The early summer sun still hangs well above the horizon. It is, Andre realizes, the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. He snakes his arm between two crates and pulls out the half full bottle of vodka. A long and hellish day even without the extra daylight. Besides all the tension involved in offloading the illegal container, the time it had taken to manage it had set him behind the dock schedule for the rest of the afternoon. Boris, the dock manager, had been insufferable all day.
Lifting the bottle to his lips he takes a long draught and, with his head tilted back, he studies the black plume of smoke rising over the city center. Now this. The rash of country wide terrorism has finally come to Moscow. He should go home to his family. He walks to his car and gets in, setting the bottle on the front seat next to him. As he clears the dockyard’s security, instead of heading for the highway, impulsively he takes a right onto a side road. It is too nice out to hurry home, looking again at the sky ahead of him, the sun just beginning to turn the streaking clouds light shades of gold. As he turns his head to blink the glare from his eyes, he sees the truck abandoned in the dusty parking lot of a junkyard. On the flatbed sits the container. #CSQU5789997. It is unmistakably THE container he’d offloaded, and there is no one around. He can’t help himself. He parks the car, takes another long drink, and hops onto the flatbed.
The heavy metal door, to his great surprise, is ajar. It creaks as he cautiously pushes it open and steps in knowing, as he does so, that this is stupidity and that only the alcohol is the source of this small bit of courage. What meets his eyes is not empty space nor an empty and broken crate labeled with nuclear material warnings, which he had sort of expected. Instead he finds himself standing in a tiny apartment. Bed, water, toilet, food, and an air supply all in perfect and efficient place. The container had not contained something. It had contained someone.
They were close to the explosion by design, to “feel the force of their own power of change” Lebedev had stated with bombast. The ferocity of the blast had surprised everyone except their leader, who had stood unmoving as tiny shards of debris pelted the dirty window.
“Pavel,” he calls softly, his eyes still fixed on the growing plume of fire and dark smoke two blocks away. The man, still boyish in looks but nearing thirty, steps up and awaits his orders. His smooth olive skin and dark hair are such a contrast to the aging revolutionary’s sallow tone, grey stubble, and unkempt, nearly white, long hair. “Go to the scene,” he begins his orders, only now turning to survey the room full of young revolutionaries around him. “Survey the damage, both to the building and the human toll.”
Katya imagines what must be happening on the streets below, the carnage, the blood, and shudders. She is surprised to hear Lebedev speak her name and turns quickly to face him.
“You were on the team that placed the device. You go with him. See what you have accomplished.” His eyes are surprisingly soft and that unnerves her. Katya knows this is a reward for being faithful to the cause, and to him, and tries to look deserving. Wordlessly she nods and follows Pavel out the door.
“Why are we going to the scene of the explosion?” complains the Captain, following Jacks orders but still obviously bristling at losing the command of his team. Jack has had some time now to observe these men. They are well trained. More than well trained. By their bearing, body language, how they handle their weapons, they are elite forces. That makes the situation even more perplexing. It gives validity to the idea that maybe he really is meant to stop some terrorist threat. But, of course, he only has to think back to Serbia and the Drazens to remember that no country is above sacrificing even its best for a desperate or, even worse, a false cause.
“Do you have any other suggestions Captain Seminov?” Jack asks curtly. “I can’t think of anywhere else to start looking.” For whatever the hell, that is, we are looking for, he adds silently. That last part is not exactly true. Where Jack wants to go, ironically, is back to the secret prison. He wants to tie that son of a bitch Morozov to a chair and interrogate him until the Russian tells him exactly what the hell is going on. Why is Jack leading this team? Why did Morozov have this phone, obviously a direct line to the terrorists, and why would he give it to Jack? And why lead the team purposely astray to this random location? But even Jack realizes it is not realistic to break back into a secret military prison and interrogate the warden. So the site of the explosion is the only option.
Seminov says nothing in reply but Jack senses the soldier studying him. He can’t help but imagine how he appears to the fit and healthy Russian. He knows how he feels. He feels like he’s spent six months in a small dark cell with barely anything to eat. His body hurts in so many places from the beating he’d taken this only hours ago. Funny thing is, though, all the pain, the beating, the uncertainty about his situation, well, all of it is better than the last six months. He hadn’t been interrogated or harassed. Or killed. That’s what he thought was to happen.
Instead, he’d been thrown in the dark and forgotten, left alone to listen to the sounds of the world going on in the prison around him and to wait to die. It was, in some ways, worse than China. In China he’d been far worse off physically, but it had been different. Cheng had been brutal, but he’d been there, in his face, almost every day. Even that ‘human contact’ had been better than none. And, back then, he’d still had friends in the States. Back then, in the long dark hours, he could fantasize that they would find a way to get him out. Back then, he’d had the hope of Audrey to cling to. Now they were all dead save one. And he hoped to hell Chloe was back in the US putting her life back together.
“I think we should kill him and move on.” The voice startles Jack. He had fallen deep into his thoughts, a habit from the last six months that needs to stop. Jack scolds himself but allows one last fleeting vision of Audrey to cross his mind’s eye. I’m so sorry he says again, the silent words had become a mantra and the pain was so very deep. Neither would be easily banished.
The suggestion, in Russian, had come from the back seat, one of the black clad enlisted men staring malevolently at the back of Jack’s head. Seminov glances back at his man and then at Jack, who pretends not to understand. When it’s necessary he’ll address the team in Russian. For now, it might work to his advantage that they don’t know Jack speaks their language fluently.
“What did he say?” Jack asks innocently, testing the Captain.
Seminov turns his attention back to the road, driving at high speed through the outskirts of Moscow. “He likes your outfit,” he lies without expression.
“Yeah,” says Jack. “Tell him thanks.” Despite himself, he smiles. Whatever the circumstances, it feels good to be back in the game. If it kills him it’s not a bad way to go. A better death, certainly, than starving to death in that cell.
Morozov studies the mobile phone vibrating angrily on the polished wood of his desk. He knows exactly who it is and he doesn’t want to answer it. But he also knows he has no choice. “Yes,” he picks it up and intones flatly into the speaker.
“I told you to get him out. I didn’t tell you to beat him nearly unconscious first.” The women’s voice is mature and curt.
“All the way unconscious,” he retorts in mock indignation. “And you didn’t tell me not to,” he teases. Watching the Colonel tie Bauer to that chair and deliver that beating and then to watch Bauer escape to kill that weasel of a Colonel had been doubly satisfying. The result? Now both of them were out of his hair, although admittedly he would have preferred both had departed in body bags. But her, this women, knowing of the game he had played confirmed he still had a spy in the prison. Kill one, another pops up to take his place. It never ends.
“You are too self confident General. You should be careful as it is your ego that put you in your current predicament.”
Morozov ignores the scolding and tries to control his temper. “What do you want?”
“I want to remind you that our deal is that he is alive on delivery. The men you sent with him, they know this?”
“Yes,” he sighs and adds with no small hint of condescension, “they are highly trained military. The equivalent of, how do you say it, oh, yes, American Special Forces. They follow orders and their orders are to follow his. They will do it.”
“They had better. And the phone?” the women asks.
“I gave it to him, as you instructed.”
“And when you have him,” Morozov dares to address the topic he cares most about, his own future, “you will give me all copies of the evidence.” Explaining to certain men why he had put Bauer in charge of the mission, essentially freeing him, would be tricky, but manageable. After all, he had spent a lifetime accumulating his own wealth and power. Of course, that had been through means for which he was now being blackmailed. But for now he still had that power and he planned on using all his cunning on to keep it.
“Yes, as agreed, although,” and here Morozov could detect a hint of irritating amusement in her voice, “there is so much of it. I may need a truck. Let me think.” When she speaks again it is in American accented Russian. “Embezzlement, money laundering, hmmm, and maybe more than a hint of treason…”
“Yes, I know,” he interrupts. “You so enjoy telling me.” He knows she is yet again reminding him that she holds his life in her hands. She knows many in high places in the Russian military and government. It was long ago, but, still, if they knew he would be dead. Quickly and, most likely, painfully. It irks him that he must trust her to hold up her end of the bargain. God, he hates her and he hates Bauer. It is most annoying he had to let the American out of his hole, he had enjoyed watching him as he faded into nonexistence. He doesn’t know why she wants the murderer and traitor but hopes they will both be rotting in hell before this day is out.
They had been driving to the potential prison site for nearly twenty minutes now and Chloe was growing more anxious. She could sense the same mounting tension in Belcheck next to her. Kate, sitting quietly in the front passenger seat, was, as always since their arrival in Russia, unreadable.
“Pull into that ally and stop the car,” Belcheck orders, pointing to an opening between two seventies era apartment buildings and brandishing his gun for compliance. Phillips, checking the mirrors nervously to ensure they are not being followed, reluctantly obeys. “Kate,” Belcheck orders, still scanning the area, “check the map. Are we still heading to the site?”
Kate who had been following their progress throughout the drive on GPS, responds quickly. “Yes, except for the last turn. He may be taking a different route, but not the shortest. But we are close.”
“Phillips?” Belcheck asks, still trying to assess whether they can trust this American. He’s twitchy and nervous, more so since they’d been shot at back outside the apartment. His gut says no.
“We’re less than a kilometer away. I am taking you around the back of the facility so I can show it to you unobserved.” He can see that Belcheck and Chloe are still dubious. “What?” he asks, “Did you think I was going to drive up to the front door, you were going to ring the doorbell and ask if Jack could come out and play?” He smiles at what he thinks is a funny concept but grows serious when he sees the others are not amused.
“I remember you now!” Chloe blurts. She has everyone’s attention. “I mean I don’t know you, but I know your face. You were at CTU when Jack was named director. You were implicated in the agency embezzlement scandal he investigated. There wasn’t enough evidence to convict you but you were forced to resign.”
Phillips says nothing but his body language readily shows Chloe is right. She’d seen the files. She’d had a habit of perusing old stuff when she’d had down time. Not exactly kosher with CTU, but the knowledge and history she’d accumulated had come in handy more than once. And now again. “So,” she says more cautiously, “there’s even less reason to trust that you are trying to save Jack.”
“Out of the car,” Belcheck orders abruptly. All four of them get out. Chloe notices that there are no people around and realizes the buildings have been abandoned. The evening is warm and the sky is still light despite it being past eight o’clock. It’s so quiet and eerie here, in the long shadows of the condemned buildings.
That’s when, as if on cue, the single shot rings out, the echoes of the gun’s report bouncing off the man made canyon in which they stand. Phillips slumps slowly to the ground. Kate is the first to his side, dragging him behind the car to where Chloe and Belcheck have already dived for cover.
With experienced eyes Belcheck and Kate study the hole in his chest. It will prove fatal and they can see that Phillips knows too, using the last of his strength to raise his head and study the blood oozing onto his shirt. “This,” he begins, already gasping for air to expand his blood filled lungs and referring to his own impending death, “has nothing to do with Bauer. I swear. I never,” he gasps for air again, “resented Jack…I…I…”
But he doesn’t have a chance to finish. All hell breaks loose. A black SUV screeches to a halt behind their bullet ridden car, and now more gunshots rain down on them. Men emerge from the big car but Chloe, ducking low behind the little Russian made car, can’t see how many men as they also run for cover before they begin shooting. It takes a few seconds before she realizes, to her great relief, that they are not shooting at her, Kate, or Belcheck. She and Belcheck exchange questioning looks before a bullet pings close by and he pushes her down, almost under the car, and covers her with his body. The shooting continues for how long she doesn’t know as she cowers beneath his weight. She can’t tell if he’s returning fire. She doesn’t know what Kate is doing, but she does know that if the men in the SUV decide to fire on them, they are sitting ducks.
Then, suddenly, Belcheck lurches off of her. When she looks up, she sees it hadn’t been his choice. He’d been pulled off her. Three men hover above her, one holds a gun to Belcheck’s neck, one is signaling to her, and Kate next to her, to move towards the SUV. The third is laying cover with an automatic weapon although the shooting from the other direction seems to have abated.
With his eyes, Belcheck, dispossessed of his weapon and holding his hands just above his shoulders, signals her not to resist. When she stands, she sees Phillips’ unblinking eyes staring up into the evening sky. It looks like they won’t be hearing the rest of his story. She, Kate, and Belcheck are led to the SUV, their hands are restrained behind their backs, and they are prodded into the spacious back seat. No one is hurt and, oddly, nothing is said. It’s almost like all of them, the men, Belcheck, Kate, and her, know nothing is to be gained or learned here. This is only a transition. They need to, as Belcheck always says, let it play out.
As the vehicle thumps into gear drive and emerges from the alley, Chloe sees the old steel mill off in the distance. Kate sees it too. The look on her face is so sad it prompts Chloe again to wonder what goes through Kate’s mind, why is she here, risking her life for Jack. And if Jack is there in that steel mill, they’d gotten so damn close. And there it is, or was, receding quickly into the distance and him, most likely with it. She closes her eyes and remembers what Phillips had said. No one ever gets out.
Jack continues to pick his way around the periphery of the scene. The bomb had been large, but not dirty. He found the placement odd, though. The damage he sees from the public side of the police barricade indicates the main force of the blast had been at the back of the large government building, limiting the blast from really impacting the large crowds milling around the theaters in this district at this time of night. Why set it off at this hour if you didn’t want to maximize the fatalities? And if your objective wasn’t to kill people, but to take down the building, the placement was equally wrong.
As he moves, Captain Seminov shadows him closely, both of them scanning the onlookers and the scene carefully. The team had broken up. A pack of well armed men all dressed in black was bound to draw some attention. Jack had limited them all to concealed weapons and sent them off in pairs to scour the blast zone but with orders to stay under the radar of local law enforcement and rescue and to rendezvous at 8:45. The team, although well trained and armed, lacked technology. At the least, a communication system would have been nice, but they didn’t have one. Seminov had insisted he pair with Jack. Jack didn’t blame him. He wouldn’t trust himself either if the roles were reversed.
Spying an enterprising street vendor, Jack surreptitiously makes his way towards the enticing aroma of the food. In the old days, he would have never done this. But let’s face it, these aren’t the old days and, besides, he still works the crowd as he walks. Seminov catches up to him. “What the hell are you doing?” he asks as Jack points at something that looks like a greasy meat pastry, and a bottle of Coke.
“I need some money,” he declares distractedly as his attention fixes on a women standing across the street. She is filming the building with her mobile phone. As Seminov grumbles and pays, Jack follows the women’s site line as she moves the camera around the smoldering ruins. When he gets his food and water, the two of them walk to the corner.
“That’s not very professional,” Seminov complains about Jack’s eating dinner during the mission.
“Yeah,” Jack replies, “I know.” He looks at the Russian. “And I would have crucified one of my men if they’d done this on a mission.” Jack washes down the food with half the bottle of Coke. “But I’ve been starved for the last six months. In the last two days I’ve had one small meal. Earlier this afternoon I had the crap beaten out of me. If you expect me to stay on me feet, I need some food and drink.”
The Russian looks him over. “You do look a little scrawny,” he admits. Seminov realizes he’d having difficulty hating this man. He should. He knows what he’s done but, in all honesty, he’s a little fascinated with Bauer’s past. But that doesn’t mean he trusts him or his abilities. “Yet another reason I don’t understand why you are leading this mission.”
“Me neither,” Jack agrees, still chewing and staring at the woman, and missing the slightly bemused look that finally broke on the Russian’s stony face. “Look, over there,” Jack points with the hand holding his dinner. “That woman filming with her phone, watch her. And there, that tall man with the dark hair. He’s with her.”
Together they study the couple. It was hard to pinpoint why they were different from any of the other hundreds of gawkers mesmerized by the scene of devastation, but, to Jack’s eye, they are. Maybe it’s how she is filming the destruction. She seems to be recording more detail, taking much longer shots of rubble, than seems normal for a casual onlooker. He takes another bite of his dinner and continues watching.
“I know who you are,” Seminov says casually, his eyes still scanning the crowd and the suspicious pair even while he makes conversation.
“And you think I should be dead,” Jack finishes the thought for him.
After a pause Seminov responds. “No. I’ve been where you’ve been. I know we are always on the edge of sanity in what we do. But you killed my countryman, and that I can’t condone.”
Jack tosses the rest of the food and the empty bottle into a nearby trash receptacle. “Do you think I care if you condone it or not?” he asks, watching the couple converse and the man point to parts of the building. She takes out her phone again and films where he had pointed.
Jack glances at him as Seminov responds with a shrug.
“And I doubt if you’ve been where I’ve been.” Despite his curtness, Jack has to admit to himself that he appreciates Seminov’s bit of understanding. Not a single person since he’s been here has expressed anything except contempt and a wish to see him dead. A wish, admittedly, that he’d shared each and every night in that cell. Him. It should have been him. Not her.
In unison the man and the women turn and begin to walk away. Jack steps off the curb and Seminov follows him. The couple goes only two blocks before they stop in front of an old office building. They confirm Jack’s suspicion when, instead of simply entering the building, they first scan the street to see if they’d been followed. A short conversation ensues before the man enters the building leaving the woman behind lighting a cigarette. As soon as he is gone, though, she tosses the lit cigarette and pulls out her phone, her fingers immediately working the keyboard furiously, pausing to read, then tapping out another message. She turns and goes inside, but not before scanning the street once more.
The phone in Jack’s pocket buzzes. Jack looks up to where the woman had just been before reads the short text.
“What now, Jack?”
“What the hell does that mean?” blurts Seminov who is reading over his shoulder.
“It means,” Jack says, scanning the building the woman had just entered, “we are close.” He just isn’t so sure to what. The text was a tease. That can only mean that this is going to get a lot more complicated before it is over.
They’d been locked into a room in a neat little house, a not unpleasant room granted, and not told a thing. Their captures had been polite if silent.
The door finally opens and an older women enters and smiles. “Hello, Chloe, Kate, Belcheck” and nods at them in turn as she says each of their names.
Belcheck studies her through hooded eyes. He is never the first to speak. But he would be the first to move if they were threatened. Chloe and Kate open their mouths at the same time to voice their discontent. Chloe stops and lets Kate speak.
“We’ve been patient. We haven’t tried to escape. But we’ve just been kidnapped and watched a man be shot and killed. I think it is about time we get an explanation?” Kate speaks politely but with a hint of irritation.
“Yes, I agree,” the woman says, coming further into the room and gracefully taking a seat in an overstuffed chair. She motions for them to be seated, but none comply. “Please,” she asks again. “What I have to say is, well, complicated. And I assure you, when I am finished, you are free to leave if you would like.” She sighs when they remain standing. “Bringing you all here quickly, without you knowing beforehand, was the only way I could think to do this. Guns were never to be involved. I’ll explain that too, if you’ll just bear with me.” She tried to make them comfortable with a soft smile.
“Do what, exactly?” Chloe asks. “And who are you?
