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Authors: Robert Ludlum

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BOOK: The Gemini Contenders
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He had not wanted this unknown patient to die for any number of reasons. But especially one.

When it was over and the vital signs had remained constant, Dr. Geoffrey Washburn went back to his chemical and psychological appendage. His bottle. He had gotten drunk and he had remained drunk, but he had not gone over the edge. He knew exactly where he was and what he was doing at all times. Definitely an improvement.

Any day now, any hour perhaps, the stranger would focus his eyes and intelligible words would emerge from his lips.

Even any moment.

The words came first. They floated in the air as the early morning breeze off the sea cooled the room.

“Who’s there? Who’s in this room?”

Washburn sat up in the cot, moved his legs quietly over the side, and rose slowly to his feet. It was important to make no jarring note, no sudden noise or physical movement that might frighten the patient into a psychological regression. The next few minutes would be as delicate as the surgical procedures he had performed; the doctor in him was prepared for the moment.

“A friend,” he said softly.

“Friend?”

“You speak English. I thought you would. American or Canadian is what I suspected. Your dental work didn’t come from the UK or Paris. How do you feel?”

“I’m not sure.”

“It will take awhile. Do you need to relieve your bowels?”

“What?”

“Take a crapper, old man. That’s what the pan’s for beside you. The white one on your left. When we make it in time, of course.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Perfectly normal function. I’m a doctor,
your
doctor. My name is Geoffrey Washburn. What’s yours?”

“What?”

“I asked you what your name was.”

The stranger moved his head and stared at the white wall streaked with shafts of morning light. Then he turned back, his blue eyes leveled at the doctor. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, my God.”

“I’ve told you over and over again. It will take time. The more you fight it, the more you crucify yourself, the worse it will be.”

“You’re drunk.”

“Generally. It’s not pertinent. But I can give you clues, if you’ll listen.”

“I’ve listened.”

“No, you don’t; you turn away. You lie in your cocoon and pull the cover over your mind. Hear me again.”

“I’m listening.”

“In your coma—your prolonged coma—you spoke in three different languages. English, French and some goddamned twangy thing I presume is Oriental. That means you’re multilingual; you’re at home in various parts of the world. Think geographically. What’s most comfortable for you?”

“Obviously English.”

“We’ve agreed to that. So what’s most uncomfortable?”

“I don’t know.”

“Your eyes are round, not sloped. I’d say obviously the Oriental.”

“Obviously.”

“Then why do you speak it? Now, think in terms of association. I’ve written down words; listen to them. I’ll say them phonetically.
Ma—kwa. Tam—kwan. Kee—sah
. Say the first thing that comes to mind.”

“Nothing.”

“Good show.”

“What the hell do you want?”

“Something. Anything.”

“You’re drunk.”

“We’ve agreed to that. Consistently. I also saved your bloody life. Drunk or not, I
am
a doctor. I was once a very good one.”

“What happened?”

“The patient questions the doctor?”

“Why not?”

Washburn paused, looking out the window at the waterfront. “I was drunk,” he said. “They said I killed two patients on the operating table because I was drunk. I could have gotten away with one. Not two. They see a pattern very quickly, God bless them. Don’t ever give a man like me a knife and cloak it in respectability.”

“Was it necessary?”

“Was what necessary?”

“The bottle.”

“Yes, damn you,” said Washburn softly, turning from the window. “It was and it is. And the patient is not permitted to make judgments where the physician is concerned.”

“Sorry.”

“You also have an annoying habit of apologizing. It’s an overworked protestation and not at all natural. I don’t for a minute believe you’re an apologetic person.”

“Then you know something I don’t know.”

“About you, yes. A great deal. And very little of it makes sense.”

The man sat forward in the chair. His open shirt fell away from his taut frame, exposing the bandages on his chest and stomach. He folded his hands in front of him, the veins in his slender, muscular arms pronounced. “Other than the things we’ve talked about?”

“Yes.”

“Things I said while in coma?”

“No, not really. We’ve discussed most of that gibberish. The languages, your knowledge of geography—cities I’ve never or barely heard of—your obsession for avoiding the use of names, names you want to say but won’t; your propensity for confrontation—attack, recoil, hide, run—all rather violent, I might add. I frequently strapped your arms down, to protect the wounds. But we’ve covered all that. There are other things.”

“What do you mean? What are they? Why haven’t you told me?”

“Because they’re physical. The outer shell, as it were. I wasn’t sure you were ready to hear. I’m not sure now.”

The man leaned back in the chair, dark eyebrows below the dark brown hair joined in irritation. “Now it’s the physician’s judgment that isn’t called for. I’m ready. What are you talking about?”

“Shall we begin with that rather acceptable looking head of yours? The face, in particular.”

“What about it?”

“It’s not the one you were born with.”

“What do you mean?”

“Under a thick glass, surgery always leaves its mark. You’ve been altered, old man.”

“Altered?”

“You have a pronounced chin; I daresay there was a cleft in it. It’s been removed. Your upper left cheekbone—your cheekbones are also pronounced, conceivably Slavic generations ago—has minute traces of a surgical scar. I would venture to say a mole was eliminated. Your nose is an English nose, at one time slightly more prominent than it is now. It was thinned ever so subtly. Your very sharp features have been softened, the character submerged. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No.”

“You’re a reasonably attractive man but your face is more distinguished by the category it falls into than by the face itself.”

“Category?”

“Yes. You’re the prototype of the white Anglo-Saxon people see every day on the better cricket fields, or the tennis court. Or the bar at Mirabel’s. Those faces become almost indistinguishable from one another, don’t they? The features properly in place, the teeth straight, the ears flat against the head—nothing out of balance, everything in position and just a little bit soft.”

“Soft?”

“Well, ‘spoiled’ is perhaps a better word. Definitely self-assured, even arrogant, used to having your own way.”

“I’m still not sure what you’re trying to say.”

“Try this then. Change the color of your hair, you change the face. Yes, there are traces of discoloration, brittleness, dye. Wear glasses and a mustache, you’re a different man. I’d guess you were in your middle to late thirties, but you could be ten years older, or five younger.” Washburn paused, watching the man’s reactions, as if wondering whether or not to proceed. “And speaking of glasses, do you remember those exercises, the tests we ran a week ago?”

“Of course.”

“Your eyesight’s perfectly normal; you have no need of glasses.”

“I didn’t think I did.”

“Then why is there evidence of prolonged use of contact lenses about your retinas and lids?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense.”

“May I suggest a possible explanation?”

“I’d like to hear it.”

“You may not.” The doctor returned to the window and peered absently outside. “Certain types of contact lenses are designed to change the color of the eyes. And certain types of eyes lend themselves more readily than others to the device. Usually those that have a gray or bluish hue; yours are a cross. Hazel-gray in one light, blue in another. Nature favored you in this regard; no altering was either possible or required.”

“Required for what?”

“For changing your appearance. Very professionally, I’d say. Visas, passport, driver’s licenses—switched at will. Hair: brown, blond, auburn. Eyes—can’t tamper with the eyes—green, gray, blue? The possibilities are far-ranging, wouldn’t you say? All within that recognizable category in which the faces are blurred with repetition.”

The man got out of the chair with difficulty, pushing himself up with his arms, holding his breath as he rose. “It’s also possible that you’re reaching. You could be way out of line.”

“The traces are there, the markings. That’s evidence.”

“Interpreted by you, with a heavy dose of cynicism thrown in. Suppose I had an accident and was patched up? That would explain the surgery.”

“Not the kind you had. Dyed hair and the removal of clefts and moles aren’t part of a restoration process.”

“You don’t
know
that!” said the unknown man angrily. “There are different kinds of accidents, different procedures. You weren’t there; you can’t be certain.”

“Good! Get furious with me. You don’t do it half often enough. And while you’re mad,
think
. What were you? What
are
you?”

“A salesman … an executive with an international company, specializing in the Far East. That could be it. Or a teacher … of languages. In a university somewhere. That’s possible, too.”

“Fine. Choose one. Now!”

“I … I
can

t
.” The man’s eyes were on the edge of helplessness.

“Because you don’t believe either one.”

The man shook his head. “No. Do you?”

“No,” said Washburn. “For a specific reason. Those occupations are relatively sedentary and you have the body of a man who’s been subjected to physical stress. Oh, I don’t mean a trained athlete or anything like that; you’re no jock, as they say. But your muscle tone’s firm, your arms and hands used to strain and quite strong. Under other circumstances, I might judge you to be a laborer, accustomed to carrying heavy objects, or a fisherman, conditioned by hauling in nets all day long. But your range of knowledge, I daresay your intellect, rules out such things.”

“Why do I get the idea that you’re leading up to something? Something else.”

“Because we’ve worked together, closely and under pressure, for several weeks now. You spot a pattern.”

“I’m right then?”

“Yes. I had to see how you’d accept what I’ve just told you. The previous surgery, the hair, the contact lenses.”

“Did I pass?”

“With infuriating equilibrium. It’s time now; there’s no point in putting it off any longer. Frankly, I haven’t the patience. Come with me.” Washburn preceded the man through the living room to the door in the rear wall that led to the dispensary. Inside, he went to the corner and picked up an antiquated projector, the shell of its thick round lens rusted and cracked. “I had this brought in with the supplies from Marseilles,” he said, placing it on the small desk and inserting the plug into the wall socket. “It’s hardly the best equipment, but it serves the purpose. Pull the blinds, will you?”

The man with no name or memory went to the window and lowered the blind; the room was dark. Washburn snapped on the projector’s light; a bright square appeared on the white wall. He then inserted a small piece of celluloid behind the lens.

The square was abruptly filled with magnified letters.

GEMEINSCHAFT BANK BAHNHOFSTRASSE. ZURICH.
ZERO—SEVEN—SEVENTEEN—TWELVE—ZERO—
FOURTEEN—TWENTY-SIX—ZERO

“What is it?” asked the nameless man.

“Look at it. Study it.
Think.”

“It’s a bank account of some kind.”

“Exactly. The printed letterhead and address is the bank, the handwritten numbers take the place of a name, but insofar as they
are
written out, they constitute the signature of the account holder. Standard procedure.”

“Where did you get it?”

“From you. This is a very small negative, my guess would be half the size of a thirty-five millimeter film. It was im-planted—surgically implanted—beneath the skin above your right hip. The numbers are in your handwriting; it’s your signature. With it you can open a vault in Zurich.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

R
OBERT
L
UDLUM
is the author of twenty-one novels published in thirty-two languages and forty countries, with worldwide sales in excess of 200 million copies. His works include
The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Osterman Weekend, The Matlock Paper, The Rhinemann Exchange, The Gemini Contenders, The Chancellor Manuscript, The Road to Gandolfo, The Holcroft Covenant, The Matarese Circle, The Bourne Identity, The Parsifal Mosaic, The Aquitaine Progression, The Bourne Supremacy, The Icarus Agenda, Trevayne, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Road to Omaha, The Scorpio Illusion, The Apocalypse Watch, The Cry of the Halidon
, and
The Matarese Countdown
. He lives in Florida.

BOOK: The Gemini Contenders
10.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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