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These were the thoughts going through Oscar’s mind. He wasn’t concerned at all about the trouble he’d get into for fighting in jail.

“Hey, Petey-boy,” he said, leaning against the bars of his cell. There was no one in the hallway as far as he could see, but after a minute he heard footsteps and a corrections officer appeared, a middle-aged white guy with a face like bread dough and a big lower lip that hung down like he was pouting. “Peteyboy, I need to make a phone call.”

The dough-faced guard frowned and shook his head. “You know that’s not going to happen.”

Oscar smiled. “I know it is going to happen, homeboy, just like last time. ’Cause all I want to do is make a phone call, and all you want to do is keep your little wifey and daughter over in Simi out of trouble.”

Pete’s face turned purple as he replied in a low, angry voice, “You’re going to push me too far, you little shit.”

“But I’m not,” the Mara Salvatrucha said with that same smile pasted on his face. “That’s why we get along, homes. I’m never gonna ask for too much, ’cause if I do it’s bad on me. And you’re always gonna do what I ask, ’cause if you don’t, it’s bad on you.”

Pete stood there silently turning a darker shade of purple. He hated this goddamned job. Most of the jailbirds were easy enough, and even the majority of the troublemakers were easy enough to handle if you were careful. But some of these gang-bangers were better organized than the Mob, and way more ruthless. Pete had worked up in Chino before moving to the Federal side, and he knew a guy there whose sister got raped when he wouldn’t help some Salvatrucha soldier on the inside. Goddamn, he thought, it’s not worth it.

He opened the door and let Oscar out.

The gang-banger practically led the way down to

Broadway, the main thoroughfare through the prison. A few inmates in their cells watched them curiously. Oscar felt like waving at them or flipping them off, but that would be rubbing it in Petey’s face and he didn’t want to do that. Extorting the guards was a tricky game, and there was no point in pushing it when he’d already gotten what he wanted.

Pete led him through three levels of security and back to the phone room, then backed away as Oscar picked up the phone and made a call to the number he’d been given.

A voice picked up before the second ring. “Is it done?”

“No, ese,” Oscar said. “That cabron messed up my homeboys. I’m gonna stuff his—”

“I told you he would put up a fight!” the man on the other end of the phone snapped. “Go back and get it done.”

Oscar considered. “Okay, homes, but the price is going up. I want—”

“Shut up and listen,” the man said. “You’ll do it for what we agreed on, or I’ll make sure you and your friends go down in flames, you understand me? You’ll get buried so deep your own fucking mother will forget you.”

Oscar’s smile turned wistful. Yeah, that’s what it was like in the extortion business. Sometimes you just didn’t have the power, and then you had to bluff or back off. Oscar knew when to back off. “Okay, jefe. We’ll do it.”

“Do it now,” the man insisted. “I’ve got a backup plan already, but you do your goddamned job.” The line went dead.

9:13 P.M. PST CTU Headquarters, Los Angeles

Tony Almeida was only a third of the way through his threat assessment when he thought, Jesus, Chappelle’s already bored. The Regional Director was staring off into space, his eyes glazed. At the far end of the table, Nina Myers looked bored, too, but he was accustomed to the sardonic look she sometimes wore. A few other CTU agents sat around the table, dutifully upright and attentive, but more out of respect than interest.

“In any case,” he continued his report, “the Governor’s meeting with the representatives from Southeast Asian countries started tonight with the reception, and the meetings start tomorrow. We’re considering that a primary target for any activity.”

Henderson walked back in, carrying two cups of coffee. He sipped one and put the other down in front of Chappelle. “You wanted more, right?”

“Hmm?” Chappelle said hazily. His eyes focused on the coffe and he said, “Oh, yeah. Thank you. Go on, Agent Almeida.”

Tony pressed a button and a large screen changed from a picture of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to a collection of three candid black-and-white photos, all of Arabic men in their late twenties. “I’m keeping these three on our watch list even though they’re probably not in our region. They still got released in connection with one of our cases, so I figure—”

“It wasn’t our fault,” Nina Myers said. “We were solving the case. We weren’t the ones who caved to terrorist demands.”

Tony nodded. It was an old case that had been wrapped up, but in a related incident, three suspected terrorists had been released. All of CTU was irked that they’d gotten away. He moved on.

“Presidential candidates from both parties are making campaign stops in and around Los Angeles in the upcoming months, ramping up for the primaries. The advance teams know to contact us, and communication is good.” The agents nodded and scribbled notes.

Henderson spoke up. “But we don’t have any likely suspects? I’m asking, not telling. Is that right? We don’t have any hard evidence of any terrorists having infiltrated the country.”

Tony agreed. “Nothing to set off alarm bells, which is a good thing.”

“Then why are we here so late?” Henderson asked.

“I wanted it,” Chapelle said as if no further explanation were necessary.

Tony continued. “Our data analysts”—he gave a nod to Jamey Farrell, who tipped her imaginary hat —“have pulled up some information on locals with possible connections to Jemaah Islamiyah. It’s thin, but I’m going to follow up.”

“Good,” Henderson said. “Well, that wraps it up, ladies and gentlemen, I—”

“Chappelle?” Tony said, looking past Henderson.

The Regional Director’s eyes hadn’t just glazed over. They were rolling back in his head, and his face had gone gray. A bit of drool seeped from the corner of his mouth, and by the time Henderson turned to check on him, Chappelle was falling out of his chair. Henderson caught him and laid him gently on the ground as the others crowded around.

“Chappelle!” Henderson said, tapping him lightly on the cheek. “Ryan! Call security, get medics,” Henderson said with authority, but the team around him was already on the move. “Get them here quick. He’s not breathing!”

9:19 P.M. PST Federal Holding Facility, Los Angeles

The broken-nosed guard was named Adam Cox, and Adam Cox was looking forward to getting the hell off work, slogging his way through traffic, and putting his feet up in front of SportsCenter. Viv would probably ride him for not finishing the weather stripping on the garage door, but hell, it wasn’t going to rain any time soon.

Adam checked his watch as the inmates filed past, joining the chow line. He stood with his back to the wall, near the double doors that led into the mess hall. His eyes scanned the room as they had four days a week, every week, for the last seven years, stopping at each guard position to make sure his guys were okay, then moving on. Lately he’d been halting his gaze on that new inmate, Bauer, watching him for trouble, but tonight Bauer was being fed in the library because of the attack.

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