Read by Jeremy Davidson
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Aware of his frustrations, his academic mentor, Professor Specter, asks for help investigating the murder of a former student by a previously unknown Muslim extremist sect. The young man died carrying information about the group’s terrorist activities, including an immediate plan to attack the United States.
The organization, the Black Legion, and its lethal plot have also popped up on the radar of Central Intelligence, where new director Veronica Hart is struggling to assert her authority. Sensing an opportunity to take control of CI by showing Hart’s incompetence, National Security Agency operatives plan to accomplish what CI never could-hunt down and kill Bourne.
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Bourne Ascendancy
A Preview of The Bourne Enigma
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My thanks to:
The intrepid reporters at The Exile.
Bourne's adventures in Moscow and Arkadin's history in Nizhny Tagil would not have existed without their help.
Gregg Winter for turning me on to the logistics of transporting LNG.
Henry Morrison for clutch ideating at all hours.
A note to my readers:
I try to be as factual as possible in my novels, but this is, after all, a work of fiction.
In order to make the story as exciting as possible, I've inevitably taken artistic license here and there, with places, objects, and, possibly, even time.
I trust readers will overlook these small anomalies and enjoy the ride.
High Security Prison Colony 13, Nizhny Tagil, Russia/Campione d'Italia, Switzerland
WHILE THE FOUR inmates waited for Borya Maks to appear, they lounged against filthy stone walls whose cold no longer affected them. Out in the prison yard where they smoked expensive black-market cigarettes made from harsh black Turkish tobacco, they talked among themselves as if they had nothing better to do than to suck the acrid smoke into their lungs, expel it in puffs that seemed to harden in the freezing air. Above their heads was a cloudless sky whose glittering starlight turned it into a depthless enamel shell. Ursa Major, Lynx, Canes Venatici, Perseus—these same constellations burned the heavens above Moscow, six hundred miles to the southwest, but how different life was here from the gaudy, overheated clubs of Trehgorny val and Sadovnicheskaya street.
By day the inmates of Colony 13 manufactured parts for the T-90, Russia's formidable battle tank. But at night what do men without conscience or emotion talk to one another about? Strangely, family. There was a stability to coming home to a wife and children that defined their previous lives like the massive walls of High Security Colony 13 defined their present ones. What they did to earn money—lie, cheat, steal, extort, blackmail, torture, and kill—was all they knew. That they did these things well was a given, otherwise they would have been dead. Theirs was a life outside civilization as most people knew it. Returning to the warmth of a familiar woman, to the homey smells of sweet beets, boiled cabbage, stewed meat, the fire of peppery vodka, was a comfort that made them all nostalgic. The nostalgia bound them as securely as the tattoos of their shadowy profession.
A soft whistle cut through the frosty night air, evaporated their reminiscences like turpentine on oil paint. The night lost all its imagined color, returned to blue and black as Borya Maks appeared. Maks was a big man—a man who lifted weights for an hour, followed by ninety minutes of skipping rope every single day he'd been inside. As a contract killer for Kazanskaya, a branch of the Russian grupperovka trafficking in drugs and black-market cars, he held a certain status among the fifteen hundred inmates of Colony 13. The guards feared and despised him. His reputation preceded him like a shadow at sunset. He was not unlike the eye of a hurricane, around which swirled the howling winds of violence and death. The latest being the fifth man in the group that was now four. Kazanskaya or no Kazanskaya, Maks had to be punished, otherwise all of them knew their days in Colony 13 were numbered.
They smiled at Maks. One of them offered him a cigarette, another lit it for him as he bent forward, cupping a hand to keep the tiny flame alive in the wind. The other two men each grabbed one of Maks's steel-banded arms, while the man who had offered the cigarette drove a makeshift knife he'd painstakingly honed in the prison factory toward Maks's solar plexus. At the last instant Maks slapped it away with a superbly attuned flick of his hand. Immediately the man with the burned match delivered a vicious uppercut to the point of Maks's chin.
Maks staggered back into the chests of the two men holding his arms. But at the same time, he stomped the heel of his left boot onto the instep of one of the men holding him. Shaking his left arm free, he swung his body in a sharp arc, driving his cocked elbow into the rib cage of the man holding his right arm. Free for the moment, he put his back against the wall deep in shadow. The four closed ranks, moving in for the kill. The one with the knife stepped to the fore, another slipped a curved scrap of metal over his knuckles.
The fight began in earnest with grunts of pain and effort, showers of sweat, smears of blood. Maks was powerful and canny; his reputation was well deserved, but though he delivered as good as he got, he was facing four determined enemies. When Maks drove one to his knees another would take his place, so that there were always two of them beating at him while the others regrouped and repaired themselves as best they could. The four had had no illusions about the task ahead of them. They knew they'd never overcome Maks at the first or even the second attack. Their plan was to wear him down in shifts; while they took breaks, they allowed him none.
And it appeared to be working. Bloody and bruised, they continued their relentless assault, until Maks drove the edge of his hand into the throat of one of the four—the one with the homemade knife—crushing his cricoid cartilage. As the man staggered back into the arms of his compatriots, gasping like a hooked fish, Maks grabbed the knife out of his hand. Then his eyes rolled up and he became a deadweight. Blinded by rage and bloodlust, the remaining three charged Maks.
Their rush almost succeeded in getting inside Maks's defenses, but he dealt with them calmly and efficiently. Muscles popped along his arms as he turned, presenting his left side to them, giving them a smaller target, even as he used the knife in short, flicking thrusts and stabs to inflict a picket line of wounds that, though not deep, produced a welter of blood. This was deliberate, Maks's counter to their tactic of trying to wear him out. Fatigue was one thing, loss of blood quite another.
One of his assailants lunged forward, slipped on his own blood, and Maks hammered him down. This created an opening, and the one with the makeshift knuckle-duster moved in, slamming the metal into the side of Maks's neck. Maks at once lost breath and strength. The remaining men beat an unholy tattoo on him and were on the verge of plowing him under when a guard emerged out of the murk to drive them methodically back with a solid wood truncheon whose force was far more devastating than any piece of scrap metal could be.
A shoulder separated, then cracked under the expertly wielded truncheon; another man had the side of his skull staved in. The third, turning to flee, was struck flush on his third sacral vertebra, which shattered on impact, breaking his back.
"What are you doing?" Maks said to the guard between attempts to regain control of his breathing. "I assumed these bastards bribed all the guards."
"They did." The guard grabbed Maks's elbow. "This way," he indicated with the glistening end of the truncheon.
Maks's eyes narrowed. "That's not the way back to the cells."
"Do you want to get out of here or not?" the guard said.
Maks nodded his conditional assent, and the two men loped across the deserted yard. The guard kept his body pressed against the wall, and Maks followed suit. They moved at a deliberate pace, he saw, that kept them out of the beams of the roving spotlights. He would have wondered who this guard was, but there was no time. Besides, in the back of his mind he'd been expecting something like this. He knew his boss, the head of the Kazanskaya, wasn't going to let him rot in Colony 13 for the rest of his life, if only because he was too valuable an asset to let rot. Who could possibly replace the great Borya Maks? Only one, perhaps: Leonid Arkadin. But Arkadin—whoever he was; no one Maks knew had ever met him or seen his face—wouldn't work for Kazanskaya, or any of the families; he was a freelancer, the last of a dying breed. If he existed at all, which, frankly, Maks doubted. He'd grown up with stories of bogeymen with all manner of unbelievable powers—for some perverse reason Russians delighted in trying to scare their children. But the fact was, Maks never believed in bogeymen, was never scared. He had no reason to be scared of the specter of Leonid Arkadin, either.
By this time the guard had pulled open a door midway along the wall. They ducked in just as a searchlight beam crawled across the stones against which, moments before, they had been pressed.
After several turnings, he found himself in the corridor that led to the communal men's shower, beyond which, he knew, was one of the two entries to the wing of the prison. How this guard meant to get them through the checkpoints was anyone's guess, but Maks wasted no energy trying to second-guess him. Up to now he'd known just what to do and how to do it. Why should this be any different? The man was clearly a professional. He'd researched the prison thoroughly, he obviously had major juice behind him: first, to have gotten in here, second, to have the apparent run of the place. That was Maks's boss all over.
As they moved down the corridor toward the opening to the showers, Maks said, "Who are you?"
"My name is unimportant," the guard said. "Who sent me is not."
Maks absorbed everything in the unnatural stillness of the prison night. The guard's Russian was flawless, but to Maks's practiced eye he didn't look Russian, or Georgian, Chechen, Ukrainian, or Azerbaijani, for that matter. He was small by Maks's standards, but then almost everyone was small by his standards. His body was toned, though, its responses finely honed. He possessed the preternatural stillness of properly harnessed energy. He made no move unless he needed to and then used only the amount of energy required, no more. Maks himself was like this, so it was easy for him to spot the subtle signs others would miss. The guard's eyes were pale, his expression grim, almost detached, like a surgeon in the OR. His light hair thick on top, spiked in a style that would have been unfamiliar to Maks had he not been an aficionado of international magazines and foreign films. In fact, if Maks didn't know better he'd say the guard was American. But that was impossible. Maks's boss didn't employ Americans; he co-opted them.
"So Maslov sent you," Maks said. Dimitri Maslov was the head of Kazanskaya. "It's about fucking time, let me tell you. Fifteen months in this place feels like fifteen years."
At that moment, as they came abreast of the showers, the guard, without turning fully around, swung the truncheon into the side of Maks's head. Maks, taken completely by surprise, staggered onto the bare concrete floor of the shower room, which reeked of mildew, disinfectant, and men lacking proper hygiene.
The guard came after him as nonchalantly as if he were out for the evening with a girl on his arm. He swung the truncheon almost lazily. He struck Maks on his left biceps, just hard enough to herd him backward toward the line of showerheads protruding from the moist rear wall. But Maks refused to be herded, by this guard or by anyone else. As the truncheon whistled down from the apex of its arc, he stepped forward, broke the trajectory of the blow with his tensed forearm. Now, inside the guard's line of defense, he could go to work in the way that suited the situation best.
The homemade knife was in his left hand. He thrust it point-first. When the guard moved to block it, he slashed upward, ripping the edge of the blade against flesh. He'd aimed for the underside of the guard's wrist, the nexus of veins that, if severed, would render the hand useless. The guard's reflexes were as fast as his own, though, and instead the blade scored the arm of the leather jacket. But it did not penetrate the leather as it should have. Maks only had time to register that the jacket must be lined with Kevlar or some other impenetrable material before the callused edge of the guard's hand struck the knife from his grip.
Another blow sent him reeling back. He tripped over one of the drain holes, his heel sinking into it, and the guard smashed the sole of his boot into the side of Maks's knee. There was an awful sound, the grinding of bone against bone as Maks's right leg collapsed.
As the guard closed in he said, "It wasn't Dimitri Maslov who sent me. It was Pyotr Zilber."
Maks struggled to extricate his heel, which he could no longer feel, from the drain hole. "I don't know who you're talking about."
The guard grabbed his shirtfront. "You killed his brother, Aleksei. One shot to the back of the head. They found him facedown in the Moskva River."
"It was business," Maks said. "Just business."
"Yes, well, this is personal," the guard said as he drove his knee into Maks's crotch.
Maks doubled over. When the guard bent to haul him upright, he slammed the top of his head against the point of the guard's chin. Blood spurted from between the guard's lips as his teeth cut into his tongue.
Maks used this advantage to drive his fist into the guard's side just over his kidney. The guard's eyes opened wide—the only indication that he felt pain—and he kicked Maks's ruined knee. Maks went down and stayed down. Agony flowed in a river through him. As he struggled to compartmentalize it, the guard kicked again. He felt his ribs give way, his cheek kissed the stinking concrete floor. He lay dazed, unable to rise.
The guard squatted down beside him. Seeing the grimace the guard made gave Maks a measure of satisfaction, but that was all he was destined to receive in the way of solace.
"I have money," Maks gasped weakly. "It's buried in a safe place where no one will find it. If you get me out of here, I'll lead you to it. You can have half. That's over half a million American dollars."
This only made the guard angry. He struck Maks hard on his ear, making sparks fly behind his eyes. His head rang with a pain that in anyone else would have been unendurable. "Do you think I'm like you? That I have no loyalty?" He spat into Maks's face.
"Poor Maks, you made a grave error killing this boy. People like Pyotr Zilber never forget. And they have the means to move heaven and earth to get what they want."
"All right," Maks whispered, "you can have it all. More than a million dollars."
"Pyotr Zilber wants you dead, Maks. I came here to tell you that. And to kill you." His expression changed subtly. "But first."
He extended Maks's left arm, trod on the wrist, pinning it securely against the rough concrete. He then produced a pair of thick-bladed pruning shears.
This procedure roused Maks from his pain-induced lethargy. "What are you doing?"
The guard grasped Maks's thumb, on the back of which was a tattoo of a skull, mirroring the larger one on his chest. It was a symbol of Maks's exalted status in his murderous profession.
"Besides wanting you to know the identity of the man who ordered your death, Pyotr Zilber requires proof of your demise, Maks."
The guard settled the shears at the base of Maks's thumb, then he squeezed the handles together. Maks made a gurgling sound, not unlike that of a baby.
As a butcher would, the guard wrapped the thumb in a square of waxed paper, snapped a rubber band around it, then sealed it in a plastic bag.
"Who are you?" Maks managed to get out.
"My name is Arkadin," the guard said. He opened his shirt, revealing a pair of candlestick tattoos on his chest. "Or, in your case, Death."
With a movement full of grace Arkadin broke Maks's neck.
Crisp Alpine sunlight lit up Campione d'Italia, a tiny exquisite Italian enclave of two-thirds of a square mile nestled within the clockwork-perfect setting of Switzerland. Owing to its prime position on the eastern edge of Lake Lugano, it was both stupendously picturesque and an excellent place to be domiciled. Like Monaco, it was a tax haven for wealthy individuals who owned magnificent villas and gambled away idle hours at the Casino di Campione. Money and valuables could be stored in Swiss banks, with their justly famous reputation for discreet service, completely shielded from international law enforcement's prying eyes.
It was this little-known, idyllic setting that Pyotr Zilber chose for the first face-to-face meeting with Leonid Arkadin. He had contacted Arkadin through an intermediary, for various security reasons opting not to contact the contract killer directly. From an early age Pyotr had learned that there was no such thing as being too security-minded. There was a heavy burden of responsibility being born into a family with secrets.
From his lofty perch on the overlook just off Via Totone, Pyotr had a breathtaking panorama of the red-brown tile roofs of the chalets and apartment houses, the palm-lined squares of the town, the cerulean waters of the lake, the mountains, their shoulders mantled with capes of mist. The distant drone of powerboats, leaving frothy scimitars of white wake, came to him intermittently while he sat in his gray BMW. In truth, part of his mind was already on his imminent trip. Having gotten the stolen document, he had sent it on the long journey along his network to its ultimate end.
Being here excited him in the most extraordinary way. His anticipation of what was to come, of the accolades he would receive, especially from his father, sent an electric charge through him. He was on the brink of an unimaginable victory. Arkadin had called him from the Moscow airport to tell him that the operation had been successful, that he had in his possession the physical proof Pyotr required.
He had taken a risk going after Maks, but the man had murdered Pyotr's brother. Was he supposed to turn his cheek and forget the affront? He knew better than anyone his father's stern dictum to keep to the shadows, to remain hidden, but he thought this one act of vengeance was worth the risk. Besides, he'd handled the matter via intermediaries, the way he knew his father would have.
Hearing the deep growl of a car engine, he turned, saw a dark blue Mercedes come up the rise toward the overlook.
The only real risk he was taking was going to happen right now, and that, he knew, couldn't be helped. If Leonid Arkadin was able to infiltrate Colony 13 in Nizhny Tagil and kill Borya Maks, he was the man for the next job Pyotr had in mind. One his father should have taken care of years ago. Now he had a chance to finish what his father was too timid to attempt. To the bold belonged the spoils. The document he'd procured was proof positive that the time for caution was at an end.
