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'It's all right I'll convey what you've told me to our friend. He'll be calling within the hour. '

'Please,' interrupted Villiers. There's more. It's the reason I had to reach you. Twice while my wife was on the telephone the voices held meaning for me. The second I recognized; a face came to mind instantly. He's on a switchboard in Saint-Honore. '

'We know his name. What about the first?'

'It was strange. I did not know the voice, there was no face to go with it, but I understood why it was there. It was an odd voice, half whisper, half command, an echo of itself. It was the command that struck me. You see, that voice was not having a conversation with my wife; it had issued an order. It was altered the instant I got on the line, of course; a pre-arranged signal for a swift good-bye, but the residue remained. That residue, even the tone, is well known to any soldier; it is his means of emphasis. Am I being clear?*

'I think so,' said Marie gently, aware that if the old man was implying what she thought he was, the strain on him had to be unbearable.

'Be assured of it, Mademoiselle,' said the general, 'it was the killer pig. ' Villiers stopped, his breathing audible, the next words drawn out, a strong man close to weeping. 'He was . . . instructing . . . my . . . wife. ' The old soldier's voice cracked. 'Forgive me the unforgivable. I have no right to burden you. '

'You have every right," said Marie, suddenly alarmed. 'What's happening has to be terribly painful for you, made worse because you have no one to talk to. '

'I am talking to you, Mademoiselle. I shouldn't, but I am. '

'I wish we could keep talking. I wish one of us could be with you. But that's not possible and I know you understand that. Please try to hold on. It's terribly important that no connection be made between you and our friend. It could cost you your life. '

'I think perhaps I have lost it. '

'C'est ridicule!' said Marie sharply, an intended slap in the old soldier's face. 'Vous etes soldat! Arretez!"

'Ahh, une institutrice parle a l'eleve en retard. Vous avez raison. '

'On dit que vous etes un giant. Je le crois. ' There was silence on the line; Marie held her breath. When Villiers spoke she breathed again.

'Our mutual friend is very fortunate. You are a remarkable woman. '

'Not at all. ' I just want my friend to come back to me. There's nothing remarkable about that. '

'Perhaps not. ' But I should also like to be your friend. You reminded a very old man of who and what he is. Or who and what he once was, and must try to be again. I thank you for a second time. '

'You're welcome . . . my friend. ' Marie hung up, profoundly moved and equally disturbed. She was not convinced Villiers could face the next twenty-four hours and, if he could not, the assassin would know how deeply his apparatus had been penetrated. He would order every contact at Les Classiques to run from Paris and disappear. Or there would be a bloodbath in Saint-Honor6 achieving the same result.

If either happened, there would be no answers, no address in New York, no message deciphered nor the sender found. The man she loved would be returned to his labyrinth. And he would leave her.

28

Bourne saw her at the corner, walking under the spill of the streetlight towards the small hotel that was her home. Monique Brielle, Jacqueline Lavier's number one girl, was a harder, more sinewy version of Janine Dolbert, he remembered seeing her at the shop. There was an assurance about her, her stride the stride of a confident woman, secure in the knowledge of her expertise. Very unflappable. Jason could understand why she was Lavier's number one. Their confrontation would be brief, the impact of the message startling, the threat inherent. It was time for the start of the second shock wave. He remained motionless and let her pass on the pavement, her heels clicking martially on the pavement The street was not crowded, but neither was it deserted; there were perhaps a half dozen people on the block. It would be necessary to isolate her, then steer her out of earshot of any who might overhear the words, for they were words that no messenger would risk being heard. He caught up with her no more than thirty feet from the entrance to the small hotel, he slowed his pace to hers, staying at her side.

'Get in touch with Lavier right away,' he said in French, staring straight ahead.

'Pardon? What did you say? Who are you, Monsieur?'

'Don't stop! Keep walking. Past the entrance. '

'You know where I live?'

There's very little we don't know. '

'And if I go straight inside? There's a doorman. . . '

'There's also Lavier,' interrupted Bourne. 'You'll lose your job and you won't be able to find another in Saint-Honore And I'm afraid that will be the least of your problems. ' 'Who are you?'

'Not your enemy. " Jason looked at her. 'Don't make me one. ' 'You. The American! Janine . . . Claude Oreale!' 'Carlos,' completed Bourne.

'Carlos? What is this madness! All afternoon, nothing but Carlos! And numbers! Everyone has a number no one's ever heard of! And talk of traps and men with guns! It's crazy!' 'It's happening. Keep walking. Please! For your own sake. " She did, her stride less sure, her body stiffened, a rigid marionette uncertain of its strings. 'Jacqueline spoke to us,' she said, her voice intense. 'She told us it was all insane, that it - you - were out to ruin Les Classiques. That one of the other houses must have paid you to ruin us I' 'What did you expect her to say?' 'You are a hired provocateur] She told us the truth!' 'Did she also tell you to keep your mouth shut? Not to say a word about any of this to anyone?' 'Of course I*

'Above all,' ran on Jason as if he had not heard her, 'not to contact the police, which under the circumstances would be the most logical thing in the world to do. In some ways, the only thing to do. *

'Yes, naturally. . '

'Not naturally,' contradicted Bourne. 'Look, I'm just a relay, probably not much higher than you. I'm not here to convince you, I'm here to deliver a message. We ran a test on Dolbert; we fed her false information. *

'Janine? . . . ' Monique Brielle's perplexity was compounded by mounting confusion, 'The things she said were incredible I As incredible as Claude's hysterical screaming - the things he said. But what she said was the opposite of what he said. '

'We know, it was done intentionally. She's been talking to Azur. '

'The House of Azur?'

'Check her out tomorrow. Confront her,"

'About what?'

'Just do it. It could be tied in. '

'With what?'

The trap. Azur could be working with Interpol. '

'Interpol? Traps? This is the same craziness! Nobody knows what you're talking about!'

'Lavier knows. Get in touch with her right away. ' They approached the end of the block; Jason touched her arm. 'I'll leave you here at the corner. Go back to your hotel and call Jacqueline. Tell her it's far more serious than we thought. Everything's falling apart Worst of all, someone has turned. Not Dolbert, not one of the sales people but someone more highly placed. Someone who knows everything. '

"Turned? What does that mean?'

There's a traitor in Les Classiques. Tell her to be careful. Of everyone. If she isn't, it could be the end for all of us. ' Bourne released her arm, then stepped off the kerb and crossed the street On the other side, he spotted a recessed doorway and quickly stepped inside.



Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller
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