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'It's in his note. He's gone mad. He was pushed too far, Carlos. It happens; I've seen it happen. A man on a double entry, his source-controls taken out; he has no one to confirm his initial assignment. Both sides want his corpse. He's stretched to the point where he may not even know who he is any longer. '

'He knows. ' The whisper was drawn out in quiet fury. 'By signing the name Delta, he's telling me he knows. We both know where it comes from, where he comes from!'

The beggar paused. 'If that's true, then he's still dangerous to you. He's right. Washington won't touch him. It may not want to acknowledge him, but it will call off its hangmen. It may even be forced to grant him a privilege or two in return for his silence. '

'The papers he spoke of?' asked the assassin. 'Yes. In the old days - in Berlin, Prague, Vienna - they were called "final payments". Bourne uses "final protection", a minor variance. They were papers drawn up between a primary source-control and the infiltrator, to be used in the event the strategy collapsed, the primary killed, no other avenues open to the agent. It was not something you would have studied in Novgorod; the Soviets had no such accommodations. Soviet defectors, however, insisted upon them. ' 'They were incriminating, then?'

They had to be to some degree. Generally in the area of who was manipulated. Embarrassment is always to be avoided; careers are destroyed by embarrassment. But then, I don't have to tell you that. You've used the technique brilliantly. '

' "Seventy-one streets in the jungle. . . "' said Carlos, reading from the paper in his hand, an ice-like calm imposed on his whisper. ' "A jungle as dense as Tarn Quan. " . . . This time the execution will take place as scheduled. Jason Bourne will not leave this Tarn Quan alive. By any other name, Cain will be dead, and Delta will die for what he's done. Angelique! You have my word!' The incantation stopped, the assassin's mind racing to the practical. 'Did Villiers have any idea when Bourne left his house?'

'He didn't know. I told you, he was barely lucid, in as much a state of shock as with his telephone call. '

'It doesn't matter. The first flights to the United States began within the past hour. He'll be on one. I'll be in New York with him, and I won't miss this time . . . My knife will be waiting, its blade a razor. I'll peel his face away; the Americans will have their Cain without a face! They can give this Bourne, this Delta, whatever name they care to. '

The blue-striped telephone rang on Alexander Conklin's desk. Its bell was quiet, the understated sound lending an eerie emphasis. The blue-striped telephone was Conklin's direct line to the computer rooms and data banks. There was no one in the office to take the call.

The Central Intelligence executive suddenly rushed limping through the door, unused to the cane provided him by G-Two, SHAPE, Brussels last night, when he had commandeered a military transport to Andrews Field, Virginia. He threw the cane angrily across the room as he lurched for the phone. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep, his breath short; the man responsible for the dissolution of Treadstone was exhausted. He had been in scrambler-communication with a dozen branches of clandestine operations - in Washington and overseas - trying to undo the insanity of the past twenty-four hours. He had spread every scrap of information he could cull from the files to every post in Europe, placed agents in the Paris-London-Amsterdam axis on alert. Bourne was

alive and dangerous; he had tried to kill his D. C. control; he could be anywhere within ten hours of Paris. All airports and train stations were to be covered, all underground networks activated. Find him! Kill him!

'Yes?' Conklin braced himself against the desk and picked up the phone.

'This is Computer Dock Twelve," said the male voice efficiently. 'We may have something. At least, State doesn't have any listing on it. '

'What, for Christ's sake?'

The name you gave us four hours ago. Washburn. *

'What about it?'

'A George P. Washburn was pre-cleared out of Paris and into New York on an Air France flight this morning. Wash-burn's a fairly common name; he could be just a businessman with connections, but it was flagged on the readout, and since the status was N. A. T. O. -diplomatic, we checked with State. They never heard of him. There's no one named Wash-burn involved with any ongoing N. A. T. O. negotiations with the French government from any member nation. "

Then how the hell was he pre-cleared? Who gave him the diplomatic?"

'We checked back through Paris; it wasn't easy. Apparently it was an accommodation of the Brevet Militaire. They're a quiet bunch. '

"The Brevet? Where do they get off clearing our people?"

'It doesn't have to be "our" people or "their" people; it can be anybody. Just a courtesy from the host country and that was a French carrier. It's one way to get a decent seat on an overbooked plane. Incidentally, Washburn's passport wasn't even U. S. It was British. "

There's a doctor, an Englishman named Washburn . . . It was him! It was Delta, and France's Brevet had co-operated with him! But why New York? What was in New York for him! And who placed so high in Paris would accommodate Delta? What had he told them? Oh, Christ! How much had he told them?

'When did the flight get in?' asked Conklin.

Ten thirty-seven this morning. A little over an hour ago. '

'All right,' said the man whose foot had been blown of in Medusa, as he slid painfully around the desk into his seat. 'You've delivered, and now I want this scratched from the reels. Delete it. Everything you gave me. Is that clear?"

'Understood, sir. Deleted, sir. "

Conklin hung up. New York. New York? Not Washington but New York! There was nothing in New York any longer. Delta knew that. If he was after someone in Treadstone -if he was after him - he would have taken a flight directly to Dulles. What was in New York?

And why had Delta deliberately used the name Washburn? It was the same as telegraphing a strategy; he knew the name would be picked up sooner or later . . . Later . . . After he was inside the gates! Delta was telling whatever was left of Tread-stone that he was dealing from strength. He was in a position to expose not only the Treadstone operation, but could go God knows how much further. Whole networks he had used as Cain, listening posts and ersatz consulates that were no more than electronic espionage stations . . . even the bloody spectre of Medusa. His connection inside the Brevet was his proof to Treadstone how high he had travelled. His signal that if he could reach within so rarefied a group of strategists, nothing could stop him. Goddamn it, stop him from what! What was the point? He had the millions; he could have faded. '

Conklin shook his head, remembering. There had been a time when he would have let Delta fade, he had told him so twelve hours ago in a cemetery outside of Paris. A man could take only so much, and no one knew that better than Alexander Conklin, once among the finest covert field officers in the intelligence community. Only so much; the sanctimonious bromides about still being alive grew stale and bitter with time. It depended on what you were before, what you became with your deformity. Only so much . . . But Delta did not fade! He came back with insane statements, insane demands . . . crazy tactics no experienced intelligence officer would even contemplate. For no matter how much explosive information he possessed, no matter how high he penetrated, no sane man walked back into a minefield surrounded by his enemies. And all the blackmail in the world could not bring you back. . .

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller