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THE FOLLOWING TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 11 A.M. AND 12 P.M. MOUNTAIN DAYLIGHT TIME
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11:04 A.M., MDT
Trail’s End Motel, Los Alamos, New Mexico
Jack Bauer was getting ready to leave for his meeting with Peter Rhee when somebody knocked on the door of his motel room, room number eight.
The sound was almost drowned out by the shuddering wheeze of the air conditioner. The unit produced more noise than cool comfort. It wasn’t much of an air conditioner, but then the Trail’s End wasn’t much of a motel, either. It was a grade-C lodging whose clientele consisted mainly of business travelers and tourists on a tight budget.
The room was a tight, boxy, low-ceilinged space. There was a single bed and a long cabinet with two sets of drawers. A round-topped table and an armless straight-backed chair were crowded into a rear corner. The furniture was made of synthetic composite material covered with dark brown simulated wood-grain plastic surfacing. A cable TV was bolted to the cabinet top, and the remote was secured to the night table. The bathroom was the size of a walk-in closet.
Anonymous, impersonal, the site fitted its occupant’s purposes. There were no front desk managers, night clerks, or doormen to monitor his comings and goings. The motel was conveniently located midway between Los Alamos city proper and the massive lab complex on the South Mesa.
Jack’s seeming isolation and vulnerability here were designed to entice the opposition out of hiding into making a try for him. He’d made himself a target—human bait in a trap that could work two ways.
Jack Bauer was in his mid-thirties, trim, athletic, clean-shaven, with short sandy hair and sharp blue eyes. He wore a lightweight brown denim vest, gray T-shirt, khaki pants, and ankle-high hiking boots. He looked like a nice, decent fellow, a caring and compassionate human being. Which he was—except when he was on a mission.
He was on a mission now.
He’d been detached from his post as Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Unit, SAC CTU/L.A., for temporary duty as a field operative in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Los Alamos, the self-styled Atomic City where the A-bomb was born and extensive research and development of cutting-edge nuclear and other weaponry continued to be its stock-in-trade.
Ironwood National Laboratory, a key component of the Los Alamos complex, had over the last six months been struck by a murder wave. Five important staffers had died under violent and mysterious circumstances. The victims included scientists and security personnel. The first deaths had been made to look like accidents or natural causes.
In the last few weeks the pace had picked up, with no pretense of the last two deaths being anything than what they were: out-and-out kills. The assassin—or assassins—grew bolder with each fatality.
The FBI has jurisdiction in all domestic espionage cases. There is one exception: the CIA is empowered to investigate cases of spying at all nuclear research facilities.
Created in the aftermath of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, CTU was established as a division of the CIA to combat terrorist activities at home in the United States and abroad.
Whatever else they were, the Ironwood kills went far beyond the parameters of conventional espionage. The murder of persons associated with a facility responsible for the research and development of America’s high-technology weaponry was reason enough for CTU involvement in the case.
But it took something more than that to have Jack Bauer detached from his post as head of the unit’s Los Angeles branch.
The inciting element was a name from the past that had suddenly surfaced in the Ironwood