Excerpt

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Evolution

Brian Freeman

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Evolution, by Brian Freeman. In the following passage, Jason Bourne, wounded and stranded, struggles to recover his memories from an intelligence operation gone wrong and mourns a great loss.

Jason didn’t know if he was remembering or dreaming.

Bits and pieces of a life buzzed through his head like the clickety-clack of film in an old projector. He saw children lined up in formation, a dozen boys in gray uniforms being scolded by a stern old man who marked all of their demerits on a clipboard. He saw a grave at his feet, blue marble, with two names that were blurred by a kind of fog. He could only read the year of their deaths. 2001. He heard explosions that made him cover his ears. Gunfire. He heard words coming out of his mouth in foreign languages. He saw places that were unfamiliar to him, and yet he knew he’d been to all of them. Cities around the world. Streets and monuments at night. Churches, not to pray, but to meet people in secret. Boats on the water, borders, checkpoints. Walls to be climbed and buildings to be infiltrated.

The hazy images raced in and out of his brain. Through it all, he saw one face. A woman. She kept reappearing, kept interrupting the movie to whisper in his ear. Stay with me, my love, stay alive. She had flowing black hair, a nose hooked like an eagle, dark passionate eyes, a wicked laugh, olive skin. He could feel her body wrapped up hungrily in his own. Her mouth, teasing him. The fullness of her lips, the softness of her skin.

She was in his arms, and they were happy.

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Then she was in the arms of someone else, being carried away. Her eyes were closed, her face lifeless, her blood spilling to the ground. He heard himself screaming.

No!

His eyes snapped open from unconsciousness. He was awake, but lost in a cloud of confusion. Everything that had been in his head scurried away, like cockroaches afraid of the light, leaving behind an empty place.

Bourne lay in a twin bed. The sheet under him was damp from his sweat. He must have thrown off the blanket sometime during the night, because his body was uncovered. He was naked, on his back. The room was small and unlit, but he could see a crack of light around the blinds that covered the double-window, which let him examine his surroundings. There was a single door that led to the outside; a small bathroom, barely larger than a phone booth; an empty closet. Two watercolor paintings hung on peeling burgundy wallpaper, showing sailboats on the water. A lamp sat on a desk near the window.

He felt disoriented, trapped in the middle of a strange dream.

He tried to get up, but pain knifed through his body like a flaming arrow. He collapsed back to the mattress, breathing hard. His head pounded, and his vision made a cartwheel, turning upside-down before righting itself. When he looked at his torso, he saw a bright white bandage below his left shoulder, with a large circle of red where blood had seeped through the gauze.

He needed to think, to remember. He pushed his fists against his head, ignoring the pain. His breath thundered in his chest, and a whole new sheen of sweat formed on his skin.

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The sweat of panic.

The sweat of fear.

Jason tried to get up again, gritting his teeth against the agony in his muscles. When he swung his legs off the bed, he managed to push himself to a sitting position, with his feet on the hardwood floor. He waited until the next wave of vertigo passed. The pain he felt wasn’t just in his chest. It was in his head, too. He put his hand to the base of his skull, and the barest touch felt like a lightning bolt. He felt a gauze bandage there, too.

His senses fed him information that his brain tried to process. Outside, he heard the trill of songbirds, along with a whistle of air squeezing through the door frame. It made the room cold. He smelled the dankness of his own body, but he also smelled brine, as if from the sea. He stood up, propping a hand against the wall near the bed to keep himself from falling. He went to the window and separated the aluminum blinds. He was in a vacation cottage, looking out on a wooden porch. The pale blue water of a small bay lapped against a rocky beach only steps from where he was. Evergreens dotted the green grass near him, and he could see a heavily wooded promontory on the far shore of the inlet. The tide was out, leaving much of the basin exposed, with sea gulls picking at the mud. The bay opened into a much larger body of water, where no land was visible.

He knew this place. The St. Lawrence estuary.

He remembered now. He was at a beachside inn in Saint-Jean-sur-Mer, two hours northeast of Quebec City. Les chalets sur la rivière. A hideaway with access to marine traffic in the Seaway, where he’d slipped aboard ships to break apart smuggling rings. Contraband. Drugs. Human trafficking. But there was more to remember in this room, so much more. He’d been here with Nova. They’d made love in that twin bed, her voracious appetite leaving him sated and exhausted.

Yes, he knew where he was.

The events of the recent past crept back slowly, sluggishly, like escaping from quicksand. The violence in Quebec City. The confrontation with Nash Rollins.

And prior to that, New York. The assassination. The riot.

It happened that way to Bourne sometimes, those paralyzing moments of forgetting. He’d learned to live with it. He was a man with a fractured history, a man without identity.

It happened that way to Bourne sometimes, those paralyzing moments of forgetting. He’d learned to live with it. He was a man with a fractured history, a man without identity. Only a few years earlier, he’d lost his memory to a bullet in his head, which left him with no past, just fragments of who he once was and another name from another life that meant nothing to him. That life belonged to a stranger. He’d had to start over in his early thirties. Make new memories. And to this day, he still occasionally woke up in a fog, with no idea where he was, terrified that he’d lost everything again.

Barely able to walk upright, Jason staggered to the bathroom. He yanked on the string that turned on the bulb overhead. Under the dim yellow light, he propped himself with both hands on the porcelain sink and stared at the face in the mirror.

It was a square, handsome face, but pale and drawn now, lacking color. His hair was dark, so deep brown as to be almost black, and it was cut short and swept back on a high forehead. He had intense blue-gray eyes, and the bags under his eyes reflected a chronic lack of sleep. He hadn’t shaved in days; his stubble was forming a beard. He was more than six feet tall and athletically built, but he saw a web of fresh cuts and multi-colored bruises all over his skin, the product of his fall from the boardwalk. This wasn’t the first time. His body was riddled with the scars of previous injuries, including one over his right eye and another below his ear.

When he peeled back the bandage on his chest, he saw fresh stitches closing up the small, tight hole of a bullet wound. Stitches. A doctor. He remembered that part, too. He’d staggered from the cliff in the old town and nearly bled to death while he drove half an hour outside the city to find a discreet man whose steady hands he’d used in the past. And then he’d paid the doctor’s daughter an exorbitant amount of money to take him here while he slept in the back seat. He needed rest, time to recover, but he couldn’t stay long. There were only so many doctors in a radius around Quebec City, and soon enough they would find a retired surgeon named Valoix and his daughter. They would trace Bourne here. Hunt him down. Kill him.

For God’s sake, why?

But he knew why. They thought he’d become Cain again. A name from the past, a name from his past. An assassin.

In the other room, a loud bell jangled, startling him. His hand twitched, his fist opening and closing. His first instinct when surprised was to reach for a gun, but he’d lost his gun on the boardwalk. He glanced at the nightstand and saw a hotel phone. He limped across the room and picked up the receiver, but said nothing. He waited to hear who it was.

Bonjour, monsieur,” said an old man’s voice. “Comment ça va ce matin?

He understood the language, but he let the silence stretch out. Then he replied quietly in a gravelly voice: “Who is this?”

C’est moi, Monsieur Bernard, bien sûr. Avez-vous faim? Voulez-vous le petit dejeuner?

“I’ll eat later.”

D’accord. Avez-vous besoin de quelque chose?

He thought: Yes, I need something. I need to know how I was set up in New York. I need to know who framed me for murder.

“I’m fine,” Jason replied. “What time is it?”

“Nearly eleven o’clock,” the hotel owner told him, switching to accented English. “You told me to wake you earlier, but the young woman who brought you here said le médecin was very insistent. You needed sleep. I hope that is all right.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Your clothes are clean and ready for you. Shall I bring them over?”

“Please.”

“If I may ask, will your beautiful wife be joining you on this trip?” the man asked.

“My wife,” Bourne murmured.

The hotel owner heard his hesitation. “Oh, I hope I didn’t speak out of turn. That lovely creature with the black hair and the eyes that always dance. You are a lucky man. Even an old man can feel his heart race seeing a woman like that.”

That lovely creature.

Nova.

No, they weren’t married. That had been their cover when they first came here. But cover stories had a way of blurring with reality, and at some point, they’d realized there was a genuine attraction between them. They made an unlikely pair, the half-Greek UK-based intelligence agent and the Treadstone operative with no past. For two years, they’d enjoyed stolen moments in places around the world, whenever they could get away from their other lives. They’d even dreamed about a time when they could be together for good, but making plans was a foolish game for people like them.

“It’s just me this trip,” Bourne replied.

“Ah. Quel dommage.”

“Has anyone asked about me?” Jason inquired. “Does anyone know I’m here?”

“Of course not. Your presence here is confidential, per your standard instructions. You can always count on my discretion.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Well, you are always most generous, monsieur. I will see you shortly.”

Bourne hung up the phone.

He stood in the darkness of the hotel bedroom, momentarily paralyzed with inaction. He was still thinking about Nova, still remembering her, but he couldn’t afford that luxury. Nova was gone. She was dead.

Treadstone had killed her in Las Vegas.

Jason had a new employer now, and he needed to make contact with them. They’d be wondering where he was and what had gone wrong. He went to the small table by the window that overlooked the bay. His phone was there, a pay-as-you-go phone he’d purchased with cash in Albany as he made his way north out of New York. He reinserted the battery, which he’d removed to make sure the phone couldn’t be tracked or remotely accessed, and he powered it on and waited for the phone to acquire signal.

The contact number was supposed to connect him with a woman named Nelly Lessard. She would answer with the words: “Carillon Technology. How may I direct your call?” The extension Bourne asked for would send one of several messages: Call me back. I’m being followed. Requesting a meeting. Everything is fine.

There was one extension that was like a 911 call. Human Resources, 7th Floor.

It meant: Emergency, need immediate extraction.

He dialed the phone and waited, expecting to hear Nelly Lessard’s voice. Instead, a whistle whined in his ear, and he heard an electronic recording. “Your call cannot be completed as dialed.”

Jason heard a roaring in his head. The wound in his shoulder throbbed.

Had he misdialed? No.

The operation had been terminated. He’d been burned.

He tried again and got the same message. And again. And again. The number was supposed to be monitored 24/7. Nelly was always supposed to be there to take his call. Instead, the number had been shut down. Taken away from him, taken out of service. He knew what that meant.

The operation had been terminated. He’d been burned.

There was only one other way to get in touch with Carillon. He still had one other person he could reach. Scott DeRay had given him a special private cell phone that he answered himself day or night. Jason had never used it before, but he dialed the number now.

A man’s voice answered on the first ring, but it wasn’t the voice he expected. The voice belonged to a stranger, not a friend.

“Who is this?” the man asked.

Jason tried to make sense of it. Why was someone else answering this phone?

“I need to talk to Scott,” Jason said.

“You have the wrong number.”

“I know that’s not true!” Bourne insisted. “I know you can reach him. This is his phone. It’s urgent we talk.”

“I can’t help you. You have the wrong number.”

Liar! Jason wanted to shout into the phone. He squeezed his eyes shut and debated how much to say. “Look, I need to talk to Scott right now. Or to Miles Priest. Tell them it’s about…it’s about Medusa.”

There was a long stretch of dead air on the phone.

Then the voice said, “Don’t call this number again.”

The next long silence told Jason that the man had hung up.

The set-up that had started in New York was complete. They hadn’t missed a single detail. Jason was a wanted man, cut off from rescue, cut off from his lifelines. Even a friend who went back to his forgotten childhood had set him adrift.

Bourne was on his own.

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From ROBERT LUDLUM’S THE BOURNE EVOLUTION by Brian Freeman, published by Putnam, an imprint pf the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Myn Pyn LLC




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