Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Imperative (Bourne Series #10)by Eric Van Lustbader
Jason Bourne is back in this new novel in Robert Ludlum's bestselling series written by New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader.
The man Jason Bourne fishes out of the frozen lake is near death, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound and drowning. He awakens as an amnesiac, with no memory of who he is or why he was shot--and Bourne is eerily reminded… See more details below
Jason Bourne is back in this new novel in Robert Ludlum's bestselling series written by New York Times bestselling author Eric Van Lustbader.
The man Jason Bourne fishes out of the frozen lake is near death, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound and drowning. He awakens as an amnesiac, with no memory of who he is or why he was shot--and Bourne is eerily reminded of his own past.
This novel rocks-it's filled with action, adventure, and has plenty of plot twists and turns . . . an entertaining, thrilling roller-coaster ride you won't want to end . . . a heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing, action-packed novel that fans of the Jason Bourne franchise should eagerly embrace. It's a great novel, really, whether you are a longtime fan, or are relatively new to the series . . . an excellent novel."BestsellersWorld.com on The Bourne Objective"
Reading a Ludlum novel is like watching a James Bond film...slickly paced...all-consuming."ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY"
As twisted, dark and exciting as the others."THE OKLAHOMAN on THE BOURNE SANCTION
Read an Excerpt
Robert Ludlum's (TM) The Bourne Imperative
By Eric Van Lustbader
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2012 Eric Van Lustbader
All right reserved.
She came out of the mist, and he was running, just as he had been for hours, days. It felt like he had been alone for weeks, his heart continually thundering inside his chest, his mind befogged with bitter betrayal. Sleep was unthinkable, rest a thing of the past.
Nothing was clear now except that she had come out of the mist after he had been certain—for the thirteenth, or was it the fifteenth, time?—that he had eluded her. But here she was, coming for him like a mythical exterminating angel, indestructible and implacable.
His life had been reduced to the two of them. Nothing else existed outside the wall of white—snow and ice and the wispy brushstrokes of fishing cottages, deep red with white trim, small, compact, containing only what was necessary. He admired such judiciousness.
The mist burned like fire—a cold fire that ran up his spine and gripped the back of his neck, just as she had gripped the back of his neck—when? Days? A week ago? When they had been in bed together, when she had been another person, his lover, a woman who quickly discovered how to make him shiver and melt with pleasure.
Half-skating across a large frozen lake, he slipped, lost his gun, which went skittering over the ice. He was about to make a lunge for it when he heard the snap of a twig, as clear and sharp as a knife thrust.
Instead, he continued on, made for a stand of shivering pines. Powdery snow sprayed his face, coating his eyebrows and the stubble of a long flight across continents. He did not dare waste another moment looking back over his shoulder to check the progress of his pursuer.
She had dogged his tracks all the way from Lebanon. He had met her in a packed, smoke-blurred bar in Dahr El Ahmar—or maybe now he would admit to himself that she had met him, that every gesture, every word out of her mouth, had been by design. Events seemed so clear now that he was on the precipice of either escape or death. She had played him instead of the other way around—he, the consummate professional. How had she so easily slipped inside his defenses? But he knew, he knew: the exterminating angel was irresistible.
Inside the pines he paused, his breath clouding the air in front of his face. It was bitterly cold, but inside his winter camo coat, he felt as if he were burning alive. Clinging to one of a maze of black tree trunks, his mind returned to the hotel room, stinking of bodies and sex, recalling the moment when she had bitten his lip, her teeth clamped down on his flesh while she somehow said, “I know. I know what you are.”
Not who, but what.
She knew. He looked around now at the city of interlocking branches, at the labyrinth of needles in which he hid. It was impossible. How could she know? And yet…
Hearing again the snap of a twig, he started, turned slowly in a circle, all his senses questing toward the direction of the sound. Where was she? Death could come at any minute, but he knew it wouldn’t be quick. There were too many secrets she needed to know, otherwise she would have killed him during one of their animalistic trysts. Nights that still gave him shivers of arousal, even though he now knew how close he had been to death. She had been playing with him—perhaps because she came to enjoy their lovemaking as much as he did. He gave a silent laugh, his lips pulled back from his teeth, more a snarl than a smile. What a fool! He kept deluding himself that there had been something between them, even in the face of the most explicit evidence to the contrary. What a spell she had woven over him! He shuddered, crouching down, contracting into himself as he pressed his spine against the rough pine bark.
Suddenly he was tired of running. It was here, in the frozen back of beyond, that he’d make his stand, even though he had no clear idea of how to emerge alive from this killing field. Behind him, he heard the insistent burble of water. In Sadelöga, you were never far from inlets of the Baltic Sea, the air mineral-thick with salt and seaweed and phosphorus.
A blur caught like a fish on a line at the corner of his eye. There she was! Had she seen him? He wanted to move, but his limbs felt as if they were filled with lead. He could not feel his feet. Turning his head slowly brought a sliver of her advancing into the tree line.
She paused, her head cocked to one side, listening, as if she could hear him breathe.
Unbidden, his tongue ran across his severely swollen lower lip. His mind raced backward, to an exhibit of Japanese wood-block prints—stately, serene, calming. All except one piece of erotica that was so famous everyone had heard of it even if they hadn’t actually seen it in person. It hung before him, a depiction of a woman in the throes of unimaginable ecstasy, administered by her octopus-lover’s dextrous eight arms. That was how he thought of his lover, his stalker. In the overheated Dahr El Ahmar hotel room he had known the depths—or heights—of the ecstasy experienced by the woman depicted in the wood-block print. In that respect, he wasn’t sorry. He had never imagined, let alone expected, that anyone could give him so much pleasure, but she had, and he was perversely grateful, even though she might very well be the death of him.
He started. She was coming now. Even though he didn’t hear her, had lost her in the maze of trees, he could feel her moving closer, drawn to him in some inexplicable manner. So he sat and waited for her to appear, considering what he would do when that happened.
He did not have long to wait. Seconds passed slowly, seeming to float away in the water somewhere behind him, at the far edge of the stand of pines. He heard her call his name, softly, gently as she had when they were lovers, entwined, locked in their own ecstasies. A shiver ran down his spine, lodged between his legs, and would not dissipate.
Still…He had resources left, surprises, chances to walk out of this killing ground alive.
Putting his head down, he slowly drew his knees up to his chest. It must have started snowing fairly hard because more and more flakes were pushing their way through the tangle of needles. Green shadows morphed to charcoal-gray, obscuring him further. Snow began to cover him, light as the flutter of angel wings. His heart thudded within his rib cage and he could feel his pulse in the side of his neck.
Still alive, he thought.
He sensed her as she slipped between the trunks of two pines. His nostrils flared, one animal scenting another. One way or another, the hunt was at an end. He felt a certain relief. Soon it would be over.
She was so close now that he heard the crunch as her boots cracked the gossamer-thin crust, plunged into the snow with each careful step. She stopped six feet away. Her shadow fell over him; he had felt it for weeks now as he traveled north by northwest in his vain attempt to dislodge her.
I know what you are, she had said, so she must know that he was on his own. There was no contact to call in case of emergency, in case of her. He had been cut out of the herd, so there would be absolutely no chance of the herd being disturbed or, worse, probed, should he be caught and put under articulated interrogation. Nevertheless, she also knew that he held secrets in the darkest corners of his mind, secrets she had been sent to extract from him in the same way a diner extracts the meat from the very top of a lobster’s claw.
Octopus and lobster. Those terms more accurately characterized the two of them than any more traditional definition.
She spoke his name again, more definitively this time, and he raised his chin off his chest to look her in the eye. She held a 10 mm EAA Witness Pistol aimed at his right knee.
“No more running,” she said.
He nodded. “No more running.”
She looked at him with a curious kindness. “Pity about your lip.”
His laugh was short and savage. “It seems I required a violent wake-up call.”
Her eyes were the color and shape of ripe olives, vivid against her Mediterranean skin and black hair pulled back tight, tucked, except for a couple of wisps, inside her hood. “Why do you do what you do?”
“Why do you?”
She laughed softly. “That’s easy.” She had a Roman nose, delicate cheekbones, and a generous mouth. “I keep my country safe.”
“At the expense of all other countries.”
“Isn’t that the definition of a patriot?” She shook her head. “But then you wouldn’t know.”
“You’re very sure of yourself.”
She shrugged. “I was born that way.”
He stirred infinitesimally. “Tell me one thing. What did you think of when we were in bed together?”
Her smile changed character subtly, but that was the extent of her answer.
“You’ll give me what I want to know,” she said. “Tell me about Jihad bis saif.”
“Not even,” he said, “on the point of death.”
Her smile changed yet again, into the one he remembered from the hotel room in Dahr El Ahmar, a secret smile, he had thought, just between the two of them, and he hadn’t been wrong. It was only the context he’d missed.
“You have no country, no innate allegiance. Your masters have seen to that.”
“We all have masters,” he said. “It’s only that we tell ourselves we don’t.”
When she took a step toward him, he flicked the knife he had been holding close to his side. The short distance between them made it impossible for her to duck out of the way. She had just begun to react when the blade penetrated her Thinsulate parka and buried itself in the flesh of her right shoulder. The EAA swung away as she was spun 45 degrees. As her arm came down, he leaped at her, taking her down flat on her back. He bore down, using his superior weight to half-bury her in the snow, sinking her into the frozen, needle-packed earth beneath.
He struck a hard blow to her jaw. The EAA lay in the snow, some distance away. Shaking off the effects of the blow, she heaved him off her. He rolled back, and before she had a chance to move, grabbed the hilt of the knife, and ground the blade deeper into the muscle of her shoulder. She gritted her teeth, but she didn’t scream. Instead, she jabbed the tips of her fingers into the cricoid cartilage of his throat. He coughed, gagging, and his hand came off the knife. Grabbing hold of it, she drew it out. Her blood glimmered darkly as it ran down the narrow blade.
Rearing back away from her, he lunged for the EAA, snatched it up and aimed it at her. When she laughed at him, he pulled the trigger, pulled it again and again. It was empty. What had she meant to do? This thought was racing through his mind when she pulled a Glock 20 out of her parka. Throwing the useless EAA at her, he lurched up, turned, and ran a patternless path through the pines, toward the water. It was his only chance now to escape her.
As he ran, he unzipped his coat, shrugged it off. In the water, it would only help to carry him down. The water would be frigid—so cold that he would have only five or six minutes to swim away to safety before the temperature penetrated to his bones, anesthetizing him. Paralysis would not be far behind, followed by death.
A shot from behind him whistled past his right knee, and he stumbled, crashed into a tree, bounced off and kept running, deeper and deeper into the woods, closer and closer to the water, whose sound rushed at him like a conquering army. He pushed himself on, panted breath streaming from him.
When he saw the first glint of the water, his heart lifted and the breath came easier in his chest. Breaking free of the pines, he lurched along snowy scrub grass sprouting between bald rocks that sloped steeply down to the sea.
He was almost there when he skidded on a slick of muck, and the second shot, meant for his shoulder, grazed the side of his head. He spun around, arms flung wide, continued blindly, legs churning as he reached the lip of land, and, blinded by his own blood, plunged down into the icy depths.
Gazing at the spattering of tiny islets around him, rimed in ice, Jason Bourne sat in the center of the small fishing skiff, rod in one hand, flicking it back and forth as he trolled for sea trout, pike, or perch.
“You don’t like fishing much, do you?” Christien Norén said.
Bourne grunted, brushing himself off. The brief eruption of intense snow had vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. The sky was an oppressive icy gray.
“Keep still,” Christien admonished. He held his rod at a careless angle. “You’re scaring the fish away.”
“It’s not me.” Bourne frowned, peering down into the water, which was streaked brown and green. Shadows swayed as if to an unheard melody. “Something else is scaring them away.”
“Oh, ho.” Christien laughed. “There’s an underwater conspiracy coming to light.”
Bourne looked up. “Why did you take me out here? It doesn’t appear that you like fishing much, either.”
Christien regarded him steadily for some time. At length he said, “When discussing conspiracies, it’s best to do so in a space without walls.”
“A remote location. Hence this trip outside of Stockholm.”
Christien nodded. “Except that Sadelöga isn’t quite remote enough.”
“But out on the water, this boat finally meets your requirements.”
“The explanation for what you and Don Fernando have been up to had better be good. What I learned from Peter Marks in DC—”
“It’s not good,” Christien said. “In fact, it’s very, very bad. Which is why—”
Bourne’s silent signal—the flat of his free hand cutting through the chill air—silenced Christien immediately. Bourne pointed at the disturbance near them, the sudden rushing curl of water arched like a dorsal fin. Something was surfacing, something large.
“Good God,” Christien exclaimed.
Abandoning his rod, Bourne leaned forward and grabbed the rising body.
Rumor, innuendo, intimation, supposition.” The president of the United States skimmed the buff-jacketed daily intel report across the table, where it was fielded by Christopher Hendricks.
“With all due respect, sir,” the secretary of defense said, “I think it’s a bit more than that.”
The president leveled his clear, hard gaze at his most trusted ally. “You think it’s the truth, Chris.”
“I do, sir, yes.”
The president pointed at the folder. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my long and storied political career, it’s that a truth without facts is more dangerous than a lie.”
Hendricks drummed his fingers on the file. “And why would that be, sir?” He said this without rancor; he sincerely wanted to know.
The president heaved a sigh. “Because without facts, rumor, innuendo, intimation, and supposition have a way of conflating into myth. Myths have a way of worming their way into people’s psyches, becoming something more, something larger than life. Something indelible. Thus is born what Nietzsche called his ‘superman.’”
“And you believe that’s the case here.”
“That this man does not exist.”
“I didn’t say that.” The president swiveled his chair around, put his forearms on his gleaming desk, steepled his fingers judicially. “What I don’t believe are these rumors of what he has done—what he’s capable of doing. No, as of this moment I don’t believe those things.”
A small silence descended over them. Outside the Oval Office, the sound of a leaf blower was briefly heard, just inside the wall of reinforced concrete barriers at the perimeter of the sacred grounds. Looking out, Hendricks could see no leaves. But then, all work in and around the White House was inherently secretive.
Hendricks cleared his throat. “Nevertheless, sir, it’s my unwavering belief that he is a significant threat to this country.”
The American flag stood curled by the right side of the window, stars rippled. The president’s eyes were half-closed, his breathing deep and even. If Hendricks didn’t know better, he’d think the president had fallen asleep.
The president gestured for the file and Hendricks slid it back to him. The president opened it, leafing through the dense paragraphs of typescript. “Tell me about your shop.”
“Treadstone is running quite well.”
“Both your directors are up to speed?”
“You say that too quickly, Chris. Four months ago, Peter Marks was struck at the periphery of a car bomb. At almost the same time, Soraya Moore was hurt, involved as she was in tragic circumstances in Paris.”
“She got the job done.”
“No need to be defensive,” the president said. “I’m simply voicing my concern.”
“They’ve both been cleared medically and psychologically.”
“I’m sincerely glad to hear it. But these are unique directors, Chris.”
“Oh, come on, I don’t know any other intelligence directors who routinely deploy themselves in the field.”
“That’s the way it’s done in Treadstone. It’s a very small shop.”
“By design, I know.” The president paused. “And how is Dick Richards working out?”
“Integrating into the team.”
The president nodded. He tapped his forefinger ruminatively against his lower lip. “All right,” he said at length. “Put Treadstone on this business, if you must—Marks, Moore, Richards, whichever. But—” he raised a warning forefinger “—you’ll provide me with daily briefings on their progress. Above all, Chris, I want facts. Give me proof that this businessman—”
“The next great enemy to our security.”
“Whatever he is, give me proof that he warrants our attention, or you’ll deploy your valuable personnel on other pressing matters. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Hendricks rose and left the Oval Office, even more troubled than when he had entered.
When Soraya Moore had returned from Paris three months ago, she had found Treadstone a changed place. For one thing, because security had been breached when the car bomb that had injured Peter went off in the underground garage of the old offices, Treadstone had been moved out of Washington to Langley, Virginia. For another, the presence of a tall, reedy man with thinning hair and a winning smile.
“Who moved my cheese?” she had said to her co-director and close friend Peter Marks in a parody of a stage whisper.
Peter had barked a laugh as he embraced her. She knew he was about to ask her about Amun Chalthoum, the head of al Mokhabarat, the Egyptian secret service, who had been killed during her mission in Paris. She gave him a warning look and he bit his tongue.
The tall, reedy man, having emerged from his cubicle, was wandering over to them. He stuck out his hand, introducing himself as Dick Richards. An absurd name, Soraya thought.
“It’s good to have you back,” he said affably.
She shot him a quizzical look. “Why would you say that?”
“I’ve heard lots about you since my first day on the job, mostly from Director Marks.” He smiled. “I’d be pleased to get you up to date on the intel files I’ve been working, if you like.”
She plastered a smile on her face until he nodded to them both. When he was gone, she turned to Peter. “Dick Richards? Really?”
“Richard Richards. Like something out of Catch-22.”
“What was Hendricks thinking?”
“Richards isn’t our boss’s doing. He’s a presidential appointee.”
Soraya had glanced at Richards, who was back toiling away at his computer. “A spy in the house of Treadstone?”
“Possibly,” Peter had said. “On the plus side, he’s got a crackerjack rep at IDing and foiling cyber spying software.”
She had meant it as a joke, but Peter had answered her in all seriousness. “What, all of a sudden the president doesn’t trust Hendricks?”
“I think,” Peter had said in her ear, “that after what has happened to both of us, the president has his doubts about us.”
Eventually, Soraya and Peter tackled the twin traumas the two of them had suffered four months ago. It took a long time for her to get around to saying anything about Amun. Not surprisingly, Peter showed infinite patience with her; he had faith that she would tell him when she was ready.
They had just gotten a call from Hendricks, calling for a crash briefing an hour from now, so, while they had the time, the two of them by silent mutual consent grabbed their coats.
“Field assessment meeting in forty minutes,” the chubby blonde named Tricia said to Peter as they pushed out the door. Peter grunted, his mind elsewhere.
They left the offices, went out of the building and across the street where, at the edge of a park, they bought coffees and cinnamon buns from their favorite cart and, with hunched shoulders, strolled beneath the inconstant shelter of the bare-branched trees. They kept their backs to the Treadstone building.
“The really cruel thing,” she said, “is that Richards is a sharp cookie. We could use his expertise.”
“If only we could trust him.”
Soraya took a sip of her coffee, warming her insides. “We could try to turn him.”
“We’d be going up against the president.”
She shrugged. “So what else is new?”
He laughed and hugged her. “I missed you.”
She frowned as she ripped off a hunk of cinnamon bun and chewed it reflectively. “I stayed in Paris a long time.”
“Hardly surprising. It’s a city that’s hard to get out of your system.”
“It was a shock losing Amun.”
Peter had the grace to keep his own counsel. They walked for a while in silence. A child stood with his father, paying out the string on a kite in the shape of the Bat-Signal. They laughed together. The father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. The kite rose higher.
Soraya stared at them, her gaze rising to watch the kite’s flight. At length, she said, “While I was recovering, I thought, What am I doing? Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life, losing friends and—?” For a moment, she couldn’t go on. She had had strong, though conflicting, feelings for Amun. For a time, she had even thought she loved him but, in the end, she had been wrong. That revelation had only exacerbated her guilt. If she hadn’t asked him, if he hadn’t loved her, Amun would never have come to Paris. He’d be alive now.
Having lost her taste for food, she handed her coffee and the rest of her bun to a homeless man on a bench, who looked up, slightly stunned, and thanked her with a nod. When they were out of his earshot, she said softly, “Peter, I can’t stand myself.”
“You’re only human.”
“You’ve never made a mistake before?”
“Only human, yes,” she echoed him, her head down. “But this was a grievous error in judgment that I am determined never to make again.”
The silence went on so long that Peter became alarmed. “You’re not thinking of quitting.”
“I’m considering returning to Paris.”
A sudden change came over Peter’s face. “You’ve met someone.”
“Not a Frenchman. Please don’t tell me it’s a Frenchman.”
Silent, she stared at the kite, rising higher and higher.
He laughed. “Go,” he said. “Don’t go. Please.”
“It’s not only that,” she said. “Over there, in Paris, I realized there’s more to life than clinging to the shadows like a spider to its web.”
Peter shook his head. “I wish I knew what to—”
All at once one leg buckled under her. She staggered and would have fallen had Peter not dropped his food, the coffee spilling like oil at their feet, and grabbed her under the arm to steady her. Concerned, he led her over to a bench, where she sat, bent over, her head in her hands.
“Breathe,” he said with one hand on her back. “Breathe.”
She nodded, did as he said.
“Soraya, what’s going on?”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t know. Ever since I got out of the hospital I’ve been getting these dizzy spells.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“There was no need. They were getting less and less frequent. I haven’t had one for over two weeks.”
“And now this.” He moved his hand in a circular motion on her back in an attempt to soothe her. “I want you to make an appointment—”
“Stop treating me like a child.”
“Then stop acting like one.” His voice softened. “I’m concerned about you and I wonder why you aren’t.”
“All right,” she said. “All right.”
“Now you can’t go,” he said, only half in jest. “Not until—”
She laughed, and at last her head lifted. Tears glimmered in the corners of her eyes. “That’s my dilemma precisely.” Then she shook her head. “I’ll never find peace, Peter.”
“What you mean is you don’t deserve to find peace.”
She looked at him and he shrugged, a wan smile on his face. “Maybe what we need to concentrate on is explaining to each other why we both deserve a bit of happiness.”
She rose, shaking off his help, and they turned back. The homeless man had finished the breakfast Soraya had provided and was curled on his side on a bench beneath sheets of The Washington Post.
As they passed him they could hear him snoring deeply, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. And maybe, she thought, he didn’t.
She shot Peter a sideways glance. “What would I do without you?”
His smile cleared, widening as he walked beside her. “You know, I ask myself that all the time.”
Gone?” the Director said. “In what way gone?”
Above his head was engraved the current Mossad motto, excerpted from Proverbs 11:14: Where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
“She’s vanished off the grid,” Dani Amit, head of Collections, said. “Despite our most diligent efforts, we cannot locate her.”
“But we must locate her.” The Director shook his shaggy head, his livery lips pursed, a clear sign of his agitation. “Rebeka is the key to the mission. Without her, we’re dead in the water.”
“I understand that, sir. We all do.”
Dani Amit’s pale blue eyes seemed infinitely sad. “We are simply at a loss.”
“How can that be? She is one of us.”
“That is precisely the problem. We have trained her too well.”
“If that were the case, our people, trained as she was trained, could find her. The fact that up till now they haven’t would argue for the fact that she is something more, something better than they are.” The rebuke was as clear as it was sharp.
“I cannot abide that phrase,” the Director said shortly. “Her job at the airline?”
“Dead end. Her supervisor has had no contact with her since the incident in Damascus six weeks ago. I am convinced he does not know where she is.”
“What about her phone?”
“She’s either thrown it away or disabled its GPS.”
“Have been interviewed. One thing I know for certain is that Rebeka told no one about us.”
“To break protocol like this—”
There was no need to finish that sentence. Mossad rules were strictly enforced. Rebeka had violated the prime rule.
The Director turned, stared broodingly out the window of his satellite office on the top floor of a curving glass-faced structure in Herzliya. On the other side of the city were the Mossad training center and the summer residence of the prime minister. The Director often came here when he grew melancholy and found the Mossad’s ant-colony central HQ in downtown Tel Aviv oppressive and enervating. Here, there was a fountain in the middle of the circular driveway and fragrant flower beds all year round, not to mention the nearby harbor with its fleet of sailboats rocking gently in their slips. There was something reassuring about that forest of masts, even to Amit, as if their presence spoke of a certain permanence in a world where everything could change in the space of a heartbeat.
The Director loved sailing. Whenever he lost a man, which was, thankfully, not all that often, he went out on his boat, alone with the sea and the wind and the plaintive cry of the gulls. Without turning back, he said rather harshly, “Find her, Dani. Find out why she has disobeyed us. Find out what she knows.”
“She has betrayed us.” The Director swung back, leaned forward, his bulk making his chair squeal in protest. The full force of his authority was explicit behind each word he spoke. “She is a traitor. We will treat her as such.”
“Memune, I wonder at the wisdom of rushing to judgment.” Amit had used the Director’s internal title, first among equals.
The bullet- and bombproof windows were coated with a film that reflected light as well as the possibility of long-range surveillance, lending the room a distinctly aqueous quality. The Director’s eyes seemed to glimmer in the office’s low lamplight like a deep-sea fish rising into the beacon of a diver’s headlamp. “It isn’t lost on me that she has been your pet project, but it is time now to admit your mistake. Even if I were inclined to give Rebeka the benefit of the doubt, we are out of time. Events threaten to overrun us. We are old friends as well as comrades in arms. Don’t force me to call in the Duvdevan.”
Invoking the specter of the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite strike unit caused a blade of anxiety to knife through Amit. It was a measure of Rebeka’s extreme importance to Israeli security that the Director would even use the threat of the Duvdevan to induce Amit to do what the Director knew full well he was reluctant to do.
“Who will you use?” The Director said this conversationally, as if he were asking after Amit’s wife and children.
“What about her unique skills, her usefulness—”
“Her betrayal has trumped everything, Amit, even those extraordinary skills. We must assume that what she discovered has sent her to ground. What if her intent is to sell that knowledge to the highest—”
“Impossible,” Amit flared.
The Director contemplated him for a moment from beneath half-closed eyelids. “And I daresay up until today you would have said her disappearing off the grid was impossible.” He waited. “Am I wrong?”
Amit hung his head. “You’re not.”
“So.” The Director knit his fingers together. “Who will it be?”
“Ilan Halevy,” Amit said with a heavy heart.
“The Babylonian.” The Director nodded, seemingly impressed. Ilan had garnered his operations name by almost single-handedly shutting down the Iraqi Babylon Advanced Weapons Project. He had killed more than a dozen enemy operatives in that pursuit. “Well, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.”
The Director loved nothing better; it was one of his many admirable traits. His inflexibility was not. However, it was his iron hand on the tiller that for the past five years had guided them successfully through the rough seas of international espionage, clandestine forays into the territories of their enemies, and state-sanctioned executions while keeping their casualties to a minimum. He felt the deaths of his people like body blows, which was why, when they occurred, he needed to take to the sea. Out there, he buried his sorrow and cleared his head.
“You’ll start him—”
“Immediately,” Amit said. “He knows Rebeka well, better than most.”
Amit knew what the Director was implying but as yet he was unwilling to engage the notion. “I will brief the Babylonian myself. He will know everything I know.”
That was a lie, and Amit suspected his old friend knew it, but mercifully the Director remained silent. How could he tell the Babylonian everything he knew about Rebeka? That was a betrayal he was not about to commit, even to curry favor with the Director. He had lied to forestall the possibility of being given a direct order to divulge all he knew to the Babylonian. Such a moral choice might possibly spell the end of him or, at the very least, his effectiveness within Mossad.
The chair squealed again as the Director returned to his survey of the port city. Who knew what he was thinking? “Then it’s settled.” He said this as if he were speaking to himself. “It’s done.”
Amit rose and silently departed. There was no need for the two men to continue the conversation.
Out in the hall, the air-conditioning was fierce. For a moment, Amit stood immobile, as if lost. Occasionally, when it was appropriate, the Director requested that Amit go sailing with him, mourning side by side the man or woman they knew well who had delivered up their life to keep their country secure. Amit imagined this necessary ritual would come again after Rebeka was dead.
When he awoke, he was still swimming through frigid water, black as night. It had already infiltrated his nostrils, burning them, threatened to surge down his throat and inundate his lungs. Drowning, he was drowning. He kicked off his shoes, scrabbled in his pockets, divesting himself of keys, wallet, a thick roll of krona, anything that might have been weighing him down. Still he spiraled downward.
He would have screamed, but he was terrified that opening his mouth would let the water gush in, filling him up. Instead, he rose off the bed and, his torso shaking, his limbs spasming, shook himself violently as he tried to claw his way up through the icy water to the surface.
Something grabbed his arms, trying to restrain him, and he opened his eyes into aqueous semi-darkness. His dread bloomed anew. He was at the bottom of the sea, hallucinating as he drowned.
“It’s okay,” someone said. “You’re safe. Everything’s all right now.”
It took moments—moments that felt like an eternity. Intense anxiety clamped him in its tenacious grip. He heard the words spoken again, but they still made no sense: the brightness, the fact that he could breathe, the sight of two faces in front of him, breathing quite normally, which was inexplicable because they were all under water.
“The light,” a second voice said. “He thinks…Turn up the lights.”
A sudden blaze made him squint. Could there be such a dazzle on the sea floor? The third time he heard the words repeated, they began to seep through cracks in the armor of his anxiety, and he realized that he was breathing as normally as they were, which must mean that he was no longer in danger of drowning.
With that dawning came the realization of the pain in his head, and at the next pulse, he winced. But at least his body relaxed; he ceased fighting against the hands that held him. He let them lay him back down. He felt something soft beneath him, dry and solid—a mattress—and knew he wasn’t on the floor of the sea, there to die while he stared up helplessly into swaying nothingness.
He sighed deeply, and his legs relaxed, his arms came down to his sides and were released. He stared up into the face swimming above him, shuddering at the recurring thought of the water closing over him. He’d never go out on a boat again or even plunge through breakers as he used to do when he was a child. He frowned. Had he really done that? With an enormous effort to focus himself, he realized that he couldn’t remember his childhood. His frown deepened. How was that possible?
He was distracted by the face above him speaking to him. “My name is Christien. What is yours?” Christien repeated the question in a number of languages, all of which he understood, though he had no idea how he understood them. He had no memory of learning any language.
After Christien had finished, he said automatically, “My name is—” and then stopped.
“What is it?” Christien said. “What’s happened?”
“I don’t know.” He looked around the room, almost in panic. “I can’t remember my name.”
Christien, who had been leaning over, now stood up and, turning, said something he couldn’t make out to a shadowy figure behind and just to the right of him. He strained to make out the face, but then the figure stepped into the light.
“You can’t remember your name?” the second man said.
He shook his head, but that caused a fierce throbbing.
“What do you remember?”
He took a moment, but this only made him break out into a cold sweat as, his brow deeply furrowed, he strained to recall anything—even a single memory.
“Relax,” the second man said. He seemed to have taken over from Christien.
“Who are you?” he said.
“My name is Jason. You’re in a private clinic in Stockholm. Christien and I were out fishing when you surfaced. We pulled you into our boat and flew you here. You were suffering from hypoxia and hypothermia.”
He thought, I should ask Jason what those words mean, but to his shock, he already knew. He licked his lips and Christien, leaning over, poured water from a carafe into a plastic cup and stuck a bendy straw in it. Christien stepped on a pedal, and his head and torso were raised to a modified sitting position. He took the cup gratefully and sipped the water. He felt parched, as if his thirst would never be slaked.
“What…what happened to me?”
“You were shot,” Jason said. “A bullet grazed the left side of your head.”
Automatically his left hand went to the side of his head, felt the thick layers of bandages. He had identified the source of his headache.
“Do you know who shot you? Why you were shot?”
“No,” he said. He drained the cup, held it out for more.
While Christien refilled it, Jason said, “Do you know where you were shot, where you went into the water?”
At the mention of going into the water he shuddered. “No.”
Christien handed him the cup. “It was Sadelöga.”
“Do you remember Sadelöga?” Jason said. “Does the name sound familiar?”
“Not in the least.” He was about to shake his head again, but stopped himself in time. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I remember.”
This seemed to interest Jason. “Nothing at all?” he said.
He stopped sipping his water. “Not where I was born, who my parents are, who I am, what I was doing in—where did you say?”
“Sadelöga,” Christien said.
“Maybe I was fishing there,” he said hopefully, “like you.”
“I very much doubt that fishing involves being shot, and there’s no hunting to speak of there,” Jason said. “No, you were in Sadelöga for another reason entirely.”
“I wish I knew what it was,” he said sincerely.
“There’s another thing,” Jason said. “You had no identification on you—no wallet, passport, keys, money.”
He thought a moment. “I threw them all away, along with my shoes, to lighten myself. I was desperate to get back to the surface. They must all be at the bottom of the sea now.”
“You remember getting rid of these things,” Jason said.
“I…Yes, I do.”
“You said that you remembered nothing.”
“That I remember. Nothing else.” He looked at Jason. “I don’t recall you pulling me out of the water, or the trip here. Only those first panic-stricken moments after I went under, not going under itself. Nothing of that.”
Jason seemed lost in thought. “Maybe when you’re sufficiently recovered we should take you back to Sadelöga.”
“Would you agree to that?” Christien asked.
He thought about that for a moment. On the one hand, the idea of returning to the spot where he went into the water terrified him; on the other, he felt an overwhelming, desperate desire to know who he was.
“When can we leave?” he said at last.
What do you think?”
Bourne looked at Christien. They were downstairs in the lounge of the private clinic owned by Christien’s company. Outside, the traffic along Staligatan was fierce, but the clinic’s thick windows muffled all noise. Clouds were gathering as if for a battle. Once again, it looked like snow. They sat on low Swedish-modern furniture, stylish as well as practical: a sofa in a sturdy print, its colors suitably muted, that was the focal point of one of several conversation areas.
“He reminds me of me,” Bourne said.
Christien nodded. “I had the same thought, though this man’s amnesia appears virtually complete.”
“If he’s telling us the truth.”
“Jason, he was quite clearly in serious distress. Is there any reason to doubt him?”
“The bullet that grazed the side of his head,” Bourne said. “He isn’t a tourist. Also, he quite clearly, as you would say, understood all five languages you spoke to him in.”
“So he’s a linguist. So what?”
“So am I.”
“You’re also a professor of comparative linguistics.”
“Used to be.”
“He could be one, too.”
“What’s he doing out here with a bullet crease in the side of his head?”
“I want to find out whether he’s in our business.”
Christien gave him a skeptical look. “Just because he’s a linguist?”
Bourne gestured. “Look, if he’s not a spy we have nothing to worry about. But given what you’ve told me…”
Christien spread his hands. “All right, what do you suggest?”
“We have some time before we can take him back to Sadelöga.”
“What does it matter? We won’t get anything out of him in his current state.”
“Untrue. We can subject him to a series of tests.”
Christien shook his head. “Tests? What do you mean?”
Bourne sat forward, perched on the edge of the sofa. “You discovered that this man speaks at least five languages when he himself didn’t know that. Let’s find out what else he doesn’t know he knows.”
Soraya and Peter left the briefing with Hendricks filled with mixed feelings.
“This so-called Nicodemo sounds like a ghost,” Soraya said. “I don’t like chasing ghosts.”
“For some reason, Hendricks is obsessed with finding and eliminating Nicodemo,” Peter said. “He gave it his highest priority. And yet, he had no specific intel, no chatter as to a clear and present attack that Nicodemo might be planning against American personnel or citizens abroad or here at home. I smell a political hot potato.”
“I never thought of that.”
Peter laughed. “That’s because you still have one foot in Paris.”
She turned to him. “Is that what you think?”
He shrugged. “Can you blame me?”
The hallway was quiet, save for the hum of the HVAC vents high up in the walls. Far away at one end, she thought she saw Dick Richards coming toward them, and she groaned inwardly. The guy was like a leech.
She gestured with her head toward Richards. “If we can’t trust each other, we’re fucked.”
“My thought exactly.”
“About your leaving…”
“Let’s not talk about that now, Peter.” She sighed. It was definitely Richards coming toward them. “So how important to us is finding Nicodemo?”
“If, as you surmise, the issue is political, not very. I didn’t take this job to carry Hendricks’s water.”
“I think I know just what to tell Mary’s little lamb.”
She smiled broadly as they met Dick Richards halfway along the hall.
Richards handed a dossier to Peter. “I have some intel briefs I thought you’d want to see,” he said helpfully.
“Thanks.” Peter, opening the file, glanced through the pages with no real interest.
Soraya shoved the fuzzy intel on Nicodemo that Hendricks had given them in the briefing at Richards.
“Peter and I would like you to run this person of interest down,” she said, “see if there’s anything substantive to him, see what level of danger he represents to US interests abroad.”
Peter looked up as Richards nodded. He gave her a sharp glance to which she responded with her sweetest smile.
“We’d appreciate your dropping whatever it is you’re working on now,” she continued, “and concentrating on this until you can give us a yea or a nay. If you need any help, ask Tricia.” She pointed in the general direction of the chubby blonde.
“Great.” Richards, having no interest in assistance of any kind, slapped the back of his hand against the thin file Soraya had given him. “I’ll get on it ASAP.”
“Atta boy,” she said. “Make it so, Number One.”
“Star Trek TNG, right?” He gave her a lopsided grin. “I won’t let you down, Captain.” Turning on his heel, he retreated down the hallway to his cubicle to begin his data search.
Peter frowned. “That was wicked cold.”
She shrugged. “It saves us some busywork and it keeps him off our streets. Where’s the harm?”
When Dick Richards heard their muffled laughter behind him, he began to change his mind about at last feeling included. Or perhaps he only imagined their laughter. What he knew was real, however, was their contempt. Director Marks had been okay—cool, but helpful—when he had arrived at the president’s beckoning. The atmosphere started to deteriorate, however, the moment Director Moore returned from her medical leave in Paris. Regarding the co-directors of Treadstone, Richards had no more to go on than hearsay, office scuttlebutt, and, least reliable of all, the inter-agency mythos that always arose like smoke obscuring the true contours of the land.
The president’s orders had been most specific. He had come to the great man’s attention through his job at the NSA, cracking the core code to the horrific Stuxnet worm, the most advanced malicious software worm to date, the first to be called a cyberweapon, that had baffled the best cyber security analysts for months. Variations on the Stuxnet worm had sucked up information on US advanced weapons systems, clandestine asset locations, forward initiatives by the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and drone strike targets in western Pakistan. He had also been the one to realize that the SecurID tokens the federal clandestine operatives used had been hacked. He identified the security flaw that had allowed the breach and sealed it.
He was like Einstein formulating the equation for the speed of light. At least that was how he had been described to the president by Mike Holmes, his former boss at NSA. Now he worked strictly for the president, reported to him directly. Their relationship was unprecedented, and quite naturally caused no end of jealousy among the members of the president’s cabinet, who resented his presence, let alone his cyber triumphs. What it boiled down to, Richards thought now, as he climbed into his chair and faced his computer screen, was that they didn’t understand him. Human beings, he had discovered, hated and feared anyone or anything they couldn’t understand.
Now his new directors were firmly in that restive camp. Pity. He had begun to like Director Marks, and he might have felt the same way about Director Moore had either of them given him a chance. Someone else might have been angry at them for this gross disservice, but Richards’s mind didn’t work that way. He knew, also from experience, that the best way for him to not only survive at Treadstone, but to flourish, serving the president as he was expected to do, was to change the co-directors’ opinion of him.
Opening the slim file Director Moore had handed him, he read through the close-set typescript, which, he saw immediately, was little more than unreliable bits and pieces—ephemera from the field. Still, there remained the possibility, slim though it might be, that at the heart of this smoke-and-mirrors show there lay an actual piece of uncharted topography. And he knew without a shadow of a doubt that if he could reveal this topography for the directors, they would begin to see him in a new light. This, more than anything else, was what he desired. It was what needed to happen. His master’s command.
He opened his Iron Key browser to the Internet and, fingers flying over the keyboard, began his search for a myth.
Rebeka stared out at the beautiful, bleak expanse of Hemviken Bay. Sitting at a waterside table at Utö Wärdshus, the only restaurant in this area of the southern Swedish archipelago, she nursed a coffee and her sore right shoulder. She’d received no more than a flesh wound from her quarry’s sudden attack. Anyone else would have berated herself for failing to deflect the attack, but not Rebeka. She had trained herself to let go, not to feel remorse or, worse, to castigate herself. She lived in the present, thinking only of the perilous future, and how to get there successfully while absorbing the minimum of damage.
Upon entering the restaurant, her practiced eye had noted all sixteen tables, only three of which were inhabited, one by a pair of old men, one of them in a wheelchair, slowly and deliberately playing chess, another by an ancient mariner with rough hands the color of a boiled lobster claw, reading a local paper while smoking a small-bowled pipe, and the third by a pregnant woman and her daughter, who Rebeka judged to be five or six. Her professional assessment was that none of them posed a threat, and she promptly forgot about them.
After her target had gone into the water, Rebeka, completely ignoring her knife wound, had spent the better part of an hour wading in looking for him. For all her efforts, standing firm against being pulled out with the tide, for the almost-frostbite in her toes, she had failed to find him. This was both unfortunate and frightening. She was fairly certain her shot had done nothing more than crease her target’s head. If she hadn’t killed him, she wanted to make certain the frigid water didn’t. She needed what was in his brain, and she cursed herself for shooting at him at all. She should have simply jumped in after him. Overpowering him in the water, she felt certain, would have been no difficult matter. Instead he was gone and, with him, the intel he carried that would save her.
Absentmindedly, she stirred more sugar into her coffee, then took a sip. Her own people were now after her. No one knew better than she how ruthless and relentless the Mossad could be when they believed one of their own had betrayed them. She fervently wished there had been another way to tackle the problem, but she knew Colonel Ari Ben David better than to think he would believe her wild tale, and there was simply no one else to go to. Well, there was one person, but her training made her reluctant to involve anyone outside Mossad.
She heard the waitress’s voice, and turning, winced. The knife wound she had received in Damascus was not yet fully healed, and certain sharp movements of her upper torso reminded her it was still there.
“Would you care for more coffee?”
The waitress smiled at her. She looked like a Valkyrie. Rebeka could imagine her, armored, riding to Ragnarök, or, more realistically, out on a fishing boat, hauling in the morning’s catch. She nodded, returning the smile.
Turning back to the bay, she saw that a storm was coming in. Fine. The increasing bleakness matched her mood. She drank her coffee, added more sugar, and reflected on her life since she had met Jason Bourne on her regularly scheduled flight to Damascus. Though it was only six weeks ago, her former cover as a flight attendant seemed like a hundred years ago. How her life had changed since then! She and Bourne had both been after the same terrorist target, Semid Abdul-Qahhar. During their showdown with him, they had both been wounded. Though he had been shot in the shoulder, Bourne had flown her in a stolen helicopter across the southern border into Lebanon and, at her whispered instructions, had set down inside the Mossad encampment in Dahr El Ahmar.
Now she had no idea where he was or whether he would even talk to her. After all, it was she who had directed him to the encampment commanded by Ben David. For all she knew, he blamed her for what had happened.
No, even if she had been able to find him, she couldn’t go to Bourne with her suspicions, in spite of the fact that they had arisen during her convalescence in Dahr El Ahmar. As far as he was concerned, she was the enemy. She had betrayed him. After what had happened, how could he think otherwise?
And, of course, she herself had come under suspicion from having brought Bourne into the encampment. Colonel Ben David was not a forgiving man—in truth, he could not afford to be—but the change in how he viewed her shocked, then saddened, her. She was inured to the byzantine ways of her world, but nothing she had experienced before could have prepared her for how quickly and thoroughly he had turned on her. In fact, he had acted more like a jilted lover than her commanding officer. It was only later, after she had left, after she had decided to act on the intel she had overheard while convalescing, after she had been in full pursuit of her target, that the nature of Ben David’s true feelings had dawned on her. In hindsight, she realized that she had never been just an agent to him. Now, of course, it was too late to do anything about that, even had she wished to.
The stormfront hurled the first fistfuls of snow against the window with a force that startled her. The glass shivered and creaked in the wind. It was then that she turned around and saw the man, thin as a blade, sitting at a table near the door farthest from her, and knew that all was lost.
One man. A single man.” Christien looked at Bourne. “His name is Nicodemo, but he is more commonly known at the Djinn Who Lights The Way.”
“He is the advance guard, the outrider.”
“In other words, he gets things done.”
Bourne stared out the window. It was late morning. Clouds kept rolling in from the north like waves on a seashore. Off and on, snow gusted in the wind eddies. The nameless man, who Bourne had come to think of as Alef, had passed into an exhausted sleep. Bourne and Christien had decided to take a break from interrogating him, though neither of them had wanted to.
“Tell me about Nicodemo,” Bourne said. “Why are you and Don Fernando so concerned about him?”
The restaurant occupied the top floor of a chrome-and-green-glass ultramodern building on Kommendörsgatan in the posh Östermalm section of Stockholm, close to where Christien lived.
Christien shrugged. “I’ll tell you as much as I know, which, quite honestly, isn’t much; his origins are obscure. Some say he’s Portuguese, others maintain he’s Bolivian, still others swear he’s Czech. Whatever the truth, he came out of nowhere, quite literally. For some time, a decade ago, he seemed to be an investment conduit for Core Energy. During that time, the company mushroomed into a multinational powerhouse that buys and sells all forms of energy. No one seems to know whether he is still involved, or in what way. By comparison, the CEO of Core Energy, Tom Brick, is an open book. He was born in London’s World’s End, graduated from London Business School. Don’t let his lack of degrees fool you, he’s a very savvy guy.”
“Let’s get back to Nicodemo.”
“That’s the problem. Nicodemo seems inextricably linked with Core Energy.”
“Nicodemo is a terrorist,” Bourne said, “and Core Energy is a legitimate company, a leader in the burgeoning energy markets, green and otherwise.”
“That’s the most troubling part, Jason, the one Don Fernando and I have been investigating for months now. We believe that Core Energy is on the verge of making a deal that will be a game-changer, that will give it such an advantage in the new energy markets as to cause its profits to explode tenfold.”
Bourne shrugged. “Business is business, Christien.”
“Not when it leaves death and destruction in its wake.”
“Which is where, I assume, Nicodemo comes in.”
Christien nodded. “This is what we believe, yes.”
“Are you certain this man actually exists?”
“What d’you mean?”
“Have you ever heard of Domenico Scarfo?”
Christien shook his head.
“He was a notorious boss of the Philadelphia mob in the forties and fifties. Behind his back, people called him ‘Little Nicky’ because he was five-six, but his full name was Nicodemo Domenico Scarfo.”
“What are you saying?”
Bourne set aside his menu. “I’ve come across this kind of thing several times before. A name is created, a legend is built, fed first by myth, then by rumors and innuendo, sometimes even by murders committed by a cadre of people who work for the people who created the name in the first place.”
Christien plucked a warm roll from a basket in the center of the table and began to butter it. “Your own origin, if my sources are correct.”
“The Jason Bourne identity was created this way, yes.” Bourne took a sip of fresh orange juice.
Christien spooned up some lingonberry jam. “And now you are Jason Bourne.”
Bourne nodded. “I am. Identities are powerful images that often take on a life of their own and have unintended consequences. But if I hadn’t lost my memory…”
Christien nodded thoughtfully. “We’re back to Alef. I take your point.” He bit into his roll and looked up at the waiter, who had appeared by their side. He raised his eyebrows at Bourne, who ordered scrambled eggs and gravlax, toast, and more coffee. “I’ll have the same,” he said.
When the waiter left, Bourne said, “Have you or Don Fernando entertained the notion that Nicodemo is an identity Tom Brick created so that he could circumvent the law without any blowback for either him or Core Energy?”
Christien said, “Nicodemo exists, believe me.”
Bourne looked up. “You’ve met him?”
“Don Fernando believes he has.” He was speaking of Don Fernando Hererra, his sometime partner, an industrialist, banker, and friend with whom Bourne had had dealings previously.
“Even if I accept what you tell me, all we know for certain is that he’s met someone purporting to be Nicodemo. It doesn’t mean that Nicodemo actually exists.”
“I should take lessons from you on cynicism.”
“One man’s cynicism is another man’s prudence,” Bourne said. “Speaking of Don Fernando, where is he? It would be helpful to speak with him.”
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Bourne said shortly.
The food came then. They were both silent until the waiter left and they began to eat.
“The truth is,” Christien said, “he has asked me to keep his whereabouts secret.”
Bourne put down his fork and sat back. “Look, make a decision. Do you and Don Fernando want my help or not?”
“Either way, you’ll have to deal with this growing menace. Core Energy forced us to use subterfuge to buy into the Indigo Ridge Rare Earths mine in California. If we hadn’t, it would have bought it out from under America. We couldn’t allow that to happen. But Core has been busy elsewhere, buying up rare earth, uranium, gold, silver, copper, and base metals mines in Canada, Africa, and Australia. In the decades to come, these resources will increase in value exponentially as one nation after another is forced to phase out machines that run on oil, coal, and even natural gas. The world is running out of oil. As for coal, we’ll all be choking on the carcinogenic fumes that plague every city in China, India, and Thailand unless we abandon it as an energy source. Solar panels aren’t energy efficient and as for those much-hyped wind turbines, each one requires four hundred pounds of rare earths. Besides, you can’t put a windmill on a car or an airplane. Hybrid cars are dependent on rare earth components as well, and as for electric cars, where d’you think the electricity comes from?”
Christien shook his head. “Nicodemo has seen the future and it’s energy.”
“But Core Energy is run by Tom Brick.”
“Right. Brick is the company’s public face. But it’s altogether possible that he is getting his orders from Nicodemo. This is what Don Fernando intends to find out. If it’s true, it would allow Nicodemo the freedom to work on the nether side of the law. Don Fernando believes that he is the first of the coming generation of terrorists. He can make deals in the shadows, the gray areas—by outright bribery, extortion, or other methods of coercion—that Brick and Core Energy itself can’t. He’s motivated by neither religion nor ideology. Corner the market on the next century’s major fuel sources and you have the entire world at your feet. In one fell swoop you’ve choked off free trade, you’ve compromised nations’ economies and security. These days, no one can build a competent army without weapons that rely heavily on rare earths.”
“Where has Don Fernando gone?”
Christien, too, put down his utensils and wiped his mouth. “Jason, there is a very good reason why Don Fernando asked me to keep his whereabouts secret. He was afraid that you’d try to follow him.”
“Why?” Bourne leaned forward. “Where has he gone? Tell me.”
Christien sighed. “Jason, we have our own mystery to solve here.”
“There’s no going back. You’ll tell me now.”
The two men’s gazes locked in a contest of wills. At length, Christien looked down at his plate. He picked up his knife and fork and returned to eating. He did not look up from his food. Between bites he said, “Don Fernando has gone to find the Djinn Who Lights The Way.”
Rebeka paid her check, rose, and walked to the door. At the last minute, she turned and sat down at the table where the blade-thin man had installed himself some time before.
“Edge of the world,” he said dryly.
She eyed him. “Not nearly.”
“For us, at least.”
“You mean Jews?”
He had curiously dainty hands, milky white, the knuckles prominent, as if the bones were about to burst through the skin. His eyes were black, his thinning hair of a nondescript color. His features were sharp: a slash of mouth, a knife-like nose. She had seen him only once before, years ago, when she had finished her training and had been summoned to Mossad’s Tel Aviv headquarters. He had watched, silent as death, as Dani Amit, head of Collections, had given her her first commission. She remembered him, though, his face indelible on the screen of her mind. His name was Ze’ev—wolf, in Hebrew—though she seriously doubted it was the one he had been born with.
“You’re lucky I found you,” Ze’ev said.
“How does that work?” She cocked her head.
He took an almost dainty sip of coffee. “They’ve activated the Babylonian.”
Beneath her cool exterior, Rebeka felt the first ripples of apprehension. She tamped down on this emotion before it could turn into outright fear. “Why would they do that?”
“What the devil are you up to?” Ze’ev said.
At first, she thought he had deliberately ignored her question, but she quickly realized that his counter-question was his answer. The depth to which she had shaken her bosses was signified by their extreme response.
She shook her head.
“I don’t understand you, Rebeka. You’ve had a stellar career so far. Then you go and bring Jason Bourne into Dahr El Ahmar, into the heart of—”
“He saved my life. I was bleeding out. There was nowhere else to go.”
Ze’ev sat back, his black eyes contemplating her. She wondered what he was thinking.
“You had clearance. You knew the secret nature of Dahr El Ahmar.”
She met his gaze, said nothing.
“As I said.”
He shook his head. “Colonel Ben David is out for your blood—and, of course, Bourne’s.”
“I had no idea of the Colonel’s intense antipathy toward Bourne.”
“Are you saying he’s not justified?”
She thought about this for a moment. “I suppose not. But at the time of the crisis I had no knowledge—”
“But you did have the one piece of crucial knowledge: the absolute secrecy in which Dahr El Ahmar operates. Bourne escaped. He knows—”
“You have no idea what he knows,” she snapped. “He was in the encampment for less than fifteen minutes. He was wounded and fighting for his life. I hardly think he had time to—”
“One, Bourne is a trained agent; he sees and hears everything. Two, he knows, at the very least, that Dahr El Ahmar exists. Three, he escaped via helicopter, which means he overflew the compound.”
“That doesn’t mean he made sense of what he saw. He was too busy trying to evade the ground-to-air missile Ben David sent up after him.”
“So far as Colonel Ben David—and, I have it on good authority, Dani Amit—are concerned, Bourne’s presence at Dahr El Ahmar is more than enough to condemn him. The security breach is of the most serious level. Following this, you vanish off the grid. Rebeka, you must see where their thinking has taken them.”
“The two incidents are wholly unrelated.”
“Of course you’d say that.”
“It’s the truth.”
He shook his head. “They don’t buy it and, frankly, neither do I.”
“The Babylonian has been loosed, Rebeka. He’s coming for you.” He sighed. “There’s only one way to stop him.”
“Forget it,” she said. “Don’t even ask me.”
He shrugged. “Then I’m talking to a dead woman. Pity.” He threw down some money, then rose.
He stood, staring down at her with an expression that made something inside her wither.
Rebeka’s mind was working furiously. “Sit.”
He hesitated, then did as she requested.
“There’s something—” She stopped herself, abruptly frightened. She had promised herself to tell no one what had happened at Dahr El Ahmar. She looked away, chewing her lower lip in uncertainty.
“What is it?” Ze’ev said, leaning forward.
Some tone in his voice—conciliatory, as if he harbored a real concern for her—caused her to turn back. This is the moment, she thought. To trust or not to trust. It’s now or never. Of course, there was an entirely different route she could take.
She took a deep breath, trying to settle herself, but nothing could stop the almost painful hammering of her heart. The not-quite-healed wound in her side began to throb.
“Rebeka, look, there are two reasons someone in your position bolts. These days, we can forget ideology. So what are we left with? Money and sex.” He regarded her with great sympathy, even during her continued silence. “I’m going to hazard a guess. There’s been only one change in your recent life—Jason Bourne. Am I right?”
Oh, my God, she thought. He believes I betrayed Mossad at Bourne’s request. But perhaps she could use that misconception.
She rose abruptly and pushed out the door, only to be slapped in the face by the storm. She stood under the eaves of the restaurant, which sheltered her partially from the stinging snow but not at all from the ferocious wind.
It wasn’t long before she sensed that Ze’ev had pushed through the door to stand close beside her.
“You see,” he said, his voice raised over the unearthly howling, “there’s nowhere to go from here.”
She allowed a long silence to build before she let out a breath and said, “You’re right.” She made herself look slightly ashamed. “It is Bourne.”
Ze’ev’s eyebrows knitted together. “What did he say to convince you? What did he do?”
“I was with him for two nights in Damascus.” Her eyes engaged fully with his. “What d’you think?”
Life at Treadstone was difficult for Dick Richards. Going from NSA, where he was revered, even by the president, to being a virtual pariah was not easy on the nerves. That, on top of his duplicitous role, was getting to him. He was not someone cut out for the field; he did not have that nerveless sort of personality those agents did. You had to be born with it; no amount of training would give it to you. The fact was, he was a physical coward. He had lived with this humiliating knowledge since he was thirteen, in summer camp, in a house commanded by a bully who, sensing Richards’s weakness, preyed on him mercilessly. Instead of fighting back, he had endured the humiliations until, at the end of the dreadful summer, he had held out his hand to the bully and said, “No hard feelings, yeah?” All he had gotten in return was a knowing smirk. That memory haunted him into adult life, where it had been repeated in other forms. His intellectual achievements sometimes masked this core failing in him, but not always, and certainly not, as now, in the dead of night, when even the city’s golden glow failed to exorcise the feeling of helplessness from his heart.
He had been at his computer all afternoon, evening, and into the night, stopping only to relieve his bladder and to get himself a hurried bite of fast food that now sat like a congealed lump in his roiling stomach. Opening a drawer without taking his eyes off the screen, he twisted open a bottle of antacids and popped a handful into his mouth, then chewed desultorily as he continued to pretend to track down the ghost in the sketchy intel his directors had given him, half, he suspected, in jest. Another humiliation piled onto all the others. On the other hand, it was heartening to know they weren’t much interested in Nicodemo themselves. The order must have come down from above, which meant that it was Secretary Hendricks who was trying to find Nicodemo. Richards had no idea who Nicodemo was; nevertheless, he knew far more about him than did anyone else at Treadstone.
His interest lay in the spate of Chinese cyberattacks on government, military, and contractor servers worldwide, trying to glean classified knowledge. It was this investigation he had been working on all day and evening. There had been several moments when he had been certain he’d been onto something, following threads through firewalls, breaking into encrypted files, accessing site after vault-like site, his platoon of software Trojans and worms that he himself had tweaked to his own exacting specifications allowing him access to sites in Russia, Romania, Serbia, and, finally, China. Always China. Each path he took, however, proved to be either a dead end or a false lead, leaving him, after eight hours, back where he had started. But not quite. Knowing where not to look was an excellent tool for first changing his search parameters, then narrowing them down.
He stood up, stretched, and walked over to the bulletproof window. Small sensors were embedded in the glass that sent out electronic signals proven to jam any audio surveillance system. He stared down at the deserted streets below. Occasionally a car or truck rumbled by. Unbidden, thoughts of his father and his stepfather bloomed in his mind like poisoned flowers. His father, who had left when Richards’s mother had gone blind. Richards had been four. Years later, he had used his computer skills to track his father down only to find that the man denied ever having sired him. As for Richards’s stepfather, he had entered the damaged family in order to live off Richards’s mother’s money. He had made fun of her, had repeatedly betrayed her with a virtual harem of women. When Richards had tried to tell his mother, she had not only refused to believe him but had grown visibly angry, castigating him for refusing to accept her new husband. It was only then he realized that she knew everything, but was so terrified of being on her own that she had sunk deeper and deeper into her own manufactured reality.
Abruptly, he returned to his desk. Standing at the window made him feel like an animal in a cage, imprisoned within the stronghold of the modern Treadstone castle. He was only dimly aware that it was his life in which he felt imprisoned. Unconsciously, he had chosen his mother’s solution. He had made the Internet, endlessly morphing, always fascinating, more real to him than anything else in his life.
Flexing his fingers, he cracked his knuckles, then placed his fingertips on the keys. What he needed to do was something more constructive. He decided to fabricate intel on Nicodemo that he could present to his directors, maybe get into their good graces. He felt that old familiar desperation to have superiors like him, and his cheeks flamed with shame.
He took a deep breath. Concentrate, he thought. Do what you do best; you’ll feel better for this small success. Looking for one man in the complex ISP stew of the Internet was always difficult, he knew. He also knew that no man—not even a ghost—could exist as an island. He had to have associates, friends, family—in other words, an infrastructure, just like everyone else. Even if he didn’t so far exist on the Net, they certainly would. And then there was the fact that he made money, lots of it, according to the scraps Richards had been given. Money did not exist in a vacuum; it came from somewhere and went somewhere else. Those places might be well hidden, but they existed; their routes existed online as well as in the real world. None of this, however, applied to Nicodemo; Richards knew this much about him.
Not to worry, he decided, his pulse rate climbing; he’d manufacture an oblique approach to finding the Djinn Who Lights The Way. So thinking, he returned to the pathetically few crumbs in the file, reading them over in this new light, for a way to begin writing his bogus trip through the cyberworld of the Net.
As if of their own volition, his fingers began their familiar tattoo on the keyboard. Moments later, he was once again immersed in his beloved virtual universe.
The trouble is you flew.”
“What do you mean?” Soraya shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Dr. Steen glanced up from the folder that contained the results of her EEG and MRI tests. “You were injured in Paris, is that right?”
“And you were treated there as well.”
She nodded. “That’s right.”
“Were you not cautioned about the risks associated with flying?”
Soraya felt the beating of her heart. It was far too rapid, as if it had broken free of its cage and had risen into her throat. “I thought I was fine.”
Excerpted from Robert Ludlum's (TM) The Bourne Imperative by Eric Van Lustbader Copyright © 2012 by Eric Van Lustbader. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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