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Authors: Robert & Lustbader Ludlum,Robert & Lustbader Ludlum

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BOOK: The Bourne Dominion
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She pointed to a small, vaguely oblong-shaped blob in the lower right-hand corner of photo number three. “What’s this?”

“Cell phone,” Aaron said. “We think it belonged to the victim, but the damage to it made it impossible to manually access the phone book.”

“What about the SIM card?”

“Bent and creased,” Aaron said, “but I took it myself to our best IT technician. He’s working on getting the information out of it.”

Soraya thought a moment. “Change of plan. Take me to the tech, then I want to see where the murder took place.”

Aaron took out his cell, punched in a number, then spoke softly for several seconds. “The tech needs more time,” he said when he folded away his phone.

“He’s found something?”

“He won’t say for certain, but I know this man—best to give him the time he needs.”

“All right.” Soraya nodded reluctantly. “Then let’s go to the murder scene.”

“As you wish, mademoiselle.”

She grimaced. “Call me Soraya. Please.”

“Only if you call me Aaron.”

“It’s a deal.”

D
ocumentos de identidad, por favor
.”

Bourne handed over his passport to the armed soldier. The man stared hard at Bourne while he flipped the passport open. This was the second roadblock Bourne had encountered. The Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia had been extremely active in the past six months, much to the vexation of the country’s president. And then had come the invasion of La Modelo prison that had led to Roberto Corellos’s escape. In a fit of pique, El Presidente had begun flexing his military muscle. Bourne was sure the
federales
were looking to summarily execute any FARC rebels they came across.

The soldier handed back Bourne’s passport and, without a word, waved him through. Bourne put the car in gear and set off after the caravan of semis in front of him. He’d been on the road several hours and was now high in the mountains.

Ibagué lay along the National Route 40 that connected Bogotá with Cali, then continued to the Pacific coast. It was on a plateau forty-two hundred feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Central, the central range of the Andes Mountains.

The highway snaked back and forth in perilous switchbacks. Narrow shoulders plunged down hundreds of feet into needle-pointed pine forests or the remains of gigantic rockslides. Now and again he spotted great charred slashes in the pines, evidence of lightning strikes. The sky was enormous, a kaleidoscope of swiftly moving cloud formations and dazzling sunlight. The elevation and the Southern Hemisphere sun combined to lend everything an astonishing clarity, knife-edged and vivid. Above him, the black crosses of condors wheeled and banked in the high thermals.

According to Jalal Essai, he would soon come to La Línea—the longest tunnel in Latin America. It cut through the mountain known as Alta de La Línea and was meant to ease the traffic on the truck-clogged highway to the Pacific port of Buenaventura. The tunnel was so new it wasn’t on his map, which lay open on the seat beside him. As Essai had warned, there was no cell service here, and his sat phone had no GPS function.

The traffic was heavy, the caravans of semis moving at identical speed, rolling around a long curve, following the contour of the mountain. And then, viewed at the apex of the bend, the mouth of La Línea
gaped, a black hole into which the snaking traffic disappeared and, on the eastbound side, reappeared.

Bourne headed into the tunnel, a long, sleek tube that bored straight through the mountain. It was lit on either side with strings of argon lights whose cool, bluish light spun off the hoods of oncoming vehicles.

The traffic slowed, as was normal in tunnels, but the progress was steady. He passed the three-quarters mark and was beginning to see a glimmering of daylight in the distance when the line of trucks abruptly slowed. A sea of glowing ruby brake lights appeared and traffic came to a standstill.

Had there been an accident? Was there another roadblock? Bourne strained in his seat, craning his neck. There were no flashing lights, no sign of the telltale sawhorses the military used to block the highway.

He slipped out of the car. A moment later he saw a group of men threading their way between the lanes of vehicles, coming toward him. They were heavily armed with submachine guns, but they weren’t wearing the uniforms of the Colombian army. A cadre of FARC insurgents had stopped the traffic. Why?

He saw the leader now, a broad-shouldered man with a full beard and coffee-colored eyes even the lurid glow thrown by the argon lights couldn’t wash out. One man stopped at each vehicle, holding up a faxed photo to show the driver while the others checked out the car’s backseat and trunk. The trucks took longer, as the soldiers compelled the drivers, often at gunpoint, to open the backs so they could inspect the contents.