The women, in her early 70’s and clearly American, is dressed casually but it is easy to see her clothes are expensive. She pulls a phone from her jacket pocket and asks for coffee, water, and food to be brought in. “I’d like something even if you don’t,” she explains as she re-pockets the phone. “Now. Please.” She gestures yet again for them to sit.
Her demeanor, her gestures, her offer of food and drink are putting the three of them slightly at ease. They sit.
“For now I’m simply Elizabeth. You will learn a lot more about me soon. But first let’s talk about Phillips,” she sighs deeply. “Phillips is an ex-Pat who has been living in Russian for many years.”
“He was fired from CTU…where I used to work…” Chloe starts to protest the woman’s wisdom in hiring him.
“Yes, yes, I know, which is why I was reluctant to hire him. But I needed help and those with his qualifications are, well, difficult to find here.
“And what might those qualifications be?” Kate interjects.
“American but knowledgeable of Russia and it’s bureaucracy, familiar with CTU, some military experience, and…” Elizabeth hesitates. “Knows Jack Bauer.”
That brought the three of them to attention and all three rushed to ask the obvious. “Why?” But Elizabeth, with surprising authority, held her hands up to request they remain quiet.
“This will go a lot faster if you would just permit me to speak. When I’m finished, if you still have questions, I will answer them.” A knock at the door delays her again as one of the men who had forced them into the black SUV comes in bringing a tray of food, tea, water, and coffee. All of them ignore the tray and its contents. After setting the tray on a desk, he quietly slips back out. When the door closes behind him, Elizabeth begins.
“I hired Phillips four months ago to begin the search for the prison where Jack was being held.” Elizabeth paused and then interrupted her own narrative to save them asking. “And you will soon find out why I am interested in finding Jack Bauer. Again, I ask for your patience.”
“Phillips did acceptable work, but, as I eventually learned, had a problem with drinking and gambling. I am fairly certain it was the latter that caused the shootout you were unfortunately involved in. The Russian mafia is not patient with debtors. While I am not 100% sure of that, I know he was less and less available of late and his behavior had changed. He was anxious all the time and difficult to find. And I don’t want to dwell on him. He’s not a big part of this story except for his death today. Just rest assured, he was supposed to be delivering you here. No guns or restraints. My men had been occupied on another task but picked up tailing you as you approached the steel mill. Fortunately, they were there to protect you when you were ambushed and Phillips was killed. I had concerns about him and had arranged backup.”
“But…” Chloe couldn’t stop herself. There are too many questions swirling in her head. And she wants answers now. She just isn’t that patient, blame the ADD. But Elizabeth is determined to go on uninterrupted.
“I told Phillips to show you the prison first,” she says, anticipating Chloe’s question. Chloe actually has to bite her tongue to keep the questions from spilling out as she struggles for patience.
“Phillips, as poor as his character was, was talented at investigation. It took him several months, be he found where they were keeping Jack. The building, the converted steel mill, you saw was where they were keeping him. A secret military prison known for torture and the cruelest of treatment. And Jack is one of the few to ever leave it alive.” She paused knowing they would be unable to keep themselves from reacting to this statement. And, indeed, she briefly enjoys the burst of relief and hope that ensues. She is glad these people care about Jack.
“He’s out? When? How? Is he okay? Where is he? Do you have proof?” they asked in an excited flurry.
“He was released this evening. My sources sent me photographic proof of his release. I said my men had been on another task. They had gone to pick Jack up at a rendezvous point. But he was gone by the time they got there.” ‘Pick Jack up’ was a simplification. There was no way of knowing whether he’d even come with her men voluntarily nor if the military unit that was accompanying him would let him go without a fight. But it was a moot concern now.
“So where is he?” Chloe asked, a bad feeling growing inside her gut that this wasn’t going to be as easy as going to pick him up and bring him home.
Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably. “As you may know, there has been a series of terrorist attacks in Russian in the last several weeks”
Kate groans aloud, garnering confused looks from Belcheck and Chloe. She stares at them as if they couldn’t possibly not get it. “Don’t you see. They are using him. To find or stop or kill the terrorists. That’s why they let him out.”
