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'I believe you. There's nothing to prevent me from making a call on your behalf. I owe you that. '

'How? What are you going to say? "The man known to me as Jason Bourne has no pact with Carlos. I know this because he exposed Carlos's mistress to me, and that woman was my wife, the wife I choked to death so as not to bring dishonour to my name! I'm about to call the Surete and confess my crime - although, of course, I won't tell them why I killed her. Or why I'm going to kill myself. " . . . Is that it, General? Is that what you're going to say?'

The old man stared silently at Bourne, the fundamental contradiction clear to him. 'I cannot help you then. "

'Good. Fine! Carlos wins it all! She wins! You lose. Your son loses. Go on! Call the police, then put the barrel of the gun in your goddamn mouth and blow your goddamn head off! Go on! That's what you want! Take yourself out, lie down and die! You're not good for anything else any more! You're a self-pitying old, old man1. God knows you're no match for Carlos! No match for the man who placed five sticks of dynamite in rue du Bac and killed your son!'

Villiers's hands shook; the trembling spread to his head. 'Do not do this. I'm telling you, do not do this. '

"Telling" me? You mean you're giving me an order"} The little old man with the big brass buttons is issuing a command? Well, forget it! I don't take orders from men like you! You're frauds! You're worse than all the people you attack; at least they have the stomachs to do what they say they're going to do! You don't. All you've got is wind. Words and wind and self-serving bromides. Lie down and die, old man! But don't give me an order!'

Villiers unclasped his hands and shot out of the chair, his racked body now trembling. 'I told you. No more]'

'I'm not interested in what you tell me. I was right the first time I saw you. You belong to Carlos. You were his lackey alive, and you'll be his lackey dead. '

The old soldier's face grimaced in pain. He pulled out his gun, the gesture pathetic, the threat, however, real. 'I've killed many men in my time. In my profession it was unavoidable, often disturbing. I don't want to kill you now, but I will if you disregard my wishes. Leave me. Leave this house. '

That's terrific. You must be wired into Carlos's head. You kill me, he sweeps the board I* Jason took a step forward, aware of the fact that it was the first movement he had made since entering the room. He saw Villiers's eyes widen; the gun shook, its oscillating shadow cast against the wall. A single half ounce of pressure and the hammer would plunge forward, the bullet finding its mark. For in spite of the madness of the moment, the hand that held that weapon had spent a lifetime gripping steel; it would be steady when the instant came. If it came. That was the risk Bourne had to take. Without Villiers, there was nothing; the old man had to understand. Jason suddenly shouted. 'Go on! Fire. Kill me. Take your orders from Carlos! You're a soldier! You've got your orders. Carry them out!'

The trembling in Villiers's hand increased, the knuckles white as the gun rose higher, its barrel now levelled at Bourne's head. And then Jason heard the whisper from an old man's throat.

' "Vous etes soldat . . . arretez . . . Arretez!"'


'I am a soldier. Someone said that to me recently, someone very dear to you. ' Villiers spoke quietly. 'She shamed an old warrior into remembering who he was . . . who he had been. "On dit que vous etes un geant. Je le crois. " She had the grace, the kindness to say that to me also. She had been told I was a giant, and she believed it. She was wrong - Almighty God, she was wrong - but I shall try. ' Andr6 Villiers lowered the gun; there was dignity in the submission. A soldier's dignity. A giant. 'What would you have me do?'

Jason breathed again. 'Force Carlos into coming after me. But not here, not in Paris. Not even in France. '

'Where then?'

Jason held his place. 'Can you get me out of the country? I should tell you, I'm wanted. My name and description by now are on every immigration desk and border check in Europe. '

'For the wrong reasons?'

'For the wrong reasons. '

'I believe you. There are ways. The Brevet has ways and will do as I ask. '

'With an identity that's false? Without telling them why?'

'My word is enough. I've earned it. '

'Another question. That aide of yours you talked about. Do you trust him, really trust him?'

'With my life. Above all men. '

'With another's life? One you correctly said was very dear to me. '

'Of course. Why? You'll travel alone?'

'I have to. She'd never let me go. '

'You'll have to tell her something. '

'I will. That I'm underground here in Paris, or Brussels, or Amsterdam. Cities where Carlos operates. But that she had to get away; our car was found in Montmartre. Carlos's men are searching every street, every flat, every hotel. You're working with me now; your aide will take her into the country where she'll be safe. I'll tell her that. '

'I must ask the questions now. What happens if you don't come back?'

Bourne tried to keep the plea out of his voice. 'I'll have time on the plane. I'll write out everything that's happened, everything that I . . . remember. I'll send it to you and you will make the decisions. With her. She called you a giant Make the right decisions. Protect her. '

' "Vous etes soldat. . . Arretez!" You have my word. She'll not be harmed. '

"That's all I can ask. '

Villiers threw the gun on the bed. It landed between the twisted bare legs of the dead woman; the old soldier coughed abruptly, contemptuously, his posture returning. 'To practicalities, my young wolfpack,' he said, authority coming back to him awkwardly, but with definition. 'What's this strategy of yours?'

'To begin with, you're in a state of collapse, beyond shock. You're an automaton walking around in the dark, following instructions you can't understand but have to obey. '

'Not very different from reality, wouldn't you say?' interrupted Villiers. 'Before a young man with truth in his eyes forced me to listen to him. But how is this perceived state brought about? And why?'

'All you know - all you remember - is that a man broke into your house during the fire and smashed his gun into your head; you fell unconscious. When you woke up you found your wife dead, strangled, a note by her body. It's what's in the note that's driven you out of your mind. '

'What would that be?' asked the old soldier cautiously.

The truth,' said Jason. The truth you can't ever permit anyone to know. What she was to Carlos, what he was to her. The killer who wrote the note left a telephone number, telling you that you could confirm what he's written. Once you were satisfied, you could destroy the note and report the murder any way you like. But for telling you the truth - for killing the whore who was so much a part of your son's death - he wants you to deliver a written message. '

To Carlos?'

'No. He'll send a relay. '

Thank God for that. I'm not sure I could go through with it, knowing it was him. '

The message will reach him. '

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller