The bourne imperative, p.1
The Bourne Imperative, p.1Part #10 of Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum
Table of Contents
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Thanks are due to my cousin, David Schiffer, for keeping me up to date on the latest methods of finding terrorists, international arms dealers, and drug dealers; to my friend, Ken Dorph, for his unique perspective on the Middle East and for his insightful stories of foreign lands; and to my wife, Victoria, for her editorial suggestions and proofing skills.
Special mention must be made of Carlos Fuentes. His marvelous novel, Destiny and Desire, served as a major inspiration for Bourne’s trip to Mexico City, meshing with and enlarging upon my own personal experiences, along with other firsthand sources.
She came out of the mist, and he was running, just as he had been for hours, days. It felt like he had been alone for weeks, his heart continually thundering inside his chest, his mind befogged with bitter betrayal. Sleep was unthinkable, rest a thing of the past.
Nothing was clear now except that she had come out of the mist after he had been certain—for the thirteenth, or was it the fifteenth, time?—that he had eluded her. But here she was, coming for him like a mythical exterminating angel, indestructible and implacable.
His life had been reduced to the two of them. Nothing else existed outside the wall of white—snow and ice and the wispy brushstrokes of fishing cottages, deep red with white trim, small, compact, containing only what was necessary. He admired such judiciousness.
The mist burned like fire—a cold fire that ran up his spine and gripped the back of his neck, just as she had gripped the back of his neck—when? Days? A week ago? When they had been in bed together, when she had been another person, his lover, a woman who quickly discovered how to make him shiver and melt with pleasure.
Half-skating across a large frozen lake, he slipped, lost his gun, which went skittering over the ice. He was about to make a lunge for it when he heard the snap of a twig, as clear and sharp as a knife thrust.
Instead, he continued on, made for a stand of shivering pines. Powdery snow sprayed his face, coating his eyebrows and the stubble of a long flight across continents. He did not dare waste another moment looking back over his shoulder to check the progress of his pursuer.
She had dogged his tracks all the way from Lebanon. He had met her in a packed, smoke-blurred bar in Dahr El Ahmar—or maybe now he would admit to himself that she had met him, that every gesture, every word out of her mouth, had been by design. Events seemed so clear now that he was on the precipice of either escape or death. She had played him instead of the other way around—he, the consummate professional. How had she so easily slipped inside his defenses? But he knew, he knew: the exterminating angel was irresistible.
Inside the pines he paused, his breath clouding the air in front of his face. It was bitterly cold, but inside his winter camo coat, he felt as if he were burning alive. Clinging to one of a maze of black tree trunks, his mind returned to the hotel room, stinking of bodies and sex, recalling the moment when she had bitten his lip, her teeth clamped down on his flesh while she somehow said, “I know. I know what you are.”
Not who, but what.
She knew. He looked around now at the city of interlocking branches, at the labyrinth of needles in which he hid. It was impossible. How could she know? And yet…
Hearing again the snap of a twig, he started, turned slowly in a circle, all his senses questing toward the direction of the sound. Where was she? Death could come at any minute, but he knew it wouldn’t be quick. There were too many secrets she needed to know, otherwise she would have killed him during one of their animalistic trysts. Nights that still gave him shivers of arousal, even though he now knew how close he had been to death. She had been playing with him—perhaps because she came to enjoy their lovemaking as much as he did. He gave a silent laugh, his lips pulled back from his teeth, more a snarl than a smile. What a fool! He kept deluding himself that there had been something between them, even in the face of the most explicit evidence to the contrary. What a spell she had woven over him! He shuddered, crouching down, contracting into himself as he pressed his spine against the rough pine bark.
Suddenly he was tired of running. It was here, in the frozen back of beyond, that he’d make his stand, even though he had no clear idea of how to emerge alive from this killing field. Behind him, he heard the insistent burble of water. In Sadelöga, you were never far from inlets of the Baltic Sea, the air mineral-thick with salt and seaweed and phosphorus.
A blur caught like a fish on a line at the corner of his eye. There she was! Had she seen him? He wanted to move, but his limbs felt as if they were filled with lead. He could not feel his feet. Turning his head slowly brought a sliver of her advancing into the tree line.
She paused, her head cocked to one side, listening, as if she could hear him breathe.
Unbidden, his tongue ran across his severely swollen lower lip. His mind raced backward, to an exhibit of Japanese wood-block prints—stately, serene, calming. All except one piece of erotica that was so famous everyone had heard of it even if they hadn’t actually seen it in person. It hung before him, a depiction of a woman in the throes of unimaginable ecstasy, administered by her octopus-lover’s dextrous eight arms. That was how he thought of his lover, his stalker. In the overheated Dahr El Ahmar hotel room he had known the depths—or heights—of the ecstasy experienced by the woman depicted in the wood-block print. In that respect, he wasn’t sorry. He had never imagined, let alone expected, that anyone could give him so much pleasure, but she had, and he was perversely grateful, even though she might very well be the death of him.
He started. She was coming now. Even though he didn’t hear her, had lost her in the maze of trees, he could feel her moving closer, drawn to him in some inexplicable manner. So he sat and waited for her to appear, considering what he would do when that happened.
He did not have long to wait. Seconds passed slowly, seeming to float away in the water somewhere behind him, at the far edge of the stand of pines. He heard her call his name, softly, gently as she had when they were lovers, entwined, locked in their own ecstasies. A shiver ran down his spine, lodged between his legs, and would not dissipate.
Still…He had resources left, surprises, chances to walk out of this killing ground alive.
Putting his head down, he slowly drew his knees up to his chest. It must have started snowing fairly hard because more and more flakes were pushing their way through the tangle of needles. Green shadows morphed to charcoal-gray, obscuring him further. Snow began to cover him, light as the flutter of angel wings. His heart thudded within his rib cage and he could feel his pulse in the side of his neck.
Still alive, he thought.
He sensed her as she slipped between the trunks of two pines. His nostrils flared, one animal scenting another. One way or another, the hunt was at an end. He felt a certain relief. Soon it would be over.
She was so close now that he heard the crunch as her boots cracked the gossamer-thin crust, plunged into the snow with each careful step. She stopped six feet away. Her shadow fell over him; he had felt it for weeks now as he traveled north by northwest in his vain attempt to dislodge her.
I know what you are, she had said, so she must know tha
Octopus and lobster. Those terms more accurately characterized the two of them than any more traditional definition.
She spoke his name again, more definitively this time, and he raised his chin off his chest to look her in the eye. She held a 10 mm EAA Witness Pistol aimed at his right knee.
“No more running,” she said.
He nodded. “No more running.”
She looked at him with a curious kindness. “Pity about your lip.”
His laugh was short and savage. “It seems I required a violent wake-up call.”
Her eyes were the color and shape of ripe olives, vivid against her Mediterranean skin and black hair pulled back tight, tucked, except for a couple of wisps, inside her hood. “Why do you do what you do?”
“Why do you?”
She laughed softly. “That’s easy.” She had a Roman nose, delicate cheekbones, and a generous mouth. “I keep my country safe.”
“At the expense of all other countries.”
“Isn’t that the definition of a patriot?” She shook her head. “But then you wouldn’t know.”
“You’re very sure of yourself.”
She shrugged. “I was born that way.”
He stirred infinitesimally. “Tell me one thing. What did you think of when we were in bed together?”
Her smile changed character subtly, but that was the extent of her answer.
“You’ll give me what I want to know,” she said. “Tell me about Jihad bis saif.”
“Not even,” he said, “on the point of death.”
Her smile changed yet again, into the one he remembered from the hotel room in Dahr El Ahmar, a secret smile, he had thought, just between the two of them, and he hadn’t been wrong. It was only the context he’d missed.
“You have no country, no innate allegiance. Your masters have seen to that.”
“We all have masters,” he said. “It’s only that we tell ourselves we don’t.”
When she took a step toward him, he flicked the knife he had been holding close to his side. The short distance between them made it impossible for her to duck out of the way. She had just begun to react when the blade penetrated her Thinsulate parka and buried itself in the flesh of her right shoulder. The EAA swung away as she was spun 45 degrees. As her arm came down, he leaped at her, taking her down flat on her back. He bore down, using his superior weight to half-bury her in the snow, sinking her into the frozen, needle-packed earth beneath.
He struck a hard blow to her jaw. The EAA lay in the snow, some distance away. Shaking off the effects of the blow, she heaved him off her. He rolled back, and before she had a chance to move, grabbed the hilt of the knife, and ground the blade deeper into the muscle of her shoulder. She gritted her teeth, but she didn’t scream. Instead, she jabbed the tips of her fingers into the cricoid cartilage of his throat. He coughed, gagging, and his hand came off the knife. Grabbing hold of it, she drew it out. Her blood glimmered darkly as it ran down the narrow blade.
Rearing back away from her, he lunged for the EAA, snatched it up and aimed it at her. When she laughed at him, he pulled the trigger, pulled it again and again. It was empty. What had she meant to do? This thought was racing through his mind when she pulled a Glock 20 out of her parka. Throwing the useless EAA at her, he lurched up, turned, and ran a patternless path through the pines, toward the water. It was his only chance now to escape her.
As he ran, he unzipped his coat, shrugged it off. In the water, it would only help to carry him down. The water would be frigid—so cold that he would have only five or six minutes to swim away to safety before the temperature penetrated to his bones, anesthetizing him. Paralysis would not be far behind, followed by death.
