Robert Ludlum’s the Bourne Evolution – Brian Freeman

THE man in black lifted his binoculars and studied the rain-swept boardwalk. The benches that stretched along Dufferin Terrace, on the cliffside looming over the lower town and the St. Lawrence River, were empty. His contact hadn’t arrived yet, but that was to be expected. It was only nine-fifteen, and he’d told her to be on the boardwalk at ten o’clock. He wanted the extra time to survey the meeting ground and see if he was walking into a trap. He’d left a car behind near the port and then taken the funicular to the Haute-Ville. Now he stood like an invisible man in the darkness, behind a stone wall on the hill of the Citadel. Cold rain sheeted from the sky, blurring the nighttime lights of Quebec City. A fierce wind rattled the winter skeletons of the trees, drowning out the other sounds with its moan. In front of him, the Château Frontenac hotel rose like a medieval castle. At the base of the cliff, the lower town’s ribbon of lights glittered beside the great dark stain of the river. Along the boardwalk, a row of antique cannons aimed their muzzles out over the water, as if anticipating the return of American invaders. The cannons weren’t wrong. The Americans were here somewhere.

Looking for him. Where are you hiding? He waited, patient and motionless, not reacting to the cold or the wetness of his clothes or the bite of the wind. He’d trained himself to be immune to such things. He used the binoculars to examine every window, every doorway, every shadow or corner where someone could hide. Even the best operatives usually made mistakes. The flicker of a match as a cigarette was lit. The swish of a curtain. A footprint in the mud. When he’d completed his survey, he repeated it two more times, and he still saw nothing to alarm him. He was starting to feel safe.

Then someone screamed. He tensed, but this was a happy scream, mixed with laughter. A young couple, drenched by the downpour, ran hand in hand along the glistening boardwalk below him. They took shelter under one of the canopies next to the cliff, where they began kissing passionately. He zoomed in on their faces under the gazebo lights. Both were in their twenties, both attractive. The woman had pink-and-blond hair that was pasted over her face, and she had the lean, strong build of a runner, wearing skintight leggings. The man with her was several inches taller and had black hair and a long, deep scar on his cheek. He tried to decide who they were. Two harmless tourists.

Or two killers. The truth was usually in the eyes. He watched carefully to see if either of them broke cover long enough to throw a surreptitious glance at their surroundings, but if this was a performance for his benefit, they stayed in character. When they’d kissed for a while, they walked back into the rain. Each looked at the other with a hungry grin, the way lovers would. They headed north toward the grand hotel. That was when he saw his contact arrive on the boardwalk. She was early. She walked down the steps from Governor’s Park, seemingly not bothered by the rain that pummeled her. A large leather satchel purse hung from her shoulder.

She reached the walkway just as the young couple passed in front of her, and he worried that the timing was too perfect. He could picture it all happening. A pistol in the hand of the man with the scar. One shot, no chance to run, his contact collapsing with a bullet in her throat. He yanked his own gun into his hand and prepared to dive down the Citadel slope, even though he was too far away to stop what was about to happen. Except he was wrong. The young couple waved at the woman. She smiled back. They were simply three strangers enjoying the romance of the rain. There was no ambush, no gunfire.

He watched the couple continue on their way to the Château Frontenac, and his contact crossed the boardwalk to the gazebo, where he’d told her to wait. She grabbed her phone from her purse and checked the time. Then she stared at the hillside in his direction with her hands on her hips. He knew she couldn’t see him, but she had the look of someone who could feel that she was being watched. He examined her closely through the binoculars. The journalist named Abbey Laurent was a couple of years past thirty, medium height and a little skinny. She wore a waist-length jean jacket over a white T-shirt, forest-green cargo pants, and black calf boots. Her hair was colored to a deep dark red, falling in wet strands to her shoulders and across her forehead in spiky bangs. She wore lipstick that was as dark red as her hair, and her mouth was folded into a curious smirk, as if she were enjoying the excitement of what she was doing. Her eyes were dark, and they were smart eyes that didn’t miss a thing.

She pushed some of the buttons on her phone. A second later, his own phone buzzed. She’d sent him a text. I’m here, mystery man. He allowed himself a tight smile. He liked this woman. But liking and trusting were two different things. He let her wait without replying to her message, and meanwhile, he did another thorough check of the area through the binoculars. They were alone. The young couple on the boardwalk had long since disappeared.

He saw no sign that the woman was being watched, but even so, he let their meeting time come and go. Ten o’clock. Ten-fifteen. Ten-thirty. She sent more texts, which grew annoyed and impatient as time wore on. Hey, where are you? You’re late. I’m here getting soaked and you don’t show up? Seriously? I’m not going to wait forever. And she didn’t. At ten-forty, he watched her lips form a loud swear word. She stamped out of the gazebo into the rain, past the old cannons and into the wet grass of the park beside the Château Frontenac.

When she disappeared from view, he sprang into action. He slipped his gun into his jacket pocket and hurried to the base of the Citadel hill, where Quebec City’s old stone buildings faced each other across narrow, hilly streets. He jogged down Rue des Grisons for one block and waited in the doorway of a small guest hotel, where he couldn’t be seen. At the end of the street, the redheaded journalist crossed the intersection. She walked with purpose, not looking back, not concerned with being followed. He ran to the next corner and saw her hike past the art conservatory into the cobblestoned paths of the Parc du Cavalier-du-Moulin. He accelerated, falling in behind her, closing the distance between them. She was half a block away, unaware of his presence. This was how he’d been trained. Always let the first meeting go by.

Let anyone who is watching assume it’s a bust, and then intercept the contact afterward for the real meeting. But the ones who had trained him were also the ones who were looking for him now. They knew his every move. As he climbed toward the park where Abbey Laurent had disappeared, he saw that the streetlight ahead of him was broken. His instincts screamed a warning, but he was too late to retreat. A man appeared from the shadows in front of him. It was the tall man with the scar from the boardwalk, and the man held a Beretta with a suppressor on the barrel, aimed across the twenty feet between them. He didn’t have time to pull his own gun. With a grunt of exertion, he shunted sideways and dove to the wet ground, rolling until he slammed against the brick wall of the nearest building. The low pop of the Beretta and the splash of bullets on the asphalt chased him.

He pushed off his knees and ran, bent over, then threw himself behind a blue panel van parked on the sidewalk. The van provided cover as he drew his pistol. The rain poured over his face and drained loudly through the gutters, making a flood down the street. There was no light. He couldn’t hear or see. Slowly, cautiously, he crept around the rear of the van. As he spun into the street, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession. The man with the scar was there. One of the bullets tore into the man’s gun arm, causing him to fire back wildly. Bleeding, the would-be assassin lurched away behind the other side of the van.

He only had a few seconds, and he knew what he had to do. Get away! Get to the car! Quebec had been a mistake. The meeting with Abbey Laurent had been a trap from the beginning. He backed away with his gun trained on the van. There was an alley behind him where he could run. He blinked, trying to clear rain from his eyes. The wind tunneling between the buildings roared in his head. His senses were focused on the van as he waited for the man with the scar to unleash another round of gunfire. Only at the last second did a breath of motion alert him to a deadly new threat behind him. The young woman with the pink-and-blond hair pounced from the alley.

She swung a long-bladed knife toward his neck, and he jerked back in time to avoid having his carotid artery cut open. He lashed out with one leg, kicking her in the stomach, driving her backward. She shook off the blow, bared her teeth, and charged again, leading with the knife aimed at his throat. He had a split second to grab her wrist and twist hard. The bone broke; the knife fell to the street. Before he could bring his gun around and fire, she uncoiled like a spring, driving her skull into the base of his chin with a loud crack. His head snapped back, and he tasted blood in his mouth. He let go of her, momentarily dizzy. More pops, like muffled fireworks, exploded around him as the man with the scar leaped from cover and fired again with his injured arm. One shot shattered a window in the stone building on the other side of the street; another ricocheted off the sidewalk.

He grabbed the young woman by her broken wrist and yanked her in front of him. She screamed in pain, but the scream cut off as the next bullet, which otherwise would have landed in the middle of his chest, burned into the back of the woman’s head. The man who’d been kissing her on the boardwalk a few minutes ago had just killed her. Still holding on to the woman, who was deadweight, he raised his own gun and fired a precise shot that struck the man with the scar under his chin. A kill shot directly through the throat. Just like Sofia Ortiz. He stood there, the pungent smell of smoke filling his nose. The dead woman dangled at the end of his arm like a grotesque doll, and he lowered her body to the wet street. Her eyes were open and fixed, staring at him. Blood pooled behind her head, but the rain quickly washed it away into the rivers that flowed along the curb.

Get away! Get to the car! The jaws of the trap were springing shut. He saw the shimmer of the boardwalk lights at the east end of the street. He headed that way, staying close to the stone walls. At the next corner, he surveyed the cross street and assessed the trees scattered like soldiers through Governor’s Park. He wasn’t alone. He felt it. But he couldn’t see where the threat was. He measured out his breaths one by one, then burst from cover, sprinted across the street, and dove into the muddy grass of the park. Bullets spat at him from two directions. As he slithered through the grass, he spotted one man on the steps of a guest hotel behind him, another in the darkness of a parking tunnel under the Château Frontenac.

He got up, zigzagged as the cross fire zeroed in on him, then swiveled and fired four shots into the blackness of the tunnel. The assassin in the parking garage collapsed, but the man on the hotel steps continued to fire. When a hot spike burned in his upper chest, he knew he’d been hit. He dragged himself to the shelter of an ash tree and ripped open the flap of his shirt to see the bloody ring of the bullet hole. More fire rained down from the man on the steps. He waited until there was a pause as the man emptied his magazine, and at that moment, he broke from cover and fired back, six more shots. The other shooter rolled down the hotel steps to the street. There was no time to tend to his wound. More men would be here soon. He swapped his gun to his left hand and applied pressure to his chest.

He was numb, but that wouldn’t last long. Marching through the park, head down, he passed the Château Frontenac and hurried down the steps to the boardwalk. Lights gleamed on the far shore of the river. The rain and wind assaulted the cliffside. He limped to the far side of the boardwalk and clung to the metal railing to steady himself. The rock of the cliff face went down more than one hundred and fifty feet below him, with a nest of bare trees climbing toward him from the old town. He closed his eyes, feeling faint, knowing he was losing blood quickly. “Jason Bourne.” The words hissed at him from a few feet away. And then another word.

“Traitor.” His eyes shot open. He lifted his gun with a jolt of pain. He wasn’t alone; he’d missed someone hiding in the shadows. A man in a gray trench coat and fedora stood near the gazebo, and he had a gun, too, pointed at him through the downpour. The other man was older by fifteen years, shorter than Bourne but as tough and weathered as a husk dried in the sun. He knew Nash Rollins well. In another life, he would have called him a friend, but not anymore. Not since Las Vegas. And now this man was here to kill him.

Or be killed. Those were the only two options. Bourne had kept count. There was one cartridge left in the magazine of his gun, but one was all he needed to kill an old friend. Pull the trigger. Watch him die. His brain weighed his options and assessed his strategy. His heart debated whether he could really kill the man in front of him. Rollins had obviously wanted to be here personally for the takedown. That was a mistake.

He hadn’t been in the field in years. Showdowns were about concentration, about not being distracted, and that was hard to do when your skills were rusty. As the staredown continued between them, Bourne waited for the older man to give him an opening, because he knew it would come. A surge of wind whipped into the man’s body and made him flinch. The lapse in his attention lasted barely longer than a blink, but that was enough. Bourne fired. He shot into the flesh of Rollins’s thigh, causing the man’s leg to collapse under him. His friend toppled, unleashing a bitter wail of pain, but in another second, the old man would realize he was still alive, and he wouldn’t bother to wonder why he’d been spared. He would simply raise his own gun and fire back. With nowhere to run, Bourne dropped his empty gun, took hold of the boardwalk railing with both hands, and threw himself over the cliff’s edge.

The agony of his chest coursed through his body. Gravity grabbed hold of him, but he hovered in the air for a microsecond like a skeet target. His old friend, writhing on the ground, found enough strength to bring up his gun and fire. One shot. One shot that grazed a burning, bloody path across his skull. Jason Bourne fell into darkness. He was a meteor streaking through a cold universe, a tiny fragment lost in empty space. The ground far below him was like an alien planet, new and unexplored, roaring toward him at what felt like light speed. At the moment of impact, everything went black. * THE Canadian ambulance crew wanted to take Nash Rollins to the hospital, but he refused to leave the boardwalk.

He wasn’t going anywhere until they’d found the man on the cliff. He leaned on a cane that one of the paramedics had given him and bit his tongue to try to take his mind off the pain that pulsed through his leg. Below him, the lights of searchers bobbed in the cobblestoned streets of the Basse-Ville, hunting for the wounded American killer. Rollins knew he’d hit him as he fell. He’d seen the red cloud spray from his head. It seemed impossible to think the man had survived the gunshot and the fall, but so far they’d found no body, only a blood trail that came to a sudden stop on the Rue du Petit-Champlain. The man had simply disappeared. Bourne was a ghost. Impossible to kill. But then, that was what they’d trained him to be.

Rollins felt no guilt about what he’d done. He’d brought his team to do a job, and the job wasn’t finished. His prior relationship with the man didn’t matter at all. The fact that the man had spared his life by shooting him in the leg, not the head or the chest, also didn’t matter. The only thing that was important was to stop him! He took his phone out of his pocket. When he dialed, a woman answered on the other end with a single word. “Treadstone.” “Go secure,” Rollins requested. “You’re secure,” she replied after a moment of dead air on the line. “What’s the situation in Quebec? Were you correct? Is it Cain?” “Yes, it’s him.

Just like I told you.” “Has he been neutralized?” “No, it seems that he’s still alive.” “That’s unfortunate,” the woman lectured him coldly. “You assured us that you’d deal with this. Director Shaw is concerned. If Bourne is linked to the assassination in New York, it puts the whole Treadstone resurrection in jeopardy.” Rollins grimaced as pain stabbed through his leg again. The pain was going to make him collapse soon, but he didn’t care. “Don’t worry, tell Shaw that I’ll find Bourne. He’s wounded, and he can’t go far.

I’ll find him, and I’ll kill him myself.”

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