Authors: Robert & Lustbader Ludlum,Robert & Lustbader Ludlum
As she was calculating, her cell buzzed: a text had come in. “Arr Paris 8:34 AM local, day after tomorrow.”
Soraya felt a warmth suffuse her body. She flexed her hands.
“What’s up?” Peter asked.
“My fingertips are tingling.”
Peter threw his head back and laughed.
ssai drove Bourne away from Corellos’s encampment. The headlights were on, illuminating the dirt track through the dense forest of Bosque de Niebla de Chicaque, but already a pinkish blue light stole through the branches, snatching shadows from along the ground. Birdsong, which had been missing during the depths of the night, ricocheted back and forth above their heads.
“We’re heading west instead of east,” Bourne said, “back to Bogotá.”
“We’re going to the regional airport at Perales,” Essai said, “where I’ll take a flight to Bogotá and you’ll take the car. You need to go farther west, to Ibagué. It’s in the mountains, about sixty miles southwest of El Colegio.”
“And why do I want to go there?”
“In Ibagué you will seek out a man named Estevan Vegas. He’s a member of the Domna—a weak link, as you might say in idiomatic English, yes? I was going to speak with him about defecting, but now that you’re here I expect you’ll have a better chance than I would.”
“Explain yourself, Essai.”
Now that they were away from Corellos’s camp, Essai seemed more relaxed, almost jovial, if such a word could be applied to this taciturn, revenge-obsessed man.
“It’s simple, really. I’m a known quantity within the Domna: a pariah, a traitor. Even with a man like Vegas with shaky loyalty to the group, my presence would be problematic. In fact, it might backfire, providing him with a reason to become defensive, intractable.”
“While I am an unknown quantity,” Bourne said. “Vegas will be more inclined to listen to me.”
“That will depend entirely on your powers of persuasion. From what I know of you, another excellent reason for you to take my place.”
Bourne thought for a moment. “And if he does spill?”
“Your intel on the Domna will be current. I, unfortunately, have been cut off for some time. I am now deaf and blind to the details of their plots and plans.”
“Vegas lives in the middle of nowhere,” Bourne pointed out.
“First of all, the term
middle of nowhere
doesn’t apply to the Domna,” Essai said. “Its eyes and ears are everywhere.” They bumped onto a paved section of the road, though their speed slowed considerably because it was in desperate need of repair and potholes deep enough to throw an axle seemed to be everywhere. “Second, though Vegas may not know everything we need to know, he’s bound to know someone who does. It will then be your job to find them and charm them out of the information. Then you’ll take a flight out of Perales. Tickets will be waiting for you there.”
“And while I’m trying to poke into the Domna’s dark corners, what will you be doing?”
“Providing a distraction to cover you.”
“You’re better off not knowing, believe me.” Essai manhandled the vehicle around a dual pothole of staggering depth. “There’s a spare sat phone in the glove box, charged and ready to go. Also a detailed map of the area. Ibagué is clearly marked, as is the oil field Vegas runs.”
Leaning forward, Bourne opened the glove box and checked the contents.
“You’ll find my sat number pre-programmed into it,” Essai continued. “That way, we’ll never be out of touch, no matter where we are.”
They rumbled past a gorge with sheer rock walls and, a mile or two farther, an enormous waterfall crashing down a blood-red cliff with enormous, unending energy. The tree canopy became abruptly less thick, more light flickering, a Morse code through the tangle of branches.
They burst through the western edge of the trees. A riot of bougainvillea inhabiting a colonial stone wall shivered, shaking off the early-morning dew in the first slender shoots of sunlight.
Bourne looked out at the countryside. Due west was a chain of
formidable mountains, shaggy with dense forest. In a couple of hours that was where he’d be headed.
“What can you tell me about this man Vegas?”
“He’s crusty, belligerent, often intractable.”
Essai ignored Bourne’s sarcasm. “But he has another side. He’s a longtime oilman. He has overseen the oil outfit out there for close to twenty years. By now, I think his veins must run with oil. In any event, he’s strictly hands-on; he believes in a hard day’s work, even at his age, which must be sixty—knowing him, possibly more. He’s hard drinking, buried two wives, lost a daughter to a Brazilian, who seduced her, then spirited her away. He’s never seen or spoken to her in thirty-odd years.”
Essai shook his head. “He lives with a young Indian woman now, but to my knowledge she’s never been pregnant. Other than that, I don’t know anything about her.”
“What doesn’t he like?”
Essai shot him a look. “You mean what does he like?”
“It’s more important to know what to avoid saying or doing,” Bourne said.
“I understand.” Essai nodded reflectively. “He hates communists and fascists in equal measure.”
“How about drug lords?”
Essai glanced at him again, as if trying to figure out where this line of questioning was going. He was smart enough not to ask. “You’re on your own there.”
Bourne thought for a moment. “What I find interesting is that he lost his child and now, when he’s in the perfect position to have more, he doesn’t.”
Essai shrugged. “Too much heartache. I can relate to that.”
“But would you—?”
“My wife is too old.”
“My point. His woman isn’t.”
eter Marks watched the gardener get into her SUV and drive away from Hendricks’s house. He’d observed her feeding the roses, then spraying them from a pump canister. She had worked slowly, methodically, gently, murmuring to the roses as if she were making love to them. She drove off without a glance at the security personnel.
The four men assigned to the secretary were of great concern to him. If he was going to shadow Hendricks in an attempt to discover what he was hiding, he’d have to stay off their radar. He considered it a challenge, rather than a problem.
Peter had always faced challenges head-on—he’d run at them with a fervor that burned brightest when he was a teenager and young adult. He hadn’t come out so much as been brought out by Father Benedict, his local parish priest. But unlike the other boys whom the father had taken behind the sacristy for holy wine and sex, Peter had told his father. He was ten when this happened, but he was a precocious boy and wanted to publicly denounce the priest the following Sunday during Mass.
His father had forbade this. “
It will be far worse for you than for him
,” he’d told his son. “
Everyone will know and you’ll be branded for life.
” There was no mistaking the warning in his father’s voice. Peter had experienced the magnitude of his father’s anger and he wasn’t eager to trigger it again.
That Sunday, when they went to church, another priest whom Peter had never seen before performed the Mass. He wondered where Father Benedict was. Afterward, on the church steps in the sunshine of late morning, he heard people talking. Father Benedict had been assaulted the night before on his way home from church.
Beaten to a pulp
was the phrase most used. He now lay in critical condition at Sisters of Mercy Hospital eight blocks away. Peter never went to see him, and Father Benedict never returned to his parish church, even though he was discharged from Sisters of Mercy six weeks later. In the intervening years, Peter had never spoken to his father about Benedict, though his
suspicion was that the priest had been on the receiving end of his father’s wrath. And now, of course, it was too late to ask—his father had died eleven years ago.
Peter’s eyes cleared. Hendricks had emerged from his house. A black Lincoln Town Car had pulled up and the driver got out, opened the door for the secretary, who climbed in. One of the security detail followed. Two others got into their nondescript Ford, and the two cars pulled out in unison. Peter, avoiding the gaze of the fourth man left behind, began the tail, his memories trailing behind.
In high school and college, he had experimented with like-minded boys his age, always being careful because that was his nature. But then he’d become interested in the clandestine services and begun to take the appropriate courses. When he did so, his college adviser changed. He had never seen or heard of him before. In fact, he couldn’t find him on the college’s admin list. One day, the adviser called him in for a talk, the gist of which was that if Peter truly desired a career in the clandestine services he’d have to “button it up,” as the adviser put it.
The subject was never raised again, but Peter, having been given a word to the wise, did, in fact, button it up, reading as he did about case after case where spies or men in sensitive positions were compromised because of their sexual proclivities. He fervently did not want to become one of those disgraced people. And he vividly recalled what had happened to Father Benedict. So he became a better celibate than Benedict had ever been.
He loved Soraya like the sister he never had, but he certainly was never in love with her. He wondered that he’d once been jealous of her affection for Bourne. He scoffed at that now. How could he have ever been jealous of Jason Bourne? He couldn’t bear to have that man’s shadowy life.
The cars rolled out of the tree-lined streets of Georgetown, heading due east toward the heart of Washington. Dusk was forming, filled with haze and uncertainty. He checked his car’s clock. Any moment now, Soraya would be in the air, on her way across the Atlantic to Paris and her rendezvous with Amun Chalthoum. He’d called his friend Jacques Robbinet to give him the particulars of her visit. Robbinet, whom he’d met
through Jason Bourne, was the French minister of culture. Robbinet was also one of the new leading lights of the Quai d’Orsay, the French equivalent of Central Intelligence, and so wielded enormous power both inside and outside France. Robbinet had assured Peter that he’d extend Soraya every courtesy in cutting through the Gordian knot of French red tape.
The two cars were slowing as they approached East Capitol Street. They passed 2nd Street, SE, and stopped in front of the Folger Shakespeare Library, one of the capital’s more remarkable institutions. Henry Clay Folger had been chairman of Standard Oil, now ExxonMobil. He was cut from the same cloth as the great industrialist/robber barons John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, and Henry E. Huntington. However, Folger spent much of his later years amassing a staggering collection of First Folios of Shakespeare’s plays. In addition, the library housed, in the original edition or facsimile, every important volume on Shakespeare from the invention of the printing press to the end of the seventeenth century, including a copy of every book on history, mythology, and travel that had been available to the playwright. In fact, the library possessed 55 percent of all known books printed in the English language before 1640. But the crown jewels of the collection were the First Folios, the sole textual source of over half of Shakespeare’s plays.
As Peter watched Hendricks emerge from his bulletproof car, he wondered what the secretary was doing at the Folger. It wasn’t as if he’d come to write a dissertation on Shakespeare or the England of the Tudors and the Stuarts.
Even more intriguing, none of his bodyguards accompanied Hendricks up the steps and into the building. Checking his watch, Peter saw that it was after four, which meant that the building was closed to the public for the day.
Peter was familiar with the premises. There was a side entrance used by the staff and, on occasion, the flock of scholars and fellows who were, at any given time, in residence. He drove around the block, parked, and approached the side door, which was discreetly tucked away behind a line of sheared boxwood.
Thick and solid, the door was made of stout oak, studded with Old
World bronze roundhead nails. It reminded Peter of the door to a medieval castle keep. He drew a pick out of his inside pocket. He’d carried a couple of these, which he’d filed himself, ever since he got locked out of his apartment five years ago.
Within thirty seconds he was inside, moving down a dimly lit corridor that smelled of filtered air and old books. The odor was both pleasant and familiar, bringing back days in his youth when he’d haunted used-book stores for hours at a time, scanning titles, reading chapters or even, sometimes, entire sections. Sometimes, it was enough just feeling the heft of a volume in his hands, imagining his older self, amid a library he himself had amassed.
He kept an eye out for the residents or security, but saw no one. He moved through rooms filled with books in glass-fronted cases crisscrossed by security wires, down more corridors, wood-paneled and hushed.
Gradually, he became aware of the murmur of voices and turned in that direction. As he moved closer, he recognized one of the voices: Hendricks. The other speaker was also male, his voice pitched slightly higher. As he approached closer still, it struck him as being naggingly familiar. The pitch, the cadence, the long-winded sentences without pauses for punctuation. And then, when he had crossed the room, the voices were so clear he was certain they came from the open doorway to the next room. A particular turn of phrase caused him to freeze.
The man Hendricks was talking with was M. Errol Danziger, the vampiric current head of CI. He had sacked Soraya, one of the reasons Peter had quit—he’d seen her demise at CI coming. And now Danziger was in the process of dismantling the proud organization the Old Man had built from the scraps left to him by those who had remodeled the wartime OSS.
Peter stole closer to the open doorway.
If Hendricks is cooking up a deal with Danziger
, he thought,
it’s no wonder he doesn’t want us to know about it.
He could hear them clearly now.
“—are you?” Hendricks’s voice.
“I couldn’t say,” Danziger replied.