Two abrupt explosions pierced the sounds of the sea and the wind and the vessel's pain. They came from the dimly lit cabin that rose and fell with its host body. A man lunged out of the door grasping the railing with one band, holding his stomach with the other.
A second man followed, the pursuit cautious, his intent violent. He stood bracing himself in the cabin door; he raised a gun and fired again. And again.
The man at the railing whipped both his hands up to his head, arching backward under the impact of the fourth bullet. The trawler's bow dipped suddenly into the valley of two giant waves, lifting the wounded man off his feet; he twisted to his left unable to take his hands away from his head. The boat surged upward, bow and midships more out of the water than in it, sweeping the figure in the doorway back into the cabin, a fifth gunshot fired wildly. The wounded man screamed, his hands now lashing out at anything he could grasp, his eyes blinded by blood and the unceasing spray of the sea. There was nothing he could grab, so he grabbed at nothing; his legs buckled as his body lurched forward. The boat rolled violently leeward and the man whose skull was ripped open plunged over the side into the madness of the darkness below.
He felt rushing cold water envelop him, swallowing him, sucking him under, and twisting him in circles, then propelling him up to the surface-only to gasp a single breath of air. A gasp and he was under again.
And there was heat, a strange moist heat at his temple that seared through the freezing water that kept swallowing him, a fire where no fire should burn. There was ice, too; an icelike throbbing in his stomach and his legs and his chest, oddly warmed by the cold sea around him. He felt these things, acknowledging his own panic as he felt them. He could see his own body turning and twisting, arms and feet working frantically against the pressures of the whirlpool. He could feel, think, see, perceive panic and struggle-yet strangely there was peace. It was the calm of the observer, the uninvolved observer, separated from the events, knowing of them but not essentially involved.
Then another form of panic spread through him, surging through the heat and the ice and the uninvolved recognition. He could not submit to peace! Not yet! It would happen any second now; he was not sure what it was, but it would happen. He had to be there!
He kicked furiously, clawing at the heavy walls of water above, his chest burning. He broke surface, thrashing to stay on top of the black swells. Climb up! Climb up!
A monstrous rolling wave accommodated; he was on the crest, surrounded by pockets of foam and darkness. Nothing. Turn! Turn!
It happened. The explosion was massive; he could hear it through the clashing waters and the wind, the sight and the sound somehow his doorway to peace. The sky lit up like a fiery diadem and within that crown of fire, objects of all shapes and sizes were blown through the light into the outer shadows.
He had won. Whatever it was, he had won.
Suddenly he was plummeting downward again, into an abyss again. He could feel the rushing waters crash over his shoulders, cooling the white-hot heat at his temple, warming the ice-cold incisions in his stomach and his legs and ...
His chest His chest was in agony! He had been struck-the blow crushing, the impact sudden and intolerable It happened again! Let me alone. Give me peace.
And he clawed again, and kicked again ... until he felt it. A thick, oily object that moved only with the movements of the sea. He could not tell what it was, but it was there and he could feel it, hold it.
Hold it! It will ride you to peace. To the silence of darkness ... and peace.
The rays of the early sun broke through the mists of the eastern sky, lending glitter to the calm waters of the Mediterranean. The skipper of the small fishing boat, his eyes bloodshot, his hands marked with rope burns, sat on the stern gunnel smoking a Gauloise, grateful for the sight of the smooth sea. He glanced over at the open wheelhouse; his younger brother was easing the throttle forward to make better time, the single other crewman checking a net several feet away. They were laughing at something and that was good; there had been nothing to laugh about last night. Where had the storm come from? The weather reports from Marseilles had indicated nothing; if they had he would have stayed in the shelter of the coastline. He wanted to reach the fishing grounds eighty kilometers south of La Seyne-sur-Mer by daybreak, but not at the expense of costly repairs, and what repairs were not costly these days?
Or at the expense of his life, and there were moments last night when that was a distinct consideration.
'Tu es fatigue, hein, mon frere?" his brother shouted, grinning at him. "Va te coucher mainaintenant. Laisse-moi faire."
"D'accord," the brother answered, throwing his cigarette over the side and sliding down to the deck on top of a net. "A little sleep won't hurt."
It was good to have a brother at the wheel. A member of the family should always be the pilot on a family boat; the eyes were sharper. Even a brother who spoke with the smooth tongue of a literate man as opposed to his own coarse words. Crazy! One year at the university and his brother wished to start a compagnie. With a single boat that had seen better days many years ago. Crazy. What good did his books do last night? When his compagnie was about to capsize.
He closed his eyes, letting his hands sonic in the rolling water on the deck. The salt of the sea would be good for the rope burns. Burns received while lashing equipment that did not care to stay put in the storm.
"Look! Over there!"
It was his brother; apparently sleep was to be denied by sharp family eyes.
"What is it?" he yelled.
"Port bow! There's a man in the water! He's holding on to something! A piece of debris, a plank of some sort."
The skipper took the wheel, angling the boat to the right of the figure in the water, cutting the engines to reduce the wake. The man looked as though the slightest motion would send him sliding off the fragment of wood he clung to; his hands were white, gripped around the edge like claws, but the rest of his body was limp-as limp as a man fully drowned, passed from this world.
"Loop the ropes!" yelled the skipper to his brother and the crewman. "Submerge them around his legs. Easy now! Move them up to his waist. Pull gently."
"His hands won't let go of the plank!"
"Reach down! Pry them up! It may be the death lock."
"No. He's alive ... but barely, I think. His lips move, but there's no sound. His eyes also, though I doubt he sees us,"
"The hands are free!"
"Lift him up. Grab his shoulders and pull him over. Easy, now!"
"Mother of God, look at his head!" yelled the crewman. "It's split open."
"He must have crashed it against the plank in the storm," said the brother.
"No," disagreed the skipper, staring at the wound. "It's a clean slice, razorlike. Caused by a bullet; he was shot."
"You can't be sure of that."
"In more than one place," added the skipper, his eyes roving over the body, "We'll head for Ile de Port Noir; it's the nearest island. There's a doctor on the waterfront."
"When be can," said the skipper's brother. "When the wine lets him. He has more success with his patients' animals than with his patients."
"It won't matter. This will be a corpse by the time we c get them if by chance he lives, IT bill him for the extra petrol and whatever catch we miss. Get the kit; wet bind his head for all the good it will do."
"Look!" cried the crewman. "Look at his eyes."
"What about them?" asked the brother.
"A moment ago they were gray-as gray as steel cables.
Now they're blue!"
"The sun's brighter," said the skipper, shrugging. "Or its playing tricks with your own eyes. No matter, there's no color in the grave."
Intermittent whistles of fishing boats clashed with the incessant screeching of the gulls; together they formed the universal sounds of the waterfront. It was late afternoon, the sun a fireball in the west, the air still and too damp, too hot Above the piers and facing the harbor was a cobblestone street and several blemished white houses, separated by overgrown grass shooting up from dried earth and sand. What remained of the verandas were patched latticework and crumbling stucco supported by hastily implanted pilings. The residences had seen better days a number of decades ago when the residents mistakenly believed Il de Port Noir might become another Mediterranean Playground. It never did.
All the houses had paths to the street, but the last house in the row had a path obviously more trampled than the others. It belonged to an Englishman who had come to Port Noir eight years before under circumstances no one understood or cared to; he was a doctor and the waterfront had need of a doctor. Hooks, needles and knives were at once means of livelihood as well as instruments of incapacitation. If one saw le docteur on a good day, the sutures were not too bad. On the other hand, if the stench of wine or whiskey was too pronounced, one took one's chances.
Tant pis! He was better than no one.
Excerpted from The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum Copyright © 1981 by Robert Ludlum. Excerpted by permission.
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