Eric van Lustbader
The Bourne Objective
For Jaime Levine,
whose editorial expertise and
make this so much more fun
NIGHT DESCENDED LIKE a curtain of scuttling insects, coming alive with the setting of the sun. The noise was atrocious, as was the stench of unwashed bodies, human excrement, rotting food, and decomposing bodies. The garbage of Bangalore shifted back and forth like a sludgy tide.
Leonid Danilovich Arkadin sat in a darkened room that smelled of hot electronics, stale smoke, and cooling dosas. Firing up a cigarette with his chrome lighter, he stared down at the ribbed skeleton of Phase Three, part of the ever-expanding Electronic City rising out of the slums clinging to Bangalore like a disease. Electronic City, built in the 1990s, was now the world capital of technology outsourcing; virtually every major high-tech company had IT offices here, making it the hub of the technical support industry spawned by technologies that morphed every six months.
Gold from concrete, Arkadin thought, dazzled. He’d read up on the history of alchemy, because of its transformative nature it had become a special interest of his. At this early hour of the evening-early, that is, for the outsourcing crowd whose offices by and large filled the buildings to capacity-the lobby and corridors were as quiet and still as they would be if they were in New York City at 3 AM. The outsourcing crowd was geared to the workday in the United States, which made them as virtual as ghosts when they were at their consoles, cordless earphones wrapped around their heads.
After the fiasco in Iran, when he had royally screwed Maslov, he had set up operations here, away from those he wished eventually to hunt, who were already hunting him: Dimitri Ilyinovich Maslov and Jason Bourne.
From his suite of offices he had a perfect view of the block-square work site, a pit excavated out of the earth where the footings for the foundations of another office tower were being laid. Usually the site was lit by glaring floodlights, so the crews could work through the night, but work had stopped unexpectedly two weeks ago and hadn’t yet resumed. As a result the excavation had been invaded by the city’s ragtag army of beggars, whores, and gangs of young kids trying to fleece everyone who passed by.
Now and again, as he let the smoke drift from his nostrils, he could hear the stealthy cat-like padding of his men strategically placed throughout the suite, but he was alone in this room with Hassan, a large, square software magician who smelled faintly of circuits and cumin. Arkadin had brought his men with him, loyal Muslims all, which presented a problem only insofar as the native Hindus hated Muslims. He’d looked into using a detail of Sikh mercenaries, but he couldn’t find it in himself to trust them.
Hassan had proven invaluable. He had been the computer programmer for Nikolai Yevsen, the late and unlamented arms dealer whose business Arkadin had appropriated out from under Maslov. Hassan had made a copy of all the customer, supplier, and contact data on Yevsen’s mainframe before wiping it clean. Now Arkadin was working Yevsen’s list, raking in unimaginable mountains of money by supplying war matériel for virtually every local warlord, despot, and terrorist organization around the globe.
Hassan sat hunched over his computer, using encrypted software slaved to the remote servers Arkadin had set up in a secure location. He was a man who lived to work. In the weeks since Hassan’s defection and Yevsen’s death in Khartoum, Arkadin had never once seen him leave these offices. He slept after eating a light lunch, from one to three thirty precisely, then it was back to the computer.
Arkadin’s attention was only partially on Hassan. On a sideboard nearby lay a laptop, with hot-swappable drive bays, into which he’d slid the hard drive from the laptop one of his men had stolen from Gustavo Moreno just before the Colombian drug lord was shot to death in his Mexico City compound. Turning to it, Arkadin felt his face bathed in the eerie blue electronic glow, hard as marble, hard as his father’s callused fist.
Stubbing out his cigarette, he scrolled through the files, which he’d already pored through again and again; he had a number of computer hacks on his payroll, but he hadn’t allowed any of them-even Hassan-to comb through this particular hard drive. He went back to the ghost file that had reluctantly shown its enigmatic face only under the duress of a powerful anti-virus program. He could see it now, but it was still locked away, encrypted with a logarithm his cryptographic software still hadn’t been able to crack despite running for more than twenty-four hours.
Moreno’s laptop, which was hidden in a safe place, was as mysterious as this ghost file. It had a slot in the side that lacked the receptor for a USB plug-in and was too big to accommodate an SD card, too small to be a fingerprint reader. Clearly, it was a custom retrofit, but for what?
What the hell was in that file, anyway? he wondered. And where would a drug lord get an unbreakable logarithm like this one-not at your local hacker’s mart in Cali or Mexico City, that was for sure.
Lost in thought as he was, Arkadin’s head nevertheless came up as if he scented the sound, rather than heard it. His ears practically twitched like a hunting dog’s, and then, moving back into the shadows, he said, “Hassan, what’s that light moving down in the construction site?”
Hassan glanced up. “Which one, sir? There are so many fires…”
“There.” Arkadin pointed. “No, farther down, stand up and you’ll see it clearly.”
The moment Hassan rose, leaning forward, a spray of semi-automatic fire demolished the office windows, spraying Hassan, the desk, and the surrounding carpet with an ice storm of glass crystals. Hassan, slammed backward, lay on the carpet, gasping and drooling blood.
Arkadin ejected the hard drive just before a second hail of bullets flew through the shattered windows, gouging the wall opposite. Taking shelter within the desk’s leg hole, he took up a Škorpion vz. 61 submachine gun and shot to ribbons the computer Hassan was working on. By this time staccato semi-automatic gunfire had begun to erupt from within the office suite itself. The overlapping noises resounded, peppered with shouted commands and the screams of the dying. No help from his men, that much was clear enough. But he did recognize the language in which the laconic orders were being delivered: Russian. And more specific than that, Moscow Russian.
Arkadin thought Hassan was speaking or at least making sounds, but whatever he was saying was lost within the explosions of gunfire. Since the attackers were Russian, Arkadin had no doubt they were after Yevsen’s priceless information. He was now trapped inside a pincer assault both from within the suite and from the grounds outside the blown-out windows. He had only moments in which to act. Rising, he scuttled over to where Hassan lay, his hot, bloodshot eyes staring up at him.
“Help… help me.” Hassan’s voice was thick with blood and terror.
“Of course, my friend,” Arkadin said kindly, “of course.”
With luck, his enemies would have mistaken Hassan for him, which would buy him the precious time to escape. But not if Hassan began to scream. Jamming the hard drive deep into his pocket, he pressed his shoe onto Hassan’s throat until Hassan arched back and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. But with his windpipe crushed, he could make no sound. Behind him, Arkadin heard a confused swirl of sounds on the other side of the door. His men would defend him to the death, he knew, but in this case they seemed to have been caught off guard and might even be outnumbered. He had only seconds to act.
As in all modern office buildings, the large windows were sealed shut, possibly as a safeguard against suicide attempts, which now and then occurred in any event. Arkadin cranked open a side window and slipped out into the unquiet night. Six floors below him was the excavation pit from which the cavernous new building would rise. Enormous earthmoving machines reared up amid the makeshift cardboard hovels and cook fires like long-necked dragons slumbering in the semi-darkness.