Authors: Robert & Lustbader Ludlum,Robert & Lustbader Ludlum
work,” Skara said as she came up beside him.
“Black. A Citroën.” She breathed against his shoulder. Her scent was
curious, cinnamon and something slightly bitter, burnt almond, perhaps. “Three minutes from now no one will remember it.”
El-Arian nodded again, almost absently. The familiar frisson coming off her still made him slightly uncomfortable. He thought fleetingly of his wife and children safe, protected by many layers, but so far away.
“Who will I be tomorrow?”
He turned to see her slender hand extended. Reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket, he produced a thick packet.
Opening it, Skara found a passport, her new legend, a first-class air ticket with an open return, credit cards, and three thousand American dollars. “Margaret Penrod,” she read off the open passport.
“Maggie,” El-Arian said. “You call yourself Maggie.” He tilted his head slightly as his gaze returned to the street below them. “It’s all in the legend.”
Skara nodded, as if satisfied. “I’ll memorize it tonight on the plane.”
“There’s Laurent,” El-Arian said, indicating a figure in a dark suit exiting their building. He could not keep a certain excitement out of his voice.
Skara drew out a disposable cell phone and punched in Laurent’s number. At once, a pre-programmed code was transmitted. El-Arian had already commenced his mental countdown. Laurent gave a little shiver and, drawing out his cell, checked its screen.
“What’s he doing?” El-Arian said.
“Nothing,” Skara assured him. “He must have felt the pulse, that’s all.”
El-Arian frowned. “He shouldn’t have felt anything.”
“Can he do anything about it?”
“Not a thing.”
At zero minus fifteen, a blur appeared in his peripheral vision, and he shifted his gaze to the oncoming black Citroën.
El-Arian craned his neck. “Is he calling someone?”
Skara’s shapely shoulders lifted and fell. “There’s no need to worry.”
The next instant El-Arian understood her certainty. The Citroën
struck Laurent so hard he flew perhaps ten feet in the air. He hit the ground, lay there for several seconds, then, astonishingly, began to move, trying to crawl back to the curb. The car swerved to allow its right-hand tires to crush his head, then it sped off so fast that by the time bystanders started to rush out into the street it had vanished.
ORELLOS WAS GETTING
antsy. Bourne could feel his body tensing in advance of the moment when he believed that he could take Bourne unawares.
“This is the moment,” Bourne said. “There won’t be another.”
Jalal Essai nodded, but Bourne could see the burning hatred in his eyes. Years ago, Bourne had been sent into Essai’s house to retrieve a laptop. To a man like Essai, there was no greater transgression than the invasion of his house, where his family ate and slept. This was the essential dilemma: Essai could not forgive Bourne, and yet he was being forced to put aside his bitter enmity in order to get what he now wanted. Bourne did not ever want to be in his damnable position.
All around Bourne, Corellos’s men put down their weapons.
, do you know what you’re doing?” Corellos’s voice was drawn tight as a bowstring.
“I’m doing what needs to be done,” Essai said.
“You can’t trust this bastard. He was sent here to kill me.”
“The situation has changed. Now Mr. Bourne realizes that killing
you will be counterproductive.” He cocked his head inquiringly. “Am I correct, Mr. Bourne?”
Bourne dropped his hold on Roberto Corellos, who took one staggering step away then stood under Essai’s stern gaze, trembling with barely suppressed emotion. Blood dripped from one nostril. Stalking to where one of his men stood, Corellos lifted an arm and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt. The man made the mistake of staring at Corellos’s nose. Corellos tore the AK-50 out of his grip and beat him to his knees with the butt.
Bourne was busy working out the relationship between the two men. Before this encounter he would not have believed that Corellos would take orders from anyone else. His command of his dominion was absolute; none dared challenge him, including the new, rising order: the Russian, Albanian, and Chinese mobs. His clear subservience to Jalal Essai was both puzzling and intriguing.
He’s entered a new and larger arena
, Bourne thought.
Essai has enticed him into the Domna’s sphere
. And then he thought:
What prize has Essai offered him?
And the most important question of all:
What is Essai up to?
Allowing himself to be captured had paid off. He’d sensed that the men had been sent by Corellos, but Essai’s shocking appearance had led him into another world, one in which his interest was heightened.
Essai spread his hands in an inclusive gesture of amity. “There are camp chairs over there under that tree. Let’s all sit down, break bread together, drink some tea, and talk.”
“Pick up your damn weapons,
,” Corellos growled, glaring from one man to another. And then, tossing his head, “Bring tequila, lots of it,” he shouted to another of his men, a direct slap at Essai who, as a Muslim, was not allowed to drink alcohol.
As they seated themselves, Essai smiled a secret smile, his eyes holding the smolder of a banked fire, as if he had already devised a suitable punishment for Corellos’s disrespect. Not now, not tomorrow or the day after. Patience was one of the unofficial seven pillars of Islam, whereas Corellos was hot-tempered, given to sudden eruptions of violence. In
fact, Bourne knew the comment to be an attempt to regain some of the face the drug lord had lost in front of his men. Not that that would mitigate the offense in Essai’s eyes. These two might be partners, he observed, but they sure as hell didn’t like each other, a state of affairs that might prove useful in the future.
Essai watched Bourne, completely ignoring Corellos as the drug lord, bent over, tipped a full bottle of tequila over his nose. Snorting out blood and booze, he drank in long, greedy swigs, his eyes fizzing with rage. Essai had arranged his camp chair so that he faced Bourne. It was thus clear that Corellos was to be an observer of this conversation, rather than a participant.
“The Domna has you in its sights,” Essai began.
“It already tried to kill me in Thailand.” Bourne sat back. “So now it’s the other way around.”
Essai, Bourne, and Corellos were handed posole in a terra-cotta bowl, along with a wooden spoon. Corellos spat in his and, with a backhanded slap, sent it spinning away. He returned to his tequila, the bottle glinting in a leopard spot of sunshine as he tilted it up.
Essai nodded. “Possibly. Nevertheless, you have wounded them gravely, and believe me when I tell you that they will not stop until you’re dead.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
Essai peered at him from out of fathomless eyes. “I believe you mean that.” He sighed, put down his bowl, and laced his fingers in his lap.
Bourne tried to discern whether Essai was resigned or satisfied. Possibly he was both.
“I know you don’t trust me.” He shrugged. “Frankly, I’d feel the same were I where you’re sitting now.” He leaned forward, elbows on knees. “But I’ll tell you something: You royally screwed the Domna. The plan was to use the cache of Solomon’s gold to create a new gold standard, undermining America’s currency. Now, of course, you’ve swept that off the table. Countless time and money has been irretrievably lost.” He applauded. “Well done!”
So far as Bourne could tell, there wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Abruptly, Essai’s expression darkened. “If only that were the end of it. Unfortunately for both of us, it’s only the beginning.”
“I assume Plan B will have the same dire consequences.”
“Possibly, or it could be worse.” He shrugged.
There ensued a strangled silence, at the end of which Bourne said, “You’re telling me you don’t know what Plan B is.”
“Other than that it will extend the length and breadth of the Domna’s dominion into the United States, no.” He smashed a mosquito against his forearm and wiped away the resulting drop of blood. “I can see the disappointment on your face.”
hardly covers it. I can’t imagine why you wanted to talk with me.”
As he began to rise, Essai said, “The Domna has put out a sanction on you.”
“It won’t be the first, and it won’t be the last,” Bourne said, unimpressed. “I’ll survive.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Now Essai stood, too. “In the Domna’s world, a sanction is never undertaken lightly. Never simply doled out to the highest bidder. It is sacred.”
Bourne watched Essai levelly. “Meaning?”
“Meaning the death blow will come at a time and a place even you will find surprising.” He lifted a forefinger. “And it will be dealt by someone…”
Essai took a breath. “The fact is, I need you, Mr. Bourne.”
Bourne just managed not to laugh in his face. He did shake his head, though.
“I know, it’s difficult to fathom—for me as well, believe me.” He took a step toward Bourne. “But it’s true what they say: Reality makes strange bedfellows, and, frankly, I cannot imagine stranger bedfellows than the two of us.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Nevertheless…”
Bourne waited. He wasn’t going to do Essai any favors; he wasn’t going to keep the strange conversation going. But the fact was he didn’t dislike Essai, and he hadn’t liked his original assignment of breaking into his house. This mortal transgression he couldn’t put off on Alex Conklin,
even though the order originated with his late boss. Conklin either had had no inkling what the consequences of Bourne’s assignment would be, or didn’t care. But Bourne had—he knew how a Muslim would react to his home being invaded—and still he had obeyed orders. The fact was, he owed Essai. It was this debt that was keeping him here now.
“How long have you been siding against the Domna?” This was a crucial question.
“Many years,” Essai replied without hesitation. “But it was only last year that I decided to break with them openly.”
“What were you going to do with the information on the laptop I stole from your house all those years ago?”
“I was planning to take it and make my escape,” Essai said. “But you put an end to that.”
A silence engulfed them so stifling it seemed to silence even the insects and the haunting birdcalls.
Essai spread his hands, palms up. “So here we are, in the godforsaken jungle, being eaten alive by mosquitoes and green-headed flies.”
He stepped away from the now drunken Corellos, who was clutching the near-empty tequila bottle like it was a ten-dollar whore. Bourne followed him into the dense undergrowth. A couple of Corellos’s men eyed them with ill-disguised contempt, then, growing bored, spat and went to get beers out of a cooler.
“These Colombians,” Essai said in that conspiratorial tone he could turn on and off at the drop of a hat. That’s all he said, as if those two words spoke volumes, and they did. Bourne was aware that Essai felt he was better than these people, and maybe he was right. He was certainly better educated, more aware of the outside world, but perhaps that was missing the point. These Colombians, even the least educated of the lot, possessed a concentration of energy that, like a cyclone, could leave devastation in its wake in a heartbeat. Death cared nothing for education or self-awareness; it was the great leveler.
There was something crucial Bourne needed to know. “I was under the impression that once you were in Severus Domna, you were in for life. What led you to break with it?”
“At one point the Domna stood for something genuine—a meeting of the minds between East and West. It was a noble undertaking, a bold design, but it was like trying to mix oil and water. Gradually, so subtly that virtually no one was aware of it, the Domna changed.” He shrugged. “Perhaps it was the ascendance of Benjamin El-Arian—though much as I despise the man, that would be a simplification of the process. El-Arian was and is the lightning rod, no doubt, but the disease infecting the Domna is widespread. It’s gone too far to stop it.”
“What disease are we talking about?”
Essai turned to him. “I know a little about you, Mr. Bourne, so I know that you are familiar with the Black Legion.”
He was talking about the group of disaffected ethnic Muslims the Nazis brought back from the Soviet Union during World War II. The Muslims, who deeply hated Stalin, were trained by the SS, formed into units, and sent to the Eastern Front, where they fought with uncommon ferocity against the troops of their former motherland. The Black Legion had a number of powerful friends within the Nazi hierarchy. During the last days of the war, its soldiers were pulled out of the Eastern Front and sent to safe havens, where the allies couldn’t touch them. Thus, they were scattered, but they never forgot. Decades later, they re-formed around a mosque in Munich, which was now widely regarded as one of the epicenters of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
“I’ve dealt with the Black Legion,” Bourne said. “But it’s been silent for more than two years—no manifestos issued, no attacks attributed to it. It’s as if they fell off the edge of the earth.”
“Allah wills it,” Essai said. “This my heart knows.” He wiped his forehead with the back of a hand. He was used to extreme heat, but the humidity was making a mess of his clothes. “In any event, the Black Legion, after suffering a number of defeats—at least one of them, I understand, by your hand and will—has turned its attention, shall we say, inward.”
He glanced around, as if gauging and analyzing the position of Corellos and every one of his men. “For decades, elements high up in the Munich Mosque have had their eye on the Domna. They saw its aims
as a direct threat because, as you know, the Mosque wishes nothing less than the domination of Islam in the Western world. The Mosque has been behind the steady influx of Muslims into Western Europe as well as agitating them to demand more rights, more power and influence over the local governments.