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'He may be both,' countered the old man, 'but he's also a professional. He'll make sure the names are delivered to his superiors in the event he does fail. So regardless of whether you take him or not, they will be taken. '

They will be dead,' said the assassin. 'But not Bergeron. He's far too valuable. Tell him to head for Athens, he'll know where. "

'Am I to assume I'm taking the place of Pare Monceau?'

'That would be impossible. But for the time being you will relay my decisions to whomever they concern. '

'And the first person I reach is Bergeron. To Athens. '

'Yes. '

'So Lavier and the colonial, d'Anjou, are marked, then?'

'They are marked. Bait rarely survives, and they will not. You may also relay another message, to the two teams covering Lavier and d'Anjou. Tell them I'll be watching them - all the time. There can be no mistakes. '

It was the old man's turn to pause, to bid silently for attention. 'I've saved the best for last, Carlos. The Renault was found an hour and a half ago in a garage in Montmartre. It was brought in last night. '

In the stillness the old man could hear the slow, deliberate breathing of the figure beyond the cloth. 'I assume you've taken measures to have it watched - even now at this moment - and followed - even now at this moment*

The one-time beggar laughed softly. 'In accordance with your last instructions, I took the liberty of hiring a friend, a friend with a sound car. He in turn has employed three acquaintances, and together they are on four six-hour shifts on the street outside the garage. They know nothing, of course, except that they are to follow the Renault at any hour of day or night. '

'You do not disappoint me. '

'I can't afford to . . . And since Pare Monceau was eliminated, I had no telephone number to give them but my own, which as you know, is a run-down cafe in the Quarter. The owner and I were friends in the old days, the better days. I could contact him every five minutes for messages and he would never object. I know where he got the money to pay for his business, and who he had to kill to get it. '

'You've behaved well, you have value. '

'I also have a problem, Carlos. As none of us are to call Pare Monceau, how can I reach you? In the event I must say, for instance, the Renault*

'Yes, I'm aware of the problem. Are you aware of the burden you ask for?'

'I would much prefer not to have it My only hope is that when this is over and Cain is dead you will remember my contributions and, rather than killing me, change the number. '

'You do anticipate. '

"In the old days, it was my means of survival. '

The assassin whispered seven figures. 'You are the only man alive who has this number. Naturally, it is untraceable. '

'Naturally. Who would expect an old beggar to have it?'

'Every hour brings you closer to a better standard of living. The net is closing; every hour brings him nearer to one of several traps. Cain will be caught, and an impostor's body will be thrown back to the bewildered strategists who created him. They counted on a monstrous ego and he gave it to them. At

the end, he was only a puppet, an expendable puppet. Everyone knew it but him. '

Bourne picked up the telephone. 'Yes?'

'Room Four-twenty?'

'Go ahead. General. '

'The telephone calls have stopped. She's no longer being contacted, not at least by telephone. '

'What do you mean?'

'Our couple was out and the phone rang twice. Both times she asked me to answer it. She really wasn't up to talking. '

'Who called?'

'The chemist about a prescription and a journalist requesting an interview. She couldn't have known either. '

'Did you get the impression she was trying to put you off by asking you to take the calls?'

Villiers paused, his reply laced with anger. 'It was there, the effect less than subtle in so far as she mentioned she might be having lunch out She said she had a reservation at the Georges Cinq, and 1 could reach her there if she decides to go. '

'If she does, I want to get there first. '

'I'll let you know. '

'You said she's not being contacted by phone. "Not at least by telephone," I think you said. Did you mean something by that?'

'Yes. Thirty minutes ago a woman came to the house. My wife was reluctant to see her but, nevertheless, did so. I only saw her face for a moment in the parlour, but it was enough. The woman was in panic. '

'Describe her. '

Villiers did.

'Jacqueline Lavier,' said Jason.

'1 thought it might be. From the look of her, the wolfpack was eminently successful; it was obvious she had not slept. Before taking her into the library, my wife told me she was an old friend in a marriage crisis. A fatuous lie; at her age there are no crises left in marriage, only acceptance and extraction. "

'I can't understand her going to your house. It's too much of a risk. It doesn't make sense . . . Unless she did it on her own, knowing that no further calls were to be made. '

These things occurred to me,' said the soldier. 'So I felt the need of a little air, a stroll around the block. My aide accompanied me - a doddering old man taking his limited constitutional under the watchful eye of an escort. But my eyes, too, were watchful. Lavier was followed. Two men were seated in a car four houses away, the vehicle equipped with a radio. Those men did not belong to the street. It was in their faces, in the way they watched my house. '

'How do you know she didn't come with them?"

'We live on a quiet street. When Lavier arrived, I was in the sitting-room having coffee and heard her running up the steps. I went to the window in time to see a taxi drive away. She came in a taxi; she was followed. '

'When did she leave?'

'She hasn't. And the men are still outside. '

'What kind of car are they in?'

'Citroen. Grey. The first three letters of the licence plate are

N. Y. R. '

'Birds in the air, following a contact. Where do the birds come from?'

'I beg your pardon. What did you say?'

Jason shook his head. 'I'm not sure. Never mind. . . I'm going to try to get to your house before Lavier leaves. Do what you can to help me. Interrupt your wife, say you have to speak to her for a few minutes. Insist her "old friend" stay; say anything, just make sure she doesn't leave. '

'I will do my best. '

Bourne hung up and looked at Marie, standing by the window across the room. 'It's working. They're starting to distrust each other. Lavier went to Pare Monceau and she was followed. They're beginning to suspect their own. '

' "Birds in the air,"' said Marie. 'What did you mean?'

'I don't know; it's not important. There isn't time. "

'I think it is important, Jason. '

'Not now. ' Bourne walked to the chair where he had dropped his overcoat and hat. He put them on quickly and went to the bureau, opened the drawer and took out the gun. He looked at it for a moment, remembering. The images were there, the past that was his whole yet not his whole at all. Zurich. The Bahn-hofstrasse and the Carillon du Lac; the Drei Alpenhauser and the Lowenstrasse; a filthy boarding house on Steppdeckstrasse and the Guisan Quai. The gun symbolized them all, for it had once nearly taken his life in Zurich.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller