The Bourne Identity / Page 28

Page 28



'I don't understand,' said Marie St Jacques.

'It's a rundown section that has not kept up with the times,' replied the official. 'The old fabric mills used to be there. A haven for the less fortunate ... and others. Los!' he ordered.

They drove off.

8

A crack. Outside the room. Snaplike, echoing off into a sharp Goda, the sound penetrating, diminishing in the distance. Bourne opened his eyes.

The staircase. The staircase hi the filthy hall outside his room. Someone had been walking up the steps and had stopped, aware of the noise his weight had caused on the warped, cracked wood. A normal boarder at the Steppdeckstrasse rooming house would have no such concern.

Silence.

Crack. Now closer. A risk was taken, timing paramount, speed the cover. Jason spun off the bed, grabbing the gun that was by his head, and lunged to the wall by the door. He crouched, hearing the footsteps - one man - the runner, no longer concerned with sound, only with reaching his destination. Bourne had no doubt what it was; he was right

The door crashed open; he smashed it back, then threw his full weight into the wood, pinning the intruder against the doorframe, pummelling the man's stomach, chest and arm into the recessed edge of the wall. He pulled the door back and lashed the toe of his right foot into the throat below him, reaching down with his left hand, grabbing blond hair and yanking the figure inside. The man's hand went limp; the gun in it fell to the floor, a long-barrelled revolver with a silencer attached.

Jason closed the door and listened for sounds on the stair-

case. There were none. He looked down at the unconscious man. Thief? Killer? What was he?

Police? Had the Vermieter of the boarding house decided to overlook the Code of the Steppdeckstrasse in search of a reward? Bourne rolled the intruder over and took out a wallet. Second nature made him remove the money, knowing it was ludicrous to do so; he had a small fortune on him. He looked at the various credit cards and driver's licence; he smiled, but then his smile disappeared. There was nothing funny, the names on the cards were different names, the name on the licence matching none. The unconscious man was no police officer.

He was a professional, come to kill a wounded man in the Steppdeckstrasse. Someone had hired him. Who? Who could possibly know he was there!

The woman? Had he mentioned the Steppdeckstrasse when he had seen the row of neat houses, looking for Number 37? ... No, it was not she; he may have said something, but she would not have understood. And if she had, there'd be no professional killer in his room; instead, the rundown boarding house would be surrounded by police.

The image of a large fat man perspiring above a table came to Bourne. That same man had wiped the sweat from his protruding lips and had spoken of the courage of an insignificant goat - who had survived. Was this an example of his survival technique? Had he known about the Steppdeckstrasse? Was he aware of the habits of the patron whose sight terrified him? Had he been to the filthy rooming house? Delivered an envelope there?

Jason pressed his hand to his forehead and shut his eyes. Why can't I remember? When will the mists clear? Will they ever clear?

Don't crucify yourself ...

Bourne opened his eyes, fixing them on the blond man. For the briefest of moments he nearly burst out laughing; he had been presented with his exit visa from Zurich, and instead of recognizing it, he was wasting time tormenting himself. He put the wallet in his pocket, wedging it behind the Marquis de Chambord's, picked up the gun and shoved it into his belt, then dragged the unconscious figure over to the bed.

A minute later the man was strapped to the sagging mattress, gagged by a torn sheet wrapped around his face. He would remain where he was for hours, and in hours Jason would be out of Zurich, compliments of a perspiring fat man.

He had slept in his clothes. There was nothing to gather up or carry, except his overcoat. He put it on, and tested his leg. somewhat after the fact, he reflected. In the heat of the past few minutes he had been unaware of the pain; it was there, as the limp was there, but neither immobilized him. The shoulder was not in as good shape. A slow paralysis was spreading; he had to get to a doctor. His head ... he did not want to think about his head.

He walked out into the dimly lit hallway, pulled the door closed and stood motionless, listening. There was a burst of laughter from above; he pressed his back against the wall, gun poised. The laughter trailed off; it was a drunk's laughter - incoherent, pointless.

He limped to the staircase, held onto the railing, and started down. He was on the top floor of the four-storey building, having insisted on the highest room when the phrase high ground had come to him instinctively. Why had it come to him? What did it mean in terms of renting a filthy room for a single night? Sanctuary?

Stop it!

He reached the first-floor landing, creaks in the wooden staircase accompanying each step. If the Vermieter came out of his flat below to satisfy his curiosity, it would be the last thing he satisfied for several hours.

A noise. A scratch. Soft fabric moving briefly across an abrasive surface. Cloth against wood. Someone was concealed in the short stretch of hallway between the end of one staircase and the beginning of another. Without breaking the rhythm of his walk, he peered into the shadows; there were three recessed doorways in the right wall, identical to the floor above. In one of them ...

He took a step closer. Not the first; it was empty. And it would not be the last, the bordering wall forming a cul de sac, no room to move. It had to be the second, yes, the second doorway. From it a man could rush forward, to his left or right, or throwing a shoulder into an unsuspecting victim, sending his target over the railing, plunging down the staircase.

Bourne angled to his right, shifting the gun to his left hand and reaching into his belt for the weapon with a silencer. Two feet from the recessed door, he heaved the automatic in his left hand into the shadows as he pivoted against the wall.

'Was? ...' An arm appeared; Jason fired once, blowing the hand apart 'Ahh!' The figure lurched out in shock, incapable of aiming his weapon. Bourne fired again, hitting the man in the thigh; he collapsed on the floor, writhing, cringing. Jason took a step forward and knelt, his knee pressing into the man's chest, his gun at the man's head. He spoke in a whisper.

'Is there anyone else down there?!

'Nein!' said the man wincing in pain. 'Zwei ... two of us only. We were paid.'

'By whom?'

'You know."

'A man named Carlos?'

'I will not answer that Kill me first'

'How did you know I was here?'

'Chernak.'

'He's dead.'

'Now. Not yesterday. Word reached Zurich: you were alive. We checked everyone ... everywhere. Chernak knew.'

Bourne gambled. 'You're lying!' He pushed the gun into the man's throat 'I never told Chernak about the Steppdeck-strasse.'

The man winced again, his neck arched. 'Perhaps you did not have to. The Nazi pig had informers everywhere. Why should the Steppdeckstrasse be any different? He could describe you. Who else could?'

'A man at the Drei Alpenhauser.'

'We never heard of any such man.'

'Who's "we"?'

The man swallowed, his lips stretched in pain. 'Businessmen ... only businessmen.'

'And your service is killing.'

'You're a strange one to talk. But, nein. You were to be taken, not killed.'


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