A shot from behind him whistled past his right knee, and he stumbled, crashed into a tree, bounced off and kept running, deeper and deeper into the woods, closer and closer to the water, whose sound rushed at him like a conquering army. He pushed himself on, panted breath streaming from him.
When he saw the first glint of the water, his heart lifted and the breath came easier in his chest. Breaking free of the pines, he lurched along snowy scrub grass sprouting between bald rocks that sloped steeply down to the sea.
He was almost there when he skidded on a slick of muck, and the second shot, meant for his shoulder, grazed the side of his head. He spun around, arms flung wide, continued blindly, legs churning as he reached the lip of land, and, blinded by his own blood, plunged down into the icy depths.
Gazing at the spattering of tiny islets around him, rimed in ice, Jason Bourne sat in the center of the small fishing skiff, rod in one hand, flicking it back and forth as he trolled for sea trout, pike, or perch.
“You don’t like fishing much, do you?” Christien Norén said.
Bourne grunted, brushing himself off. The brief eruption of intense snow had vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. The sky was an oppressive icy gray.
“Keep still,” Christien admonished. He held his rod at a careless angle. “You’re scaring the fish away.”
“It’s not me.” Bourne frowned, peering down into the water, which was streaked brown and green. Shadows swayed as if to an unheard melody. “Something else is scaring them away.”
“Oh, ho.” Christien laughed. “There’s an underwater conspiracy coming to light.”
Bourne looked up. “Why did you take me out here? It doesn’t appear that you like fishing much, either.”
Christien regarded him steadily for some time. At length he said, “When discussing conspiracies, it’s best to do so in a space without walls.”
“A remote location. Hence this trip outside of Stockholm.”
Christien nodded. “Except that Sadelöga isn’t quite remote enough.”
“But out on the water, this boat finally meets your requirements.”
“The explanation for what you and Don Fernando have been up to had better be good. What I learned from Peter Marks in DC—”
“It’s not good,” Christien said. “In fact, it’s very, very bad. Which is why—”
Bourne’s silent signal—the flat of his free hand cutting through the chill air—silenced Christien immediately. Bourne pointed at the disturbance near them, the sudden rushing curl of water arched like a dorsal fin. Something was surfacing, something large.
“Good God,” Christien exclaimed.
Abandoning his rod, Bourne leaned forward and grabbed the rising body.
Rumor, innuendo, intimation, supposition.” The president of the United States skimmed the buff-jacketed daily intel report across the table, where it was fielded by Christopher Hendricks.
“With all due respect, sir,” the secretary of defense said, “I think it’s a bit more than that.”
The president leveled his clear, hard gaze at his most trusted ally. “You think it’s the truth, Chris.”
“I do, sir, yes.”
The president pointed at the folder. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my long and storied political career, it’s that a truth without facts is more dangerous than a lie.”
Hendricks drummed his fingers on the file. “And why would that be, sir?” He said this without rancor; he sincerely wanted to know.
The president heaved a sigh. “Because without facts, rumor, innuendo, intimation, and supposition have a way of conflating into myth. Myths have a way of worming their way into people’s psyches, becoming something more, something larger than life. Something indelible. Thus is born what Nietzsche c
“And you believe that’s the case here.”
“That this man does not exist.”
“I didn’t say that.” The president swiveled his chair around, put his forearms on his gleaming desk, steepled his fingers judicially. “What I don’t believe are these rumors of what he has done—what he’s capable of doing. No, as of this moment I don’t believe those things.”
A small silence descended over them. Outside the Oval Office, the sound of a leaf blower was briefly heard, just inside the wall of reinforced concrete barriers at the perimeter of the sacred grounds. Looking out, Hendricks could see no leaves. But then, all work in and around the White House was inherently secretive.
Hendricks cleared his throat. “Nevertheless, sir, it’s my unwavering belief that he is a significant threat to this country.”
The American flag stood curled by the right side of the window, stars rippled. The president’s eyes were half-closed, his breathing deep and even. If Hendricks didn’t know better, he’d think the president had fallen asleep.
The president gestured for the file and Hendricks slid it back to him. The president opened it, leafing through the dense paragraphs of typescript. “Tell me about your shop.”
“Treadstone is running quite well.”
“Both your directors are up to speed?”
“You say that too quickly, Chris. Four months ago, Peter Marks was struck at the periphery of a car bomb. At almost the same time, Soraya Moore was hurt, involved as she was in tragic circumstances in Paris.”
“She got the job done.”
“No need to be defensive,” the president said. “I’m simply voicing my concern.”
“They’ve both been cleared medically and psychologically.”
“I’m sincerely glad to hear it. But these are unique directors, Chris.”
The Bourne Imperative by Robert Ludlum / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes