STRATAGEM Chapter 16

THE AFTERNOON SUN cast a golden veil over the trees framing the home of Derek’s childhood. The pines and maples had grown so much taller and denser since he left for college. He pulled up into the driveway and shut the engine. Paige and Hulk had fallen asleep. Good. They all could use a few extra minutes of rest.
Derek leaned back in his seat and for the first time today closed his eyes and let the breath seep out of his lungs. His mind could not find the words to describe what had happened since he woke up until now.
A crow perched atop the roof of the house cawed three times. Standing right above the window of Derek’s old room, it cocked its head and stared down at him. The old brick façade and white shutters evoked memories of days he’d sit in his room typing stories on his Windows 7 computer with that little fifteen-inch monitor that took up half his desk to share on MySpace, while Sabine hung out with her “popular-crowd” friends after school. He had always been the nerd. Ironically, she had become the closest thing to a rocket scientist the Storm family had ever produced.

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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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NYPD 33rd Precinct | Washington Heights, New York

“ALL RIGHT STORM, GET YOUR ASS UP.” The uniformed officer walked into the interrogation room, working his bubblegum like a bull chewing cud. He stood about six-foot-five and probably about a hundred pounds larger than Derek, evoking a smaller version of Shaq. Best not share that analogy.
Derek stood and walked out the door with the officer—Robinson, according to his placard. “I’m supposed to get a phone call.”
“Talk to the detective.”
“I did.”
“Not my problem.” Robinson led him out past a maze of desks. Beyond the last row, Paige sat on a bench holding Hulk’s leash. A female officer sat with her but seemed preoccupied with her cell phone.

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AT THIS UNGODLY HOUR? Marcus Crowley grumbled at the text message calling him in for an urgent matter. He happened to be the only medical examiner in the area with sufficient clearance to even set foot in Vanderberg. But come on, at 12:48 AM? Really?
The message came from ICOMM rather than NASA. Better not be late, could very well be a matter of national security. Odd, he’d never had to perform an autopsy at a space shuttle launch facility.
Muttering each step of the way, Marcus threw some clothes on, grabbed his briefcase, keys, and phone, then left the house.
Thirty-eight minutes, three security check-points, and countless expletives later, he arrived at the medical facility. Walking alone inside a dark building in the wee hours of the night wasn’t so bad. Nor was having to spend the night with a bunch of corpses. Having to do it all unscheduled? That was the worst. Didn’t anyone honor the sanctity of the calendar anymore?
At last, he arrived, entered the exam room, and prepped himself for the autopsies. It took a bit longer than usual to get inside the hazmat suit—such a nuisance! When he finally finished he went through the safety doors and switched on the lights.

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