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Ramirez’s face was bloody. The punches had surely broken his nose, and his cheek was cut open. A huge mouse was already forming under his right eye, and his teeth were smeared with blood from a cut inside his mouth. “I’m not much of a fighter. And these. ” He shook his head at the four men. “They don’t stop. I know that about them. They never forget, and now they’re not going to forget me.”

“They weren’t after you,” Jack said, still wondering what they were after.

“No, but now I’m part of it. Jesus! I heard a story about them once, that some gang member talked to the Feds and went into the witness protection program. They lost him for seven years. Seven years! He didn’t even testify against them, he just got out. Then one day he turned up dead, the skin peeled off his hands. They cut his throat.” He shuddered.

“You don’t like them, but you said your boss uses them.”

“Not my boss,” Ramirez corrected.“Just a guy I know.”

“Right. This guy who’s got something planned for tomorrow. If MS guys like these are involved, it’s probably not going to go well.”

Ramirez pinched his lips closed. He used his sleeve to dab the blood off his cheek and nose. “You wondering about that little thing tomorrow, huh?”

Jack shook his head. “I have enough of my own problems. Just curious about these.” He kicked Oscar with his toe. “Hey, you,” he said. “What are you after? What am I to you?”

Oscar looked up at him, tears in his eyes. “A dead man.”

9:37 P.M. PST CTU Headquarters, Los Angeles

Less than twenty minutes had elapsed since Ryan Chappelle had collapsed in the CTU conference room. Five minutes after he’d fallen, the medics were there, and ten minutes after that — ten minutes full of CPR, three applications of the defibrillator paddles, and several medications to stabilize him — a medical team moved Ryan Chappelle out of CTU and toward a waiting ambulance. A moment or two after the defibrillator had restarted his heart, Chappelle had actually opened his eyes. His eyes rolled for a moment, unfocused, and finally settled on Henderson’s angular face.

“Don’t. ” he mouthed. The word was barely audible.

“Just relax, sir,” the medic said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Chappelle pushed the hand away weakly. “Don’t. ” he said again, his voice a faint breath slipping out of his body, “. let. ”

Henderson leaned close, with Tony Almeida beside him.

Chappelle shuddered. “. Bauer. ” he gasped. “Don’t. Bauer.”

He passed out.

“Crashing again!” the medic yelled. He snatched up the defibrillator paddles again and shouted, “Clear!” He barely waited for the others to step back before shocking Chappelle’s heart again. Chappelle’s body convulsed, and his heart beat faintly in the portable monitor. “Okay, go!” the medic ordered.

“Do we go with him?” Tony asked.

Henderson nodded. “I’ll follow.”

“What was he saying, about Bauer?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does he think we’re going to let Jack do while he’s in jail? Don’t let him what?”

“Delirium, probably,” Henderson guessed.

Tony paused. “You know, no one’s been talking lately about Jack.”

Henderson watched the medics wheel Ryan Chappelle out the front door. “This may not be the time, Tony.”

“Yeah, but now’s when it’s come up. There’s no one here that thinks Jack Bauer really killed an innocent man in cold blood. Is there?”

Henderson turned back toward Tony. They were opposites in appearance — Tony had a soft face with sad eyes, a sharp contrast to Henderson’s steel blue gaze. But underneath, both men were made of the same hard, dark material.

“You’re asking if I believe it,” Henderson said. He paused for a moment.

“You have to think about it,” Tony said disdainfully. “You and Jack, you’ve been on bad terms since Internal Affairs started looking into that missing money.”

“That’s nothing,” Henderson said dismissively. “It’ll go nowhere. No, I’m wondering what I’ve done to make you think I’m that much of an ass. I brought Jack Bauer in here. I’ve stuck my neck out for him before. No, I don’t think he’s guilty of murder. But that guy getting rolled out on the stretcher did, and I have a feeling that a jury is going to see it that way, too.”

9:46 P.M. PST Federal Holding Facility, Los Angeles

The guards returned to the library, conveniently, when the fighting was done. One of them, a squishy-faced guard with an oversized lower lip, was the same guard who had disappeared just before the Salvatruchas appeared, but he was accompanied by a platoon of officers headed by an older black officer with the blasé look of a man who’d seen everything one could see inside a prison. His name tag said “Lafayette” on it.

“Get the four-pieces,” Officer Lafayette said with a slow Louisiana drawl. “Hook these boys up and get ’em into isolation.”

The platoon produced four-piece steel wrist and ankle cuffs, connected by chains, and began to fetter the four gang-bangers. Oscar was still doubled over and could barely walk from the pain in his groin. Jack was sure he’d ruptured something and wished the Salvatrucha a slow and unsuccessful recovery.

“You gonna get fucked, blondie,” Oscar said as he was led away.

“Well, you’re not gonna be doing it,” Jack said. The guards tugged Oscar out the door.

Lafayette turned to Jack. His low-slung posture and heavy sigh told Jack he didn’t expect to get much information. “You gonna tell me what happened?”

Jack believed the guard hoped to hear a no. “Your guy, the one with the swollen lip, took a coffee break right about the time these four showed up. They tried to kill us, but we took them down first.”

Lafayette leaned to the side, looking past Jack at Ramirez, who was still slumped against the table. The guard looked back at Jack and chewed the inside of his mouth. “We, huh?”

Jack decided he needed to get some help. “Look, I don’t know why these guys have come after me twice, but I’ve had enough of it. I need to speak with Officer Cox right away.”

Lafayette shook his head. “That ain’t possible.”

Jack insisted. “If you talk to him, he’ll explain everything, even if you have to call him back in to the office. I promise you, he’ll want to know.”

“You ain’t gettin’ me, son, it ain’t possible. Cox took a shiv under the ribs not half an hour ago. He didn’t make it.”

Jack felt a firm, cold pressure start in the bottom of his chest, a sense of some danger long present but only now discovered. “Then the warden. He’ll want to talk to me if you tell him my name.”

“Can’t do that, either. Warden took sick this afternoon. He’s in the hospital.”

The pressure built up into Jack’s lungs, tightening them, though he showed no emotion whatsoever. “Then call him there. Trust me, he’ll want to know this—”

“He ain’t takin’ calls. What I heard, he’s had a heart attack or something.”

The pressure reached Jack’s heart, nearly freezing it. He looked around him, and for the first time in three weeks, he felt as if he were in jail.

3. THE FOLLOWING TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 10 P.M. AND 11 P.M. PACIFIC STANDARD TIME

10:00 P.M. PST Bauer Residence

Peter Jiminez knocked on the door. The woman who opened it was lean, with short-cropped hair. She was pretty in a homey sort of way, but dark circles hung heavily below her eyes.

“Mrs. Bauer? Peter Jiminez, I worked with your husband. Sorry for the late hour. We’ve actually met twice, once right after I came on and a couple of weeks ago when—”

“Yes, I remember, um, Peter. How are you?”

...