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John Whitman

24 Declassified: Cat's Claw

After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, a division of the Central Intelligence Agency established a domestic unit tasked with protecting America from the threat of terrorism. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Counter Terrorist Unit established field offices in several American cities. From its inception, CTU faced hostility and skepticism from other Federal law enforcement agencies. Despite bureaucratic resistance, within a few years CTU had become a major force. After the war against terror began, a number of CTU missions were declassified. The following is one of them…

PROLOGUE

1 Month Ago

Detective Mercy Bennet eased her Audi A4 up to the curb of the big ranch-style house on Roscomare Road. It was only five o’clock, but the Bel Air hills blocked the sun and the street was mostly in shadow. Thick ivy covered the ground from the curb all the way up to the rose bushes leaning against the front side of the house. Mercy walked up the middle of the driveway, keeping well clear of the ivy. Her father had been a pest controller and had always told her that rats loved ivy. Mercy worked pest control, too. Just a different kind.

She gathered information as she walked through the front door. The doorjamb was smooth and the chain was intact, but the Karastan rug in the marble entryway was rumpled, and a single thick, crystal candlestick on the hallway table had been tipped on its side. The frameless beveled mirror on the wall behind her was askew. To the right of the hallway, a set of stairs climbed up to the second story, while straight ahead the corridor opened up into a high-ceilinged living room. The living room was decorated with the same sense of class as the hallway — ecru walls trimmed in white crown molding surrounded two brushed suede couches and a wrought-iron coffee table. There was a marble chess set sitting atop a small round table where two chairs squared off against each other, and an Alexandra Nikita print hung over the fireplace, with a tall fake ficus tree in a wicker basket nearby. Except for the fake tree, the room looked like a picture from a Restoration Hardware catalog.

Two uniformed policemen were already there, as were two paramedics with a gurney, and the crime scene technician. The forensics tech was crouched over the dead body in the middle of the living room. The body was lying facedown on the carpet with the head, or what was left of it, soaking in a pool of blood. This had been Gordon Gleed, a forty-threeyear-old divorced businessman living alone. Habitually Mercy started collecting scenarios in the back of her head based on the facts she knew. These scenarios would fade away as the facts became more specific. Right now, given the fact that he was divorced, lived the bachelor life in a stylish Bel Air pad, and was obviously successful in business, Mercy thought home invasion, angry ex-wife, angry gay lover, angry business associate. They were cliches, but she noted them anyway. Ever since she’d read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, she’d been keeping track of her first impressions at crime scenes. So far she was fifty-fifty on the hunches she formed.

Mercy didn’t know either of the uniforms, but she had known Sam Kinsett, the forensics tech, since she was in uniform herself. His red hair had thinned as her waist had thickened, but both of them still looked pretty good ten years into their careers.

“Blunt trauma to the head,” Sam said by way of hello.

“They taught you well. That the weapon?” She pointed to a crystal candlestick lying on the ground nearby, the mate of the one in the hall.

“All signs point to yes,” Sam replied.

One of the uniforms joined in. “Neighbors called in because the door was open and said they heard sounds of a struggle. We showed up to find him like this.”

“How’s the rest of the house?” she asked.

“Tossed,” the other uniform replied. “Really tossed. The whole place is a mess.”

The rest of the forensics team arrived for pictures and prints while Mercy walked the house. The bedroom was a shambles, with clothes dumped from drawers and pictures taken off the walls. Gordon Gleed kept a home office, which had now been turned upside down, with most of the contents of his mahogany desk dumped across the top. The blue box of a Linksys wireless router sat in a corner, its lights still on, but the wireless laptop, if it existed, was now gone. The kitchen had been ransacked, plates broken and dish drawers left open. Even the refrigerator had been searched.

By the time Mercy returned to the living room, Sam and his team were packing up. “We’re ready to move the body. You got anything else you want?”

Mercy didn’t answer at first. Something about the house bothered her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. “How’s his wallet?”

“Empty,” said one of the uniformed cops. “No cash, I mean.”

“The DVD player’s gone from the den,” said the other cop. “TV’s still there. They only took light stuff.”

“Any other reports of home invasions in this neighborhood?”

“Nada,” said the first cop.

“Light stuff,” Mercy repeated. She looked around the living room again. She was sure she’d seen those couches in a catalog. The coffee table, too. Catalogs, but expensive ones. She walked over to the plastic tree and touched its leaves. They looked real enough, but they felt waxy and stiff. She plucked one and it popped out. The leaves were held in place with a clever little ball-and-socket arrangement. It was well made, but it still didn’t fit with the rest of the decor. She crouched down and looked at the big wicker basket that held the fake plant. Grabbing the basket with both hands, she pushed it aside.

“Look what I found,” she muttered.

The plastic tree hid a small, round floor safe set beneath the carpet. She bent down, careful not to touch, and examined the combination lock and the hinges. Both were covered with dust. If the killer was looking for the valuables, he hadn’t looked very hard. But he had tried hard to make it look as if he had tried hard.

This wasn’t adding up, she thought. No one commits a home invasion robbery in this neighborhood to steal a few dollars in cash and a DVD player.

The next two hours passed quickly. The uniformed officers knocked on neighboring doors and asked questions. Mercy found recent copies of Penthouse under the piles of clothes strewn around his bedroom, which put a crimp in the gay lover theory. The ex-wife had been “ex” for seven years, had her own money and a new husband. That left Mercy with only one hunch left.

“Let’s get to know Mr. Gleed’s business contacts.”

Five Days Ago

Jack Bauer stood at the bow of the Catalina Express, a huge hydrofoil boat that carried passengers from the mainland to Santa Catalina Island, twenty-six miles across the sea.

His wife, Teri, was standing next to him, holding her sweater close to her throat and pressing in against his body to ward off the breeze as the boat eased into its Long Beach dock. It had been a long time since she’d done that. It had

been a long time since he’d missed it.

“It was a good trip,” she said. “Thanks.”

He nodded and let his cheek rest against her head. He didn’t deserve the thanks — the trip hadn’t really been his idea. Well, the specifics had been, maybe, but not the concept. Their marriage had been on shaky ground for a year, but Teri, not he, had had the courage to suggest they do something about it. A weekend away had seemed easy enough, so he’d rented a condo at Hamilton Cove on Catalina Island.

Her hair smelled like watermelon, and he breathed her in. He agreed. It was a good trip. When she pulled herself out of mommy mode and he stopped obsessing over his Counter Terrorist Unit caseload, they made a good

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