24 Declassified: Collateral Damage

24 Declassified: Collateral Damage

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by Marc Cerasini

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In a remote corner of New Jersey is a nation within a nation—a refuge for fanatical converts and fervent believers. But within the confines of the secluded Islamic community of Kurmastan, plans are underway to spread fear, death, and untold destruction across America . . . and to deliver one fatal blow to the country's exposed and vulnerable heart.


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In a remote corner of New Jersey is a nation within a nation—a refuge for fanatical converts and fervent believers. But within the confines of the secluded Islamic community of Kurmastan, plans are underway to spread fear, death, and untold destruction across America . . . and to deliver one fatal blow to the country's exposed and vulnerable heart.

On the East coast to supervise the activation of CTU's New York office, rogue agent Jack Bauer finds himself in the center of an unleashed hurricane perhaps already too powerful to stop. But if it isn't, in twenty-four hours the U.S. will be brought to its knees by a secret army grown on its own earth. And there is no one Jack Bauer can trust—because the roots of the terror go very deep . . . and frighteningly high.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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24 Declassified
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24 Declassified: Collateral Damage

Chapter One

The following takes place between the hours of 7:00 A.M. and 8:00 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time

7:00:02 A.M. EDT
New York, New York

Jack Bauer glanced at the World Trade Center, rising above the rooftops of Lower Manhattan. The weather was clear this Tuesday morning, the June sunlight gleaming against the two identical skyscrapers of glass and steel.

In the driver's seat to his left, CTU Agent Tony Almeida turned the Dodge minivan onto Hudson's slow parade of traffic. The taxis, buses, SUVs, and luxury sedans were all heading downtown, toward Tribeca, the Financial District, or the Jersey delivery system known as the Holland Tunnel.

As their minivan slowed to a crawl, Jack continued to stare at the twin towers. Back in '93, the bombing of those buildings—by a blind Muslim cleric and his insane flock—had been the impetus for creating CTU.

Ironic, thought Jack. One of the last major urban areas to get its own CTU Operations Center is the very city that was attacked by terrorists. Doubly ironic because no one wants it. Not the FBI, not the DEA, not even the local authorities . . .

Just one month ago, the senior Senator from New York had argued that the presence of CTU was redundant in a city where even the NYPD had its own overseas operatives countering terror threats.

Sure, at its inception, CTU had been granted special powers by Congress, among them the ability to conduct counterespionage and counterterrorist operations on U.S. soil, against U.S. citizens ifnecessary—a mandate the CIA had never before been given. But Jack knew it would take months, maybe even years, before CTU's New York operations would be effective. He didn't know what his superiors expected him to accomplish by sending him here—

"Bloody hell!" Morris O'Brian blurted from the back-seat.

Tony had slammed on the minivan's brakes, and Morris's steaming hot Starbucks had sloshed over his hand. "Seven o'clock in the bloody morning, and traffic is already snarled. This town is worse than L.A."

Jack peered through his passenger-side window. Workers were already crowding the sidewalks. A young Hispanic bicycle messenger, wearing a red "Tri-State Delivery" Windbreaker, a canvas bag slung over his shoulder, pedaled along the curb beside them. The messenger could have sped up, Jack noticed, but he didn't. Just kept pace with them for some reason.

"Look at these people. It's a beautiful, sunny day, and not a convertible in sight," Morris went on. "What's the matter with them? Are they vampires?"

Tony smirked into his rearview. "Maybe they're afraid of pigeon droppings."

The cab that had swerved in front of them to score a fare now raced away. Traffic flowed faster and another taxi slipped in front of them.

Jack lifted his chin, pointed. "The building's three blocks ahead, on the right."

Tony nodded and continued in the right lane.

CTU's New York offices occupied the top three floors of a ten-story office building. Jack unhappily surveyed the scene. Unlike CTU Los Angeles, which was located in a remote, industrial section of the city, the Manhattan offices were on a teeming city street, surrounded by bustling businesses.

The United States Customs Ser-vice was practically across the street. On the next block, a curved modern office building housed an international advertising agency. Behind CTU, a massive UPS complex sprawled across two blocks. Beyond that, the West Side Highway and the Hudson River both flowed with traffic.

There were people piled upon people passing through this area on any given day, and Jack knew that any one of them could pose a threat. With their headquarters so vulnerable, CTU New York was going to have to spend energy just covering its own back.

A horn blared behind them. In the rearview, Jack noticed a black Lincoln Continental cutting off another car in order to slip in right behind them. Traffic was flowing faster in the other lanes, but he stayed behind them instead, hugging their bumper. The driver wore a Lakers cap pulled low. His eyes were invisible behind mirrored sunglasses.

Jack frowned at the Lakers cap, glanced out the side window again, at the messenger on the bicycle. The young Hispanic male was still keeping pace with them, occasionally glancing over.

Jack looked ahead. The yellow cab in front of them drove right by an attractive businesswoman, trying frantically to wave it down. The cabbie ignored the fare. Why? His On Duty light was illuminated. And there was no one riding in the back of his taxi—at least that Jack could see.

It could be nothing, Jack told himself, but the hairs on the back of his neck told him otherwise. He kept one eye on the cab. Glanced again at the Lincoln behind them. The bicycle messenger beside them.

Tony and Morris were still chatting back and forth, oblivious to anything out of the ordinary.

Then the taxi in front of them abruptly stopped. It didn't swerve toward the curb for a fare, just hit the brakes in the middle of the street. Tony instantly hit his own brakes, lurching them all forward.

"Bloody hell!" Morris cursed again as his hot coffee spilled.

That's when Jack saw it—the skinny messenger dumped his bicycle and rushed their vehicle, hand reaching into his canvas shoulder bag.

"Down on the floor now!" Jack pulled the Glock from his holster, popped the door, kicking it open, right into the assassin. The man flew backward and stumbled against the curb.

Jack dived, crouching, from the minivan as the front windshield shattered, showering Tony with safety glass. Two holes drilled through Jack's empty seat. Then the rear window exploded inward.

Crouching low, Bauer leveled the Glock at the man on the ground. "Don't move!" he commanded.

The man on the sidewalk pulled his hand out of the canvas bag, freeing the .45. He rolled to aim—Jack shot him in the face.

Another pop, and a bullet whizzed by Jack's ear.

He spun and glimpsed the shooter, crouching in the backseat of the cab that was blocking them. The big, bald white guy grimaced, showing gold front teeth.

24 Declassified: Collateral Damage. Copyright © by Marc Cerasini. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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