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The Bourne Ultimatum, Page 2

Robert Ludlum

  “Goddamn it!” cried Webb, braking the car and swerving around. “Tomorrow! You and Jamie and Alison are heading out of Logan Airport. To the island!”

  “We’ll discuss it, David.”

  “There’s nothing to discuss.” Webb breathed deeply, steadily, imposing a strange control. “I’ve been here before,” he said quietly.

  Marie looked at her husband, his suddenly passive face outlined in the dim wash of the dashboard lights. What she saw frightened her far more than the specter of the Jackal. She was not looking at David Webb the soft-spoken scholar. She was staring at a man they both thought had disappeared from their lives forever.


  Alexander Conklin gripped his cane as he limped into the conference room at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. He stood facing a long impressive table, large enough to seat thirty people, but instead there were only three, the man at the head the gray-haired DCI, director of Central Intelligence. Neither he nor his two highest-ranking deputy directors appeared pleased to see Conklin. The greetings were perfunctory, and rather than taking his obviously assigned seat next to the CIA official on the DCI’s left, Conklin pulled out the chair at the far end of the table, sat down, and with a sharp noise slapped his cane against the edge.

  “Now that we’ve said hello, can we cut the crap, gentlemen?”

  “That’s hardly a courteous or an amiable way to begin, Mr. Conklin,” observed the director.

  “Neither courtesy nor amiability is on my mind just now, sir. I just want to know why airtight Four Zero regulations were ignored and maximum-classified information was released that endangers a number of lives, including mine!”

  “That’s outrageous, Alex!” interrupted one of the two associates.

  “Totally inaccurate!” added the other. “It couldn’t happen and you know it!”

  “I don’t know it and it did happen and I’ll tell you what’s outrageously accurate,” said Conklin angrily. “A man’s out there with a wife and two children, a man this country and a large part of the world owe more to than anyone could ever repay, and he’s running, hiding, frightened out of his mind that he and his family are targets. We gave that man our word, all of us, that no part of the official record would ever see the light of day until it was confirmed beyond doubt that Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, was dead.… All right, I’ve heard the same rumors you have, probably from the same or much better sources, that the Jackal was killed here or executed there, but no one—repeat no one—has come forward with indisputable proof.… Yet a part of that file was leaked, a very vital part, and it concerns me deeply because my name is there.… Mine and Dr. Morris Panov, the chief psychiatrist of record. We were the only—repeat only—two individuals acknowledged to have been close associates of the unknown man who assumed the name of Jason Bourne, considered in more sectors than we can count to be the rival of Carlos in the killing game.… But that information is buried in the vaults here in Langley. How did it get out? According to the rules, if anyone wants any part of that record—from the White House to the State Department to the holy Joint Chiefs—he has to go through the offices of the director and his chief analysts right here at Langley. They have to be briefed on all the details of the request, and even if they’re satisfied as to the legitimacy, there’s a final step. Me. Before a release is signed, I’m to be contacted, and in the event I’m not around any longer, Dr. Panov is to be reached, either one of us legally empowered to turn the request down flat.… That’s the way it is, gentlemen, and no one knows the rules better than I do because I’m the one who wrote them—again right here at Langley, because this was the place I knew best. After twenty-eight years in this corkscrew business, it was my final contribution—with the full authority of the president of the United States and the consent of Congress through the select committees on intelligence in the House and the Senate.”

  “That’s heavy artillery, Mr. Conklin,” commented the gray-haired director, sitting motionless, his voice flat, neutral.

  “There were heavy reasons for pulling out the cannons.”

  “So I gather. One of the sixteen-inchers reached me.”

  “You’re damned right he did. Now, there’s the question of accountability. I want to know how that information surfaced and, most important, who got it.”

  Both deputy directors began talking at once, as angrily as Alex, but they were stopped by the DCI, who touched their arms, a pipe in one hand, a lighter in the other. “Slow down and back up, Mr. Conklin,” said the director gently, lighting his pipe. “It’s obvious that you know my two associates, but you and I never met, have we?”

  “No. I resigned four and a half years ago, and you were appointed a year after that.”

  “Like many others—quite justifiably, I think—did you consider me a crony appointment?”

  “You obviously were, but I had no trouble with that. You seemed qualified. As far as I could tell, you were an apolitical Annapolis admiral who ran naval intelligence and who just happened to work with an FMF marine colonel during the Vietnam war who became president. Others were passed over, but that happens. No sweat.”

  “Thank you. But do you have any ‘sweat’ with my two deputy directors?”

  “It’s history, but I can’t say either one of them was considered the best friend an agent in the field ever had. They were analysts, not field men.”

  “Isn’t that a natural aversion, a conventional hostility?”

  “Of course it is. They analyzed situations from thousands of miles away with computers we didn’t know who programmed and with data we hadn’t passed on. You’re damned right it’s a natural aversion. We dealt with human quotients; they didn’t. They dealt with little green letters on a computer screen and made decisions they frequently shouldn’t have made.”

  “Because people like you had to be controlled,” interjected the deputy on the director’s right. “How many times, even today, do men and women like you lack the full picture? The total strategy and not just your part of it?”

  “Then we should be given a fuller picture going in, or at least an overview so we can try to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

  “Where does an overview stop, Alex?” asked the deputy on the DCI’s left. “At what point do we say, ‘We can’t reveal this … for everyone’s benefit’?”

  “I don’t know, you’re the analysts, I’m not. On a case-by-case basis, I suppose, but certainly with better communication than I ever got when I was in the field.… Wait a minute. I’m not the issue, you are.” Alex stared at the director. “Very smooth, sir, but I’m not buying a change of subject. I’m here to find out who got what and how. If you’d rather, I’ll take my credentials over to the White House or up to the Hill and watch a few heads roll. I want answers. I want to know what to do!”

  “I wasn’t trying to change the subject, Mr. Conklin, only to divert it momentarily to make a point. You obviously objected to the methods and the compromises employed in the past by my colleagues, but did either of these men ever mislead you, lie to you?”

  Alex looked briefly at the two deputy directors. “Only when they had to lie to me, which had nothing to do with field operations.”

  “That’s a strange comment.”

  “If they haven’t told you, they should have.… Five years ago I was an alcoholic—I’m still an alcoholic but I don’t drink anymore. I was riding out the time to my pension, so nobody told me anything and they damn well shouldn’t have.”

  “For your enlightenment, all my colleagues said to me was that you had been ill, that you hadn’t been functioning at the level of your past accomplishments until the end of your service.”

  Again Conklin studied both deputies, nodding to both as he spoke. “Thanks, Casset, and you, too, Valentino, but you didn’t have to do that. I was a drunk and it shouldn’t be a secret whether it’s me or anybody else. That’s the dumbest thing you can do around here.”

  “From what we
heard about Hong Kong, you did a hell of a job, Alex,” said the man named Casset softly. “We didn’t want to detract from that.”

  “You’ve been a pain in the ass for longer than I care to remember,” added Valentino. “But we couldn’t let you hang out as an accident of booze.”

  “Forget it. Let’s get back to Jason Bourne. That’s why I’m here, why you damn well had to see me.”

  “That’s also why I momentarily sidetracked us, Mr. Conklin. You have professional differences with my deputies, but I gather you don’t question their integrity.”

  “Others, yes. Not Casset or Val. As far as I was concerned, they did their jobs and I did mine; it was the system that was fouled up—it was buried in fog. But this isn’t, today isn’t. The rules are clear-cut and absolute, and since I wasn’t reached, they were broken and I was misled, in a very real sense, lied to. I repeat. How did it happen and who got the information?”

  “That’s all I wanted to hear,” said the director, picking up the telephone on the table. “Please call Mr. DeSole down the hall and ask him to come to the conference room.” The DCI hung up and turned to Conklin. “I assume you’re aware of Steven DeSole.”

  “DeSole the mute mole.” Alex nodded.

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “It’s an old joke around here,” explained Casset to the director. “Steve knows where the bodies are buried, but when the time comes he won’t even tell God unless He shows him a Four Zero clearance.”

  “I assume that means the three of you, especially Mr. Conklin, consider Mr. DeSole a thorough professional.”

  “I’ll answer that,” Alex said. “He’ll tell you anything you have to know but no more than that. Also, he won’t lie. He’ll keep his mouth shut, or tell you he can’t tell you, but he won’t lie to you.”

  “That’s another thing I wanted to hear.” There was a brief knock on the door, and the DCI called out for the visitor to enter. A medium-sized, slightly overweight man with wide eyes magnified behind steel-rimmed glasses walked into the room, closing the door behind him. His casual second glance at the table revealed Alexander Conklin to him; he was obviously startled by the sight of the retired intelligence officer. Instantly, he changed his reaction to one of pleasant surprise, crossing to Conklin’s chair, his hand extended.

  “Good to see you, old boy. It’s been two or three years now, hasn’t it?”

  “More like four, Steve,” replied Alex, shaking hands. “How’s the analysts’ analyst and keeper of the keys?”

  “Not much to analyze or to lock up these days. The White House is a sieve and the Congress isn’t much better. I should get half pay, but don’t tell anyone.”

  “We still keep some things to ourselves, don’t we?” interrupted the DCI, smiling. “At least from past operations. Perhaps you earned double your pay then.”

  “Oh, I suspect I did.” DeSole nodded his head humorously as he released Conklin’s hand. “However, the days of archive custodians and armed transfers to underground warehouses are over. Today it’s all computerized photo scans entered by machines from on high. I don’t get to go on those wonderful trips any longer with military escorts, pretending I’ll be deliciously attacked by Mata Hari. I haven’t had a briefcase chained to my wrist since I can’t remember when.”

  “A lot safer that way,” said Alex.

  “But very little I can tell my grandchildren about, old boy.… ‘What did you do as a big spy, Grandpa?’ … ‘Actually, in my last years, a great many crossword puzzles, young man.’ ”

  “Be careful, Mr. DeSole,” said the DCI, chuckling. “I shouldn’t care to put in a recommendation to cut your pay.… On the other hand, I couldn’t, because I don’t believe you for an instant.”

  “Neither do I.” Conklin spoke quietly, angrily. “This is a setup,” he added, staring at the overweight analyst.

  “That’s quite a statement, Alex,” countered DeSole. “Would you mind explaining it?”

  “You know why I’m here, don’t you?”

  “I didn’t know you were here.”

  “Oh, I see. It just happened to be convenient for you to be ‘down the hall’ and ready to come in here.”

  “My office is down the hall. Quite far down, I might add.”

  Conklin looked at the DCI. “Again, very smooth, sir. Bring in three people you figure I’ve had no major run-ins with outside of the system itself, three men you’ve determined I basically trust, so I’ll believe whatever’s said.”

  “That’s fundamentally accurate, Mr. Conklin, because what you’ll hear is the truth. Sit down, Mr. DeSole.… Perhaps at this end of the table so that our former colleague can study us as we explain to him. I understand it’s a technique favored by field officers.”

  “I haven’t a damn thing to explain,” said the analyst as he headed for the chair next to Casset. “But in light of our former colleague’s somewhat gross remarks, I’d like to study him.… Are you well, Alex?”

  “He’s well,” answered the deputy director named Valentino. “He’s snarling at the wrong shadows but he’s well.”

  “That information couldn’t have surfaced without the consent and cooperation of the people in this room!”

  “What information?” asked DeSole, looking at the DCI, suddenly widening his large eyes behind his glasses. “Oh, the max-classified thing you asked me about this morning?”

  The director nodded, then looked at Conklin. “Let’s go back to this morning.… Seven hours ago, shortly after nine o’clock, I received a call from Edward McAllister, formerly of the State Department and currently chairman of the National Security Agency. I’m told Mr. McAllister was with you in Hong Kong, Mr. Conklin, is that correct?”

  “Mr. McAllister was with us,” agreed Alex flatly. “He flew undercover with Jason Bourne to Macao, where he was shot up so badly he damn near died. He’s an intellectual oddball and one of the bravest men I’ve ever met.”

  “He said nothing about the circumstances, only that he was there, and I was to shred my calendar, if need be, but to consider our meeting with you as Priority Red.… Heavy artillery, Mr. Conklin.”

  “To repeat. There are heavy reasons for the cannons.”

  “Apparently.… Mr. McAllister gave me the precise maximum-classified codes that would clarify the status of the file you’re talking about—the record of the Hong Kong operation. I, in turn, gave the information to Mr. DeSole, so I’ll let him tell you what he learned.”

  “It hasn’t been touched, Alex,” said DeSole quietly, his eyes leveled on Conklin. “As of nine-thirty this morning, it’s been in a black hole for four years, five months, twenty-one days, eleven hours and forty-three minutes without penetration. And there’s a very good reason why that status is pure, but I have no idea whether you’re aware of it or not.”

  “Where that file is concerned I’m aware of everything!”

  “Perhaps, perhaps not,” said DeSole gently. “You were known to have a problem, and Dr. Panov is not that experienced where security matters are concerned.”

  “What the hell are you driving at?”

  “A third name was added to the clearance procedures for that official record on Hong Kong.… Edward Newington McAllister, by his own insistence and with both presidential and congressional authority. He made sure of it.”

  “Oh, my God,” said Conklin softly, hesitantly. “When I called him last night from Baltimore he said it was impossible. Then he said I had to understand for myself, so he’d set up the conference.… Jesus, what happened?”

  “I’d say we’d have to look elsewhere,” said the DCI. “But before we do that, Mr. Conklin, you have to make a decision. You see, none of us at this table knows what’s in that maximum-classified file.… We’ve talked, of course, and as Mr. Casset said, we understood that you did a hell of a job in Hong Kong, but we don’t know what that job was. We heard the rumors out of our Far East stations which, frankly, most of us believed were exaggerated in the spreading, and paramount among them was y
our name and that of the assassin Jason Bourne. The scuttlebutt then was that you were responsible for the capture and execution of the killer we knew as Bourne, yet a few moments ago in your anger you used the phrase ‘the unknown man who assumed the name of Jason Bourne,’ stating that he was alive and in hiding. In terms of specifics, we’re at a loss—at least I am, God knows.”

  “You didn’t pull the record out?”

  “No,” answered DeSole. “That was my decision. As you may or may not know, every invasion of a maximum-classified file is automatically marked with the date and hour of penetration.… Since the director informed me that there was a large Security Agency flap over an illegal entry, I decided to leave well enough alone. Not penetrated in nearly five years, therefore not read or even known about and consequently not given to the evil people, whoever they are.”

  “You were covering your ass right down to the last square inch of flesh.”

  “Most assuredly, Alex. That data has a White House flag on it. Things are relatively stable around here now and it serves no one to ruffle feathers in the Oval Office. There’s a new man at that desk, but the former president is still very much alive and opinionated. He’d be consulted, so why risk trouble?”

  Conklin studied each face and spoke quietly. “Then you really don’t know the story, do you?”

  “It’s the truth, Alex,” said Deputy Director Casset.

  “Nothing but, you pain,” agreed Valentino, permitting himself a slight smile.

  “My word on it,” added Steven DeSole, his clear, wide eyes rigid on Conklin.

  “And if you want our help, we should know something besides contradictory rumors,” continued the director, leaning back in his chair. “I don’t know if we can help, but I do know there’s little we can do so completely in the dark.”

  Again Alex looked at each man, the lines in his pained face more pronounced than ever, as if the decision was momentarily too agonizing for him. “I won’t tell you his name because I’ve given my word—maybe later, not now. And it can’t be found in the record, it’s not there either; it’s a cover—I gave my word on that, too. The rest I’ll tell you because I do want your help and I want that record to remain in its black hole.… Where do I begin?”