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'Sorry. '

'What I said; it was foolishness. A lie. On the floor, we've heard rumours; I was testing you. That's what I was doing, I was testing you!'

'You're very convincing. I'll accept that. '

'I'm loyal to Les Classiques. I've always been loyal. '

'It's a fine quality, Janine. I admire loyalty. I was saying that the other day to . . . what's his name? . . . that nice fellow on the switchboard. What is his name? I forget. '

'Philippe,' said the salesgirl, frightened, obsequious. 'Philippe

d'Anjou. '

"That's it. Thank you. ' They reached a narrow, cobblestone alleyway between two buildings. Jason guided her into it. 'Let's step in here for a moment, just so we're off the street. Don't worry, you won't be late. I'll only take a few minutes of your time. ' They walked ten paces into the narrow enclosure. Bourne stopped; Janine Dolbert pressed her back against the brick wall. 'Cigarette?' he asked, taking a packet from his pocket.

"Thank you, yes. '

He lighted it for her, noting that her hand trembled. 'Relaxed now?'

'Yes. . . No, not really. What do you want, Monsieur Briggs?'

To begin with, the name's not Briggs^ but I think you know that. '

'I don't. Why should I?' 'I was sure Lavier's number one girl would have told you. '


'Use last names, please. Accuracy's important*

'Brielle, then,' said Janine frowning curiously. 'Does she know you?"

'Why not ask her?"

'As you wish. What is it. Monsieur?'

Jason shook his head. 'You really don't know, do you? Three-quarters of the employees at Les Classiques are working with us and one of the brightest wasn't even contacted. Of course it's possible someone thought you were a risk; it happens. '

"What happens? What risk? Who are you?'

There isn't time now. The others can fill you in. I'm here because we've never received a report from you, and yet you speak to prime customers all day long. '

'You must be clearer, Monsieur. "

'Let's say I'm the spokesman for a group of people - American, French, English, Dutch - closing in on a killer who's murdered political and military leaders in each of our countries. '

'Murdered? Military, political. . . ' Janine's mouth gaped, the ash of her cigarette breaking off, spilling over her rigid hand. 'What is this? What are you talking about? I've heard none of this!'

'I can only apologize,' said Bourne softly, sincerely. 'You should have been contacted several weeks ago. It was an error on the part of the man before me. I'm sorry; it must be a shock to you. '

'It is a shock, Monsieur,' whispered the salesgirl, her concave body tensed, a bent, lacquered reed against the brick. 'You speak of things beyond my understanding. '

'But now / understand,' interrupted Jason. 'Not a word from you about anyone. Now it's clear. '

'It's not to me. '

'We're closing in on Carlos. The assassin known as Carlos. '

'Carlos?' The cigarette fell from Dolbert's hand, the shock complete.

'He's one of your most frequent customers, all the evidence points to it. We've narrowed the probabilities down to eight men. The trap is set for some time in the next several days, and we're taking every precaution.

'Precaution. . . ?'

"There's always the danger of hostages, we all know that. We anticipate gunfire, but it will be kept to a minimum. The basic problem will be Carlos himself. He's sworn never to be taken alive; he walks the streets wired up to explosives calculated to be in excess of a thousand-pound bomb. But we can handle that. Our marksmen will be on the scene; one clean shot to the head and it'll be all over. '

'Un coup de feu. . '

Suddenly Bourne looked at his watch. 'I've taken up enough of your time. You've got to get back to the shop and I have to get back to my post. Remember, if you see me outside, you don't know me. If I come into Les Classiques, treat me as you would any rich client. Except if you've spotted a customer you think may be our man; then don't waste time telling me . . . Again, I'm sorry about all this. It was a breakdown in communications, that's all. It happens. '

'Une rupture. . . ?'

Jason nodded, turned in place, and began walking rapidly out of the alleyway towards the street. He stopped and glanced back at Janine Dolbert. She was comatose against the wall; for her the elegant world of haute couture was spinning wildly out of orbit

Philippe d'Anjou. The name meant nothing to him, but Bourne could not help himself. He kept repeating it silently, trying to raise an image . . . as the face of the grey-haired switchboard operator gave rise to such violent images of darkness and flashes of light. Philippe d'Anjou. Nothing. Nothing at all. Yet there had been something, something that caused Jason's stomach to knot, the muscles taut and inflexible, a flat panel of hard flesh constricted. . . by the darkness.

He sat by the front window and the door of a coffee shop on the rue Racine, prepared to get up and leave the moment he saw the figure of Claude Oreale arrive at the doorway of the ancient building across the street. His room was on the fourth floor, in a flat he shared with two other young men, reached only by climbing a worn, angular staircase. When he did arrive, Bourne was sure he would not be walking.

For Claude Oreale, who had been so effusive with Jacqueline

Lavier on another staircase in Saint-Honore, had been told by a toothless landlady over the phone to get his worthless self quickly back to rue Racine and put a stop to the screaming and smashing of furniture that was taking place in his flat. Either he would stop it, or the gendarmes would be called; he had ten minutes to show up.

He did so in eight. His slight frame, encased in a Pierre Cardin suit - rear flap fluttering in the head wind - could be seen racing up the pavement from the Metro exit two blocks south. He avoided collisions with the agility of an out-of-shape broken field runner trained by the Ballet Russe. His thin neck was thrust forward several inches in front of his waistcoated chest, his long dark hair a flowing mane parallel to the pavement. He reached the entrance and gripped the railing, leaping up the steps and plunging into the shadows of the foyer.

Jason walked rapidly out of the coffee shop and raced across the street. Inside, he ran to the ancient staircase then started up the cracked steps. From the third-floor landing, he could hear the pounding on the door above.

'Ouvrez. Ouvrez! Vite, nom de Dieu!

Oreale stopped, the silence within perhaps more frightening than anything else.

Bourne climbed the remaining steps until he could see Oreale between the bars of the railing and the floor. The clerk's frail body was pressed into the door, his hands on either side, fingers spread, his ear against the wood, his face flushed. Jason shouted in guttural, bureaucratic French as he rushed up into view.

'Surete1! Stay exactly where you are, young man. Let's not have any unpleasantness. We've been watching you and your friends. We know about the darkroom. '

'No!' screamed Oreale. 'It has nothing to do with me, I swear it 1 . . . Darkroom?' '

Bourne raised his hand. 'Be quiet. Don't shout so!' He immediately followed his commands by leaning over the railing and looking below.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller