Robert Ludlum, Eric van Lustbader. The Bourne Deception
(Jason Bourne — 7)
who started it all with one simple question.
I SPEAK RUSSIAN well enough,‖ Secretary of Defense Bud Halliday said, — but I prefer to speak English.
— That suits me, the Russian colonel said with a heavy accent. -I‘m always happy to speak foreign languages.
Halliday gave the Russian a sour smile in response to his jibe. It was well told that Americans overseas only wanted to speak English.
— Good. We‘ll get this done faster. But instead of beginning, he stared at a wall full of very bad portraits of jazz greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, copied, he had no doubt, from press photos.
After seeing the colonel in the flesh he had begun to have second thoughts about this meeting. For one thing, he was younger than Halliday had imagined. His blond hair was thick, without the slightest wave, and cut short in the style of the Russian military. For another, he looked like a man of action. Halliday could see, beneath his suit, the play of muscles as now and again they bulged against the cheap material. He possessed a peculiar stillness that unsettled Halliday. But it was his eyes-pale, deep-set, unblinking-that truly unnerved the secretary. It was as if he were looking at a photograph of eyes rather than the real thing. The bulbous, veiny nose only served to intensify their implacable peculiarity: It was as if there was no one home, as if the soul of the man did not exist, leaving nothing but a monolithic will, like something ancient and evil Halliday had read about in an H. P. Lovecraft story when he was a teenager.
He trampled the impulse to get up, walk out, and never look back. He had come all this way for a reason, he reminded himself.
The smog that choked Munich-the same precise shade of filthy gray as Karpov‘s eyes-perfectly mirrored Secretary Halliday‘s mood. If he never saw this miserable excuse for a city again it would be too soon for him. Unfortunately, here he was in this godforsaken, smoke-clogged subterranean jazz club, having stepped out of the back of an armored Lincoln limousine onto tourist-infested Rumfordstrasse. What was so special about the Russian to bring the American secretary of defense forty-two hundred miles to a city he despised? Boris Karpov was a colonel in FSB-2, ostensibly the new Russian anti-drug enforcement agency. It was a measure of the FSB-2‘s meteoric rise to power that one of its officers was able to get a message to Halliday, let alone entice him out of Washington.
But Karpov had hinted that he could deliver something Halliday wanted very much. The defense secretary might have been wondering what that might be, but he was too busy trying to figure out what the Russian would want in return. There was always a quid pro quo to these deals, Halliday knew only too well. He was a veteran of the political infighting that perpetually surrounded the president like a Kansas dust storm. He knew full well that quid pro quos could be painful to accept, but compromise was the name of the political game, whether it be domestic or international.
Even so, Halliday might not have taken up Karpov‘s offer had it not been for his own suddenly tenuous position with the president. The shockingly abrupt fall from power of Luther LaValle, his handpicked intelligence czar, had shaken Halliday‘s power base. Friends and allies alike were criticizing or second-guessing him behind his back, and he had to wonder which one of them would be the first to sink the metaphorical knife into his back.
But he‘d been around long enough to understand that hope sometimes arrived in seemingly unpleasant forms, like a bed of nails. He was hoping Karpov‘s deal would provide the political capital that would at once restore his prestige with the president and his power base within the multinational military-industrial complex.
As the trio on stage opened a box full of noise Halliday once again mentally reread the file on Boris Karpov, as if this time he‘d find some further information-anything, including a surveillance photo, no matter how grainy or out of focus, of the colonel. No such photo existed, of course, no more intel than the four threadbare paragraphs on the single sheet of paper watermarked TOP SECRET. Because of the administration‘s dismissive relationship with Russia, the NSA had limited knowledge of the workings inside the Russian political system, not to mention FSB-2, whose actual mission was highly covert, far more so than the FSB, the political inheritor of what had once been the KGB.
— Mr. Smith, you appear distracted, the Russian said. They had agreed on using the pseudonyms Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones in public.
The secretary‘s head swung around. He was profoundly uncomfortable underground, unlike Karpov who more and more seemed to him like a creature of the dark. Raising his voice to be heard over the rhythmic clangor, he said,
— Nothing could be farther from the truth, Mr. Jones. I‘m just taking in with a sightseer‘s bliss the particular atmosphere you‘ve chosen.
The colonel chuckled deep in his throat. -You have a droll sense of humor, yes?
— You have me entirely.
The colonel laughed out loud. -We‘ll see about that, Mr. Smith. Since we do not even know our wives, it seems unlikely we should know our…
The small hesitation had Halliday wondering whether Karpov was going to say adversaries instead of the neutral word he‘d chosen. He didn‘t bother to wonder whether the Russian was aware of his political position, because it didn‘t matter. All that concerned him was whether the deal about to be proposed would help him.
The trio lurched into another tempo, the secretary‘s only clue that they‘d segued into another selection, and he hunched forward over the toobitter beer he‘d hardly touched. No Coors in this joint. -Let‘s get on with it, shall we?
— Without delay. Colonel Karpov placed his hands on his golden forearms. The knuckles were scarred and yellow with calluses, which made them look as ridged as the Rockies. -I know, Mr. Smith, that I don‘t have to explain who Jason Bourne is, yes?
At the name Halliday‘s expression hardened. He felt as if the Russian had sprayed him with Freon. -Your point? he said woodenly.
— My point, Mr. Smith, is this: I will kill Jason Bourne for you.
Halliday didn‘t waste time in asking how Karpov knew he wanted Bourne dead-there had been enough NSA activity in Moscow the last month when Bourne was there to make it abundantly clear to a deaf, dumb, and blind man that he was targeted for termination.
— Very magnanimous of you, Mr. Jones.
— No, sir, not magnanimous. I have my own reasons for wanting him dead.
At this admission the secretary relaxed slightly. -All right, let‘s say you do kill Bourne. What do you want in return?
There was in what anyone else might be termed a twinkle in the colonel‘s eye, but to Halliday, who was still trying to get the measure of him, it seemed as if someone had walked over Bourne‘s grave. Death had winked at him.
— I know that look, Mr. Smith. I know you‘re expecting the worst-a high payment. But in exchange for you giving me license to take Bourne out with full immunity against the consequences of collateral disturbance or damage, I want you to eliminate a vexing thorn in my side.