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'Nice clothes,' said the captain, passing the print to the pale-faced man.

'Well tailored,' agreed the patient.

The location of the morning rendezvous was agreed upon, the drinks paid for, and the captain slipped five hundred francs under the table. The conference was over; the buyer left the cubicle and started across the crowded, raucous, smoke-layered bar-room towards the door.

It happened so rapidly, so suddenly, so completely unexpectedly, there was no time to think. Only react.

The collision was abrupt, casual, but the eyes that stared at him were not casual; they seemed to burst out of their sockets, widening in disbelief, on the edge of hysteria.

'No! Oh my God, no, It cannot . . . ' The man spun in the crowd; the patient lurched forward, clamping his hand down on the man's shoulder.

'Wait a minute!'

The man spun again, thrusting the V of his outstretched thumb and fingers up onto the patient's wrist, forcing the hand away. 'You I You're dead You could not have lived I'

'I lived. What do you know'

The face was now contorted, a mass of twisted fury, the eyes squinting, the mouth open, sucking air, baring yellow teeth that took on the appearance of an animal's teeth. Suddenly, the man pulled out a knife, the snap of its recessed blade heard through the surrounding din. The arm shot forward, the blade an extension of the hand that gripped it, both surging in towards the patient's stomach. 'I know I'll finish it!' whispered the man.

The patient swung his right forearm down, a pendulum sweeping aside all objects in front of it He pivoted, lashing his left foot up, his heel plunging into his attacker's pelvic bone.

'Che-sah. ' The echo in his ears was deafening.

The man lurched backwards into a trio of drinkers as the knife fell to the floor. The weapon was seen; shouts followed, men converged, fists and hands separating the combatants.

'Get out of here!'

Take your argument somewhere else!'

'We don't want the police in here, you drunken bastards! !

The angry coarse dialects of Marseilles rose over the caco-phonic sounds of Le Bouc de Mer. The patient was hemmed

in; he watched as his would-be killer threaded his way through the crowd, holding his groin, forcing a path to the entrance The heavy door swung open, the man raced into the darkness of rue Sarasin.

Someone who thought he was dead - wanted him dead -knew he was alive.

The economy class section of Air France's Caravelle to Zurich was filled to capacity, the narrow seats made more uncomfortable by the turbulence that buffeted the plane. A baby was screaming in its mother's arms; other children whimpered, swallowing cries of fear as parents smiled with tentative reassurances they did not feel. Most of the remaining passengers were silent, a few drinking their whisky more rapidly than obviously was normal. Fewer still were forcing laughter from tight throats, false bravado that emphasized their insecurity rather than disguising it. A terrible flight was many things to many people, but none escaped the essential thoughts of terror: encased in a metal tube thirty thousand feet above the ground, he was vulnerable. With one elongated, screaming dive he could be plummeting downwards into the earth. And there were fundamental questions that accompanied the essential terror. What thoughts would go through one's mind at such a time? How would one react?

The patient tried to find out; it was important to him. He sat next to the window, his eyes on the aircraft's wing, watching the broad expanse of metal bend and vibrate under the brutalizing impact of the winds. The currents were clashing against one another, pounding the man-made tube into a kind of submission, warning the microscopic pretenders that they were no match for the vast infirmities of nature. One ounce of pressure beyond the flex-tolerance and the wing would crack, the lift sustaining limb torn from its tubular body, shredded into the winds; one burst of rivets and there would be an explosion, the screaming plunge to follow.

What would he do? What would he think? Other than the uncontrollable fear of dying and oblivion, would there be anything else? That's what he had to concentrate on; that was the projection Washburn kept emphasizing in Port Noir. The doctor's words came back to him.

Whenever you observe a stress situation - and you have the time'- do your damnedest to project yourself into it. Associate as-freely as you can; let words and images fill your mind. In them you may find clues.

The patient continued to stare out of the window, consciously trying to raise his unconscious, fixing his eyes on the natural violence beyond the glass, distilling the movement, silently doing his 'damnedest' to let his reactions give rise to words and images.

They came - slowly. There was the darkness again, and the sound of rushing wind, ear-shattering, continuous, growing in volume until he thought his head would burst. His head . . . The winds were lashing the left side of his head and face, burning his skin, forcing him to raise his left shoulder for protection . . . Left shoulder. Left arm. His arm was raised, the gloved fingers of his left hand gripping a straight edge of metal, his right holding a . . . a strap; he was holding onto a strap, waiting for something. A signal. . . a flashing light or a tap on the shoulder, or both. A signal. It came. He plunged. Into the darkness, into the void, his body tumbling, twisting, swept away into the night sky. He had. . . parachuted I

'tes-vous malade?'

His insane reverie was broken; the nervous passenger next to him had touched his left arm - which was raised, the fingers of his hand spread, as if resisting, rigid in their locked position. Across his chest his right forearm was pressed into the cloth of his jacket, his right hand gripping the lapel, bunching the fabric. And on his forehead were rivulets of sweat; it had happened. The something-else had come briefly - insanely -into focus.

'Pardon' he said, lowering his arms, 'Un reve,' he added meaninglessly.

There was a break in the weather; the Caravelle stabilized.

The smiles on the harried stewardesses' faces became genuine again; full service was resumed as embarrassed passengers glanced at one another.

The patient observed his surroundings but reached no conclusions. He was consumed by the images and the sounds that had been so clearly denned in his mind's eye and ear. He had hurled himself from a plane . . . at night . . . signals and metal and straps intrinsic to his leap. He had parachuted. Where? Why?

Stop crucifying yourself!

If for no other reason than to take his thoughts away from the madness, he reached into his breast pocket, pulled out the altered passport and opened it. As might be expected the name Washburn had been retained; it was common enough and its owner had explained that there were no flags out for it The Geoffrey R. , however, had been changed to George P. , the eliminations and space-line blockage expertly accomplished. The photographic insertion was expert, too; it no longer resembled a cheap print from a machine in an amusement arcade.

The identification numbers, of course, were entirely different, guaranteed not to cause an alarm in an immigration computer. At least, up until the moment the bearer submitted the passport for its first inspection; from that time on it was the buyer's responsibility. One paid as much for this guarantee as for the artistry and the equipment, for it required connections within Interpol and the immigration clearing houses. Customs officials, computer specialists and clerks throughout the European border networks were paid on a regular basis for this vital information, they rarely made mistakes. If and when they did, the loss of an eye or an arm was not out of the question, such were the brokers of false papers.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller