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24 Declassified: Vanishing Point
By Marc Cerasini
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Marc Cerasini
All right reserved.
The following takes place between the hours of
12 P.M. and 1 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
12:00:04 P.M. PDT
The Cha-Cha Lounge, Las Vegas
The holding room was located three levels below the gaming floor, in the casino's deepest subbasement. Yet even here the clatter of coin and the jangle of five hundred clicking, ringing slot machines penetrated the insulated brick walls and seeped through the cheap soundproof ceiling panels—an incessant carnival buzz that rose and fell like a demented organ grinder's squeeze box.
Jack Bauer closed his ears to the noise and barely registered his dismal surroundings; gray, unpainted walls, avocado-green phone without a press pad or dial, a steel fire gate that led to a concrete corridor, and a windowless steel door that led to the tiny holding cell behind the one-way mirror.
Jack approached the glass. He studied the man on the other side, absorbing every detail of the stranger's clothing, physical characteristics, and mannerisms.
Though the man wore a bland, relaxed expression, he'd been alone in that locked room for fifteen minutes and he was still perched on the edge of a Cha-Cha Lounge-orange fiberglass chair, as if he were going to bolt themoment the door opened. Occasionally he'd gingerly touch his face, and Jack noticed a fresh bruise under his left eye.
Jack pegged the man's age as well into his fourth decade, though he tried to appear younger. His sandy brown hair—disheveled from the rough treatment he'd received at the hands of "casino security"—was white-gray under a clumsy dye job. His addict-thin body was clad head-to-toe in denim, the faded blue jacket torn at the sleeve, buttons missing from his shirt. A crumpled cowboy hat lay on the concrete floor next to the man's scuffed leather boots.
"What's his name, Driscoll?" Jack asked the casino's pit boss. "Where'd he come from?"
Don Driscoll had the strength of a bull and the face of a bull dog, but the manner of a fastidious cat. With meaty hands, he adjusted the lapels of his bright orange sports jacket.
"Midnight Cowboy calls himself Chester Thompkins. Says he's a truck driver. He's got a North Carolina commercial license to prove it. Of course, that don't mean squat—'specially not with that South Jersey lilt tucked in the back of his throat."
Driscoll was born and raised in Atlantic City, so he would know.
"Did he have anything else on him?" Jack asked. "Drugs? A weapon?"
Driscoll shook his dark head, his perfectly pomaded hair didn't move. "Just the gimmick, Jaycee."
The pit boss used Jack's alias because that was the only name he knew. Driscoll also believed J. C. "Jaycee" Jager was using this low-rent, off-the-beaten track casino as a front to launder mob money and pull a little loan sharking scam on the side.
"Where's the device?" Jack asked.
"Morris is examining it now."
"What about his wallet?"
"Curtis took it. He's running a make on the guy." Driscoll chuckled. "My bet, it'll come back light, if you know what I mean. The Lone Ranger had over forty Gs in his wallet. Ill-gotten gains, says me."
"Who spotted the scam?"
"Chick Hoffman, the croupier at table five." Driscoll displayed pride. "The roulette table was reset yesterday and the balance was good. Then along comes Jon Voight here, who's betting careful and winning big. Been here since nine-thirty in the AM. Hoffman got suspicious—naturally, 'cause I trained Chick myself."
"Did Hoffman find the device?"
Driscoll frowned. "Nah. It was Morris, up in the catwalk. Chick couldn't scope the scam, but he tripped the silent alarm anyway. O'Brian used X-rays or heat vision or some magic crap to sniff it out. The gizmo was in the guy's jacket. There were wires in his sleeve, a laser lens hidden behind the cuff button."
Driscoll rubbed his clean shaven jaw. "When we established for certain that he was cheating, I had security snatch him up and bring him down here. I saved him for you."
Jack dragged his eyes away from the man behind the mirror, faced Driscoll. "Tell Hoffman there'll be an extra grand in his envelope at the end of the day. There'll be a couple of Gs in your envelope, too." Bauer forced a half-smile.
"Good work, Driscoll."
The pit boss brightened considerably. "Thanks Jaycee."
"Do you want me to stick around and help break this bunco rat?"
Jack shook his head. "I'm going to handle it myself. Do me a favor and find Curtis. I need to know what he dug up on this guy."
"Sure thing, boss. Right away."
Driscoll paused when he reached the fire door, one hand poised on the push bar, he seemed to be gathering his thoughts. "It's good what you're doing, Jaycee. It's the right thing."
"What are you talking about?" Jack's tone was prickly.
Sensing his annoyance, Driscoll talked faster. "It's good to finally make an example, Jaycee. That's all I meant. Things were getting sloppy around here, across the board. The croupiers, the dealers, the Eyes in the Sky, even the goddamn cocktail waitresses. And the word's out, you know? Sorry, but for nearly three months now, ever since you came on board, this casino's been drawing grifters like a cesspit draws flies."
Driscoll's watery gray eyes drifted to the man behind the mirror. "Nailing that bastard, dealing with him without the law . . . It'll send the right message to the right people. After this, nobody's gonna think Jaycee Jager is an easy mark. Nobody."
Jack fixed a cold stare on Don Driscoll. "I came here from Kansas City to make my mark. And that includes making this dive profitable. That's what I'm going to do, no matter what it takes, no matter who I have to take down in the process." Jack shifted his gaze back to their cheater. "Now go find Curtis and send him down here. I'm going to need some muscle to take care of this son of a bitch."
Excerpted from 24 Declassified: Vanishing Point by Marc Cerasini Copyright © 2007 by Marc Cerasini. Excerpted by permission.
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