The bourne enigma, p.1
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       The Bourne Enigma, p.1

         Part #13 of Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum
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The Bourne Enigma


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  Denial is the first impulse of a traitor.

  —Josef Stalin

  PROLOGUE

  Frankfurt, Germany

  The moment Jason Bourne stepped into the Royal Broweiser the hotel staff snapped to attention. Not that they had been standing idle. Herr Hummel, the executive director, would have had their jobs, and in any case they were too well trained. But Herr Bourne, well known to them, was a large tipper, and the staff scurried to take control of his three large, beautiful suitcases, each of which, they surmised, would have cost them six months’ salary.

  Bourne, a broad-shouldered, impeccably dressed gentleman of obvious means, had been staying at the Royal Broweiser over the past three or four months at irregular intervals. A businessman he might be, the staff speculated, but his physique marked him as a man who knew his way around a gym. He was always affable, loquacious, a font of slightly off-color jokes that never failed to delight the bellboys, who fell all over themselves to do his bidding. No request was too menial for them; they were happy to be put under his spell.

  This morning, Bourne was shown up to his usual suite on the top floor, and, after a special delivery platter from Herr Hummel himself, was left to his own devices. The moment he was alone, he stepped to the window that overlooked Thurn-und-Taxis-Platz in the Old Town, took out his mobile, and pressed a speed-dial number. A moment later, the connection made, a female voice answered.

  “I’m installed,” he said. “How long do I have to wait?”

  “A few days only.” The voice in his ear warmed him. “We’re tracking him; he’ll soon be on his way.”

  “Days…”

  “Don’t be like that,” she said. “Do you have any idea what it took to intercept an FSB confidential communique and substitute our own so Vanov was directed to you instead of to Bourne?”

  “Who better than me, Irina?” The man posing as Bourne already felt a stirring in his groin. “Still. What am I to do here?”

  “I know how deeply you despise Frankfurt, Jason.”

  “I love when you call me Jason.”

  “I’ll bet you do.” Irina chuckled. “You’re too fucking tense. Find something to relax yourself.”

  “You,” he said, almost wistfully. “Only you.”

  “Come, come, my animal,” she whispered. “Surely you can—”

  She must have heard his groan, though he thought it was barely audible.

  “What are you doing, Jason?”

  “You know what I’m doing.” His zipper was open, his right hand rubbing his arousal. “Relaxing.”

  “Then, by all means,” Irina cooed, “allow me to assist you.”

  —

  Afterward, he wiped down the windowpane with a damp washcloth. Then, changing into the plush terry robe and slippers provided, he padded down the hallway, taking the elevator to the spa, where he stood under the rain forest shower for twenty minutes, cleansing both his body and his mind.

  Upstairs in his room, he put on new clothes, went out and, under a sky burdened with gunmetal clouds, had a too-rich lunch at a café in Römerberg, then visited the Imperial Cathedral and St. Paul’s Church. The following day he spent at the Zoological Garden, staring down a male lion who smelled like death. Bourne detested zoos even more than he hated Frankfurt and Germans in general. The thought of caging such magnificent creatures seemed to him a sin deserving of eternal damnation—if he had believed in such a thing, which, as a pragmatist and an atheist, he didn’t.

  Thank the gods and demons Irina called the next day.

  “He just landed,” she said. “He should be at the hotel in an hour.”

  The morning had dawned gray and ugly, just like the ones before it, except worse—it was raining. This city could drive me mad, he thought, as he broke the connection. But that was all done with now. At last excitement coursed through his veins.

  It was showtime.

  —

  Captain Maksim Vanov, FSB, using the temporary title of cultural attaché, arrived at the hotel in a kind of controlled frenzy. It was his first time in Germany, Russia’s longtime enemy. His grandfather had fought and died in the great patriotic siege of Stalingrad. He had been taught never to forget. As the bellman opened the door to his room at the Royal Broweiser, he shrugged the rain off his trench coat. The bellman hung it in the closet, explained the room’s amenities, then loitered around until Vanov pressed a few euros into his damp palm.

  Vanov took out the ancient bronze coin he had worn around his neck since General Karpov himself had given it to him, fingered it until it grew warm from his hand. Then, reluctantly, he let it go.

  Unable to wait a moment more, he picked up the phone, asked for Jason Bourne.

  “Is he in?” Vanov said in decent German.

  “I believe Herr Bourne is taking breakfast in his room this morning. Who shall I say is inquiring?”

  “Don’t say a word,” Vanov said. “I’m an old friend and I want to surprise him.”

  The eager tone in Vanov’s voice must have persuaded the man at the front desk. He said, “As you wish, Herr Vanov. Good day.”

  “Good day to you,” Vanov replied in the formal style so beloved of Germans.

  Then he went out, riding the elevator up to the top floor. It was only when he stood before the door to Jason Bourne’s suite that he hesitated, unaccountably gripped by an uncharacteristic bout of anxiety. General Karpov had handpicked him for this most secret and important mission. Having come under the great general’s scrutiny, he did not want to fuck up. Everything must go precisely as the general had outlined it.

  The door opened to his tentative knock and there he was: Jason Bourne in the flesh. He was dressed in a polo shirt, jeans, and loafers without socks. The physique, the face were more or less as they had been described to him.

  “Jason,” he said carefully. “I work with your old friend Boris.” This is how the general had instructed him to begin.

  Bourne frowned. “Boris?”

  “Karpov,” Vanov said. “Boris Karpov.”

  “Ah, well. Come in.” Bourne gestured to a sideboard. “A drink?”

  Vanov raised a hand, palm outward. “Not today.”

  “And you are?”

  “Captain Vanov.” Vanov glanced around the room, looking for signs of another inhabitant—a woman, perhaps—but didn’t see any. “We have important matters to discuss.”

  “Indeed?” Bourne raised his eyebrows. “By all means.” He moved toward the sofa in the suite’s living area. “Shall we make ourselves comfortable?”

  “I’d rather stand, if it’s all the same to you.”

  Bourne threw him a curious look, but nodded. “Whatever you say, Captain.” He returned to where Vanov stood. “Why didn’t Boris come himself?”

  Vanov laughed. “Surely you’re joking. Preparations for his wedding.”

  Bourne silently cursed his lapse.

  Vanov pulled out the bronze coin on its chain so Bourne could see it. “The general sent me to give you this.” Reaching around behind his neck, he unlocked the chain, dropped it and the coin into Bourne’s open hand. “He said you’d understand.”

  Bourne’
s expression was rueful. “I’m afraid I don’t.” He looked up at Vanov. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”

  Vanov opened his mouth to reply, but almost immediately shut it again. There was something wrong here, something he had felt almost from the moment Bourne had opened the door. What was it?

  “Vanov?” Bourne was moving toward him. “Is something wrong? You look like someone just stepped on your grave.”

  “Nichevo. Ya prosto chuvstvoval, kholod,” Vanov said. It’s nothing. I just felt a chill.

  “Prostite menya za to chto y tak govoru,” Bourne replied without missing a beat, “no eto ne meloche.” Pardon me for saying so, but that didn’t seem like nothing.

  Vanov stepped back abruptly, bumping into the end of the sofa. “You’re not Jason Bourne,” he said. “The general briefed me. Bourne’s accent is pure Moscow. Yours is Chertanovo.”

  Bourne’s smile widened. “I’ve spent more time in Moscow’s slums, including Chertanovo, over the intervening years, Captain. Of course my accent has changed.”

  Vanov was shaking his head. “You cannot fool me—whoever you are.”

  He made to grab the coin out of Bourne’s hand, but Bourne was ready. He slammed his knuckles into Vanov’s throat. Choking, Vanov fell, his hands clutching at his throat. His eyes watered as he tried to gasp for air.

  Bourne hunkered down in front of him. “I’m not going to waste time debating whether or not I’m the general’s old friend Jason Bourne.”

  His fist unfurled to reveal the coin. Vanov kicked out, caught Bourne on the inside of his knee, bringing him down. Vanov managed to strike him three times with the edge of his hand, making Bourne’s eyes water, before Bourne drew a steel baton out of a holster at his waist, snapped it against the back of Vanov’s right hand, fracturing it. Then he struck Vanov a softer blow on the side of his head.

  “Please,” he said, “let’s not make this more unpleasant than it already is.” He touched the coin with the tips of his fingers. “Now tell me about this and the message you were told to give to Bourne.”

  Vanov spat a gob of blood onto Bourne’s shirt. “I’m not telling you a thing.”

  Bourne sighed. “Sorry, Captain.” His hand reached out in a blur, grabbed Vanov by his shirtfront, and hauled him to his feet as he himself stood. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to do this the unpleasant way. Unpleasant for you, I mean.” He grinned. “Fun for me.”

  He half-dragged a stumbling Vanov through the suite into the tiled bathroom. Without warning, he struck Vanov on the cheekbone, the baton opening a bloody line. Vanov staggered backward. Bourne caught him, stood him upright, and struck him again in precisely the same place. A bright red spray issued forth as the cut penetrated to the bone.

  “You see how it is, Captain,” Bourne said. “In here, with all this tile, it’s so easy to clean off the blood.” His smile turned sinister. “And, unless you answer my questions, there’s so much more to come.”

  He struck Vanov again and again, and the tiles ran red.

  —

  Bourne sat on the edge of the bathtub, staring down at the thing that had been FSB Captain Vanov. He rose, crossed to the sink, washed his hands and dried them.

  “How did it go?” Irina asked when he reached her on his mobile.

  “Bad news,” he answered. “There was no message per se.”

  “I don’t understand.” Irina’s voice was no longer a purr.

  “Instead, I have a coin.”

  “A coin?” Her tone had turned dark, ominous.

  “That’s it. The message was a coin. Old. Ancient, maybe.”

  “And what did he tell you the coin means?”

  “He didn’t. He wouldn’t talk.”

  “Not a word?”

  “He’s a fucking FSB captain,” Bourne said, “trained to withstand interrogation.”

  She sighed. “Plan B, then. You’ll have to give the coin to Bourne and sell me to him.”

  “No problem.”

  “Don’t get cocky,” she warned.

  “I’m only cocky with you.”

  “Listen to me, moy golodnyy zver’.” My hungry animal. “If you underestimate Bourne even a little bit he’ll tear you limb from limb, and that will make me very unhappy.”

  “We can’t have that,” he said. “I couldn’t bear it.”

  Ringing off, he went to the doorsill of the bathroom, removed his blood-spattered loafers, and padded back through the suite to the bedroom. He snapped open one of the three large suitcases, removed an electric rotary saw with an extralong cord, rolls of thick plastic and duct tape, and a pair of shears. He returned with his haul to the bathroom. Stepping back into his loafers, he crossed to the bathtub and spread one of the rolls of plastic over the drain in the tub and the area of the floor closest to the tub. Navigating to a music app on his mobile, he activated the streaming service. Music flooded the bathroom; he turned up the volume. He plugged the saw into the wall outlet, set the shark-toothed blade against Vanov’s right shoulder, and watched it cut a bloody path through skin, viscera, muscle, and bone.

  Twenty minutes later, he had all the pieces of Vanov’s corpse wrapped in sections of the plastic and sealed securely with the duct tape. He had saved the decapitated head for last, staring into the eyes, wondering what they had seen at the moment of death. He popped it into a smaller length of plastic, sealed it up. Then he spent another forty minutes sterilizing the bathroom of any trace of blood, bits of bone, and DNA, using chemicals he’d packed along with the saw, plastic, and tape. Humming to the music from his mobile, he filled the now-empty suitcase with as many pieces of the body as would fit. The overflow went into the second suitcase. Then he stripped naked, lay down on the bed, and took a nap.

