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24 Declassified: Operation Hell Gate
By Marc Cerasini
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Marc Cerasini
All right reserved.
THE FOLLOWING TAKES PLACE
BETWEEN THE HOURS OF
9 P.M. AND 10 P.M.
EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME
9:04:52 P.M. EDT
The sky over Queens, New York
The steady drone of the jet engines suddenly changed pitch. Jack opened his eyes, instantly alert, surprised he'd slept at all. He sat in an airline seat next to Dante Arete, the fugitive still chained to his arm by a pair of nickel-plated steel bracelets. Two federal marshals sat across the aisle, in another cluster of chairs. The younger marshal's seat was back, he slept mouth open and gently snored. The older man -- perhaps forty -- was awake, though hardly alert as he sipped bottled water and leafed through a dog-eared copy of Sports Illustrated.
As for Special Agent Frank Hensley, there was no sign. He'd entered a separate compartment shortly after they'd lifted off from LAX and hadn't reappeared since. Jack suspected there was a bunk in the forward compartment, and Hensley had taken advantage of the hours to get some sleep.
Hensley reminded Bauer of an army, safely ensconced in a fortified town surrounded by the enemy. Instead of waiting for the inevitable attack, an aggressive commander would dispatch pickets to prick his foe into premature action. Hensley's barbs -- fired at Jack, at CTU, even at Ryan Chappelle -- seemed to be timed to divert attention from the psychological defenses Frank Hensley had erected to keep the world at bay.
Jack sat up and stretched as much as the handcuff on his wrist would allow. Then he looked around. The FBI aircraft was not laid out like a commercial airliner. There were no rows of airline seats, only clusters -- about a dozen in all. Some chairs were set around affixed tables, others were placed along the fuselage, near the windows. There were no air stewards, either. They'd been replaced by a stocked refrigerator, a coffeemaker, and a microwave oven.
Jack glanced at his watch, already set to Eastern Daylight Time. He discovered he'd slept for nearly thirty-five minutes -- the longest interval of rest he'd had in the last fifteen hours. Bauer leaned forward, rubbed his face. Then he checked on his prisoner. Dante Arete had curled up into a ball and had fallen fast asleep as soon as the FBI aircraft was off the ground and the "fasten seatbelt" lights went dark. Jack shook him awake, and Arete immediately demanded to go to the bathroom. Still cuffed together, Jack escorted the prisoner to the head, then used it himself. Even in the tight confines of the restroom, the two men did not exchange a word.
When they returned to the cabin, Jack was surprised to find Hensley had reemerged. The FBI agent sat at one of the tables with the two Federal marshals, who had roused themselves into a semblance of vigilance. Hensley looked up when Bauer and his prisoner entered, then went back to punching data into his PDA. The wall, Jack noted, was still in place. Either Hensley was the most professional law enforcement agent he'd ever met -- or something else was going on behind his half-lidded eyes.
"Strap in. We're landing in five minutes." Hensley commanded, wand poised over the tiny PDA screen.
Jack pushed Arete into a seat near a window, then strapped his prisoner down. After his own belt was fastened, he gazed out the window. Far below, Jack could see the winking lights of the Borough of Queens spread out before him, a muted golden glow against a purple-black evening sky. Jack's stomach lurched as the aircraft dipped sharply, then leveled off as it began its final approach. A high-pitched whine, then a thump, signaled the deployment of the landing gear. The flaps dropped and the aircraft slowed drastically.
Jack watched out of the corner of his eye as Hensley unsnapped his seatbelt and stood up to stretch. The marshals ignored him, gazing out the window or straight ahead. Hensley turned his back to the others, reached into his jacket to carefully tuck the PDA into his suit pocket. When his hand came out again, it was clutching a Glock 19, the semi-compact version of the standard 9mm recoil-operated composite handgun, undetectable to weapons scanners. In one smooth motion Hensley disengaged the safety, cocked the striker. Then he turned and pointed the weapon at the larger of the two marshals.
The man saw the Glock, and his mouth opened in surprise. Then the noise of a gunshot reverberated throughout the cabin. The dead marshal jerked spasmodically as the back of his head blew out, but the safety belt kept him erect in the chair. Gore splattered the beige plastic panel behind the corpse, splashed to the floor in thick black drops.
Shocked, the other marshal stared up at Hensley while Jack reached for his P228. Bauer had just slipped his own gun free of its holster when Dante Arete punched him full in the face with his free hand. Jack reeled when he felt the hot sting on his jaw. The SigSauer flew from his hand and bounced across the floor. Bauer felt Arete's hands groping for his throat -- ineffectively because of the handcuffs that hobbled his movement. As Arete continued trying to strangle Jack, Bauer released his safety belt, pushed himself out of the seat, and slammed the heel of his hand under Arete's jaw. The man's head snapped backward.
Meanwhile, with a bored expression on his face, Hensley shot the second marshal in the forehead before the young man could even draw his service revolver. Then he swung around to train his weapon on Jack Bauer -- only to find the CTU agent hiding behind Dante Arete's body, his arm locked around the helpless prisoner's throat. With a muttered curse, Hensley dropped the Glock on his empty chair, drew his own FBI service revolver, and aimed it at the two men.
"Don't shoot, man," Dante Arete whined, free arm extended to ward off destruction. "Don't fucking shoot me."
Excerpted from 24 Declassified: Operation Hell Gate by Marc Cerasini Copyright © 2005 by Marc Cerasini.
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