Bourne cautiously walked closer, passing other drivers who had climbed down from their cabs and were talking nervously among themselves. All at once he saw the fax sheet clearly. He was staring at himself. The rebels were looking for him. No time to wonder why. Turning on his heel, he walked back to his car and rummaged through the glove box, which offered up a screwdriver and a wrench, both useful weapons.

Retreating on foot, he ducked down, slid underneath a semi, crawling backward. Three vehicles behind him, he came out at the rear of an open-bed truck. Grabbing onto the nylon cords that tied down a canvas cover, he swung up onto the rear. From that vantage point he saw more FARC soldiers approaching from the rear. Ahead or behind, there was no exit.

Untying a section of canvas, he dropped down into the truck bed. The hemp sacks were stamped with the name of a well-known plantation. He used the screwdriver to rip open a corner. The truck was transporting green coffee beans. Leaving the items he’d taken from his car, he reemerged onto the canvas and took a cautious look ahead. The FARC rebels were making headway. They were almost at his car. Once they saw that it was empty, they’d know their prey was somewhere close at hand. He needed to be on his way before then.

Stealing down to the tarmac of the highway, he crept along the side of the open-bed truck. The driver was standing against the side of the semi in front, talking nervously with another man, probably the driver of the semi or his relief. The door to the cab was open and Bourne slithered in. As Bourne watched, the driver took out a pack of cigarettes, shook one out, and put it between his lips. He dug in his pocket for a light, but couldn’t find one. He turned around and began to walk back toward the cab of his truck.

Bourne froze.

A
aron stood in the street on Place de l’Iris. “This is where M. Laurent was hit,” he said.

“Anything on the car that hit him?”

“Not much. The eyewitnesses disagree on the manufacturer. BMW, Fiat, Citroën.”

“None of those cars look alike.”

“Eyewitnesses,” he lamented. “But we did get black paint off the victim.”

Soraya was studying the roadbed. “Not much help there, either.”

Aaron crouched down beside her. “The same eyewitnesses claimed he had just stepped off the sidewalk.”

“He stepped out into traffic without looking?” Soraya looked doubtful.

Aaron shrugged. “He might have been distracted. Maybe someone called to him, maybe he remembered he had to pick up the dry cleaning.” He shrugged in that totally Gallic manner. “Who knows?”

“Someone knows,” she said. “The person who killed him.” Something occurred to her and she stood suddenly. “Where was his cell phone found?”

Aaron showed her and she went back onto the sidewalk several paces. “Now, when I step down into the street, run into me.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” she said a bit impatiently. “Just do it.”

She took out her phone and put it to her ear, then walked at a brisk pace to the edge of the curb and down onto the street, whereupon Aaron, running, hit her. Her right arm flew diagonally out, and if she had not held on to it her phone would have hit the street more or less where they found Laurent’s.

A slow smile spread across her face. “He was talking on his cell when he was hit.”

“So what? Businesspeople are on their cell phones constantly.” Aaron appeared unimpressed. “It was a coincidence.”

“Maybe it was,” Soraya said, “maybe it wasn’t.” She turned toward his car. “Let’s talk to your tech and see if he managed to pull anything from the phone or its SIM card.”

As they were walking back to Aaron’s car, she stopped and turned around. She looked at the building directly across the sidewalk from where the hit-and-run took place. Her gaze rose up the gleaming green-glass and stainless-steel facade.

“What building is this?” she asked.

Aaron squinted up through the noonday gloom. “It’s the Île de France Bank building. Why?”

“It’s possible that’s where Laurent was coming from.”

“I don’t see why,” Aaron said, checking his notes. “The victim worked for the Monition Club.”

Another fact Soraya hadn’t known about her would-be informant.

“It’s an archaeological society with offices here, Washington, DC, Cairo, and Riyadh.”

“When you say here, you mean La Défense?”

“No. The Eighth Arrondissement, at Five, Rue Vernet.”

“So what the hell was he doing here? Getting a loan?”

“The Monition Club is quite wealthy,” Aaron said, again consulting his notes. “In any event, I checked with Île de France. He had no appointment with anyone at the bank, he wasn’t a client, and they never heard of him.”

