STRATAGEM Chapter 25

LYNDA STORM NEVER THOUGHT THIS DAY WOULD ACTUALLY COME. But with everything Roger had prepared her for, what was happening with Derek must be the kind of situation her late husband had anticipated.

Roger had concealed his life and career as a covert operative from the children and the rest of the civilian and much of the intelligence world. Perhaps had Sabine suspected, but Derek? Well, he had always been trusting with his dad and most likely had no clue.

It had been more difficult for Lynda to conceal her knowledge and training from the kids, though. Maintaining the guise of a highly educated artist who’d given it all up for the domestic life, while secretly learning how to handle firearms, emergency protocols, and contingencies such as her husband’s death (sudden or otherwise) had been harder than anyone (including Roger) could appreciate.

The fuel pump gurgled as she walked toward the Quick Stop’s mini-mart, reminiscent of an old country store. Hopefully, she’d be able to buy some supplies there before going off the grid.

She opened the screen door and it protested with a rusty groan. Fighting the corroded hinges, she pulled it fully opened and glanced back at the car where Derek remained with Paige and Hulk, the entire setting evoking scenes from a late-night horror movie. The flickering fluorescent lights above did little to counteract that impression. Situated in the middle of nowhere on a tiny rural road to the same, it was a wonder this alleged gas station was even open for business.

“Hey!” a gruff voice inside the store said. “Come in or get out. You’re lettin’ the flies out.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 24

HOLDING HER BREATH, Sabine struggled to hold completely still. With the guard below standing alert, the last thing she needed was for him to look up and find her sneaking out the bathroom window behind her apartment.
This is ridiculous!
But the guy wasn’t moving. Any moment now, he’d discern the direction of the noise.
A glance back to the open window revealed a Yankee candle sitting by the sill. She reached up and grabbed it with one hand. Then with all the stealth she could muster, Sabine threw it over to the courtyard’s far end.
It clattered onto the ground somewhere in the shadows.
The guard double-timed over.
Sabine slid down the sheet as quickly as she could, grabbing each knot on the way down to steady her descent. As soon as she got to the end, she leaped down, absorbed the impact by bending her knees before her feet hit, and sprung back up. As light-footed as she could, she ducked around the corner and rushed down to the laundry room.
The guard didn’t seem to notice.
Before she even opened the door, Blake showed up, a satchel slung over his shoulder. His eyes were sunken, his skin dry and pale. Before Sabine could say a word, he put a finger up against his lips and motioned for her to follow him away from the laundry room. He wanted to go elsewhere. But why? Was there a more secure location to meet?
Blake led her through the concrete hallway to a short flight of steps down to a basement storage room. He opened the door, reached in and flipped a light switch on, then went inside.
“Come on,” he whispered.
Sabine followed.
He shut the door and locked it. Then he sat at a dusty old dining room set that someone had put there in storage. From the satchel, he pulled out an iPad and set it down on the table.
“What happened to the laundry room?” Sabine said.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 23

HOW MUCH MORE OF THIS could she endure? It had been two days since she spoke with Blake, and one entire day of not speaking or texting with anyone at all. Sabine’s margin of sanity wore thinner with each passing moment.
Endless hours of Netflix binging, surfing the web and watching the news did absolutely nothing for the mounting tension and monotony. Mindlessly clicking to the next episode of “The Good Place”, she picked up her phone to send Blake a text.
Come on, it’s already been an entire day of radio silence.
But Blake had been clear. With all the suspicious things going on around them, she had to assume they were all being surveilled. They had to act “normal”, whatever that looked like under a post-return-from-the-dead quarantine.
And her one reasonable text to Mom and Derek would have to suffice for now. Orders from the ICOMM brass were not flexible. Breaching those protocols would only put her further under scrutiny.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 22

BLURRED VISION, nausea, extreme fatigue…if Connor Walken ever experienced a hangover like this, he couldn’t remember. Indistinct voices murmured in the background somewhere in the vicinity of the fuzzy circle of light before him. Was it a dream? Was he even awake?
He blinked several times, trying to get his eyesight to cooperate. Only after squeezing them shut for several seconds did things finally start to come into focus.
“…you finally awake?” a callous-sounding male voice said.
“Can you sit up?”
Which way was up? Was he lying down? The moment he tried to sit up, the entire world started to swing around. He had to shut his eyes again just to keep from seeing it. He’d never experienced vertigo before but from what he’d read, this had to be it.
“Whoa.” He put his hand down to steady himself. “Spinning.”
Someone grabbed his arm.
A quick jab—felt like a needle—pricked his shoulder.
Within seconds, the spinning stopped.
“Mr. Walken,” the voice said. “You need to answer a few questions.”

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STRATAGEM Chapter 21

THE FACETIME RINGTONE STARTLED HER. It wasn’t that Sabine thought no one would contact her, despite the quarantine rules to keep outside contact restricted to essential calls. It was that she had been dreading any calls, period.
She glanced over to her phone on the end table.
Connor’s name showed on the screen.
“Take nothing for granted,” Blake had said. “And don’t automatically trust anyone, not even me.”
Act normal.
Don’t let on that you suspect anything.
Sabine drew a deep breath, picked up the phone, and answered.

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