STRATAGEM Chapter 28
STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham
TWO DAYS EARLIER
BLAKE STRUCK AN ADJACENT PARKED CAR as he pulled out of the carport. He spun the steering wheel, let out a pained grunt.
That was when Sabine saw the blood. “You’ve been hit!”
“It just grazed me,” Blake said and raced out of the parking lot, wheels screeching.
The Camry lurched, throwing her shoulder into the passenger side window.
Another set of gunshots rang out behind them.
A loud metallic pop rapped against the trunk.
Sabine winced and ducked.
Once Blake turned the car onto the open street, he sped off pushing the speedometer past 60 MPH. “Are they following us?”
Sabine looked back.
Nothing but the empty street, overhead lamps casting an amber mist over the entire area. “I don’t see anyone. We’ve got a decent lead.”
Blake’s window opened. “Pass me my laptop bag?”
“What?” She reached over the put its carrying strap in his free hand, which also held his phone.
Without hesitation, he took it and tossed it and the phone out the window.
“Wait—what are you doing?” Sabine said, turning her head to watch the bag and phone fall flat on the asphalt like roadkill.
He held out his hand. “Phone, electronics?”
She shook her head. “I wasn’t expecting a prison break.”
“Good. Can’t have anything electronic on us. They’ll use it to track us.”
“I can’t believe they’d shoot at us—they’re just base security.”
Sabine gave him an incredulous look. “Them too?”
“We have to assume they’re like Lucy and Jon. At the very least, they’re under their orders.” Blake turned away from the freeway ramp and drove toward a residential neighborhood.
Sabine pointed back. “You missed the freeway entrance.”
“Too many cameras they can track us with.” He slowed the car down to a casual speed. “Earlier today, I disconnected the GPS from this car and removed its license plate. But we still need a less conspicuous route.” He glanced at the back seat and said, “Do me a favor. Grab that first aid kit, get a bandage and tie it around my a wound.”
She turned around and retrieved the red ballistic nylon bag. “I guess going to the ER is out.”
Blake laughed. “Just a scratch.”
Sabine found the blood-soaked rip in his sleeve where the bullet had nicked him. It didn’t look life-threatening, but he’d need to keep some pressure on it. She pulled out a good amount from the roll and tore off the other end. “Okay, ready?”
“Do it,” Blake said, acting as if he was looking forward to it.
“It’s going to hurt.”
She wrapped it around his biceps and looped one end under the other. Pulling carefully, she said, “Too tight?”
“Oh, come on,” Blake said. “That’s not going to stop the bleed—”
She pulled it tighter.
He squeezed his eyes for a split-second, shook his head tersely, then grinned. “That’s more like it.”
“What is with you men, always trying to be macho?”
He turned to her and narrowed his gaze. “I don’t have to try.”
“Seriously? The smolder?” Sabine laughed.
Blake’s stone-cold countenance dissolved into a smile. “Maybe.”
He was doing it again—putting her at ease by distraction. And why not? They’d just broken quarantine, fled armed guards, gotten shot at. Blake’s distractions had always worked, best just go with it.
“So, where are we going?”
Blake’s eyebrows stretched upwards as he considered the question. “To call in a favor.”
About twenty minutes later with no sign of having been followed, they stopped at a solid gate in a dimly lit, remote area well outside of the city and suburban neighborhoods. An ivy-covered concrete wall about ten feet in height and razor wire on top reached across either side of the gate, obstructing whatever lay on the other side. With no signs or distinguishing clues, this place seemed neither secure nor remarkable. It was just there. Plain and dull—a big wall and a gate.
Sabine sat up and pushed the hair out of her eyes. “What are we doing here?”
“Disappearing.” Blake drove off the shoulder of the road into the wooded area about ten meters from the gate. After some rude bumps under the tires which probably damaged the car’s suspension, he parked behind a tall thicket.
“I don’t think it’ll be that hard to find us here,” Sabine said.
“Only if we stay.” Blake killed the ignition and opened his door. “Let’s go.”
He led her back up to the gate.
Darkness engulfed the entire area. But for the scant beams of moonlight seeping through cloud fissures above, there would have been no way to find their way.
Blake ran his hand along the wall at the gate’s edge.
“Got it.” He reached behind a heavy layer of ivy and with both hands pushed the vines apart to reveal a small panel. He pressed a spot near the top of the rectangular cover. It clicked and dropped open revealing a backlit keypad. It blinked every time he tapped it until finally, the keypad went dark.
“Is that bad?” Sabine said.
“Wait for it.”
She stared at the gate for a few seconds. “You sure you got it right?”
“It’s been a few years, but yeah. I think so.”
In the distance, a lone cricket serenaded them.
“Not like you to ever get anything wrong,” Sabine said, still watching the gate with waning anticipation.
“It’s affecting my memory.
“What?” Sabine said. “The alien virus?”
“I don’t think it’s a virus. It’s more like—” A heavy scraping sound interrupted.
Sabine leaped back with a start.
But the gate hadn’t moved.
Instead, behind Blake, a door-sized section of the concrete wall retracted, then slid aside. “Oh, that’s right. Dummy gate.”
Sabine shot him a wry grin.
“Don’t even,” he said and walked through the entrance.
Clearing the strands of ivy before her, she followed him through the opening. Immediately, they came to the other side of the wall which revealed more ivy and trees. Blake pressed something on the wall and the concrete “door” slid shut.
“We should be okay from here on,” he said, then started through the trees into a clearing up ahead.
Looking around to make sure a snake didn’t make its way into her path, Sabine kept close.
A twig snapped under her foot.
She grabbed Blake’s arm and pulled close.
Right away, her ears started to burn. For a brief moment, it felt like she was a little girl holding onto Dad’s arm. “I promise, I’m not an eight-year-old.”
“Still, you’re strangling my arm.”
“Oh my gosh, you wound!”
“It’s okay, you can keep holding on. It’s my right arm that got grazed.”
Before she could say another word, a set of clicks stopped them in their tracks.
Blinding beams glared at them from the left and right. They came from flashlights mounted on the barrels of the automatic weapons the pair of men pointed them. “Not another step,” one of them shouted. “Show me your hands!”
Joshua Graham is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, winner of the International Book Award and Forward National Literature Award. His thrillers include DARKROOM, LATENT IMAGE and BEYOND JUSTICE, and TERMINUS. Graham's works have been characterized as thought-provoking page-turners.
Legal Notice: All information on this website and blog are from Mr. Graham's personal experience and insight and should not be viewed in any way, directly or inferred, as qualified professional advice.
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