Page 17

Are you enjoying your stay in Zurich? Walther Apfel had asked while they were waiting for a minion to leave and be alone again.

Very much so. My room overlooks the lake. It's a nice view, very peaceful, quiet.

Koenig! Koenig had heard him say his room looked over the lake. How many hotels had rooms overlooking the lake? Especially hotels a man with a three-zero account might frequent Two? Three? . . . From unremembered memory names came to him: Carillon du Lac, Baur au Lac, Eden an Lac. Were there others? No further names came. How easy it must have been to narrow them down. How easy it had been for him to say the words. 'How stupid I. . . ' No time. Too late. He could see through the row of glass doors; so, too, could the killers. The second man had spotted him. Words were exchanged over the hood of the Peugeot, gold-rimmed spectacles adjusted, hands placed in outsized pockets, unseen weapons gripped. The two men converged on the entrance, separating at the last moment, one on either end of the row of clear glass panels. The flanks were covered, the trap set; he could not race outside.

Did they think they could walk into a crowded hotel lobby and simply kill a man?

Of course they could! The crowds and the noise were their cover. Two, three, four muted gunshots fired at close range would be as effective as an ambush in a crowded square in daylight, escape easily found in the resulting chaos.

He could not let them get near him I He backed away, thoughts racing through his mind, outrage paramount How dared they? What made them think he would not run for protection, scream for the police! And then the answer was clear, as numbing as the question itself. The killers knew with certainty that which he could only surmise. He could not seek that kind of protection - he could not seek the police. For Jason Bourne, all the authorities had to be avoided . . . Why? Were they seeking him!

Jesus Christ, why?

The two opposing doors were opened by outstretched hands, other hands hidden, around steel. Bourne turned; there were lifts, doorways, corridors - a roof and cellars; there had to be a dozen ways out of the hotel,

Or were there? Did the killers now threading their way through the crowds know something else he could only surmise? Did the Carillon du Lac have only two or three exits? Easily covered by men outside, easily used as traps themselves to cut down the lone figure of a running man.

A lone man; a lone man was an obvious target But suppose he was not alone? Suppose someone was with him? Two people were not one, but for one alone an extra person was camouflage - especially in crowds, especially at night, and it was night. Determined killers avoided taking the wrong life, not from compassion but for practicality; in any ensuing panic the real target might escape.

He felt the weight of the gun in his pocket but there was not much comfort in knowing it was there. As at the bank, to use it - to even display it - was to mark him. Still, it was there. He started back towards the centre of the lobby, then turned to his right where there was a greater concentration of people. It was the pre-evening hour during an international conference, a thousand tentative plans being made, rank and courtesan separated by glances of approval and rebuke, odd groupings everywhere.

There was a marble counter against the wall, a clerk behind it checking pages of yellow paper with a pencil held like a paintbrush. Cablegrams. In front of the counter were two people, an obese elderly man and a woman in a dark red dress, the rich colour of the silk complementing her long titian hair. . . Auburn hair. It was the woman in the lift who had joked about Caesar's taxes and the Punic Wars, the doctor who had stood beside him at the hotel desk, asking for the cable she knew was there.

Bourne looked behind him. The killers were using the crowds well, excusing themselves politely but firmly through, one on the right, one on the left, closing in like two prongs of a pincer attack. As long as they kept him in sight, they could force him to keep running blindly, without direction, not knowing which path might lead to a dead end where he could run no longer. And then the muted spits would come, pockets blackened by powder burns . . .

Kept him in sight?

The back row then . . . We can sleep. He uses a slide projector; it'll be dark.

Jason turned again and looked at the auburn-haired woman. She had completed her cable and was thanking the clerk, removing a pair of tinted, horn-rimmed glasses from her face, placing them in her purse. She was no more than eight feet away.

Bertinelli is speaking, to little effect I suggest.

There was no time for anything but instinctive decisions. Bourne shifted his suitcase to his left hand, walked rapidly over to the woman at the marble counter, and touched her elbow, gently, with as little alarm as possible.

'Doctor?. . . '

'I beg your pardon?'

'You are Doctor? . . . ' He released her, a bewildered man.

'St Jacques,' she completed, using the French Senh for Saint 'You're the one in the lift. '

'I didn't realize it was you,' he said. 'I was told you'd know where this Bertinelli is speaking. '

'It's right on the board. Suite Seven. '

'I'm afraid I don't know where it is. Would you mind showing me? I'm late and I've got to take notes on his talk. '

'On Bertinelli? Why? Are you with a Marxist newspaper?'

'A neutral pool,' said Jason, wondering where the phrases came from. 'I'm covering for a number of people. They don't think he's worth it. '

'Perhaps not, but he should be heard. There are a few brutal truths in what he says. '

'I lost so I've got to find them. Maybe you can point them out!

I'm afraid not I'll show you the room, but I've a phone call to make. ' She snapped her purse shut

'Please. Hurryr

'What?' She looked at him, not kindly.

'Sorry, but I am in a hurry. ' He glanced to his right; the two men were no more than twenty feet away.

'You're also rude,' said the St Jacques woman coldly.

'Please. ' He restrained his desire to propel her forward, away from the moving trap that was closing in.

'It's this way. ' She started across the floor towards a wide corridor carved out of the left rear wall. The crowds were thinner, prominence less apparent in the back regions of the lobby. They reached what looked like a velvet-covered tunnel of deep red, doors on opposite sides, lighted signs above them identifying Conference Room One, Conference Room Two. At the end of the hallway were double doors, the gold letters to the right proclaiming them to be the entrance to Suite Seven.

There you are,' said Marie St Jacques. 'Be careful when you go in; it's probably dark. Bertinelli lectures with slides.

'Like a movie,' commented Bourne, looking behind them at the crowds at the far end of the corridor. He was there, the man with gold-rimmed spectacles was excusing himself past an animated trio in the lobby. He was walking into the hallway, his companion right behind him.

'. . . a considerable difference. He sits below the stage and pontificates. ' The St Jacques woman had said something and was now leaving him.

'What did you say? A stage?'

'Well, a raised platform. For exhibits usually. '

They have to be brought in,' he said.

'What does?'

'Exhibits. Is there an exit in there? Another door?"

'I have no idea, and I really must make my call. Enjoy the professore. ' She turned away.

He dropped the suitcase and took her arm. At the touch, she glared at him. Take your hand off me, please. '

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller