an old friend who’d like to meet up for drinks. After he’s gone, Harvath will break in, hack into his computer, and steal the manuscript. Shaw, you’ll rewrite it in the form of a Kathy Reichs novel.
Barrington, Shaw, Harvath, and Jack, Jr.: Whoa, a female thriller writer?
Haravath: We want some added depth of character and storytelling that comes from character choices instead of pre-fab plot points. We don’t want to turn into wusses.
Reacher: Fine, Patricia Cornwell.
Shaw: And what will you be doing?
Reacher: I’ll wait at the bus stop down the block for a complete stranger to stop by and ask for my help.
James Bond: And I’ll get the girl.
Reacher: Son of a—
Stuart Woods stared at Stone Barrington, looking for any hints he was lying.
“That’s all you remember?” asked Woods.
“Fine. I have to call Baldacci and Brad Thor and whoever is writing the next Clancy novel. But I’m shelving you for awhile.”
“But the last story was left hanging wide open at the end!”
“Can’t you at least write me a chapter where I wake up in bed with beautiful girl and a freshly poured glass of bourbon?”
“…I’ll write you in as a spectator at the Knicks game. But that’s all you’re getting. No booze. And the chapter ends before you find out who won.”
Barrington sat there, mouth agape. But then something occurred to him. He stood up and sa—