“No, that can’t be,” Belcheck said, more familiar with the Russian military system than he would like to be. “They wouldn’t do that. They would kill him first. In fact, I’m amazed they haven’t killed him already.”
“Always so cheery,” Chloe comments and rolls her eyes. Sometimes she really wonders why they have been together these past six months, since the moment Jack got onto that helicopter. But then she remembers how like Jack he is at heart. And without him she doesn’t know how she would have gotten through those first few weeks after London. The circumstances of Jack and Belcheck’s births had resulted in vastly different lives, but, at their core, so much about them is surprisingly similar. “Sorry,” she apologizes when he looks irritated at the comment.
Elizabeth puts a halt to the banter and restarts her story. “I have some influence and I was able to keep him alive.” She stops talking and a fleeting look of profound sadness crosses her face. “I don’t think he had much quality of life. But he was kept alive.” She takes a drink from the water glass next to her before continuing. “I needed to be here in Moscow when he was released. For many reasons the Russians could not know I am here or my plans would have been threatened and it took me a while to get into the country unnoticed.”
Elizabeth thinks back to the journey that just ended a few hours ago. It was an outlandish risk sneaking into the country in a cargo container. But it hadn’t proved all that uncomfortable and a side benefit was that she was able to smuggle in the technological equipment and arms they might need in the container with her. Unfortunately, she arrived two days later than planned. All this was supposed to be in place two days ago. Two days before his release. Now they are crushed for time. But she needs these three..well at least Chloe and Kate. Belcheck’s presence came as a surprise. But he will be useful. She’s checked him out carefully-an interesting past. Besides some dirty dealings done for his and his family’s survival a decade ago, he’s resourceful and she thinks she can trust him.
“I wanted him released, free and clear, but that proved impossible. It took a while and the best I could coerce my, well, I’m not sure what to call him, but the man in charge of Jack, to do was to release him to make it look like he was leading a team to find the terrorists. Anything else would look too suspicious to his superiors.” She briefly considered Morozov. The man was a snake and, even knowing Jack was supposedly out of his reach, she worried he’d interfere in some way. Blackmail was a tricky business and she was new to it. But not too unfamiliar with it to know how it could backfire.
She got up and poured a cup of coffee while her audience of three digested all this. “Problem is,” she went on before they voiced the questions that had to be on their minds. “The terrorist group struck today, in Moscow for the first time. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Jack is released, nominally in charge of an elite Russian military unit, and a bomb goes off within the hour. And true to Jack’s nature, he kicked into action and went immediately to the scene. Most surprisingly, he is actually close to the terrorist group.”
“How do you know that?” Kate blurted. “And if you know where they are, and he is, why don’t you go get him and just alert the Russian authorities about the terrorists?
“This is where it gets complicated,” Elizabeth said hesitantly.
“You mean more complicated,” Chloe editorialized.
“Yes,” their host agreed calmly. “None of this is easy. While Jack is my priority, I also have an interest in stopping these terrorists. I’ll be honest with you. I am afraid for him. He’s in no physical or mental place to do his old job. Despite this, though, he may be the best chance to stop the attacks.”
“Answer Kate’s question,” Belcheck said with characteristic lack of diplomacy. “Let the Russian authorities deal with them if you know where they are.”
“The trouble with that, Mr. Belcheck,” she said, “is that the line between who are the terrorists and who are the Russian ‘authorities’ as you call them, is very, very indistinct. Right now, the government is a melting pot of old school undercover communists, progressive reformers, and want to be military dictators. One of these factions, or combinations of them, are behind the attacks.”
“Make the government look weak. Make the populace afraid and volatile. Then force your agenda on a weakened central government,” Kate summarized.
