Page 133

It was suddenly insane! He shook his head violently back and forth, trying to suppress the compulsion, to still the screams that were all around him - screams that were his screams, his voice. Forget Carlos. Forget the trap. Get inside that house! It was there; it was the beginning!

Stop it!

The irony was macabre. There was no final protection in that house, only a final explanation for himself. And it was meaningless without Carlos. Those who hunted him knew it and disregarded it; they wanted him dead because of it. But he was so close . . . he had to find it. It was there.

Bourne glanced up; the long-haired driver was watching him in the rear-view mirror. 'Migraine,' said Jason curtly. 'Drive around the block. To this block again. I'm early for my appointment. I'll tell you where to let me off. '

'It's your wallet, Mister. '

The brownstone was behind them now, passed quickly in a sudden, brief break in the traffic. Bourne swung around in the seat and looked at it through the rear window. The seizure was receding, the sights and sounds of personal panic fading; only the pain remained, but it too would diminish, he knew that. It had been an extraordinary few minutes. Priorities had become twisted; compulsion had replaced reason, the pull of the unknown had been so strong that for a moment or two he had nearly lost control. He could not let it happen again; the trap itself was everything. He had to see that house again; he had to study it again. He had all day to work, to refine his strategy, his tactics for the night, but a second, calmer appraisal was in order now. Others would come during the day, closer appraisals. The chameleon in him would be put to work.

Sixteen minutes later it was obvious that whatever he intended to study no longer mattered. Suddenly, everything was different, everything had changed. The line of traffic in the block slower, another hazard added to the street A removal van had parked in front of the brownstone house; men in overalls stood smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, putting off that moment when work was to commence. The heavy black door was open and a man in a green jacket, the moving company's emblem above the left pocket, stood in the foyer, a clipboard in his hand. Treadstone was being dismantled! In a few hours it could be gutted, a shell! It couldn't be. They had to stop I

Jason leaned forward, money in his hand, the pain gone from his head; all was movement now. He had to reach Conklin in Washington. Not later - not when the chess pieces were in place - but right now! Conklin had to tell them to stop! His entire strategy was based on darkness . . . always darkness. The beam of a torch shooting out of first one alleyway then another, then against dark walls and up at darkened windows. Orchestrated properly, swiftly, darting from one position to another. An assassin would be drawn to a stone building at night. At night. It would happen at night! Not now!

'Hey, Mister!' yelled the driver through the open window.

Jason bent down. 'What is it?'

'I just wanted to say thanks. This makes my . . . '

A spit. Over his shoulder I Followed by a cough that was the start of a scream. Bourne stared at the driver, at the stream of blood that had erupted over the man's left ear. The man was dead, killed by a bullet meant for his fare, fired from a window somewhere in that street.

Jason dropped to the ground; then sprang to his left, spinning towards the kerb. Two more spits came in rapid succession, the first embedded in the side of the taxi, the second exploding the asphalt. It was unbelievable! He was marked before the hunt had begun I Carlos was there. In position! He or one of his men had taken the high ground, a window or a rooftop from which the entire street could be observed. Yet the possibility of indiscriminate death caused by a killer in a window or on a rooftop was crazy; the police would come, the street blocked off, even a reverse trap aborted. And Carlos was not crazy! It did not make sense. Nor did Bourne have the time to speculate; he had to get out of the trap . . . the reverse trap. He had to get to that phone. Carlos was here! At the doors of Treadstone! He had brought him back. He had actually brought him back! It was his proof!

He got to his feet and began running, weaving in and out of the groups of pedestrians. He reached the corner and turned right, the box was twenty feet away, but it was also a target. He could not use it.

Across the street was a delicatessen, a small rectangular sign above the door. Telephone. He stepped off the kerb and started running again, dodging the lurching cars. One of them might do the job Carlos had reserved for himself. That irony, too, was macabre.

The Central Intelligence Agency, sir, is fundamentally a fact-finding organization,' said the man on the line condescendingly. 'The sort of activities you describe are the rarest part of our work, and frankly blown out of proportion by films and misinformed writers. '

'Goddamn it, listen to me!' said Jason, cupping the mouthpiece in the crowded delicatessen. 'Just tell me where Conklin is. It's an emergency!'

'His office already told you, sir. Mr Conklin left yesterday afternoon and is expected back at the end of the week. Since you say you know Mr Conklin, you're aware of his service-related injury. He often goes for physical therapy. . . '

'Will you stop it! I saw him in Paris - outside Paris - two nights ago. He flew over from Washington to meet me. "

'As to that,' interrupted the man in Langley, 'when you were transferred to this office, we'd already checked. There's no record of Mr Conklin having left the country in over a year. '

'Then it's buried! He was there!

'You're looking for codes,' said Bourne desperately. 'I don't have them. But someone working with Conklin will recognize the words. Medusa, Delta, Cain . . . Treadstone! Someone has to!'

"No one does. You were told that. '

'By someone who doesn't. There are those who do. Believe me!'

'I'm sorry. I really. . . '

'Don't hang up!' There was another way; one he did not care to use but there was nothing else. 'Five or six minutes ago I got out of a taxi on Seventy-first Street I was spotted and someone tried to take me out. '

'Take . . . you out?'

'Yes. The driver spoke to me and I bent down to listen. That movement saved my life, but the driver's dead, a bullet in his skull. That's the truth and I know you have ways of checking. There are probably half a dozen police cars on the scene by now. Check it out. That's the strongest advice I can give you. '

There was a brief silence from Washington. 'Since you asked for Mr Conklin - at least used his name - I'll follow this up. Where can I reach you?'

'I'll stay on. This call's on an international credit card. French issue, name of Chambord. '

'Chambord? You said. . . '

'Please. '

'I'll be back. '

The waiting was intolerable, made worse by a stem Hassidim glaring at him, fingering coins in one hand, a roll in another, and crumbs in his stringy, unkempt beard. A minute later the man in Langley was on the line, anger replacing compromise.

'I think this conversation has come to an end, Mr Bourne or Chambord, or whatever you call yourself. The New York police were reached; there's no such incident as you described on Seventy-first Street. And you were right. We do have ways of checking. I advise you that there are laws about such calls as this, strict penalties involved. Good day, sir. '

There was a click; the line went dead. Bourne stared at the dial in disbelief. For six months the men in Washington had searched for him, wanted to kill him for the silence they could not understand. Now, when he presented himself - presented them with the sole objective of his three-year agreement - he was dismissed. They still would not listen! . . . But that man had listened. And he had come back on the line denying a death that had taken place only minutes ago. It could not be. . . it was insane. It had happened 1

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller