The bourne supremacy, p.106
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       The Bourne Supremacy, p.106

         Part #2 of Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum
Page 106


  'I'd say that's obvious. So does General Liang. '

  'I do not understand your anger. '

  'Perhaps you'll understand General Liang's,' interrupted Bourne.

  'I do not know a General Liang, sir, but then there are so many generals. You are upset with the tour?'

  'I'm upset with the fools who told me it was a three-hour excursion when it turns out to be five hours! If I miss this meeting because of incompetence there'll be several very upset commissioners, including a powerful general of the People's Army who's anxious to conclude certain purchases from France. ' Jason paused, holding up his hand, then continued quickly in a softer voice. 'If, however, I get there on time I'll certainly commend - by name - anyone who might help me. '

  'I will help you, sir!' said the young officer, his eyes bright with dedication. 'This sick whale of a bus could take you well over an hour, and that is only if this miserable driver stays on the road. I have at my disposal a much faster vehicle and a fine driver who will escort you. I would do so myself but it would not be proper to leave my post. ' 'I'll also mention your commitment to duty to the general. '

  'It's my natural instinct, sir. My name is-' 'Yes, do let me have your name. Write it on that slip of paper. '

  Bourne sat in the bustling lobby of the Beijing Hotel's east wing, a half-folded newspaper covering his face, the left edge off-centre so he could see the line of doors that was the entrance. He was waiting, watching for the sight of Jean

  Louis Ardisson of Paris. It had not been difficult for Jason to learn his name. Twenty minutes ago he had walked up to the Guided Tour Travel Desk and said to the female clerk in his best Mandarin.

  'I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm First Interpreter for all French delegations having business with government industry and I'm afraid I've lost one of my confused sheep. '

  'You must be a fine interpreter. You speak excellent Chinese. What happened to your . . . bewildered sheep?' The woman permitted herself a slight giggle at the phrase.

  'I'm not sure. We were having coffee in the cafeteria, about to go over his schedule, when he looked at his watch and said he would call me later. He was going on one of the five-hour tours and apparently was late. It was an inconvenience for me, but I know what happens when visitors first arrive in Peking. They're overwhelmed. '

  'I believe they are,' agreed the clerk. 'But what can we do for you?'

  'I need to know the correct spelling of his name, and whether he has a middle name or what's called a baptismal name - the details that must be included on the government papers that I'll fill out for him. '

  'But how can we help?

  'He left this behind in the cafeteria. ' Jason held up the French businessman's identification tag. 'I don't know how he even got on the tour. '

  The woman laughed casually as she reached under the counter for the day's tour ledger. 'He was told the departure area and the guide understood; each carries a list. Those things fall off all the time, and she no doubt gave him a temporary ticket. ' The clerk took the tag and began turning pages as she continued. 'I tell you, the idiots who make these are not worth the small yuan they are paid. We have all these precise regulations, these strict rules, and we are made to look foolish at the beginning. Who is who? The woman stopped, her finger on an entry in the ledger. 'Oh, bad luck spirits,' she said softly, looking up at Bourne. 'I do not know if your sheep is bewildered, but I can tell you he bleats a great deal. He believes himself very grand and was himself very disagreeable.

  When he was told there was no chauffeur who spoke French he took it as an insult to his nation's honour as well as his own - which was more important to him. Here, you read the name. I cannot pronounce it. ' 'Thank you so much,' said Jason, reading. He had then gone to a house phone marked 'English' and asked the operator for Mr Ardisson's room.

  'You may dial it, sir,' said the male operator, a note of technological triumph in his voice. 'It is room one-seven-four-three. Very fine accommodations. Very fine view of the Forbidden City. '

  Thank you. ' Bourne had dialled. There was no answer. Monsieur Ardisson had not yet returned, and under the circumstances he might not return for quite a while. Still, a sheep that was known for bleating a great deal would not stay silent if his dignity was affronted or his business was in jeopardy. Jason decided to wait. The outlines of a plan were coming into focus. It was a desperate strategy based on probabilities, but it was all he had left. He bought a month-old French magazine at the news-stand and sat down, feeling suddenly drained and helpless.

  The face of Marie intruded on David Webb's inner screen, and then the sound of her voice filled the close air around him, echoing in his ears, suspending thought and creating a terrible pain at the centre of his forehead. Jason Bourne removed the intrusion with the force of a sledgehammer. The screen went dark, its last flickering light rejected by harsh commands spoken by an ice cold authority. Stop it! There is no time. Concentrate on what we must think about. Nothing Else!

  Jason's eyes strayed intermittently, briefly, constantly returning to the entrance. The clientele of the east wing lobby was international, a mix of languages, of clothing from Fifth and Madison Avenues, Savile Row, St Honorfe and the Via Condotti, as well as the more sombre apparel of both Germanys and the Scandinavian countries. The guests wandered in and out of the brightly lighted shops, amused and intrigued by the pharmacy selling only Chinese medicines, and flocking into the crafts shop next to a large relief map of the world on the wall. Every now and then someone with an entourage came through the doors, obsequious interpreters bowing and translating between uniformed government officials trying to appear casual and weary executives from across the globe whose eyes were dazed from jet lag and the need for sleep, to be preceded, perhaps, by whisky. This might be Red China, but negotiations were older than capitalism, and the capitalists, aware of their fatigue, would not discuss business until they could think straight. Bravo Adam Smith and David Hume.

  There he was! Jean Louis Ardisson was being escorted through the doors by no fewer than four Chinese bureaucrats, all of whom were doing their best to mollify him. One rushed ahead to the lobby liquor store as the others detained him by the elevator, chattering continuously through the interpreter. The buyer returned carrying a plastic bag, the bottom stretched and sagging under the weight of several bottles. There were smiles and bows as the elevator doors opened. Jean Louis Ardisson accepted his booty and walked inside, nodding once as the doors closed.

  Bourne remained seated watching the lights as the elevator ascended. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. It had reached the top floor, Ardisson's floor. Jason got up and walked back to the bank of telephones. He looked at the sweep hand of his watch; he could only guess at the timing, but a man in an agitated state would not stroll slowly to his room once he left the elevator. The room signified a measure of peace, even the relief of solitude after several hours of tension and panic. To be held for questioning by the police in a foreign country was frightening for anyone, but it became terrifying when an incomprehensible language and radically different faces were added to the knowledge that the prisoner was in a country where people frequently disappeared without explanation. After such an ordeal a man would enter his room and, in no particular order, would collapse, trembling in fear and exhaustion; light one cigarette after another, forgetting where he left the last one; take several strong drinks, swallowing rapidly for a faster effect; and grab the telephone to share his dreadful experience, unconsciously hoping to minimize the after-effects of his terror by sharing them. Bourne could allow Ardisson's collapsing, and as much wine or liquor as the man could handle, but he could not permit the telephone. There could be no sharing, no lessening of the terror. Rather, Ardisson's terror had to be extended, amplified to the point where he would be paralysed, fearing for his life if he left his room. Forty-seven seconds had elapsed; it was time to call.

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