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'You can't involve me!' continued the clerk 'I'm not involved! I've told them over and over again to get rid of it all! One day they'll kill themselves. Drugs are for idiots! . . . My God, it's quiet. I think they're dead 1'

Jason stood up from the railing and approached Oreale, his palms raised. 'I told you to shut up,' he whispered harshly. 'Get inside there and be quiet! This was all for the benefit of that old bitch downstairs. '

The clerk was transfixed, his panic suspended in silent hysteria. 'What?'

'You've got the key," said Bourne. 'Open up and get inside. '

'It's bolted,' replied Oreale. 'It's always bolted at these times. '

'You damn fool, we had to reach you! We had to get you here without anyone knowing why. Open that door Quickly!'

Like the terrified rabbit he was, Claude Oreale fumbled in his pocket and found the key. He unlocked the door and pushed it open as a man might enter a storage vault filled with mutilated corpses. Bourne propelled him through the doorframe, stepped inside and closed the door.

What could be seen of the flat belied the rest of the building. The fair-sized living room was filled with sleek, expensive furniture, dozens of red and yellow velvet pillows scattered about on couches, chairs and the floor. It was almost an erotic room, a luxurious sanctuary in the midst of debris.

'I've only got a few minutes,' said Jason. 'No time for anything but business. '

'Business?' asked Oreale, his expression paralysed. 'This . . . this darkroom? What darkroom?'

'Forget it. You had something better going. *

'What business!'

'We received word from Zurich, and we want you to get it to your friend Lavier*

'Madame Jacqueline? My friend?'

'We can't trust the phones. '

'What phones? The word? What word?'

'Carlos is right. '

'Carlos? Carlos who?'

The assassin. '

Claude Oreale screamed. He brought his hand up to his mouth, bit the knuckle of his index finger, and screamed. 'What are you saying?'

'Why are you saying it to me!'

'You're number five. We're counting on you. '

'Five what? For what?'

To help Carlos escape the net they're closing in tomorrow, the next day, perhaps the day after that. He's to stay away; he's got to stay away. They'll surround the shop, marksmen every ten feet. The crossfire will be murderous; if he's in there, it could be a massacre. Every one of you. Dead. '

Oreale screamed again, his knuckle red. 'Will you stop this! I don't know what you're talking about! You're a maniac and I won't hear another word - I haven't heard anything. Carlos, crossfire . . . massacres! God, I'm suffocating. . . I need air!'

'You'll get money. A lot of it, I imagine. Lavier will thank you. Also d'Anjou. '

'D'Anjou. He loathes me! He calls me a peacock, insults me every chance he gets. '

'It's his cover, of course. Actually, he's very fond of you -perhaps more than you know. He's number six. ' 'What are these numbers! Stop talking numbers!' 'How else can we distinguish between you, allocate assignments? We can't use names. ' 'Who can't?'

'All of us who work for Carlos. '

The scream was ear shattering as the blood trickled from Oreale's finger. 'I won't listen! I'm a couturier, an artist!'

'You're number five. You'll do exactly as we say or you'll never see this passion pit of yours again. ' 'Aunghunn!'

'Stop screaming! We appreciate you; we know you're all under a strain. Incidentally, we don't trust the bookkeeper. ' Trignon?'

'First names only. Obscurity's important* 'Pierre, then. He's hateful. He deducts for telephone calls. ' 'We think he's working for Interpol. " 'Interpol?'

'If he is, you could all spend ten years in prison. You'd be eaten alive, Claude. ' 'Aunghunn!'

'Shut up! Just let Bergeron know what we think. Keep your eyes on Trignon, especially during the next two days. If he leaves the store for any reason watch out. It could mean the trap's closing. ' Bourne walked to the door, his band in his pocket. 'I've got to get back, and so do you. Tell numbers one to six everything I told you. It's vital the word is spread. '

Oreale screamed again, hysterically again. 'Numbers! Always numbers What number! I'm an artist, not a number I*

'You won't have a face unless you get back there as fast as you got here. Reach Lavier, d'Anjou, Bergeron. As quickly as you can. Then the others. '

'What others?'

'Ask number two. '


'Dolbert. Janine Dolbert. '

Canine. Her too?'

'That's right. She's two. '

The salesman flung his arms wildly above him in helpless protest. This is madness] Nothing makes sense!'

'Your life does, Claude,' said Jason simply. 'Value it . . . I'll be waiting across the street. Leave here in exactly three minutes. And don't use the phone; just leave and get back to Les Classiques. If you're not out of here in three minutes I'll have to return. ' He took his hand out of his pocket. In it was his gun.

Oreale expunged a lungful of air, his face ashen as he stared at the weapon.

Bourne let himself out and closed the door.

The telephone rang on the bedside table. Marie looked at her watch; it was 8:15 and for a moment she felt a sharp jolt of fear. Jason had said he would call at 9:00. He had left La Terrasse after dark, around 7:00, to intercept a salesgirl named Monique Brielle. The schedule was precise, to be interrupted only in emergency. Had something happened?

'Is this room Four-twenty?' asked the deep male voice on the line.

Relief swept over Marie; the man was Andre1 Villiers. The general had called late in the afternoon to tell Jason that panic had spread throughout Les Classiques; his wife had been summoned to the phone no less than six times over the span of an hour and a half. Not once, however, had he been able to listen to anything of substance; whenever he had picked up the phone, serious conversation had been replaced by innocuous banter.

'Yes,' said Marie. This is Four-twenty. '

'Forgive me, we did not speak before. "

'I know who you are. "

'I'm also aware of you. May I take the liberty of saying thank you. "

'I understand. You're welcome. '

To substance. I'm telephoning from my office, and, of course, there's no extension for this line. Tell our mutual friend that the crisis has accelerated. My wife has taken to her room, claiming nausea, but apparently she's not too ill to be on the phone. On several occasions, as before, I picked up only to realize that they were alert for any interference. Each time I apologized rather gruffly, saying I expected calls. Frankly, I'm not at all sure my wife was convinced, but of course she's in no position to question me. I'll be blunt, Mademoiselle. There is unspoken friction building up between us, and beneath the surface it is violent. May God give me strength. '

'I can only ask you to remember the objective,' broke in Marie. 'Remember your son. "

'Yes,' said the old man quietly. 'My son. And the whore who claims to revere his memory. . . I'm sorry. '

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller