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Bourne crept back behind the comer building into the intersecting street and ran silently to the nearest doorway, where he stopped and removed his jacket and overcoat. Then he took off his shirt, ripping the cloth from collar to waist; he put both coats on again, pulling up the lapels, buttoning the overcoat, the shirt under his arm. He peered into the night

rain, scanning the cars in the street. He needed petrol, but this was Paris and most fuel tanks would be locked. Most, but not all, there had to be an unsecured top among the line of cars at the kerb.

And then he saw what he wanted to see directly ahead on the pavement, chained to an iron gate. It was a motorbike, its petrol tank a metal bubble between handlebars and seat. The top would have a chain attached, but it was unlikely to have a lock. Nine litres of fuel was not forty; the risk of any theft had to be balanced against the proceeds, and two gallons of fuel was hardly worth a five-hundred franc fine.

Jason approached the bike. He looked up and down the street; there was no one, no sound other than the quiet spattering of the rain. He put his hand on the tank top and turned it; it unscrewed easily. Better yet, the opening was relatively wide, the petrol level nearly full. He replaced the top; he was not yet ready to douse his shirt. Another piece of equipment was needed.

He found it at the next corner, by a sewer drain. A partially dislodged cobblestone, forced from its recess by a decade of careless drivers jumping the kerb. He pried it loose by kicking his heel into the slice that separated it from its jagged wall. He picked it up along with a smaller fragment and started back towards the motorbike, the fragment in his pocket, the large brick in his hand. He tested its weight . . . tested his arm. It would do; both would do.

Three minutes later he pulled the drenched shirt slowly out of the tank, the fumes mingling with the rain, the residue of oil covering his hands. He wrapped the cloth around the cobblestone, twisting and crisscrossing the sleeves, tying them firmly together, holding his missile in place. He was ready.

He crept back to the edge of the building at the corner of Villiers's street. The two men in the saloon were still low in the front seat, their concentration still on Villiers's house. Behind their car were three others, a small Mercedes, a dark brown limousine and a Bentley. Directly across from Jason, beyond the Bentley, was a white stone building, its windows outlined in black enamel. An inside hall light spilled over to the casement bay windows on either side of the staircase, the left was obviously a dining-room; he could see chairs and a long table in the additional light of a rococo sideboard mirror. The windows of that dining room with their splendid view of the quaint, rich Parisian street would do.

Bourne reached into his pocket and pulled out the stone; it was barely a quarter the size of the petrol-soaked brick, but it would serve the purpose. He inched around the corner of the building, cocked his arm, and threw the stone as far as he could above and beyond the saloon.

The crash echoed through the quiet street, it was followed by a series of cracks as the rock clattered across the bonnet of a car and dropped to the pavement. The two men in the saloon bolted up. The man next to the driver opened his door, his foot plunging down to the pavement, a gun in his hand. The driver lowered the window, then switched on the headlights. The beams shot forward, bouncing back in blinding reflection off the metal and chrome of the car in front. It was a patently stupid act serving only to point up the fear of the men stationed in Pare Monceau.

Now. Jason raced across the street, his attention on the two men whose hands were covering their eyes, trying to see through the glare of the reflected light. He reached the boot of the Bentley, the cobblestone brick under his arm, a match book in his left hand, a cluster of torn-off matches in his right. He crouched, struck the matches, lowered the brick to the ground, then picked it up by an extended sleeve. He held the burning matches beneath the petrol-soaked cloth; it burst instantly into flame.

He rose quickly, swinging the brick by the sleeve, and dashed over the kerb, hurling his missile towards the bulging framework of the casement window with all his strength, racing beyond the edge of the building as impact was made.

The crash of shattering glass was a sudden intrusion on the rain-soaked stillness of the street. Bourne raced to his left across the narrow avenue, then back towards Villiers's block, again finding the shadows he needed. The fire spread, fanned by the wind from the broken window, leaping up into the willowy backing of the drapes. Within thirty seconds the room was a flaming oven, the fire magnified by the huge sideboard mirror. Shouts erupted, windows lighted up nearby, then further down the street; a minute passed and the chaos grew. The door of the flaming house was yanked open and figures appeared - an elderly man in a nightshirt, a woman in a negligee and one slipper - both in panic.

Other doors opened, other figures emerged, adjusting from sleep to chaos, some racing towards the fire-swept residence a neighbour was in trouble. Jason ran diagonally across the intersection, one more running figure in the rapidly gathering crowd; he stopped where he had started only minutes before, by the edge of the corner building, and stood motionless, trying to spot Carlos's soldiers.

He had been right; the two men were not the only guards posted in Pare Monceau. There were four men now, huddling by the saloon, talking rapidly, quietly. No, five. Another walked swiftly up the pavement, joining the four.

He heard sirens. Growing louder, drawing nearer. The five men were alarmed. Decisions had to be made; they could not all remain where they were. Perhaps there were police records to consider.

Agreement. One man would stay, the fifth man. He nodded and walked rapidly across the street to Villiers's side. The others climbed into the saloon, and, as a fire engine careened up the street, it curved out of its parking place and sped past the red behemoth racing in the opposite direction.

One obstacle remained: the fifth man. Jason rounded the building, spotting him halfway between the corner and Villiers's house. It was now a question of timing and shock. Bourne broke into a loping run, similar to that used by the people heading towards the fire, his head angled back towards the corner, running partially backwards, a figure melting into the surrounding pattern, only the direction in conflict. He passed the man; he had not been noticed - but he would be noticed if he continued to the downstairs gate of Villiers's house and opened it. The man was glancing back and forth, concerned, bewildered, perhaps frightened by the fact that now he was the only patrol in the street. He was standing in front of a low railing; another gate, another downstairs entrance to another expensive house in Pare Monceau.

Jason stopped, taking two rapid sidesteps towards the man, then pivoted, his balance on his left foot, his right lashing out at the fifth man's midsection, pummelling him backwards over the iron rail. The man shouted as he fell down into the narrow concrete corridor. Bourne leaped over the railing, the knuckles of his right hand rigid, the heels of both feet pushed forward. He landed on the man's chest, the impact breaking the ribs beneath him, his knuckles smashing into the man's throat. Carlos's soldier went limp. He would regain consciousness long after someone removed him to a hospital. Jason searched the man; there was a single gun strapped to his chest. Bourne took it Out and put it into his overcoat pocket. He would give it to Villiers.

Villiers. The way was clear.

He climbed the staircase to the second floor. Halfway up the steps he could see a line of light at the bottom of the bedroom door; beyond that door was an old man who was his only hope. If ever in his life - remembered and unremembered - he had to be convincing, it was now. And his conviction was real - there was no room for the chameleon now. Everything he believed was based on one fact. Carlos had to come after him. It was the truth. It was the trap.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller