Page 18

'I don't want to frighten you, but I have no choice. ' He spoke quietly, his eyes over her shoulder; the killers had slowed their pace, the trap sure, about to close. 'You have to come with me. '

'Don't be ridiculous I'

He viced the grip around her arm, moving her in front of him. Then he pulled the gun out of his pocket, making sure her body concealed it from the men thirty feet away.

'I don't want to use this. I don't want to hurt you, but I'll do both if I have to. ' "My God. . . '

'Be quiet. Just do as I say and you'll be fine. I have to get out of this hotel and you're going to help me. Once I'm out, I'll let you go. But not until then. Come on. We're going in there. ' 'You can't. . . '

'Yes, I can. ' He pushed the barrel of the gun into her stomach, into the dark silk that creased under the force of his thrust She was terrified into silence, into submission. 'Let's go. ' He stepped to her left, his hand still gripping her arm, the pistol held across his chest inches from her own. Her eyes were riveted on it, her lips parted, her breath erratic. Bourne opened the door, propelling her through it in front of him. He could hear a single word shouted from the corridor. 'Schnelir

They were hi darkness, but it was brief; a shaft of white light shot across the room, over the rows of chairs, illuminating the heads of the audience. The projection on the faraway screen on the stage was that of a graph, the grids marked numerically, a heavy black line starting at the left, extending La a jagged pattern through the lines to the right A heavily accented voice was speaking, amplified by a loudspeaker.

'You will note that during the years of 'seventy and 'seventy-one, when specific restraints in production were self-imposed -I repeat, self-imposed - by these leaders of industry, the resulting economic recession was far less severe than in - Slide Twelve, please - the so-called paternalistic regulation of the marketplace by government interventionists. The next slide, please. '

The room went dark again. There was a problem with the projector; no second shaft of light replaced the first 'Slide Twelve, please I'

Jason pushed the woman forward, in front of the figures standing by the back wall, behind the last row of chairs. He tried to judge the size of the lecture hall, looking for a red light that could mean escape. He saw it! A faint reddish glow in the distance. On the stage, behind the screen. There were no other exits, no other doors but the entrance to Suite Seven. He had to reach it; he had to get them to that exit. On that stage.

'Marie! Id!' The whisper came from their left, from a seat in the back row.

'Non, ma cherie! Je suis tout pres. ' The second whisper was delivered by the shadowed figure of a man standing directly in front of Marie St Jacques. He had stepped away from the wall, intercepting her.

Bourne pressed the gun firmly into the woman's rib cage, its message unmistakable. She whispered without breathing, Jason grateful that her face could not be seen clearly. 'Please, let us by,' she said in French. 'Please. '

'What's this? Is he your cablegram, my dear?!

'An old friend,' whispered Bourne.

A shout rose over the increasingly louder hum from the audience. 'May I please have Slide Twelve! Per cortesia!'

'We have to see someone at the end of the row,' continued Jason, looking behind him. The right-hand door of the entrance opened; in the middle of a shadowed face, a pair of gold-rimmed glasses reflected the dim light of the corridor. Bourne edged the girl past her bewildered friend, forcing him back into the wall, whispering an apology.

'Sorry, but we're in a hurry!'

'You're damned rude, too! !

'Yes, I know. '

'Slide Twelve! Che cosa! ImpossibileT

The beam of light shot out from the projector; it vibrated under the nervous hand of the operator. Another graph appeared on the screen as Jason and the woman reached the far wall, the start of the narrow aisle that led down the length of the hall to the stage. He pushed her into the corner, pressing his body against hers, his face against her face.

I'll scream' she whispered.

'I'll shoot,' he said. He peered around the figures leaning against the wall; the killers were both inside, both squinting, shifting their heads like alarmed rodents, trying to spot their target among the rows of faces.

The voice of the lecturer rose like the ringing of a cracked bell, his diatribe brief but strident. 'Ecco! For the sceptics I address here this evening - and that is most of you - here is statistical proof I Identical in substance to a hundred other analyses I have prepared. Leave the marketplace to those who live there. Minor excesses can always be found. They are a small price to pay for the general good. '

There was a scattering of applause, the approval of a definite minority. Bertinelli resumed a normal tone and droned on, his long pointed stabbing at the screen emphasizing the obvious -his obvious. Jason leaned back again; the gold spectacles glistened in the harsh glare of the projector's side light, the killer who wore them touching his companion's arm, nodding to his left, ordering his subordinate to continue the search on the left side of the room; he would take the right. He began, the gold rims growing brighter as he sidestepped his way in front of those standing, studying each face. He would reach the corner, reach them, in a matter of seconds. Stopping the killer with a gunshot was all that was left; and if someone along the row of those standing moved, or if the woman he had pressed against the wall went into panic and shoved him . . . or if he missed the killer for any number of reasons, he was trapped. And even if he hit the man, there was another killer across the room, certainly a marksman.

'Slide Thirteen, if you please. '

That was it. Now!

The shaft of light went out. In the blackout, Bourne pulled the woman from the wall, spun her in her place, his face against hers. 'If you make a sound, I'll kill you!'

'I believe you,' she whispered, terrified. "You're a maniac. '

'Let's go!' He pushed her down the narrow aisle that led to the stage fifty feet away. The projector's light went on again; he grabbed the girl's neck, forcing her down into a kneeling position as he, too, knelt down behind her. They were concealed from the killers by the rows of bodies sitting in the chairs. He pressed her flesh with his fingers; it was his signal to keep moving, crawling . . . slowly, keeping down, but moving. She understood; she started forward on her knees, trembling.

The conclusions of this phase are irrefutable,' cried the lecturer. The profit motive is inseparable from productivity incentive, but the adversary roles can never be equal. As Socrates understood, the inequality of values is constant. Gold simply is not brass or iron; who among you can deny it? Slide Fourteen, if you please!'

The darkness again. Now.

He yanked the woman up, pushing her forward, towards the stage. They were within three feet of the edge.

'Che cosa? What is the matter, please? Slide Fourteen^

It had happened! The projector was jammed again; the darkness was extended again. And there on the stage in front of them, above them, was the red glow of the exit sign. Jason gripped the girl's arm viciously. 'Get up on that stage and run to the exit! I'm right behind you; you stop or cry out, I'll shoot. '

'For God's sake, let me go!'

'Not yet. " He meant it; there was another exit somewhere, men waiting outside for the target from Marseilles. 'Go on! Now. '

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller