The bourne supremacy, p.41
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       The Bourne Supremacy, p.41

         Part #2 of Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum
Page 41


  After leaving the Daimler he had gone to the Peninsula Hotel and taken a room, depositing his attache case in the hotel safe. He'd had the presence of mind to register under the name of Cactus's third false passport. If men were looking for him, they would flash the name he used at the Regent; it was all they had.

  He packed what few clothes he needed in the flight bag and walked rapidly from his room, using the service elevator to the street. He did not check out of the Regent. If men were looking for him, he wanted them to look where he was not.

  Once settled in the Peninsula, he had time for something to eat and to forage in several shops until nightfall. By the time darkness came he would be in the Walled City - before nine-thirty. Jason Bourne was giving the commands and David Webb obeyed them.

  The Walled City of Kowloon has no visible wall around it, but it is as clearly defined as if there were one made of hard, high steel. It is instantly sensed by the congested open market that runs along the street in front of the row of dark run-down flats - shacks haphazardly perched on top of one another giving the impression that at any moment the entire blighted complex will collapse under its own weight, leaving nothing but rubble where elevated rubble had stood. But a deceptive strength is found as one walks down the short flight of steps into the interior of the sprawling slum. Below ground level, cobblestoned alleyways that' are in most cases tunnels traverse beneath the ramshackle structures. In squalid corridors crippled beggars vie with half-dressed prostitutes and drug peddlers in the eerie wash of naked bulbs that hang from exposed wires along the stone walls. A putrid dampness abounds; all is decay and rot, but there is the strength of time having hardened this decomposition, petrifying it.

  Within the foul alleyways in no particular order or balance are narrow, barely lit staircases leading to the vertical series of broken-down flats, the average rising three storeys, two of which are above ground. Inside the small, dilapidated rooms the widest varieties of narcotics and sex are sold; all is beyond the reach of the police - silently agreed to by all parties - for few of the colony's authorities care to venture into the bowels of the Walled City. It is its own self-contained hell. Let it be.

  Outside in the open market that fills the garbage-strewn street where no traffic is permitted, soiled tables piled high with rejected and I or stolen merchandise are sandwiched between grimy stalls where pockets of vapour rise from huge vats of boiling oil in which questionable pieces of meat, fowl, and snake are continuously plunged, then ladled out and placed on newspapers for immediate sale. The crowds move under the weak light of dull streetlamps from one vendor to the next, haggling in high-pitched voices, shrieking back and forth, buying and selling. Then there are the kerb people, bedraggled men and women without stalls or tables whose merchandise is spread out on the pavement. They squatted behind displays of trinkets and cheap jewellery, much of it stolen from the docks, and woven cages filled with crawling

  beetles and fluttering tiny birds.

  Near the mouth of the strange, foetid bazaar a lone, muscular female sat on a low wooden stool, her thick legs parted, skinning snakes and removing their entrails, her dark eyes seemingly obsessed with each thrashing serpent in her hands. On either side were writhing burlap bags, every now and then convulsing as the doomed reptiles struck out in hissing fury at one another, enraged by their captivity. Clamped under the heavy-set woman's bare right foot was a king cobra, its jet black body immobile and erect, its head flat, its small eyes steady, hypnotized by the constantly moving crowds. The squalor of the open market was a fitting barricade for the wall-less Walled City beyond.

  Rounding the corner at the opposite end of the long bazaar, a dishevelled figure turned into the overflowing avenue. The man was dressed in a cheap, loose-fitting brown suit, the trousers too bulky, the coat too large, yet tight around the hunched shoulders. A soft wide-brimmed hat, black and unmistakably Oriental, threw a constant shadow across his face. His gait was slow, as befitted a man pausing in front of various stalls and tables examining the merchandise, but only once did he reach tentatively into his pocket to make a single purchase. Then, too, there was a stooped quality in his posture, the frame of a man having been bent from years of hard labour in the field or on the waterfront, his diet never sufficient for a body from which so much was extracted. There was a sadness as well in this man, a futility born of too little, too late, and too costly for the mind and the body. It was the recognition of impotency, pride abandoned for there was nothing to be proud of; the price of survival had been too much. And this man, this stooped figure who haltingly bought a newspaper cone of fried, questionable fish, was not unlike many of the males in the marketplace - one could say he was indistinguishable from them. He approached the muscular woman who was tearing the intestines from a still-writhing snake.

  'Where is a great one? asked Jason Bourne in Chinese, his eyes fixed on the immobile cobra, the grease from the newspaper rolling over his left hand.

  'You are early,' replied the woman without expression. 'It is dark, but you are early. '

  'I was summoned quickly. Do you question the taipan's instructions?'

  'He is fuck-fuck cheap for a taipan!' she spat out in guttural Cantonese. 'What do I care? Go down the steps behind me and take the first alleyway to the left. A whore will be standing fifteen, twenty metres down. She waits for the white man and will lead him to the taipan. . . Are you the white man? I cannot tell in this light and your Chinese is good - but you do not look like a white man, you do not wear a white man's clothes. '

  'If you were me, would you make a heavenly point of looking like a white man, dressing like a white man, if you were told to come down here?

  'I would make the point of a thousand devils that I was from the Qing Gaoyan!' said the woman, laughing through half gone teeth. 'Especially if you carry money. Do you carry money. . . our Zhongguo ren?'

  'You flatter me, but no. '

  'You lie. White people lie with heavenly words about money. '

  'Very well, I lie. I trust your snake will not attack me for it. '

  'Fool! He is old and has no fangs, no poison. But he is the heavenly image of a man's organ. He brings me money. Will you give me money?5

  'For a service, yes. '

  'Aiya! You want this old body, you must have an axe in your trousers! Chop up the whore, not me!'

  'No axe, just words,' said Bourne, his right hand slipping into his trousers pocket. He withdrew a US $100 bill and palmed it in front of the snake seller's face, keeping it out of sight of the surrounding bargain hunters.

  'Aiya - aiya!' whispered the woman as Jason pulled it away from her grasping fingers; the dead snake dropped between her thick legs.

  The service,' Bourne repeated. 'Since you thought I was one of you, I expect others will think so, too. All I want you to do is to tell anyone who asks you that the white man never

  showed up. Is that fair?

  ''Fair! Give me the money!'

  The service"? <

  'You bought snakes! Snakes! What do I know of a white man. He never appeared! Here. Here is your snake. Make love!' The woman took the bill, bunched the entrails in her hand and shoved them into a plastic bag on which there was a designer's signature. It read Christian Dior.

  Remaining stooped, Bourne bowed rapidly twice and backed his way out of the crowd, dropping the snake entrails in the kerb far enough away from a street light so as not to be noticed. Holding the dripping cone of foul-smelling fish, he repeatedly mimed reaching for mouthfuls as he slowly made his way to the steps and descended into the steaming bowels of the Walled City. He looked at his watch, spilling fish as he did so. It was 9: 15; the taipan's patrols would be moving into place.

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