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Bourne moved away from the chair; he walked aimlessly towards a bookcase where there were several upright photographs recessed against the wall. They explained the man behind him. Groups of German soldiers, some with alsatians, posing outside barracks and by fences . . . and in front of a high-wire gate with part of a name showing. DACH . . . Dachau.

The man behind him. He was moving! Jason turned; the legless Chernak had his hand in the canvas bag strapped to his chair; his eyes were on fire, his ravaged face contorted. The hand came out swiftly, in it a short-barrelled revolver, and before Bourne could reach his own, Chernak fired. The shots came rapidly, the icelike pain filling his left shoulder, then head - oh God I He dived to his right, spinning on the rug, shoving a heavy floor lamp towards the cripple, spinning again until he was at the far side of the wheelchair. He crouched and lunged, crashing his right shoulder into Chernak's back, sending the legless man out of the chair as he reached into his pocket for the gun.

'They'll pay for your corpse! Screamed the deformed man, writhing on the floor, trying to steady his slumped body long enough to level his weapon. 'You won't put me in a coffin! I'll see you there! Carlos will pay! By Christ, he'll pay!'

Jason sprang to the left and fired. Chernak's head snapped back, his throat erupting to have a child killed. '

The pain comes back to me and I don't know why. Pain and emptiness, a vacuum in the sky . . . from the sky. Death in and from the skies. Jesus, it hurts. It. What is it?

'I can sympathize,' said Jason, his hands gripped to stop the sudden trembling. 'But it fits. '

'Not for an instant! As you said, no one in his right mind would connect me to Carlos, least of all the killer pig himself. It's a risk he would not take. It's unthinkable. '

'Exactly. Which is why you're being used; it is unthinkable. You're the perfect relay for final instructions. '

'Impossible 1 How?'

'Someone at your number is in direct contact with Carlos. Codes are used, certain words spoken, to get that person on the line. Probably when you're not there, possibly when you are. Do you answer the telephone yourself?'

Villiers frowned. 'Actually, I don't. Not that number. There are too many people to be avoided and I have a private line. '

'Who does answer it?'

'Generally the housekeeper, or her husband who serves as part butler, part chauffeur. He was my driver during my last years in the army. If not either of them, my wife, of course. Or my aide, who often works at my office at the house; he was my adjutant for twenty years. '

'Who else?'

'There is no one else. '

'Maids?'

'None permanent; if they're needed, they're hired for an occasion. There's more wealth in the Villiers name than in the banks. '

'Cleaning woman?'

'Two. They come twice a week and not always the same two. '

'You'd better take a closer look at your chauffeur and the adjutant. '

'Preposterous! Their loyalty is beyond question. '

'So was Brutus's, and Caesar outranked him. '

'You can't be serious. . . '

'I'm goddamned serious! And you'd better believe it Everything I've told you is the truth. '

'But then you haven't really told me very much, have you? Your name, for instance. '

'It's not necessary. Knowing it could only hurt you. '

'In what way?'

'In the very remote chance that I'm wrong about the relay -and that possibility barely exists. '

The old man nodded the way old men do when repeating words that have stunned them to the point of disbelief. His lined face moved up and down in the moonlight. 'An unnamed man traps me on a road at night, holds me under a gun and makes an obscene accusation - a charge so filthy I wish to kill him - and he expects me to accept his word. The word of a man without a name, with no face I recognize, and no credentials offered other than the statement that Carlos is hunting him. Tell me why should I believe this man?'

'Because,' answered Bourne. 'He'd have no reason to come to you if he didn't believe it was the truth. '

Villiers stared at Jason. 'No, there's a better reason. A while ago you gave me my life. You threw down your gun, you did not fire it You could have. Easily. You chose, instead, to plead with me to talk. '

'I don't think I pleaded. '

'It was in your eyes, young man. It's always in the eyes. And often in the voice, but one must listen carefully. Supplication can be feigned, not anger. It is either real or it's a posture. Your anger was real. . . as was mine. ' The old man gestured towards the small Renault ten yards away in the field. 'Follow me back to Pare Monceau. We'll talk further in my office. I'd swear on my life that you're wrong about both men, but then as you pointed out, Caesar was blinded by false devotion. And indeed he did outrank me. '

'If I walk into that house and someone recognizes me, I'm dead. So are you. '

'My aide left shortly past five o'clock this afternoon, and the chauffeur, as you call him, retires no later than ten to watch his interminable television. You'll wait outside while I go in and check. If things are normal, I'll summon you; if they're not, I'll come back out and drive away. Follow me again. I'll stop somewhere and we'll continue. '

Jason watched closely as Villiers spoke. 'Why do you want me to go back to Pare Monceau?'

'Where else? I believe in the shock of unexpected confrontation. One of those men is lying in bed watching television in a room on the second floor. And there's another reason. I want my wife to hear what you have to say. She's an old soldier's woman and she has antennae for things that often escape the officer in the field. I've come to rely on her perceptions, she may recognize a pattern of behaviour once she hears you. '

Bourne had to say the words. 'I trapped you by pretending one thing, you can trap me by pretending another. How do I know Pare Monceau isn't a trap?'

The old man did not waver, 'You have the word of a general of France, and that's all you have. If it's not good enough for you, take your weapon and get out. '

'It's good enough,' said Bourne. 'Not because it's a general's word, but because it's the word of a man whose son was killed on the rue du Bac. '

The drive back into Paris seemed far longer to Jason than the journey out. He was fighting images again, images that caused him to break out into sweat. And pain, starting at his temples, sweeping down through his chest, forming a knot in his stomach - sharp bolts pounding until he wanted to scream.

Death in the skies . . . from the skies. Not darkness, but blinding sunlight. No winds that batter my body into further darkness, but instead silence and the stench of jungle and . . . riverbanks. Stillness followed by the screeching of birds and the screaming pitch of machines. Birds . . . machines . . . racing downwards out of the sky in blinding sunlight. Explosions. Death. Of the young and the very young.

Stop it! Hold the wheel! Concentrate on the road but do not think! Thought is too painful and you don't know why.

They entered the tree-lined street in Pare Monceau. Villiers was a hundred feet ahead, facing a problem that had not existed several hours ago. There were many more cars in the street now, parking at a premium.

There was, however, one sizeable space on the left, opposite the general's house, it could accommodate both their cars. Villiers thrust his hand out of the window, gesturing for Jason to pull in behind him.

And then it happened. His eyes were drawn by a light in a doorway, his focus suddenly rigid on the figures in the spill; the recognition of one so startling and so out of place he found himself reaching for the gun in his belt



Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller
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