Excerpt of The SIGMA Protocol by Robert Ludlum
(Page 3 of 8)
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"Ah, thank you so much, sir," the Hotelpage exclaimed with feigned surprise.
The doormen would let him know when his car appeared in the cobbled drive to the left of the hotel, but Ben was in no hurry. The breeze from Lake Zurich was refreshing, after time spent in stuffy, overheated rooms where the air was always suffused with the smell of coffee and, fainter but unmistakable, cigar smoke.
Ben propped his brand-new skis, Volant Ti Supers, against one of the hotel's Corinthian pillars, near his other bags, and watched the busy street scene, the spectacle of anonymous passersby. An obnoxious young businessman braying into a cell phone. An obese woman in a red parka pushing a baby carriage. A crowd of Japanese tourists chattering excitedly. A tall middle-aged man in a business suit with his graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. A deliveryman with a box of lilies, attired in the distinctive orange and black uniform of Blumchengallerie, the upscale flower chain. And a striking, expensively dressed young blonde, clutching a Festiner's shopping bag, who glanced generally in Ben's direction, and then glanced at him again--quickly, but with a flicker of interest before averting her eyes. Had we but world enough and time, thought Ben. His gaze wandered again. The sounds of traffic were continuous but muted, drifting in from the Lowenstrasse, a few hundred feet away. Somewhere nearby a high-strung dog was yipping. A middle-aged man wearing a blazer with an odd purple hue, a tad too stylish for Zurich. And then he saw a man about his age, walking with a purposeful stride past the Koss Konditerei. He looked vaguely familiar-
Ben did a double-take, peered more closely. Was that--could that really be--his old college buddy Jimmy Cavanaugh? A quizzical smile spread over Ben's face.
Jimmy Cavanaugh, whom he'd known since his sophomore year at Princeton. Jimmy, who'd glamorously lived off-campus, smoked unfiltered cigarettes that would have choked an ordinary mortal, and could drink anybody under the table, even Ben, who had something of a reputation in that regard. Jimmy had come from a small town in western upstate New York called Homer, which supplied him with a storehouse of tales. One night, after he taught Ben the finer points of downing Tequila shots with beer chasers, Jimmy had him gasping for breath with his stories about the town sport of "cow tipping." Jimmy was rangy, sly, and worldly, had an immense repertory of pranks, a quick wit, and the gift of gab. Most of all, he just seemed more alive than most of the kids Ben knew: the clammy-palmed preprofessionals trading tips about the entrance exams for law school or B-school, the pretentious French majors with their clove cigarettes and black scarves, the sullen burn-out cases for whom rebellion was found in a bottle of green hair dye. Jimmy seemed to stand apart from all that, and Ben, envying him his simple ease with himself, was pleased, even flattered by the friendship. As so often happens, they'd lost touch after college; Jimmy had gone off to do something at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and Ben had stayed in New York. Neither of them was big on college nostalgia, and then distance and time had done their usual job. Still, Ben reflected, Jimmy Cavanaugh was probably one of the few people he actually felt like talking to just now.
Jimmy Cavanaugh--it was definitely Jimmy--was now near enough that Ben could see that he was wearing an expensive-looking suit, under a tan trench coat, and smoking a cigarette. His build had changed: he was broader-shouldered now. But it was Cavanaugh for sure.
"Jesus," Ben said aloud. He started down the Bahnhofstrasse toward Jimmy, then remembered his Volants, which he didn't want to leave unattended, doormen or no doormen. He picked the skis up, hefted them over one shoulder, and walked toward Cavanaugh. The red hair had faded and receded a bit, the once-freckled face was a little lined, he was wearing a two-thousand-dollar Armani suit, and what the hell was he doing in Zurich of all places? Suddenly they made eye contact.
Excerpted from The SIGMA Protocol, (c) 2002 Robert Ludlum. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.