  —

  Precisely an hour later, he woke, rose, crossed to the dresser, and ate every single item on the platter of food Herr Hummel had sent up. Fastidiously wiping his fingertips and his glistening lips, he opened the third suitcase, which was filled with what seemed to be an entire wardrobe of clothes. He needed to pick out an outfit that most resembled the one Vanov had worn.

  Ninety minutes after that, he called for the porter, accompanied him down in the elevator with the three shining suitcases. He was checked out by Herr Hummel himself. The man who had been Jason Bourne and was now Maksim Vanov, unbeknownst to the hotel’s executive director, made sure he thanked Herr Hummel for his generous welcoming gift.

  “Fantastisch! Much appreciated, mein Herr,” he said as he took back the credit card in the name of Jason Bourne.

  Herr Hummel, beaming, all but clicked his heels in delight. “I and all the staff are already looking forward to your next visit, Herr Bourne.”

  He exited the Royal Broweiser, his three bags wheeled behind him like ducklings all in a row. With the suitcases neatly stowed in the boot of his rental car, he handed the porter and the valet each generous tips, slid behind the wheel, and drove off.

  On the outskirts of the city, he stopped at the edge of a deserted lake Irina had previously scoped out, into which he rolled the two suitcases containing the remains of the real Captain Vanov. They disappeared in tiny bursts of bubbles, like a child playing underwater. Then he dried off his feet and shins, pulled on his socks, rolled down his trousers, and laced up his shoes. He drove back into the city, arriving just after seven p.m. at the Meisterstuck Hotel in Stresemannallee. He entered as Maksim Vanov, cultural attaché.

  It was not yet dinnertime in Frankfurt, and when he knocked on the door to the room at the end of the third floor, Jason Bourne was still there, packing for his flight to Moscow.

  “Jason,” he said, when the door swung open, “I’ve been sent by Boris.”

  Bourne frowned. “Boris?”

  “Karpov. Boris Karpov. Your old friend.”

  “I don’t know who you are.” Bourne stood in the doorway, blocking Vanov’s way.

  “Maksim Vanov, Captain, FSB, at your service.”

  Still Bourne hesitated.

 
“I’ve been sent by a friend. May I come in?” Vanov’s murderer said in Russian. “The matter is urgent and talking like this in the hallway isn’t—”

  “Derzhite vashi ruki, gde ya mogu videty ih.” Keep your hands where I can see them. Vanov lifted his hands, palms outward, Bourne stepped aside and allowed him in.

  “I vash russkiy yazayk prevoshoden, mne govorili.” Your Russian is excellent, as I was told.

  “Ya imel prevoshodnayh prepodavateley,” Bourne replied. I had excellent teachers.

  Bourne stood silent, observing Vanov in such a studied, intense fashion that the person beneath the Vanov identity actually felt slightly unnerved. If he were to be honest with himself, he hadn’t felt that watery sensation in the pit of his stomach since the time he had been jumped in a back alley of Chertanovo. He’d just celebrated his thirteenth birthday by drinking himself half-blind on 180-proof slivovitz. Five punks had surrounded him, deriding him in Fenya, the language of Russian prisons. They used the slurs like weapons as they herded him into a cul-de-sac and their leader began the beatdown. He was carrying little money and no items of value, such as a watch or a ring. Infuriated, they surely would have killed him, if Irina hadn’t interceded. She shot the leader dead with an old Makarov she had somehow managed to purchase on the black market, despite her tender age. How she had managed this he could not imagine. In any event, the dead punk’s compatriots vanished like yesterday’s newspapers. That was the precise moment—when he had seen her applying her trade for real—that he knew he loved her more than he would love anyone else during his lifetime.

  Bourne, glancing at his wristwatch, said, “Time, Captain. I leave for the airport in less than an hour.”

  “Then my timing couldn’t be more perfect,” Vanov said, brushing aside his brief upsurge of memory. Irina could do that to him, often at the most inopportune moments. He couldn’t stop it; he was helpless to control anything about her, even his own memories—as if part of her had lodged itself inside him just before the moment of their separation in their mother’s womb.

 
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