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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STRATAGEM Chapter 20

“WE’VE GOT TO GO,” Derek said to Paige. As soon as Mom’s friend drove away, he went back to the living room.
“It’s all right, Derek,” Mom said, “That was just—”
“Is Dad’s car still in the garage?”
“It’s not registered. Derek, what’s going on?”
“There’s something about your friend Maggie. Something in her eyes I think I saw back in New York with all the bizarre events. Can’t explain right now, please just trust me. Is there room to park the Ford I drove here in the third garage space?”
“Ok, can you open it so I can park it inside?”
“I’m pretty sure all the toll both cameras and facial recognition software will have connected me to that car. We have to keep it out of sight.”
“Paige,” Mom said, already heading for the garage, “You stay here with Hulk. I’ll be right back, okay?”
She nodded and sat on the couch.
“Hurry,” Derek said as he and Mom both went their respective ways. He stepped outside and looked around to make sure no one was watching. The garage door went up just as he got into the Fusion and powered it up.

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