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'Conklin? Conklin. . . ?* The voice floated up out of the phone as the C. I. A. man hung up.

Conklin turned to a stocky man six feet away at an adjacent window. In the man's large hand was a rifle, a telescopic sight secured to the barrel. Alex did not know the man's name and he did not want to know it; he had paid enough not to be burdened.

'Do you see that man down there in the black overcoat standing by the door?' he asked.

'I see him. He's not the one we're looking for. He's too old. '

'Get over there and tell him there's a cripple across the street who wants to see him,'

Bourne walked out of the second-hand clothing shop on Third Avenue, pausing in front of the filthy glass window to appraise what he saw. It would do; everything was co-ordinated. The black woollen hat covered his head to the middle of his forehead, the wrinkled, patched army field jacket was several sizes too large; the red checked flannel shirt, the wide bulging khaki trousers and the heavy work shoes with thick rubber soles and huge rounded toes were all of a piece. He only had to find a walk to match the clothing. The walk of a strong, slow-witted man whose body had begun to show the effects of a lifetime of physical strain, whose mind accepted the daily inevitability of hard labour, reward found in a pack of beer at the end of the drudgery.

He would find that walk; he had used it before. Somewhere. But before he searched his imagination, there was a phone call to make; he saw a telephone box up the block, a mangled directory hanging from a chain beneath the metal shelf. He started walking, his legs automatically more rigid, his feet press-ing' weight on the pavement, his arms heavy in their sockets, the fingers of his hands slightly spaced, curved from years of abuse. A set, dull expression on his face would come later. Not now.

'Belkins Moving and Storage," announced an operator somewhere in the Bronx.

'My name is Johnson,' said Jason impatiently but kindly. 'I'm afraid I have a problem, and I hope you might be able to help me. '

'I'll try, sir. What is it?'

'I was on my way over to a friend's house on Seventy-first Street - a friend who died recently, I'm sorry to say - to pick up something I'd lent him. When I got there your van was in front of the house. It's most embarrassing, but I think your men may remove my property. Is there someone I might speak to?'

That would be a dispatcher, sir. '

'Might I have his name, please?'

'What?'

'His name. "

'Sure. Murray. Murray Schumach. I'll connect you. '

Two clicks preceded a long hum over the line.

'Schumach. '

'Mr Schumach?'

'That's right. '

Bourne repeated his embarrassing tale. 'Of course, I can easily obtain a letter from my attorney, but the item in question has little or no value. . . '

'What is it?'

'A fishing rod. Not an expensive one, but with an old fashioned casting reel, the kind that doesn't get tangled every five minutes. '

'Yeah, I know what you mean. I fish out of Sheepshead Bay. They don't make them reels like they used to. I think it's the alloys. *

'I think you're right, Mr Schumach. I know exactly in which closet he kept it*

'Oh, what the hell, a fishing rod. Go up and see a guy named Dugan, he's the supervisor on the job. Tell him I said you could have it, but you'll have to sign for it If he gives you static, tell him to go outside and call me; the phone's disconnected down there. '

'A Mr Dugan. Thank you very much, Mr Schumach. '

'Christ, that place is a ball-breaker today. '

'I beg your pardon?'

'Nothing. Some whacko called telling us to get out of there. And the job's firm, cash guaranteed. Can you believe it?'

Carlos. Jason could believe it.

'It's difficult, Mr Schumach. '

'Good fishing,' said the Belkins man.

Bourne walked west on Seventieth Street to Lexington Avenue. Three blocks south he found what he was looking for: an army-navy surplus store. He went inside.

Eight minutes later he came out carrying four brown padded blankets and six wide canvas straps with metal buckles. In the pockets of his field jacket were two ordinary road flares. They had been there on the counter looking like something they were not, triggering images beyond memory, back to a moment when there had been meaning and purpose. And anger. He slung the equipment over his left shoulder and trudged up towards Seventy-first. The chameleon was heading into the jungle, a jungle as dense as the unremembered Tarn Quan.

It was 10:48 when he reached the corner of the tree-lined block that held the secrets of Treadstone Seventy-one. He was going back to the beginning - his beginning - and the fear that he felt was not the fear of physical harm. He was prepared for that, every sinew taut, every muscle ready; his knees and feet, hands and elbows, weapons, his eyes trip-wire alarms that would send instant signals to those weapons. His fear was far more profound. He was about to enter the place of his birth and he was terrified at what he might find there - remember there.

Stop it! The trap is everything. Cain is for Charlie and Delta is for Cain!

The traffic had diminished considerably, the rush hour over, the street in the doldrums of mid-morning quiescence. Pedestrians strolled now, they did not hasten; cars swung leisurely around the removal van, angry horns replaced by brief grimaces of irritation. Jason crossed with the light to the Treadstone side, the tall, narrow structure of brown, jagged stone and thick blue glass was fifty yards down the block. Blankets and straps in place, an already weary, slow-witted labourer walked behind a well-dressed couple towards it.

He reached the concrete steps as two muscular men, one black one white, were carrying a covered harp out of the door. Bourne stopped and called out, his words halting, his dialect coarse.

'Hey! Where's Doogan?'

'Where the hell d'you think?' replied the white, angling his head around. 'Sittin' in a fuckin' chair. '

'He ain't gonna lift nothin' heavier than that clipboard, man,' added the black. 'He's an executive, ain't that right, Joey?'

'He's a crumb ball, is what he is. Watcha got there?'

'Schumach sent me,' said Jason. 'He wanted another man down here and figured you needed this stuff. Told me to bring it. '

'Murray the menace!' laughed the black. 'You new, man? I ain't seen you before. You come from shape-up?"

'Yeah. '

'Take that shit up to the executive,' grunted Joey, starting down the steps. 'He can allocate it, how about that, Pete? Allocate, you like it?'

'I love it, Joey. You a regular dictionary. '

Bourne walked up the reddish brown steps past the descending movers to the door. He stepped inside and saw the winding staircase on the right, and the long narrow corridor in front of him that led to another door thirty feet away. He had climbed those steps a thousand times, walked up and down that corridor thousands more. He had come back, and an overpowering sense of dread swept through him. He started down the dark narrow corridor; he could see shafts of sunlight bursting through a pair of French windows in the distance. He was approaching the room where Cain was born. That room. He gripped the straps on his shoulder and tried to stop the trembling.

Marie leaned forward in the back seat of the armour-plated government car, the binoculars in place. Something had happened; she was not sure what it was but she could guess. A short stocky man had passed by the steps of the brownstone house a few minutes ago, slowing his pace as he approached the general, obviously saying something to him. "The man had then continued down the block and seconds later Crawford had followed him.



Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller
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