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'You can still prove you were there. For six months you were ill, isolated. You weren't in contact with anyone. '

'How can the men at Treadstone be sure? From their view I'm a walking encyclopaedia of official secrets. I had to be to do what I've done. How can they be certain I haven't talked to the wrong people?'

Tell them to send a team to Port Noir. '

'It'll be greeted with blank stares and silence. I left that island in the middle of the night with half the waterfront after me with hooks. If anyone down there made any money out of Washburn, he'll see the connection and walk the other way. '

'Jason, I don't know what you're driving at! You've got your answer, the answer you've been looking for since you woke up that morning in Port Noir. What more do you want?'

'I want to be careful, that's all!' said Bourne abrasively. 'I want to "look before I leap" and make damn sure the "stable door is shut" and ''Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candle stick - but for Christ's sake don't fall into the fire!" How's that for remembering^. ' He was shouting; he stopped.

Marie walked across the room and stood in front of him. 'It's very good. But that's not it, is it? Being careful I mean;'

Jason shook his head. 'No, it isn't,* he said. 'With each step I've been afraid, afraid of the things I've learned. Now, at the end, I'm more frightened than ever. If I'm not Jason Bourne, who am I really? What have I left back there? Has that occurred to you?"

'In all its ramifications, my darling. In a way, I'm far more afraid than you. But I don't think that can stop us. I wish to God it could, but I know it can't. '

The attache at the American Embassy on the Avenue Gabriel walked into the office of the First Secretary and closed the door. The man at the desk looked up.

'You're sure it's him?'

'I'm only sure he used the key words," said the attache crossing to the desk, a red-bordered index card in his hand. 'Here's the flag,' he continued, handing the card to the First Secretary. 'I've checked off the words he used, and if that flag's accurate, I'd say he's genuine. '

The man behind the desk studied the card. 'When did he use the name Treadstone?'

'Only after I convinced him that he wasn't going to talk with anyone in U. S. Intelligence unless or until he gave me a damn good reason. I think he thought it'd blow my mind when he said he was Jason Bourne. When I simply asked him what I could do for him, he seemed stuck, almost as if he might hang up on me. '

'Didn't he say there was a flag out for him?' 'I was waiting for it but he never said it According to that eight-word sketch - "Experienced field officer. Possible defection or enemy detention" - he could have just said the word "flag" and he would have been in sync. He didn't," Then maybe he's not genuine. '

The rest fits, though. He did say D. C. 's been looking for him for more than six months. That was when he used the name Treadstone. He was from Treadstone; that's supposed to be the explosive. He also told me to relay the code words "Delta", "Cain", and "Medusa". The first two are on the flag, I checked them off. . . I don't know what "Medusa" means. '

'I don't know what any of this means,' said the First Secretary. 'Except that my orders are to high-tail it down to communications, clear all scrambler traffic to Langley, and get a sterile patch to a spook named Conklin. Him I've heard of: a mean son of a bitch who got his foot blown off ten or twelve years ago in 'Nam. He pushes very strange buttons over at the Company. Also he survived the purges, which leads me to think he's one man they don't want roaming the streets looking for a job. Or a publisher. '

'Who do you think this Bourne is?' asked the attache*. 'I've never seen such a concentrated but formless hunt for a person in my whole eight years away from the States. '

'Someone they want very badly. ' The First Secretary got up from the desk. 'Thanks for this. I'll tell D. C. how well you handled it. What's the schedule? I don't suppose he gave you a telephone number. '

'No way. He wanted to call back in fifteen minutes, but I played the harried bureaucrat. I told him to call me in an hour or so. That'd make it past five o'clock, so we could gain another or two by my being out to dinner. '

'I don't know. We can't risk losing him. I'll let Conklin set up the game plan. He's the control on this. No one makes a move on Bourne unless it's authorized by him. '

Alexander Conklin sat behind the desk in his white-walled office in Langley, Virginia, and listened to the embassy man in Paris. He was convinced; it was Delta. The reference to Medusa was the proof, for it was a name no one would know but Delta. The bastard I He was playing the stranded agent, his controls at the Treadstone telephone not responding to the proper code words - whatever they were - because the dead could not talk. He was using the omission to get himself off the meathook! The sheer nerve of the bastard was awesome. Bastard, bastard!

Kill the controls and use the kills to call off the hunt. Any kind of hunt. How many men had done it before, thought Alexander Conklin. He had. There had been a source-control in the hills of Huong Khe, a maniac issuing maniacal orders, certain death for a dozen teams of Medusans on a maniacal hunt. A young intelligence officer named Conklin bad crept back into Base Camp Kilo with a North Vietnamese rifle, Russian calibre, and had fired two bullets into the head of a maniac. There had been grieving and harsher security measures put in force . . . but the hunt was called off.

There had been prints on fragments of glass found in the jungle paths of Base Camp Kilo, however. Fragments with fingerprints that irrefutably identified the sniper as an occidental recruit from Medusa itself. There were such fragments found on Seventy-first Street, but the killer did not know it -Delta did not know it.

'At one point, we seriously questioned whether he was genuine,' said the embassy's First Secretary, rambling on as if to fill the abrupt silence from Washington. 'An experienced field officer would have told the attache" to check for a flag, but the subject didn't. '

'An oversight,' replied Conklin, pulling his mind back to the brutal enigma that was Delta-Cain. 'What are the arrangements?'

'Initially Bourne insisted on calling back in fifteen minutes, but I instructed lower-level to stall. For instance, we could use the dinner hour . . . * The embassy man was making sure a Company executive in Washington realized the perspicacity of his contributions. It would go on for the better part of a minute; Conklin had heard too many variations before.

Delta. Why had he turned? The madness must have eaten his head away, leaving only the instincts for survival. He had been around too long; he knew that sooner or later they would find him, kill him. There was never any alternative; he understood that from the moment he turned - or broke - or whatever it was. There was nowhere to hide any longer; he was a target all over the globe. He could never know who might step out of the shadows and bring his life to an end. It was something they all lived with, the single most persuasive argument against turning. So another solution had to be found; survival. The biblical Cain was the first to commit fratricide. Had the mythical name triggered the obscene decision, the strategy itself? Was it as simple as that? God knew it was the perfect solution. Kill them all, kill your brother.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller