STRATAGEM by Joshua Graham




On a weekday morning, the Henry Hudson Parkway should be packed with cars going in both directions. But as Derek drove away in the NYPD squad car he’d borrowed,


he saw none.

Paige was holding Hulk in her lap and humming a song he remembered from Sunday school way back when he was about her age. “Where are we going?” she asked.

“Somewhere nice.” So innocent, so trusting. What if it had been some sick creep taking her away from the place where her parents had been killed and pretending to be helping her?

Pressing his lips together, he looked out at the Hudson River trying to piece together what had happened: vacant city, a plane crash, people dropping dead at the hospital, buildings exploding and a swath of destruction following him. Like some kind of Michael Bay movie.

If there was a radio somewhere in the car, he couldn’t find it without taking his eyes off the road for too long. Would there even be anyone on the radio?

The further north he drove, however, the more he noticed signs of life. Over on the Jersey side of the river, a few cars moved along the roads. Eventually, a steady stream of cars going southbound on the Henry Hudson appeared. Derek flashed the high beams, honked the horn, tried waving at them to warn them from driving straight into the disaster zone. But they paid him no mind.

Further up ahead, the George Washington Bridge loomed over the horizon. Right away he thought of home, how he’d always cross the GWB on the way back. Before moving to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a writer, he’d grown up in Columbia, south of Baltimore. He’d graduated from NYU with honors but still held a day job working as an admin at an architectural firm.

Clearly not the great rocket-science success Sabine—the family jewel—was.

“You need to get that novel of yours written and published as a bestseller so the whole world can benefit from your gift,” Dad had said in his final days. Of course, he always had been biased about his children, and probably a bit delirious from the morphine. If only he’d lived long enough to see the day his son would justify his blind faith.

I hope I will.

And then there was Mom, her unconditional love even more blind than Dad’s.

After all they’d sacrificed, all their faith in Derek…

Wait, was Mom in danger too? Without Sabine, she had no one to check in on her. It would take about 4 hours to get there—maybe less if traffic continued this way. If only his phone worked, he could at least call.

And what about Paige?

Before he reached the exit for the bridge, the whoop-whoop of a police siren snapped him out of his thoughts. Had he pressed a button and caused that?

No, the sound came from behind the car. He checked the rearview mirror. The flashing red and blues of another squad car came rushing up.

A whisp of hope arose but immediately evaporated. Remember what happened the last time a living person approached—in a police car, no less.

The other squad car pulled up behind him and its bullhorn squawked. “Take this exit ramp and pull over after the traffic signal.”

“Great.” He signaled, took the Riverside Drive South exit and pulled over to the curb as instructed. Out of an abundance of caution, he cracked open the window just enough to slip a driver’s license through. No registration though.

The police car stopped behind him, lights still flashing.

A pair of officers approached on either side of his car.

At the very least, they might be able to tell him what was going on.

If they lived long enough.

Please don’t drop dead…

To his surprise, they didn’t.

To his dismay, the one by his window tapped the glass of Derek’s door with the point of his gun. “Step of the car with your hands on your head.”

“Paige, listen,” Derek murmured. “Don’t move or make any noise, okay? I have to talk with the policeman out there.”

“What’s the matter?” She said.

“Step out of the car, now!” The officer shouted at Derek.

Paige whimpered.

“It’ll be okay,” Derek said. “Promise.” He carefully held one hand up where the officer could see and with the other, he started opening the door. At least the officers were alive. After he explained what he’d seen, they’d thank him for the information and lead, right?

Slowly pushing the door open with his foot, he raised both hands and placed them on top of his head. “It’s okay, I’m unarmed.”

The officer spoke with a stern voice. “Turn around and face the car.”

Before he even completed turning, the officer slammed him against the rear passenger door.

“Easy!” Derek hissed. “I’m not resisting!”

Paige jumped back and started crying.

Hulk barked incessantly.

And Derek winced at the pain from his face hitting the car as they cuffed him.



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.

All creative writing on this website or Mr. Graham's books: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. (novels, short stories)

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