“Exactly. And from the intelligence I’ve heard, they are willing to carry out attacks far into the future. Most small, but they may be ready to launch something big. Today there was some activity at the port. Something came through but they were too late to intercept it.” Something besides me, she thought silently. “We know one name. He’s been around for a long time, an old style revolutionary type. He’s smart, calculating, and very, very patient. Oleg Lebedev. I have someone planted in his Moscow cell. But there are other cells scattered around the country and he moves around between his groups like a mole scurrying underground between nests. To make this even more difficult his followers are young, myriad, and regard him with almost cult-like devotion.”
Kate rises to pour herself a cup of coffee, wishing there was something stronger. This was all too much. She’d come here to Russia because her life was a mess. She had been wandering for months without purpose. Helping Chloe find Jack seemed as good a purpose as any and she liked Jack. Really, he might be the only person on Earth who could understand the pain of betrayal and loss she was trying to cope with. But the stress was wearing on her. Like Jack, she might not be up to this task. She took her cup and plopped down into the chair.
“Okay, say we take this all as the truth, or at least as truthful as your intelligence.” Kate was surprised to hear herself speaking. “You haven’t told us why you care. Why do you give a damn about Jack when no one else from his own country does. And who are you that you can pull all of this off?”
“Let’s just say I have a personal interest and I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating the knowledge and means to accomplish it,” Elizabeth says evasively.
“No,” Kate says sitting forward on her seat and letting her temper loose, “that’s not good enough. You are obviously about to ask us to help you either find and secure Jack, or stop the terrorists. Or probably both. If you want us to be involved, and, let’s face it, there’s no other reason we’d be here, then let’s hear it all. The truth. And some proof would be nice too.”
Chloe looks at Kate and Belcheck. They exchange a look of solidarity and then all turn to Elizabeth. While up to this point she has been business like, calm, in control, suddenly she looks vulnerable and her posture slumps ever so slightly.
“Because,” she begins hesitantly and, to their surprise, she actually tears up.
“Because Jack Bauer is my son.”
“Katya, Pavel,” Lebedev greets with enthusiasm upon their return to their little den. “Let me see what we have done.”
After handing her phone to him, Katya retreats to a corner of the room, exhausted from the day’s events and the never-ending tension. Surreptitiously, she studies Lebedev’s face as he watches the video. The developing scowl does not surprise her. In the other corner, she sees Pavel watching as well, his body language telegraphing fear.
“What happened?” Lebedev rounds on the mission leader. “Clearly the device was strong enough to wipe out the building and every person in that square. But that didn’t happen. There are no bodies and part of the building still stands.”
Pavel stutters under the glare of their leader. Katya, who knows very well what happened, can’t let handsome, idealistic Pavel take the blame. She likes Pavel and he likes her. She may need his allegiance in the days to come and cannot afford to let Lebedev kill him. “It was Vitaly,” she blurts, diverting Lebedev’s wrath from Pavel and aiming it square at herself. “He’s the one who placed the device. I mean Pavel watched him place it. But then Vitaly disappeared, he fell behind us. He must have gone in and changed the location.”
“And why would he do that? And why would you not report that at the time?” Lebedev asks in a menacingly soft voice.
Well, he wouldn’t, Katya thinks to herself. But the poor simple sap is already dead, so let him take the blame. “You were right to kill him, Oleg Lebedevich.” She dons as sincere and revering demeanor as she could possibly manage. “He was losing faith in the cause.”
The intensity of Lebedev’s glare does not diminish. But Katya is saved. A young excited voice, a boy from security, shouts urgently to Lebedev. With an air of importance, he points a dirty index finger at the small, old black and white video screen that passes for their security system.
“We’ve got visitors. Two men. Armed.”
On the screen, the blurred figures of Jack and Seminov pass through the lobby. Jack looks up and sees the camera and both figures move quickly out of range of the lens. It is the group’s only camera.
Lebedev quickly unlocks the gun safe and hands out the automatic weapons. “Find them and bring them here. Try to bring them to me alive. Kill them if you must.”