“So why was he here on a busy workday morning?”

Aaron spread his hands. “My men are still trying to find out.”

“Maybe he had a friend there. Have you talked to his associates at the Monition Club?”

“No one knows much about him, he kept to himself, apparently. He reported directly to his superior, so no one could tell me what he was doing at La Défense. Laurent’s superior is out of town until tonight. I have an appointment to interview him tomorrow morning.”

Soraya turned to him. “You’ve been very thorough.”

“Thank you.” The inspector couldn’t hide his smile.

Soraya walked to his car, but before she got in, she took one last look at the Île de France building. There was something about it that both drew and repelled her.

T
he semi’s driver called to his pal, and the man turned and went back to where the other driver waved a book of wooden matches. The openbed driver leaned forward while the other one struck the match and held the flame to the end of his cigarette. He reared back, pulling the smoke deep into his lungs. The semi’s driver checked nervously over his shoulder, measuring the FARC’s progress.

Bourne quickly checked the seat and the glove box. Nothing. Then in the well of the passenger’s side he saw a cheap plastic lighter. It must have fallen out of the driver’s pocket as he was getting out. He grabbed it. He slithered out of the truck’s cab and went farther down the line until he encountered a knot of drivers.

“¿
Hombre, sabe usted lo que está pasando?
” one of them asked. Do you know what’s going on?

“FARC guerrillas,” Bourne said, which got them even more agitated.


¡Ai de mi!
” another cried.


Escuchamé
,” Bourne said. “Does anyone have a jerry-can of gasoline; my truck is dry. If the rebels order me to move and I can’t, they’ll shoot me dead.”

The men nodded their agreement with this grim assessment, and one of them ran off. A moment later he returned and handed Bourne the jerry-can.

Bourne thanked him profusely and departed. When he was sure no one was watching him, he climbed up onto the canvas of the coffee truck and disappeared back underneath.

Inside, he used the screwdriver to puncture the jerry-can near the bottom, so the gasoline slowly leaked out over a couple of the sacks. Then he lit it. The result was a whoosh of flames, followed by a cloud of thick smoke so acrid it was choking. Bourne, holding his breath, got out of there before more gas leaked out and the conflagration spread. His eyes were already watering. The smoke billowed up through the hole in the canvas. Bourne climbed down just as the canvas itself caught fire. Flames licked upward, and now the smoke billowed in earnest as the rest of the hemp sacks started to burn. The smoke quickly reached the tunnel’s arched ceiling and, boiling, spread horizontally.

It took only moments for visibility in that part of the tunnel to erode severely. People started coughing and wheezing, their eyes tearing so badly they couldn’t see. Shouts went up from the soldiers in the forefront. Then the basso voice of the commander bellowed through, calling for his men to retreat. But the smoke was too thick, and the soldiers were bent over, gasping.

Bourne sprinted through this chaos, shoving aside soldiers and drivers alike. The wrench was gripped in his right hand. A FARC rebel loomed out of the smoke, abruptly blocking his path with both his body and his submachine gun. Bourne slammed him across the cheek with the wrench, kicked him in the groin, and, as the rebel doubled over, slid past him. Another was on him almost immediately. Bourne could see the commander; he had no time to waste. Absorbing two punishing body blows, he drove home the screwdriver between two ribs, and the rebel went down.

Bourne came up on the commander from a different lane. Sliding across the hood of a vehicle, he grabbed the man, disarmed him, and, jerking him hard, pulled him, stumbling, toward the light at the far end of the tunnel.

The commander was gasping and trying to spit out the smoke. His red-rimmed eyes continued to brim with tears, which rolled down his pockmarked cheeks. He struck out blindly. He was very strong. It took a knife-edged blow of Bourne’s hand to his throat to subdue him.

Bourne pulled him along as fast as he could, ignoring the commander’s choked curses. He was beyond the perimeter of the advancing rebels. Up ahead, he could make out the jerry-rigged blockade of FARC vehicles: four jeeps and a flatbed truck FARC was using for provisions, weapons, and ammo transport. Two drivers, who had been smoking, had grabbed their pistols and were now aiming the weapons at Bourne. Then they saw their commander, his own Makarov pressed into the side of his head.

BOOK: The Bourne Dominion
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