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Had he been led into a trap after all? Had the word of an Officer of France been worthless?

Villiers was manoeuvring his car into place. Bourne spun round in the seat, looking in all directions; there was no one coming towards him, no one closing in. It was not a trap. It was something else, part of what was happening about which the old soldier knew nothing.

For across the street at the top of the steps of Villiers's house stood a youngish woman - a striking woman - in the doorway. She was talking rapidly, with small anxious gestures, to a man standing on the top step, who kept nodding as if accepting instructions. That man was the grey-haired, distinguished-looking switchboard operator from Les Classiques. The man whose face Jason knew so well, yet did not know. The face that had triggered other images . . . images as violent and as painful as those which had ripped him apart during the past half hour in the Renault.

But there was a difference. This face brought back the darkness and torrential winds in the night sky, explosions coming one after another, sounds of a staccato gunfire echoing through the myriad tunnels of a jungle.

Bourne pulled his eyes away from the door and looked at Villiers through the windscreen. The general had switched off his headlights and was about to get out of the car. Jason released the clutch and rolled forward until he made contact with the saloon's bumper. Villiers whipped around in his seat.

Bourne extinguished his own headlights and turned on the small inside roof light He raised his hand - palm downward -then raised it twice again, telling the old soldier to stay where he was. Villiers nodded, and Jason switched off the light

He looked back at the doorway. The man had taken a step down, stopped by a last command from the woman; Bourne could see her clearly now. She was hi her middle to late thirties, with short dark hair, stylishly cut, framing a face that was bronzed by the sun. She was a tall woman, statuesque, actually, her figure tapered, the swell of her breasts accentuated by the sheer, close-fitting fabric of a long white dress that heightened the tan of her skin. Villiers had not mentioned her, which meant she was not part of the household. She was a visitor who knew when to come to the old man's home, it would fit the strategy of relay-removed-from-relay. And that meant she had a contact in Villiers's house. The old man had to know her, but how well? The answer obviously was not well enough.

The grey-haired switchboard operator gave a final nod, descended the steps and walked rapidly down the street. The door closed, the light of the carriage lamps shining on the deserted staircase and the glistening black door with its brass metalwork.

Why did those steps and that door mean something to him? Images. Reality that was not real.

Bourne got out of the Renault, watching the windows, looking for the movement of a curtain; there was nothing. He walked quickly to Villiers's car; the front window was rolled down, the general's face turned up, his thick eyebrows arched in curiosity.

'What in heaven's name are you doing?' he asked.

'Over there, at your house,' said Jason, crouching on the pavement. 'You saw what 1 just saw. '

'I believe so. And?'

'Who was the woman? Do you know her?'

'I would hope to God I did. She's my wife. *

'Your wife?' Bourne's shock was on his face. 'I thought you said . . . I thought you said she was an old woman. That you wanted her to listen to me because over the years you'd learned to respect her judgment In the field, you said. That's what you said. '

'Not exactly. I said she was an old soldier's woman. And I do, indeed, respect her judgment. But she's my second wife -my very much younger second wife - but every bit as devoted as my first, who died eight years ago. '

'Oh, my God. . . '

'Don't let the disparity of our ages concern you. She is proud and happy to be the second Madame Villiers. She's been a great help to me in the Assembly. '

'I'm sorry,' whispered Bourne. 'Christ, I'm sorry. '

'What about? You mistook her for someone else? People frequently do, she's a stunning girl. I'm quite proud of her. ' Villiers opened the door as Jason stood up on the pavement. 'You wait here,' said the general, 'I'll go inside and check; if everything's normal, I'll open the door and signal you. If it isn't, I'll come back to the car and we'll drive away. '

Bourne remained motionless in front of Villiers, preventing the old man from stepping forward. 'General, I've got to ask you something. I'm not sure how, but I have to. I told you I found your number at a relay drop used by Carlos. I didn't tell you where, only that it was confirmed by someone who admitted passing messages to and from contacts of Carlos. ' Bourne took a breath, his eyes briefly on the door across the street. 'Now I've got to ask you a question, and please think carefully before you answer. Does your wife buy clothes at a shop called Les Classiques?'

'In Saint-Honore?'

'Yes. '

'I happen to know she does not*

'Are you sure?'

'Very much so. Not only have I never seen a bill from there, but she's told me how much she dislikes its designs. My wife is very knowledgeable in matters of fashion. '

'Oh, Jesus. '

'What?'

'General, I can't go inside that house. No matter what you find, I can't go in there. '

'Why not? What are you saying?'

The man on the steps who was talking to your wife. He's from the drop; it's Les Classiques. He's a contact to Carlos. '

The blood drained from Andre1 Villiers's face. He turned and stared across the tree-lined street at his house, at the glistening black door and the brass fittings that reflected the light of the carriage lamps.

The pockmarked beggar scratched the stubble of his beard, took off his threadbare beret and trudged through the bronze doors of the small church in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

He walked down the far right aisle under the disapproving glances of two priests. Both clerics were upset; this was a wealthy parish and, biblical compassion notwithstanding, wealth did have its privileges. One of them was to maintain a certain status of worshipper - for the benefit of other worshippers - and this elderly, dishevelled derelict hardly fitted the mould.

The beggar made a feeble attempt to genuflect, sat down in a pew in the second row, crossed himself and knelt forward, his head in prayer, his right hand pushing back the left sleeve of his overcoat. On his wrist was a watch somewhat in contradistinction to the rest of his apparel. It was an expensive digital, the numbers large and the readout bright It was a possession he would never be foolish enough to part with, for it was a gift from Carlos. He had once been twenty-five minutes late for confession, upsetting his benefactor, and had no other excuse but the lack of an accurate timepiece. During their next appointment, Carlos had pushed it beneath the translucent scrim separating sinner from holy man.

It was the hour and the minute. The beggar rose and walked towards the second booth on the right, lie parted the curtain and went inside.

'Angelus Domini. '

'Angelus Domini, child of God. " The whisper from behind the black cloth was harsh. 'Are your days comfortable?'

'They are made comfortable. . . '

'Very well. ' interrupted the silhouette. 'What did you bring me? My patience draws to an end. I pay thousands - hundreds of thousands - for incompetence and failure. What happened in Montrouge? Who was responsible for the lies that came from the embassy in the Montaigne? Who accepted them?'



Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller
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