The bourne supremacy, p.94
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       The Bourne Supremacy, p.94

         Part #2 of Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum
Page 94


  The connection's very good, honey. '

  'I'm not in Ottawa, I'm here,' said Marie picturing the face of the talkative receptionist only too well.

  'Sorry, hon, Mrs Staples is off-premises with no instructions. To tell you the truth, the high commish is looking for her too. Why don't you give me a number-'

  Marie lowered the phone into its cradle, a sublime panic passing through her. It was nearly 10:00, and Catherine was an early riser. 'First thing in the morning' might be any time between 7:30 and 9:30, most likely splitting the difference, but not 10 o'clock, not under the circumstances. And then 12 minutes later the phone had rung. It was the beginning of a far less subtle panic.


  'Catherine, are you all right?' 'Yes, of course. '

  'You said "first thing in the morning"! Why didn't you call before? I've been going out of my mind! Can you talk?'

  'Yes, I'm in a public booth-'

  'What's happened? What's happening! Who's the man you met?'

  There had been a brief pause on the line from Hong Kong. For an instant it seemed awkward and Marie had not known why. 'I want you to stay calm, my dear,' said Staples. 'I didn't call before because you need all the rest you can get. I may have the answers that you want, that you need. Things are not as terrible as you think, and you must stay calm. '

  'Damn it, I am calm, at least I'm reasonably sensible! What the hell are you talking about?'

  'I can tell you that your husband's alive. '

  'And I can tell you that he's very good at what he does -what he did. You're not telling me anything!'

  'I'm driving out to see you in a few minutes. The traffic's rotten, as usual, made worse by all the security surrounding the Sino-British delegations, tying up the streets and the tunnel, but it shouldn't take me more than an hour and a half, perhaps two. '

  'Catherine, I want answers?

  'I'm bringing them to you, a few at least. Rest, Marie, try to relax. Everything's going to be all right. I'll be there soon. '

  'This man," asked David Webb's wife, pleading. 'Will he be with you?'

  'No, I'll be alone, no one with me. I want to talk. You'll see him later. '

  'All right. '

  Had it been Staples's tone of voice? Marie had wondered after hanging up. Or that Catherine had literally told her nothing after admitting she could talk freely over a public phone? The Staples she knew would try to allay the fears of a terrified friend if she had concrete facts to offer in comfort, even a single piece of vital information, if the fabric of the whole were too complex. Something. David Webb's wife deserved something. Instead there had been a diplomat's talk, the allusion to but not the substance of reality. Something was wrong, but it was beyond her understanding. Catherine had protected her, taken enormous risks for her both professionally, in terms of not seeking guidance from her consulate, and personally, in confronting acute physical danger. Marie knew that she should feel gratitude, overwhelming gratitude, but instead she felt a growing sense of doubt. Say it again, Catherine, she had screamed inside herself, say everything will be all right! I can't think any more. I can't think in here! I've got to get out. . . I've got to have air.

  She had lurched about unsteadily for the clothes they had bought for her when they had reached Tuen Mun the previous night, clothes purchased after Staples had taken her to a doctor who ministered to her feet, applying cushioned gauze, giving her hospital slippers and prescribing thick- soled trainers if she had to do any extended walking during the next few days. Actually, Catherine had picked out the clothes while Marie waited in the car, and considering the tension Staples was under, her selections were both functional and attractive. A light green sheer cotton skirt was complemented by a white cotton blouse and a small white-shelled bag. Also a pair of dark green slacks - shorts were inappropriate - and a second casual blouse. All were successful counterfeits of well-known designers, the labels correctly spelled.

  They're very nice, Catherine. Thank you. '

  They go with your hair,' Staples had said. 'Not that anyone in Tuen Mun will notice - I want you to stay in the flat - but we'll have to leave here some time. Also, in case I get stuck at the office and you need anything, I've put some money in the bag. ' 'I thought I wasn't supposed to leave the flat, that we were going to pick up a few things at a market. '

  'I don't know what's back in Hong Kong any more than you do. Lin could be so furious he might dig up an old colonial law and put me under house arrest. . . There's a shoe store in Blossom Soon Street. You'll have to go inside and try on the trainers yourself. I'll come with you, of course. '

  Several moments had passed and Marie spoke. 'Catherine, how do you know so much about this place? I've yet to see another Occidental in the streets. Whose flat is it?'

  'A friend's,' said Staples without further elaboration. There's no one using it a great deal of the time, so I come up here to get away from it all. ' Catherine had said no more; the subject was not to be explored. Even when they had talked for most of the night, no amount of prodding had brought forth any more information. It was a topic Catherine simply would not discuss.

  Marie had put on the slacks and the white blouse and struggled with the outsized shoes. Cautiously, she had walked down the stairs and into the busy street, instantly aware of the stares she attracted, wondering whether she should turn around and go back inside. She could not; she was finding a few minutes of freedom from the stifling confines of the small apartment and they were like a tonic. She strolled slowly, painfully, down the pavement, mesmerized by the colour and the hectic movement and the unending, staccato chatter all around her. As in Hong Kong, garish signs rose everywhere above the buildings, and everywhere people haggled with one another alongside stands and in store-front doorways. It was as if a slice of the colony had been uprooted and set down on a vast frontier.

  She had found an unfinished road at the end of a back street, the work apparently abandoned but only temporarily, as levelling machinery - unused and rusting - stood on the borders. Two signs in Chinese were on either side of the descending dirt. Taking each step carefully, she made her way down the steep decline to the deserted shoreline and sat on a cluster of rocks; the minutes of freedom were opening up precious moments of peace. She looked out and watched the boats sailing from the docks of Tuen Mun, as well as those heading in from the People's Republic. From what she could see the first were fishing craft, nets draped over bows and gunwales, while those from the Chinese mainland were mostly small cargo ships, their decks bulging with crates of produce - but not all. There were also the sleek, grey navy patrol boats flying the colours of the People's Republic. Ominous black guns were mounted on all sides of the various craft, uniformed men standing motionless next to them, peering through binoculars. Every now and then a naval vessel would pull alongside a fishing boat, provoking wildly excited gestures from the fishermen. Stoic responses were the replies as the powerful patrols slowly turned and slipped away. It was all a game, thought Marie. The North was quietly asserting its total control while the South was left to protest about its disturbed fishing grounds. The former had the strength of hard steel and a disciplined chain of command, the latter soft nets and perseverance. No one was the victor except those opposing sisters, Boredom and Anxiety.

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