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Conklin had been found.

It was a small step if what the general said was true. Hired gunmen, unknown to their employer, he unknown to them. Hired to kill a man . . . for all the wrong reasons! Oh, God, she loathed them all! Mindless, stupid men! Playing with the lives of other men, knowing so little, thinking they knew so much.

They had not listened! They never listened until it was too late, and then only with stern forbearance and strong reminders of what might have been - had things been as they were perceived to be. which they were not. The corruption came from blindness, the lies from obstinacy and embarrassment Do not embarrass the powerful, the napalm said it all.

Marie focused the binoculars. A Belkins man was approaching the steps, blankets and straps over his shoulder, walking behind an elderly couple, obviously residents of the block out for a stroll. The man in the field jacket and the black knit hat stopped: he began talking to two other movers carrying a triangular-shaped object out of the door.

What was it? There was something. . . something odd. She could not see the man's face; it was hidden from view, but there was something about the neck, the angle of the head . . . what was it? The man started up the steps, a blunt man, weary of his day before it had begun . . . a slovenly man. Marie removed the binoculars; she was too anxious, too ready to see things that were not there.

Oh, God, my love, my Jason. Where are you? Come to me.

Let me find you. Do not leave me for these blind, mindless men. Do not let them take you from me.

Where was Crawford? He had promised to keep her informed of every move, everything. She had been blunt. She did not trust him, any of them, she did not trust their intelligence, that word spelled with a lower case i. He had promised . . . where was he?

She spoke to the driver. 'Will you put down the window, please. It's stifling in here,'

'Sorry, Miss,' replied the civilian-clothed army man. 'I'll turn on the air-conditioning for you, though. '

The windows and doors were controlled by buttons only the driver could reach. She was in a glass and metal tomb in a sundrenched, tree-lined street

'I don't believe a word of it!' said Conklin, limping angrily across the room back to the window. He leaned against the sill looking out, his left hand pulled up to his face, his teeth against the knuckle of his index finger. 'Not a goddamned word!'

'You don't want to believe it Alex,' countered Crawford. "The solution is so much easier. It's in place, and so much simpler. '

'You didn't hear that tape. You didn't hear Villiers!

I've heard the woman; she's all I have to hear. She said we didn't listen . . . you didn't listen. '

Then she's lying!' Awkwardly Conklin spun around. 'Christ, of course she's lying 1 Why wouldn't she? She's his woman. She'll do anything to get him off the meathook!'

'You're wrong and you know it, the fact that he's here proves you're wrong, proves I was wrong to accept what you. . . '

Conklin was breathing heavily, his right hand trembling as he gripped his cane. 'Maybe . . . maybe we, maybe . . . 'He did not finish; instead he looked at Crawford helplessly.

'. . . ought to let the solution stand?' asked the officer quietly. 'You're tired, Alex. You haven't slept for several days; you're exhausted. I don't think I heard that*

'No. ' The C. I. A. man shook his head, his eyes closed, his face reflecting his disgust 'No, you didn't hear it and I didn't say it I just wish I knew where the hell to begin. '

I do,' said Crawford going to the door and opening it 'Come in, please. '

The stocky man walked in, his eyes darting to the rifle leaning against the wall. He looked at the two men, appraisal in his expression. 'What is it?'

The exercise has been called off,' Crawford said. 'I think you must have gathered that.

'What exercise? I was hired to protect him. ' The gunman looked at Alex. 'You mean you don't need protection any more, sir?'

'You know exactly what we mean,' broke in Conklin. 'All signals are off, all stipulations. '

'What stipulations? I don't know about any stipulations. The terms of my employment are very clear. I'm protecting you, sir. '

'Good, fine,' said Crawford. 'Now what we have to know is who else out there is protecting him. '

'Who else where?'

'Outside this room, this apartment. In other rooms, on the street, in cars, perhaps. We have to know. '

The stocky man walked over to the rifle and picked it up. 'I'm afraid you gentlemen have misunderstood. I was hired on an individual basis. If others were employed, I'm not aware of them. '

'You do know them I* shouted Conklin. 'Who are they? Where are they?'

'I haven't any idea . . . sir. ' The courteous gunman held the rifle in his right arm, the barrel angled down towards the floor. He raised it perhaps two inches, no more than six, the movement barely perceptible. 'If my services are no longer required, I'll be leaving,'

'Can you reach them?" interrupted the brigadier. 'We'll pay generously. "

'I've already been paid generously, sir. It would be wrong to accept money for a service I can't perform. And pointless for this to continue. '

'A man's life is at stake out there!' shouted Conklin.

'So's mine,' said the gunman, walking to the door, the weapon raised higher. 'Good-bye, gentlemen. ' He let himself out.

'Jesus!' roared. Alex, swinging back to the window, his cane clattering against a radiator. 'What do we do?'

To start with, get rid of that removal company. I don't know what part it played in your strategy, but it's only a complication now. '

'I can't. I tried. I didn't have anything to do with it. Agency Controls picked up our sheets when we had the equipment taken out. They saw that a store was being closed up and told G. S. A. to get us the hell out of there. '

'With all deliberate speed," said Crawford, nodding. The Monk covered that equipment by signature; his statement absolves the agency. It's in his files. '

That'd be fine if we had twenty-four hours. We don't even know if we've got twenty-four minutes. '

'We'll still need it. There'll be a senate inquiry. Closed, I hope. . . Rope off the street. ' 'What?'

'You heard me, rope off the street. Call in the police, tell them to rope everything off I" Through the agency? This is domestic! Then I will. Through the Pentagon, from the Joint Chiefs if I have to. We're standing around making excuses, when it's right in front of our eyes I Clear the street, rope it off, bring in a truck with a public address system. Put her in it, put her on a microphone! Let her say anything she likes, let her scream her head off. She was right. He'll come to her 1'

'Do you know what you're saying?' asked Conklin. There'll be questions. Newspapers, television, radio. Everything will be exposed. Publicly. "

'I'm aware of that,' said the brigadier. 'I'm also aware what she'll do for us if this goes down. She may do it anyway, no matter what happens, but I'd rather try to save a man I didn't like, didn't approve of. But I respected him once, and I think I respect him more now. "

'What about another man? If Carlos is really out there, you're opening the gates for him. You're handing him his escape. "

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller