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The St Jacques woman got to her feet and ran to the stage. Bourne lifted her off the floor, over the edge, leaping up as he did so, pulling her to her feet again.

The blinding light of the projector shot out, flooding the screen, washing the stage. Cries of surprise and derision came from the audience at the sight of the two figures, the shouts of the indignant Bertinelli heard over the din.

'Affronto! Insultante! Ecco, Comunisti!'

And there were other sounds - three - lethal, sharp, sudden. Cracks of a muted weapon - weapons; wood splintered on the moulding of the proscenium arch. Jason hammered the girl down and lunged towards the shadows of the narrow wing space, pulling her behind him.

'Da ist err

'Der Projektionsapparat!'

A scream came from the centre aisle of the hall as the light of the projector swung to the right, spilling into the wings - but not completely. Its beam was intercepted by receding upright flats that masked the offstage area; light, shadow, light, shadow. And at the end of the flats, at the rear of the stage, was the exit. A high, wide metal door with a crush bar against it.

Glass shattered; the red light exploded, a marksman's bullet blew out the sign above the door. It did not matter; he could see the gleaming brass of the crush bar clearly.

The lecture hall had broken out in pandemonium. Bourne grabbed the woman by the cloth of her blouse, yanking her beyond the flats towards the door. For an instant, she resisted, he slapped her across the face and dragged her beside him until the crush bar was above their heads.

Bullets spat into the wall to their right; the killers were racing down the aisles for accurate sightlines They would reach them in seconds, and in seconds other bullets, or a single bullet, would find its mark. There were enough shells left, he knew that. He had no idea how or why he knew, but he knew. By sound he could visualize the weapons, extract the clips, count the shells.

He smashed his forearm into the crush bar of the exit door. It flew open and he lunged through the opening, dragging the kicking St Jacques woman with him.

'Stop it!' she screamed. 'I won't go any farther! You're insane ! Those were gunshots!'

Jason slammed the large metal door shut with his foot. 'Get up!'


He lashed the back of his hand across her face, 'Sorry, but you're coming with me. Get up I Once we're outside, you have my word. I'll let you go. ' But where was he going now? They were in another tunnel, but there was no carpet, no polished doors with lighted signs above them. They were . . . in some kind of deserted loading area; the floor was concrete; and there were two, pipe-framed freight dollies next to him against the wall. He had been right: exhibits used on the stage of Suite Seven had to be brought in by lorry, the exit door high enough and wide enough to accommodate large displays.

The door I He had to block the door) Marie St Jacques was on her feet; he held her as he grabbed the first dolly, pulling it by its frame in front of the exit door, slamming it with his shoulder and knee until it was lodged against the metal. He looked down: beneath the thick wooden base were footlocks on the wheels. He jammed his heel down on the front lever lock, and then the back one.

The girl spun, trying to break his grip as he stretched his leg to the end of the dolly; he slid his hand down her arms, gripped her wrist, and twisted it inward. She screamed, tears in her eyes, her lips trembling. He pulled her alongside him, forcing her to the left, breaking into a run, assuming the direction was towards the rear of the Carillon du Lac, hoping he'd find the exit. For there and only there he might need the woman; a brief few seconds when a couple emerged, not a lone man running.

There was a series of loud crashes, the killers were trying to force the stage door open but the locked freight dolly was too heavy a barrier.

He yanked the girl along the cement floor; she tried to pull away, kicking again, twisting her body again from one side to the other; she was over the edge of hysteria. He had no choice; he gripped her elbow, his thumb on the inner flesh, and pressed as hard as he could. She gasped, the pain sudden and excruciating; she sobbed, expelling breath, allowing him to propel her forward.

They reached a cement staircase, the four steps edged in steel, leading to a pair of metal doors below. It was the loading dock; beyond the doors was the Carillon du Lac's rear parking area. He was almost there. It was only a question of appearances now.

'Listen to me,' he said to the rigid, frightened woman. 'Do you want me to let you go?'

'Oh God, yes! Please!'

Then do exactly as I say. We're going to walk down these steps and out of that door like two perfectly normal people at the end of a normal day's work. You're going to link your arm in mine and we're going to walk slowly, talking quietly, to the cars at the far end of the parking area. And we're both going to laugh - not loudly, just casually - as if we were remembering funny things that happened during the day. Have you got that?'

'Nothing funny at all has happened to me during the past fifteen minutes,' she answered in barely audible monotone.

'Pretend that it has. I may be trapped; if I am I don't care. Do you understand?'

'I think my wrist is broken. '

'It's not. '

'My left arm, my shoulder. I can't move them; they're throbbing. '

'A nerve ending was depressed, it'll pass in a matter of minutes. You'll be fine. '

'You're an animal. '

'I want to live,' he said. 'Come on. Remember, when I open the door, look at me and smile, tilt your head back, laugh a little. '

'It will be the most difficult thing I've ever done. '

'It's easier than dying. '

She put her injured hand under his arm and they walked down the short flight of steps to the platform door. He opened it and they went outside, his hand in his topcoat pocket gripping the Frenchman's pistol, his eyes scanning the loading dock. There was a single bulb encased in wire mesh above the door, its spill defining the concrete steps to the left that led to the pavement below; he led his hostage towards them.

She performed as he had ordered, the effect macabre. As they walked down the steps, her face was turned to his, her terrified features caught in the light Her generous lips were parted, stretched over her white teeth in a false, tense smile; her wide eyes were two dark orbs, reflecting primordial fear, her tear-stained skin taut and pale, marred by the reddish splotches where he had hit her. He was looking at a face of chiselled stone, a mask framed by dark red hair that cascaded over her shoulders, swept back by the night breezes - moving, the only living thing about the mask.

Choked laughter came from her throat, the veins hi her long neck pronounced. She was not far from collapsing, but he could not think about that He had to concentrate on the space around them, on whatever movement - however slight - he might discern hi the shadows of the large parking area. It was obvious that these back, unlit regions were used by the Carillon du Lac's employees; it was nearly 6:30, the night shift well immersed in its duties. Everything was still, a smooth black field broken up by rows of silent vehicles, ranks of huge bisects, the dull glass of the headlamps a hundred eyes staring at nothing.

A scratch. Metal had scraped against metal. It came from the right, from one of the cars in a nearby row. Which row! Which car! He tilted his head back as if responding to a joke made by his companion, letting his eyes roam across the windows of the cars nearest to them. Nothing. . .

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller