The Catalyst

Eva K. Bradshaw

Lebanon, 1999.

The interrogation chamber was quiet, the only audible sound the dull hum of the overhead lamp that served, inadequately, to light the room. As Federal Agent Jack Bauer entered, he shut the door behind him, the latch sliding home with a heavy click. In the stillness of the room, the sound was amplified, a disconcerting jolt that served to put Jack’s nerves more than slightly on edge.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he had already accepted that this was not going to be easy.

In his line of work, particularly in dealing with the art of interrogation, Jack had come to learn rather quickly that there were two different types of suspects.

On the one hand, there were men whose greatest interests were those of their own--self-serving cowards, most of them, who held firm to their resistance until the first threat of bodily harm. It was amazing, thought Jack, how quickly a man’s entire belief system could be completely discarded just at the sight of a pair of bolt-cutters.

On the other hand, however, there were men who absolutely refused to crack, even under the most extreme of circumstances. These were men who preferred death to disloyalty, and in most cases, could prove most resourceful and incredibly dangerous. These were the ones you had to watch.

Looking at his captive now, there was no question in Jack’s mind which category this man fell into.

According to his dossier, he had been interrogated three times over the past 48 hours, and had yet to say a word. He was secured to a small, metal chair in the center of the room, his hands bound around the back of the chair. His shirt had a large tear on the right side, and there was a pronounced bruise beneath one of his eyes, a long gash marring the opposing cheek. As Jack entered the room, the man lifted his head and glared at Jack, the perfect portrait of steely defiance.

“You’re wasting your time,” was the first thing he said to Jack. “You will not break me, American devil.”

Oh, this was going to be good.

The urge to walk right over to the chair and shoot the man on the spot was a thought quite compelling, but Jack forced the thought aside. He glanced at the clipboard in his hand, then back at the man in the chair.

He knew who this man was. He recognized him at once, recognized the face he had seen nearly a hundred times on every national news station, decrying the United States and calling for violent war against its allies. He could have placed those wild hazel eyes anywhere, blazing with passion and hatred and violence.

The man’s name was Hamri al-Assad, and up until now, he had been one of the most elusive terror leaders in the entire Middle East.

As Jack ventured closer, Assad struggled with the bonds around his wrists, keeping his eyes on his captor.

Trapped. Jack smirked. Take that, you son of a bitch.

“Hamri al-Assad, is it?” Jack quizzed calmly, glancing at the notes on the chart again. “Two past interrogators have described you as being overtly hostile and physically combative. Is that true?” As if to answer, Assad spat at Jack and lashed out in attempt to kick him, though the shackles around his ankles didn’t allow for much movement. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’” He placed the clipboard on the small table by the chair and moved to stand in front of Assad, studying him. He looked rather spry, thought Jack, for a man who had been through the ringer twice, and deprived of food and sleep for the past 48 hours.

“According to your record, you were captured in Beirut, in a military-restricted area, masquerading under the pseudonym Assam al-Hamza.” Jack smirked. “You’re not as slick as you think you are. Did you think we weren’t going to find out who you really were?”

“Of course I did.” Now, it was Assad’s turn to smirk. “I’m just surprised it took your people two and a half days to figure it out. Bravo, Mr.--” He glanced quickly at Jack’s name plate. “--Bauer. Bravo.” He offered a smile that was anything but pleasant. “I don‘t believe we‘ve met, have we, Mr. Bauer?”

Jack chose to ignore Assad, reaching for a small tape recorder on the table by him.

“We’re going to talk,” Jack stated neutrally.

“I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told your compatriots. I won’t speak until I’ve been given full immunity from your persecution--pardon me, my English is not so good. I meant prosecution.” Again, Jack found himself suppressing a rather violent urge to strangle Assad. Don’t let him get to you. Once he gets in your head, he’s won.

Jack would be damned if he let that happen.

Jack checked the tape and hit ‘record.’

“The date is August 17, 1999. I am federal agent Jack Bauer, and this is the record of questioning for detainee Hamri al-Assad. Mr. Assad, if you would, state your answers clearly. Mr. Assad, please state your name for the record.”

“My name is Hamri Al-Assad.”

“Mr. Assad, is it or is it not true that you have been involved in the cornerstone of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East?”

“You seem to know everything. Why don’t you tell me?”

“It’s no secret that you have served as the leader of the terrorist organization Radical Islamic Jihad for the past decade.”

“How interesting. Pray tell.”

“Are you denying those allegations?”

“What if I am?”

“I’ll ask the questions,” said Jack calmly. “Again, are you denying those allegations?”

“Perhaps I am. Perhaps I’m not.”

“Answer the question. Do you deny that you are a terrorist?”

“No. I do not.” As an afterthought, he added, “We rather prefer the term ‘freedom fighters.’ It’s much less abrasive.”

Son of a bitch, I’m going to end up killing this guy.

“What are you doing in Beirut?” Jack asked, point-blank, in an attempt to catch Assad off guard. It didn’t work.

“I had some urgent business to attend to.” His reply was calm, effortless.

“In an area of the city restricted by Lebanese security forces?”

“I was lost.” Assad smiled apologetically and Jack thought he might explode.

“Lost,” he repeated. “According to this document, you were seen leaving an abandoned house on the outskirts of town that happens to be a reputed terrorist safe house. This was two hours, Mr. Assad, after the United States Embassy six blocks away was hit by a suicide bomber.”

“What an unfortunate coincidence.”

“What sort of business brought you here to Beirut?” Jack asked again.

“I cannot tell you.”

“Of course you can’t.”

Jack knew well enough to recognize that this conversation was going nowhere, and getting there fast. It was time for a more drastic approach.

He reached over and turned off the tape recorder. Before Assad could question, he elaborated. “I stopped the tape so, when the interrogation records are reviewed, whoever analyzes this tape won’t have to listen to you screaming.” Assad’s face was hard, expressionless. Undaunted. The bastard. “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m having a hard time chalking all this up to ‘coincidence.’ A terrorist drives a truck loaded with explosives through the front gates of the Embassy and detonates himself, and here you are, conducting some sort of business at a known terrorist safe house and traveling under a false name.”

“What are you suggesting?” Assad demanded.

“I’m suggesting that you confess now, and save us both a lot of trouble.”

“You condemn me without evidence,” snapped Assad.

“Did you have anything to do with that bombing?”

“No.” His answer was quick, clipped, and to the point. Jack thought he might have answered a little too quickly.

“I’m having trouble believing you right now. See, I’m thinking you did have a hand in this bombing. You may not have perpetuated it yourself, but you know who did. Whoever you pushed to do this--”

I had nothing to do with this. This attack was not something I sanctioned.” Jack raised both eyebrows. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“So you do know who did this.”

Suddenly, Assad was quiet, very quiet.

“You’re going to tell me who’s responsible for this,” Jack said. “And you’re going to tell me now.” Assad remained stone-silent, a volatile stare aimed directly at Jack. Son of a bitch.

By now, Jack’s already-waning patience simply ceased to exist. He lunged forward and grabbed Assad by the front of his shirt, damn near hauling him and the chair up off the floor. “Damn it, you can either give me those names, or I will make the next few minutes of your life exceedingly difficult.”

“Burn in hell,” snarled Assad. Jack released him, shoving him roughly back into the chair.

“Fine. We’ll do this your way.”

On a surgical stand off to the far right of the room, there was a small vial of a clear liquid; beside it was a syringe with a long hypodermic needle on the end.

Assad didn’t bother to turn his head and try to see what Jack was doing, though he could if he had tried. Instead, he stared straight ahead at the lifeless concrete wall, disinterested.

“You fancy yourself above me, don’t you, Mr. Bauer?” Jack ignored Assad once more, pulling the contents of the entire bottle into the syringe. “You hold your own cause in such high regard, so gallant and just. You’re a hero, is that it? A crusader against evil?” Jack turned his back to Assad completely, trying his damnedest to ignore him, but that maddening, calm-but-commanding voice took hold of all Jack’s senses.

Ignore him. Don’t listen to him. Damn it, you can do this.

Hypodermic in hand, he reassumed his position over Assad.

“This is an experimental substance,” he said in a voice that was cold and calculating. “When injected into a nerve site, it produces a very unpleasant sensation. Either you drop me a name, or we’re going to see just how well this works at maximum dose.”

To Jack’s surprise, Assad was smirking, seemingly taking some sort of sick amusement from the entire situation. Jack had to wonder if the man was a complete sadist, or if he was just mad. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

“Ah, Mr. Bauer. For all your righteous blathering, you’re nothing but a common terrorist yourself.”

Jack growled and yanked Assad’s shirt open at the collar, exposing the area between his neck and shoulder.

“Five seconds, and you’re going to feel like every nerve in your body is on fire.”

“Do you sleep well at night, Mr. Bauer? Or are your dreams plagued by the screams of men you‘ve butchered in the name of your false god?” Jack tore the cap from the needle with his teeth and spit it aside.

“Three seconds.” Assad glared challengingly--do your worst. “Two.”

“You’re no better than I am.”

“One.” Jack drew back and jammed the needle hard into Assad’s shoulder. Assad gasped sharply and braced himself for the pain to come.

“Stop!” A voice was crying out, but it wasn’t Assad’s. The door to the room was open, and one of the armed Lebanese guards had swooped in, rushing toward Jack. “Damn it, Jack, don‘t push that plunger.” Jack withdrew the needle, and he was sure he heard Assad breathe a sigh of relief. “I’ve just been handed the order. This man has full diplomatic immunity. We are not to lay a finger on him.”

Christ. You have to be fucking kidding me.

“Take those cuffs off,” another man commanded from the door, and the guard rushed to obey.

When all was said and done, Jack and Assad stood alone in the center of the interrogation room--Assad looking all too amused for his own good, and Jack feeling somewhat baffled.

Someone in the higher chain of command was going to have some serious explaining to do before this was all over.

Jack dropped the hypodermic back onto the medical tray and shoved past Assad, heading toward the door.

“Just a moment, Mr. Bauer.”

Jack turned. When he did, he found himself being seized by the shoulders and propelled back against the nearby wall. He barely had time to think before his back hit concrete and the force of Assad’s body landed hard against his, pinning him there.

“Let’s get one thing straight.” Assad’s voice was like a dagger wrapped in satin, a certain smoothness that veiled a blatant threat. “I answer to no man. But I will cooperate with you.”

“Cooperate?” Jack demanded. “What the hell are you--”

“My resistance to you was merely a test,” Assad interjected with a smirk. “I wanted to see just how far you were willing to push to find out what I knew. Needless to say, you passed.”

Guess the joke’s on me. Jack wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry.

“There is a man you might have an interest in. His name is Ramzi Fayed. He is the younger brother of one of my lieutenants. Pursue him, and I guarantee you it will lead you to the man behind the embassy attack.”

“Ramzi Fayed,” Jack spoke the name aloud only to remember it. In all honesty, Assad’s close proximity to him was more than a tad distracting. “Got it.”

“I have offered my services to the Lebanese Military Intelligence agency. I wish to help them track down the bomber.”

“Why?” Jack inquired.

“I have my reasons. Sometime, I might tell you. But not now.” Jack decided that leaving it at that might be best, at least for the time being. “Right now, I want to know where we stand, you and I.”

Suddenly, Assad was closer, much closer, and Jack found it damn near impossible to breathe. It didn’t make sense, any of it. Jack wasn’t at all sure why his heart was thudding dully in his chest the way it was, nor why he was noticing that Assad’s eyes, at this close a range, were as dangerous as a point-blank bullet. The fact of the matter was that he did notice, and by the time he realized Assad had noticed him noticing, it was far too late.

For a moment, neither man moved.

Then, Assad pressed Jack against the wall again and their lips met--inexplicably, perhaps by accident. Their kiss was brief, just long enough to leave Assad with a slight flush on his face, and to leave Jack even more confused than he had been before.

Seemingly surprised, Assad took a step back, staring wide-eyed at Jack. Did I just..?

Jack stared, agape, back at Assad. Fuck me, I think you just did.

From somewhere worlds away, the intercom on the wall beside them buzzed, and Jack nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Agent Bauer?” Jack didn’t answer; it was as if he had lost the ability to form words. “Agent Bauer.”

“Yes,” It was Assad who saved him, speaking up where Jack seemingly could not. “Go ahead.” There was a hesitation on the other side of the intercom.

“There’s just been another bombing near the Embassy. We think we may have a suspect in custody. We need you to get down there as soon as possible.”

Jack exchanged a glance with Assad.

“Are you with me on this?”


He headed for the door, Assad following close behind him. As they commandeered a vehicle, and Jack tossed Assad the keys, it occurred to Jack that he had no idea where he stood with Assad; hell, he didn’t even know where he stood on his own.

Dusk was falling over Beirut as the pair set out, speeding in the direction of the center of the city.