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STRATAGEM Chapter 14

THE POUNDING WOULDN’T RELENT. It began as a muffled rhythm of thumps, then came into focus as incessant knocking on the front door. Sabine struggled to open her eyes. Only the left one succeeded.
Darkness surrounded her. Was it morning or night?
She groped around the bed until her fingers hit the edge of the nightstand where her phone rested on its wireless charging pad. 
She picked it up and tapped the screen to see what time it was.
Nothing.
Pretty sure I saw it charging before I went to sleep.
More frantic knocking.
So it hadn’t been a dream.
“Sabine?” the man outside’s voice called out, distant and muted. “Are you in there, Sabine?”
Her head felt like a cinderblock. Though both eyes were now open, she still couldn’t see anything except for the thin golden outline of the drawn window blinds. It was still light outside.
The knocking increased in intensity. “Sabine!”
Shaking the stupor off, she found the light switch, threw on her sweats, and walked out to the front door. She took a quick look through the side window and saw who it was that kept knocking on her door.
Quick check in the mirror—messy hair, puffy eyes. Oof. Oh well, it is what it is. She opened the door.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 13

[WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NEW YORK]
IMPOSSIBLE! How could they survive that? Was he hallucinating? Derek blinked and shook his head. No one could get run over by a car, struck head-on, and just get up like those people back there.
Add to his rap sheet: Vehicular Manslaughter, Attempted Murder—with a deadly Ford Fusion.
It was self-defense!
Hulk continued to bark.
Eyes wide, Paige covered her ears.
“Down, Hulk!” He glanced back and continued driving toward the highway. “You okay, Paige?”
“Uh-huh.” She reached over and put her arms around the Corgi, who calmed down and sat across her lap.
“Did you get hurt?”
She shook her head. “No, just scared.”
Hopefully, she hadn’t seen or realized the degree of violence that had just occurred back outside the police station.
“So…those two back there? The ones who tried to take you away—they aren’t your parents?”
“Nah-ah.”
“Then who were they?”
Paige shrugged and pet Hulk from head to tail. “I don’t know.”
“But I saw them with you this morning before I took you to the hospital.”
“Mommy and Daddy were sick this morning. They wouldn’t wake up. I went outside to look for help. That man and that lady said they were going to drive me to school.”
“Do you know them?”
“Nope.”
“Didn’t your parents ever tell you not to get in a car with strangers?”
“No.”
Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. The irony hit him like a baseball bat.
“Are you a stranger?” Paige asked.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 12

TWO WEEKS EARLIER…
Vanderberg Air Force Base

SO COLD…
Darkness ebbed, yielding to a hazy luminescence—blue, then white.
Muffled sounds: Voices.
Breathe!
Sabine gasped, drew a deep breath and wheezed. Her heart raced like a car with brakes engaged then suddenly released at max-RPM.
Trying to clear her vision, she blinked rapidly.
Lying down.
Normal orientation…gravity.
The cold surface.
Cold air blowing on her face.
She shuddered, sat up.
Other than the sheet that had just slipped off her bare shoulders, she had no clothes on. She grabbed it before it fell away, and covered herself.
Her vision cleared.
That smell…chemicals, disinfectants.
She was sitting in some kind of medical exam room.
“She’s up,” someone murmured behind her.
Every joint in Sabine’s body ached. She tried to turn around but found her neck and back too stiff.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 11

Washington Heights, New York
THE MAN WHO RESEMBLED PAIGE’S FATHER lunged at Derek and started choking him with both hands. The sudden inability to breathe caused Derek to panic. He tried prying the cold fingers off but to no avail.
The crazed man squeezed harder.
Derek flailed about, punching his assailant in the arm, shoulder, wrist…didn’t work. The guys’ arms were fully extended, putting his face out of striking distance.  He swung Derek around, slamming his back against the car’s open door frame. Tiny flecks of light danced about Derek’s eyes and the pain from his spine spread to his neck.

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STRATAGEM Chapter 10

DEAD BODIES SOMETIMES MOVE. But they don’t climb down from an exam table and stand up! Part intrigued/part terrified, Marcus pointed a penlight in Subject Two’s direction.
It didn’t move.
The subject was a male Asian—Jon Kimura. The shadows obscured his features. But it didn’t move from his place by the exam table. Did the body just happen to fall into a standing position?
Marcus heard the sound.

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