The Mercedes drew to a stop beside his BMW, a man with light hair and even lighter eyes emerging with the fluidity of a tiger. He was not a particularly large man, he wasn't overmuscled like many of the Russian grupperovka personnel; nevertheless something inside him radiated a quiet menace Pyotr found impressive. From a very young age Pyotr had been exposed to dangerous men. At the age of eleven he had killed a man who had threatened his mother. He hadn't hesitated in the slightest. If he had, his mother would have died that afternoon in the Azerbaijani bazaar at the hands of the knife-wielding assassin. That assassin, as well as others over the years, had been sent by Semion Icoupov, Pyotr's father's implacable nemesis, the man who at this moment was safely ensconced in his villa on Viale Marco Campione, not a mile from where Pyotr and Leonid Arkadin now stood.
The two men did not greet each other, did not address each other by name. Arkadin took out the stainless-steel briefcase Pyotr had sent him. Pyotr reached for its twin inside the BMW. The exchange was made on the hood of the Mercedes. The men put the cases down side by side, unlocked them. Arkadin's contained Maks's severed thumb, wrapped and bagged. Pyotr's contained thirty thousand dollars in diamonds, the only currency Arkadin accepted as payment.
Arkadin waited patiently. As Pyotr unwrapped the thumb he stared out at the lake, perhaps wishing he were on one of the powerboats slicing a path away from land. Maks's thumb had withered slightly on the journey from Russia. A certain odor emanated from it, which was not unfamiliar to Pyotr Zilber. He'd buried his share of family and compatriots. He turned so the sunlight struck the tattoo, produced a small magnifying glass through which he peered at the marking.
At length, he put the glass away. "Did he prove difficult?"
Arkadin turned back to face him. For a moment he stared implacably into Pyotr's eyes. "Not especially."
Pyotr nodded. He threw the thumb over the side of the overlook, tossed the empty case after it. Arkadin, taking this to be the conclusion of their deal, reached for the packet filled with diamonds. Opening it, he took out a jeweler's loupe, plucked a diamond at random, examined it with an expert's aplomb.
When he nodded, satisfied as to the clarity and color, Pyotr said, "How would you like to make three times what I paid you for this assignment?"
"I'm a very busy man," Arkadin said, revealing nothing.
Pyotr inclined his head deferentially. "I have no doubt."
"I only take assignments that interest me."
"Would Semion Icoupov interest you?"
Arkadin stood very still. Two sports cars passed, heading up the road as if it were Le Mans. In the echo of their throaty exhausts, Arkadin said, "How convenient that we happen to be in the tiny principality where Semion Icoupov lives."
"You see?" Pyotr grinned. "I know precisely how busy you are."
"Two hundred thousand," Arkadin said. "The usual terms."
Pyotr, who had anticipated Arkadin's fee, nodded his agreement. "Conditional on immediate delivery."
Pyotr popped the trunk of the BMW. Inside were two more cases. From one, he transferred a hundred thousand in diamonds to the case on the Mercedes's hood. From the other, he handed Arkadin a packet of documents, including a satellite map, indicating the precise location of Icoupov's villa, a list of his bodyguards, and a set of architectural blueprints of the villa, including the electrical circuits, the separate power supply, and details of the security devices in place.
"Icoupov is in residence now," Pyotr said. "How you make your way inside is up to you."
"I'll be in touch." After paging through the documents, asking a question here and there, Arkadin placed them in the case on top of the diamonds, snapped the lid shut, slung the case into the passenger's seat of the Mercedes as easily as if it were filled with balloons.
"Tomorrow, same time, right here," Pyotr said as Arkadin slid behind the wheel.
The Mercedes started up, its engine purring. Then Arkadin put it in gear. As he slid out onto the road, Pyotr turned to walk to the front of the BMW. He heard the squeal of brakes, the slewing of a car, and turned to see the Mercedes heading directly toward him. He was paralyzed for a moment. What the hell is he doing? he asked himself. Belatedly, he began to run. But the Mercedes was already on top of him, its front grille slammed into him, pinned him to the side of the BMW.
Through a haze of agony he saw Arkadin get out of his car, walk toward him. Then something gave out inside him and he passed into oblivion.
He regained consciousness in a paneled study, gleaming with polished brass fixtures, lush with jewel-toned Isfahan carpets. A walnut desk and chair were within his field of vision, as was an enormous window that looked out on the sparkling water of Lake Lugano and the veiled mountains behind it. The sun was low in the west, sending long shadows the color of a fresh bruise over the water, up the whitewashed walls of Campione d'Italia.
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