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'Said what?'

'That you'll talk to me in Marseilles - if I can get there without you. Just tell me where. "

The skipper of the fishing boat studied the patient's face, the decision was not made lightly, but it was made. 'There's a cafe on rue Sarasin, south of Old Harbour. Le Bouc de Mer. I'll be there tonight between nine and eleven. You'll need money, some of it in advance. '

'How much?'

"That's between you and the man you speak with. '

'I've got to have an idea. "

'It's cheaper if you have a document to work with; otherwise one has to be stolen. '

'I told you. I've got one. !

The captain shrugged. 'Fifteen hundred, two thousand francs. Are we wasting time?'

The patient thought of the oil-cloth packet strapped to his waist Bankruptcy lay in Marseilles, but so did an altered passport, a passport to Zurich. I'll handle it,' he said, not knowing why he sounded so confident. Tonight, then. '

The captain peered at the dimly lit shoreline. 'This is as far as we can drift. You're on your own now. Remember, if we don't meet in Marseilles, you've never seen me and I've never seen you. None of my crew has seen you, either. '

I'll be there. Le Bouc de Mer, rue Sarasin, south of Old Harbour. !

'In God's hands,' said the skipper, signalling a crewman at the wheel; the engines rumbled beneath the boat. 'By the way, the clientele at Le Bouc are not used to the Parisian dialect. I'd rough it up if I were you. '

Thanks for the advice,' said the patient as he swung his legs over the gunwale and lowered himself into the water. He held his knapsack above the surface, legs scissoring to stay afloat. 'See you tonight,' he added in a louder voice, looking up at the black hull of the fishing boat.

There was no one there; the captain had left the railing. The only sounds were the slapping of the waves against the wood and the muffled acceleration of the engines. ~

You're on your own now.

He shivered and spun in the cold water, angling his body towards the shore, remembering to sidestroke to his right, to head for a cluster of rocks on the right. If the captain knew what he was talking about, the current would take him into the unseen beach.

It did; he could feel the undertow pulling his bare feet into the sand, making the last thirty yards the most difficult to cross. But the canvas knapsack was relatively dry, still held above the breaking waves.

Minutes later he was sitting on a dune of wild grass, the tall reeds bending with the offshore breezes, the first rays of morning intruding on the night sky. The sun would be up in an hour; he would have to move with it.

He opened the knapsack and took out a pair of boots and heavy socks along with rolled-up trousers and a coarse denim shirt. Somewhere in his past he had learned to pack with an economy of space; the knapsack contained far more than an observer might think. Where had he learned that? Why? The questions never stopped.

He got up and took off the British walking shorts he had accepted from Washburn. He stretched them across the reeds of grass to dry; he could discard nothing. He removed his undershirt and did the same.

Standing there naked on the dune he felt an odd sense of exhilaration mingled with a hollow pain in the middle of his stomach. The pain was fear, he knew that. He understood the exhilaration, too.

He had passed his first test. He had trusted an instinct -perhaps a compulsion - and had known what to say and how to respond. An hour ago he was without an immediate destination, knowing only that Zurich was his objective, but knowing, too, that there were borders to cross, official eyes to satisfy. The eight-year-old passport was so obviously not his own that even the dullest immigration clerk would spot the fact. And even if he managed to cross into Switzerland with it, he had to get out; with each move the odds of his being detained were multiplied. He could not permit that. Not now; not until he knew more. The answers were in Zurich, he had to travel freely, and he had homed in on a captain of a fishing boat to make that possible.

You are not helpless. You will find your way.

Before the day was over be would make a connection to have Washburn's passport altered by a professional, transformed into a licence to travel. It was the first concrete step, but before it was taken there was the consideration of money. The two thousand francs the doctor had given him were inadequate; they might not even be enough for the passport itself. What good was a licence to travel without the means to do so? Money. He had to get money. He had to think about that.

He shook out the clothes he had taken from the knapsack, put them on, and shoved his feet into the boots. Then he lay down on the sand, staring at the sky, which progressively grew brighter. The day was being born and so was he.

He walked the narrow stone streets of La Ciotat, going into the shops as much to converse with the clerks as anything else. It was an odd sensation to be part of the human traffic, not an unknown derelict dragged from the sea. He remembered the captain's advice and gutturalized his French, allowing him to be accepted as an unremarkable stranger passing through town. Money.

There was a section of La Ciotat that apparently catered to a wealthy clientele. The shops were cleaner and the merchandise more expensive, the fish fresher and the meat several cuts above that in the main shopping area. Even the vegetables glistened; many exotic, imported from Northern Africa and the Middle East. The area held a touch of Paris or Nice set down on the fringes of a routinely middle-class coastal community. A small cafe, its entrance at the end of a flagstone path, stood separated from the shops on either side by a manicured lawn. Money.

He walked into a butcher's shop, aware that the owner's appraisal of him was not positive, nor the glance friendly. The man was waiting on a middle-aged couple, who from their speech and manner were domestic servants at an outlying estate. They were precise, curt and demanding.

'The veal last week was barely passable,' said the woman. 'Do better this time, or I'll be forced to order from Marseilles!

'And the other evening,' added the man, 'the Marquis mentioned to me that the lamb chops were much too thin. I repeat, a full three centimetres. '

The owner sighed and shrugged, uttering obsequious phrases of apology and assurance. The woman turned to her escort, her voice no less commanding than it was to the butcher.

'Wait for the packages and put them in the car. I'll be at the grocer's; meet me there. '

'Of course, my dear. '

The woman left, a pigeon in search of further seeds of conflict. The moment she was out the door her husband turned to the shopowner, his demeanour entirely different. Gone was the arrogance; a grin appeared.

'Just your average day, eh, Marcel?' he said, taking a packet of cigarettes from his pocket.

'Seen better, seen worse. Were the chops really too thin?'

'My God, no. When was he last able to tell? But she feels better if I complain, you know that. '

'Where is the Marquis of the Dungheap now?'

'Drunk next door, waiting for the whore from Toulon. I'll come down later this afternoon, pick him up and sneak him past the Marquise into the stables. He won't be able to drive his car by then. He uses Jean-Pierre's room above the kitchen, you know. '

'I've heard. '

At the mention of the name Jean-Pierre, Washburn's patient turned from the display case of poultry. It was an automatic reflex, but the movement only served to remind the butcher of his presence.

Tags: Robert Ludlum, Eric Van Lustbader Jason Bourne Thriller