Excerpt from The SIGMA Protocol by Robert Ludlum, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The SIGMA Protocol

By Robert Ludlum

The SIGMA Protocol

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Chapter One

Zurich

"May I get you something to drink while you wait?" The Hotelpage was a compact man who spoke English with only a trace of an accent. His brass nameplate gleamed against his loden-green uniform.

"No, thank you," Ben Hartman said, smiling wanly.

"Are you sure? Perhaps some tea? Coffee? Mineral water?" The bellhop peered up at him with the bright-eyed eagerness of someone who has only a few minutes left to enhance his parting tip. "I'm terribly sorry your car is delayed."

"I'm fine, really."

Ben stood in the lobby of the Hotel St. Gotthard, an elegant nineteenth-century establishment that specialized in catering to the well heeled international businessman--and, face it, that's me, Ben thought sardonically. Now that he had checked out, he wondered idly whether he could tip the bellhop not to carry his bags, not to follow his every move a few feet behind, like a Bengali bride, not to offer unceasing apologies for the fact that the car that was to take Ben to the airport had not yet arrived. Luxury hotels the world over prided themselves on such coddling, but Ben, who traveled quite a bit, inevitably found it intrusive, deeply irritating. He'd spent so much time trying to break out of the cocoon, hadn't he? But the cocoon--the stale rituals of privilege--had won out in the end. The Hotelpage had his number, all right: just another rich, spoiled American.

Ben Hartman was thirty-six, but today he felt much older. It wasn't just the jet lag, though he had arrived from New York yesterday and still felt that sense of dislocation. It was something about being in Switzerland again: in happier days, he'd spent a lot of time here, skiing too fast, driving too fast, feeling like a wild spirit among its stone-faced, rulebound burghers. He wished he could regain that spirit, but he couldn't. He hadn't been to Switzerland since his brother, Peter--his identical twin, his closest friend in all the world--had been killed here four years ago. Ben had expected the trip to stir up memories, but nothing like this. Now he realized what a mistake he'd made coming back here. From the moment he'd arrived at Kloten Airport, he'd been distracted, swollen with emotion--anger, grief, loneliness.

But he knew better than to let it show. He'd done a little business yesterday afternoon, and this morning had a cordial meeting with Dr. Rolf Grendelmeier of the Union Bank of Switzerland. Pointless, of course, but you had to keep the clients happy; glad-handing was part of the job. If he was honest with himself, it was the job, and Ben sometimes felt a pang at how easily he slipped into the role, that of the legendary Max Hartman's only surviving son, the heir presumptive to the family fortune, and to the CEO's office at Hartman Capital Management, the multibillion-dollar firm founded by his father.

Now Ben possessed the whole trick bag of international finance--the closet full of Brioni and Kiton suits, the easy smile, the firm handshake, and, most of all, the gaze: steady, level, concerned. It was a gaze that conveyed responsibility, dependability, and sagacity, and that, often as not, concealed desperate boredom.

Still, he hadn't really come to Switzerland to do business. At Kloten, a small plane would take him to St. Moritz for a ski vacation with an extremely wealthy, elderly client, the old man's wife, and his allegedly beautiful granddaughter. The client's arm-twisting was jovial but persistent. Ben was being fixed up, and he knew it. This was one of the hazards of being a presentable, well-off, "eligible" single man in Manhattan: his clients were forever trying to set him up with their daughters, their nieces, their cousins. It was hard to say no politely. And once in a while he actually met a woman whose company he enjoyed. You never knew. Anyway, Max wanted grandchildren.

Excerpted from The SIGMA Protocol, (c) 2002 Robert Ludlum. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.

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