Authors: Robert & Lustbader Ludlum,Robert & Lustbader Ludlum
“All right,” he said. “Look into it.” Then he turned back to them. “But, Peter, I want you here. Treadstone is still in its infancy and the fact is I envisioned it as an agency with the ability to police and clean up the giant squid of our post–nine-eleven intelligence community. There are
now two hundred sixty-three and counting intelligence organs created or reorganized since 2001. And that doesn’t account for the hundreds of private intel firms we’ve seen fit to hire, some of them so beyond our control they’re operating here in the States in the same manner they do in world war zones. Do you realize that at this moment there are eight hundred fifty thousand Americans with top-secret clearance? That’s far too many by a staggeringly exponential number.” He shook his head emphatically. “There’s no way I will allow both my directors in the field at the same time.”
Marks took a step toward him. “But—”
“Peter.” Hendricks smiled. “Soraya has the field experience so she gets this assignment. It’s simple logic.” As they were leaving, he said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve been able to get the Treadstone servers access to all the clandestine services’ databases.”
After they’d gone, Hendricks thought about Samaritan. He had deliberately kept its existence from Peter, knowing that the moment he got wind of it, he’d want to become involved in the security of Indigo Ridge. Despite the president’s clear warning, Hendricks wanted to keep Peter on Treadstone, which was his baby now, a long-held desire that he was not going to relinquish, even for Samaritan. He was taking a risk, he knew that full well. Should any of the others in the Oval Office meeting, especially General Marshall, suspect that he was holding back key personnel for his own use he’d be in an untenable position.
, he thought,
what’s life without risk?
He stepped back to the window. His roses looked bedraggled and forlorn. He glanced impatiently at his watch. Where was that damn rose specialist he’d hired?
It was quiet here, the house removed from the hubbub at the center of the city. Normally, he enjoyed that; it allowed him to think. But this morning was different. He had awoken with the nagging sense that he had missed something. He had already been married and divorced twice when he had met, married, and then buried his beloved Amanda. He had one son, from the second wife, now a marine in military intelligence, deployed in Afghanistan. He should have been worried about
him, but the fact was he rarely thought about him. He’d had little to do with raising him; to be truthful, he might have been someone else’s son. Without Amanda, he had no attachments, no sense of family, only place. Like a European, he valued property over cash. In a sense, this house was all he had, all he needed. Why was that? he asked himself. Was something wrong with him? In restaurants, at official functions or the theater, he encountered colleagues with their wives, sometimes with their grown children. He was always alone, even though, from time to time, he had one woman or another on his arm—widows desperate to remain part of the social scene inside the Beltway. They meant nothing to him, these women of a certain age, with tight, poreless faces, breasts pushed up to their carefully sculpted chins, in their long gowns manufactured to impress. Often they wore gloves to hide their age spots.
He was pulled away from his ruminations by the sharp sound of the bell. Opening the front door, he was confronted by a woman in her mid- to late thirties, her hair pulled back from her heart-shaped face in a tomboyish ponytail. She wore round steel-rimmed glasses, denim overalls atop a plaid man’s shirt, frog-green clogs, and a floppy canvas sun hat.
She introduced herself as Maggie Penrod and presented her credentials just as she had with the bodyguards patrolling the property. Hendricks studied them. She was trained at the Sorbonne and at Trinity at Oxford. Her father (deceased) had been a social worker, her Swedish mother (also deceased) a language teacher in the Bethesda school district. There was nothing memorable about her except, as she leaned forward to take back her ID, her scent, which had a decided tang. What was it? Hendricks asked himself. He sniffed as inconspicuously as possible. Ah, yes. Cinnamon and something slightly bitter, burnt almond, maybe.
As he led the way outside to the sad-looking rose bed, he said, “What’s an art history major doing—”
“In a place like this?”
She laughed, a soft, mellow sound that somehow stirred something inside him, long hidden.
“Art history was a totally unrealistic career choice. Besides, I don’t do well in academia—too much skulduggery and intrigue.”
She had a slight accent, doubtless a product of her Swedish mother, Hendricks thought.
She paused at the edge of the rose bed, hands on hips. “And I like being my own boss. No one but me to answer to.”
Listening more closely, he became aware that her accent softened her words, lending them an unmistakable sensuality.
She knelt down, her soft, strong fingers pushing aside stillborn flowers, their edges tight, ruffled, and brown. Blood streaked her skin, but she seemed unmindful of the thorns.
“The roses are balled and the leaves are being eaten.” She stood up and turned to him. “For one thing, you’re overwatering them. For another, they need to be sprayed once a week. Not to worry, I use only organics.” She smiled up at him, her cheeks aflame in sunlight. “It’ll take a couple of weeks, but I think I can get them out of intensive care.”
Hendricks gestured. “Whatever you need.”
The sunlight slid over her forearms like oil, illuminating tiny white-gold hairs that seemed to stir beneath his gaze. Hendricks’s breath felt hot in his throat.
And then, without his knowing quite how the words slipped out, he said, “Care to come inside for a drink?”
She smiled sweetly at him, the sun in her eyes. “Not today.”
don’t believe it,” Bourne said. “It simply isn’t possible.”
“Anything is possible,” Essai said. “Everything is possible.”
“No,” Bourne said firmly, “it’s not.”
Essai smiled his enigmatic smile. “Mr. Bourne, you are now in the dominion of Severus Domna. Please believe me in this.”
Bourne stared into the fire. Darkness had come and, with it, a fresh wild pig, which Corellos’s men had trapped, scraped free of hair, and spitted. The rich odor of its melting fat suffused the campsite. He and Essai sat near the fire, talking.
Some distance away, Corellos was talking animatedly to his lieutenant. “Petty victories,” Essai said, eyeing him.
Bourne looked at him inquiringly.
“You see how it is. He knows I can’t eat pork and yet this is what he offers for dinner. If you ask him, he’ll say it’s a treat for his men.”
“Let’s return to Boris Karpov.”
The enigmatic smile returned. “Benjamin El-Arian, our enemy, is a master chess player. He thinks many moves ahead. He planned for the eventuality that you might succeed in keeping the Domna from finding Solomon’s hoard of gold.” He turned his head, the firelight glinting off his eyes. “You’ve heard of Viktor Cherkesov, yes?”
“Until several months ago, he was the head of FSB-2. He left under mysterious circumstances and Boris took his place. Boris told me all this. Cleaning up FSB-2 has been a long-held dream of his.”
“A good man, your friend Boris. Did he happen to tell you why Cherkesov abdicated his powerful throne?”
“Mysterious circumstances,” Bourne repeated.
“Not so mysterious to me. Benjamin El-Arian contacted Cherkesov through the appropriate intermediary and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
Bourne’s muscles tensed. “Cherkesov is part of the Domna now?”
Essai nodded. “And now I can see by your expression that you have intuited the rest of it. Cherkesov offered your friend Boris a deal: He’d give him FSB-2 in return for future favors.”
“And the first one is killing me.”
Essai saw that Corellos, having finished giving orders, was coming toward them. He sat forward and, lowering his voice, said with some urgency, “You see what a clever fellow Benjamin El-Arian is. The Domna is no ordinary cabal. Now you know the extent of what we are up against.”
As Corellos pulled over a camp chair, Bourne said, “There’s still the matter of why I came here in the first place.”
Corellos stared at him with stainless-steel eyes. Above him a tree grew with bark peeling off like strips of flayed skin. The air shimmered and danced with mosquitoes.
“Assurances,” Bourne said. It was clear he was addressing both Essai and the drug lord.
Corellos made a soundless laugh, bared his teeth and snapped his jaws together like a villain in a Tarantino film. “My dead partner’s sister is paranoid. I mean her no harm, all assurances given.”
“The business was Gustavo’s and yours,” Bourne said. “Now it belongs to you.”
“That’s the line she fed you.”
“She has no use for blood money derived from drugs.”
Corellos spread his hands wide. “Then why did he want her to take it over?”
“Family. But she’s not like him.”
“You don’t know her.”
Bourne made no reply. There was something about the drug lord that brought out an instinctive animosity, like seeing a scorpion or a black widow spider. The creature might not be threatening you at the moment, but what about in the future? Bourne studied him. He was the polar opposite of Gustavo Moreno, whom Bourne had met years ago. Whatever else he might have been, Moreno was a gentleman—that is, when he gave his word it meant something. Bourne did not have that sense with Corellos. Berengária was right to be afraid of him.
During this buzzing lull, Corellos sat back, lounging in his chair so that it creaked like an old man’s bones. “So. What
“Berengária wants only to be left alone.”
Corellos threw his head back and laughed. Bourne could see the thick red welt from where he’d begun to strangle him.
. Okay, we go to the next step. How much does she want?”
“I told you,” Bourne said evenly, “nothing.”
“Now I know you’re fucking with me. Come on, give it.”
A thin breeze stirred the swarms of mosquitoes. The forest was dense with the sounds of insects, tree frogs, and small nocturnal mammals. Bourne wanted nothing more than to bury his fist in Corellos’s face. Now that he had met him, he suspected that Moreno had left his half of the business to his sister to piss his partner off. They could not have gotten on personally.
“You might believe the bitch,” Corellos said. “Doesn’t mean I do.”
“Just leave her alone and this will be at an end.”
Corellos shook his head. “She has all my contacts.”
“This came directly off her hard drive.” Bourne handed him the computer printout Berengária had given him before he’d left Phuket.
Corellos opened it and ran his thick, callused forefinger down the list. “All here.” He looked up and shrugged. “This is a copy.” He waved it in the air. “It means nothing.”
Bourne handed him the hard drive from Berengária’s laptop.
Corellos stared at it for a moment. “Fuck me.” Laughing, he nodded. “Done.”
“If you come after her…” Bourne allowed the implied threat to hang in the humid air.
Corellos froze for half a second. Then he opened his arms wide. “If I go after the bitch, then come the fuck on.”
ODDAMMIT!” PETER Marks
pounded his fist against the steering wheel as he was stopped short at a red light.
“Down, boy,” Soraya said. “What’s eating you?”
“He’s lying.” Peter hit the horn with the heel of his hand. “There’s something going on and Hendricks isn’t telling us what.”
Soraya regarded him archly. “And you know this how?”
“That crap he fed me about why I need to stay here. He’s resurrected Treadstone with your overseas network in place so—what? We can be nannies for the other clandestine services? It’s fucking make-work, there’s nothing real about it.” He shook his head. “Uh-uh, there’s something going on he doesn’t want us to know about.”
Soraya stifled a tart rejoinder and, instead, thought about Peter’s supposition for a moment. She and Peter had worked together for a number of years in CI. They had come to trust each other with their lives. That was no little thing. And instincts had a lot to do with their mutual trust. What had Peter seen or sensed that she hadn’t? To be honest, she had been so elated at being given the go-ahead to run down the death in Paris that she hadn’t paid much attention to what went on after that. More fool, her.
“Hey, slow down, cowboy!” she yelled as he veered around the rear of a truck. “I’d like to live until at least tonight.”
“Sorry,” Peter muttered.
Seeing that he was really and truly upset, she said, “What can I do to help?”
“Go to Paris, get the investigation of your murdered source under way, find out who the hell killed him.”
She looked at him skeptically. “I don’t like leaving you in this state.”
“You don’t have to like it.”
She touched his arm. “Peter, I’m concerned that you’re going to do something stupid.”
He shot her a glare.
“Or at the very least something dangerous.”
He took a breath. “Do you think your being here would change any of that?”
She frowned. “No, but—”
“Then be on the first plane to Paris.”
“You’re planning something.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Dammit, I know that look.”
He bit his cheek. “And before you leave, why don’t you give Amun a call.”
Soraya immediately bridled, thinking he was needling her. But then, when she thought further, she saw the wisdom of his suggestion. “You might be right. Amun could provide a different perspective on this mysterious group.”
She pulled out her cell and texted: “Arr Paris tomorrow AM re: murder. Can U?”
She found her heart beating fast. She hadn’t seen Amun in over a year, but it was only now, reaching out to him, that she realized how much she had missed him—his bright smile, his certain touch, the brilliance of his mind.
She frowned. What time was it in Cairo? Almost 10:30