So here is the last installment of this particular piece for the time being. It is what it is. Thanks to all who read, and especially to those who choose to leave comments. I've appreciated the encouragement.
"For Treadstone," Shelly prompted, watching him closely. He hid it well. Yet she caught the miniscule muscle twitch, the nearly imperceptible eye movement, the tell tale signs of a human being in conflict, a man at odds with himself.
He straightened, then nodded glumly. "How much do you know?" he inquired, raising his eyes to face her – and his memories.
"Some general information, some details. A few names. Enough to pique my curiosity. Which might be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. What's the saying? 'A little knowledge is perhaps a dangerous thing.'" She smiled encouragingly.
The former Treadstone operative rested his arms on the table, wrapping his hands around the glass of water in front of him. He came to a decision. "It was a kill squad. We took out a number of targets that were presenting threats to the United States. We stopped a lot of nasty stuff from getting off the ground." He searched her face for any kind of revulsion or judgment. He found none. "Sometimes – sometimes we need the bad guys taken out, no questions asked."
"Yes, that is one way of looking at it," Shelly shifted in her seat, leaned forward. "So, if I may ask, why do you feel such guilt?"
"You don't beat around the bush, do you?" Webb observed. After a few moments, he asked quietly, "Is it that evident?"
"To me, yes – only because I know what to watch for. I've spent a lot of my life observing people," she told him. "Unless my read is totally off, you are dealing with more than just a little remorse for what you've done." She ran her finger around the rim of her water glass. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to. I'm not going to press. Or judge. You want to talk? I'll listen. Tom has always told me I'm a good listener."
Webb glanced around the kitchen, at the walls that held evidence of home and family. Things he hadn't been around for a long time. And for some reason, he realized he wanted – no, – he needed to explain. It had been such a long time since he'd been able to share his complete memories with anyone. "I volunteered for the program," he told her. "I wanted to be able to do something, to make a difference. To be a part of something with teeth. I was Army. Delta. We conducted a number of ops that, well, they didn't go as planned." He licked his lips, remembering incidents, places and faces, the day that Neal Daniels appeared in his hospital room, the day he volunteered to become a part of the Treadstone project, his first mission as Jason Bourne.
Clearing his throat, he continued, "I hated having to wait for an official 'okay' from higher up when we had the target in the rifle sight. I wanted to be able to secure an objective without anyone deciding to stop it because it would not be politically correct at the last minute."
Shelly folded her hands on the table in front of her, nodding an understanding.
Webb found it cathartic to talk. He shared some of his Army experiences, talked of his deployment with the Rangers and a little of his operations as Delta. In halting sentences, he told her of the mission that drove him to the edge, the operation that went so badly that most of his squad was killed, an operation during which he had been seriously injured. It was while he was recuperating from those injuries that Neal Daniels walked into his life. Daniels came to him with an offer, with details of a program called Treadstone, a program that would provide necessary training to volunteers who would then be called upon to complete top secret missions with no strings attached.
"That's what they told me. That was Treadstone. At least at the beginning. Run by a doctor named Hirsch. He was using some extreme and questionable training methods, including sensory overload, sleep deprivation, you name it. Behavioral modification," his voice cracked as he detailed the extent of his training, laying the facts out in front of a stranger. He swallowed hard, plowed on. "I volunteered for it," he admitted. "In the beginning I thought I could handle what they threw at me. And part of me, part of me resisted, but I had started this and couldn't – you know, quit," he shrugged apologetically. "I allowed this to happen, let myself be turned into the assassin who did not question, who just did. Did what he was told. And I killed people. I thought it was in the name of patriotism, I thought I killed to save American lives. I believed that what I was doing was for the good of the country." He paused, took a deep breath. "I've since learned that there were things going on behind the scenes. Power struggles and greed and political game playing. The usual shit. Guess it shouldn't surprise me. I was a pawn in a game," he said disgustedly. "But Treadstone never targeted U.S. citizens. Not while I was in the program."
Shelly listened as the words tumbled out. "Easy, David," she soothed, noticing the single bead of sweat trickling down his temple, catching the slight tremble in his fingers. "Take a deep breath and relax. You've been through some serious trauma. It's not all going to go away in an hour, or a day. This will be with you for a long time."
Webb nodded. He sat back and drank some water, focusing on slowing his heart rate.
Shelly refilled his glass. "According to Pam, you acquired handlers who used you for personal gain with Vladimir Neski as the target. That was all arranged by a man named Abbott?"
"My handler was Conklin," he explained. "Tough-as-nails, no nonsense guy. I did a lot of my assignments under his direction. He did some work for Abbott. I only just learned that Abbott used the Neski case for personal gain. I don't know if Conklin was aware that taking Neski out was not in the best interest of America, but in the best interest of Abbott and his Russian counterpart. He may have suspected, but I think he was anxious to prove that the training worked. Bottom line, the op was a cover up for diverted money, for nothing more than power and greed. And I pulled the trigger – on innocent lives."
He shook his head in resignation. He'd laid bare much of his past. He thought of the other operations in which he'd participated over his tenure with Treadstone. He wondered how many more of them were legitimate, and how many weren't. He returned his gaze to Shelly's sympathetic eyes. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this. No one else has ever heard this whole story. I told Marie what I could, what I remembered, but it wasn't much. Just bits and pieces. She was helping me jog my memory, helping me put names to faces. I tried – tried to apologize for what I'd done."
"And for someone to say that it was your job doesn't make it any better, does it?" Shelly guessed.
Webb shook his head. "I used that reasoning to explain to a young woman why I killed her parents," he admitted, remembering all too well the rather one-sided conversation with Irena Neski in Moscow only a few short weeks ago. "It – it didn't help."
"But it does help to talk about it, to share it with someone, doesn't it?" Shelly asked.
"Yeah," he answered. "It helps. It feels like Confession. I – I haven't been to Confession in a long time."
Shelly smiled at the thought. "People confess their sins in an effort to seek absolution, to obtain some assurance of forgiveness. I'm not a priest, but I do know that God forgives." She leaned back in her chair. "Somehow you will have to come to terms with your actions and move on. You will have to find a way to accept it as part of who you are now. Choices were made and paths were followed. Who is to say that one path is better than another? It sounds to me like your biggest challenge will not be in seeking forgiveness from God or the world but in seeking forgiveness from yourself."
He looked around, committing the room to memory, tucking it along side the short time he'd spent with Marie in Goa, wondering if he'd ever acquire anything remotely resembling a home again. "This is all so strange," he tapped his head. "For three years, my memory's been full of holes, worse than a block of Swiss cheese. So much was missing. It's here now. And you are right. I need to deal with it."
He stood and stretched, picked up his coat and put it on, zipped up the closure against the night air. It was time to leave.
Shelly rose from her chair. "Are you sure you don't want to stay longer?" The look on her face was one of genuine concern.
"I can't. I – I need to keep moving. I have some unfinished business to take care of. And I have certain skills that are a part of me now. Skills that scare people. I don't know if I can turn them off. It's probably best if I disappear."
Their attention was drawn to the television as the regular newscast was interrupted by more breaking news from Capitol Hill.
"In Washington, news sources are reporting word of a possible shake-up in The Agency," the reporter said as the screen depicted a bird's eye view of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Shelly turned to face the young man in her kitchen. "Sounds like the committee might be acting on Pam's testimony. I'm thinking it won't be long before someone mentions the name 'Jason Bourne.'"
"All the more reason for me to leave." Webb headed for the door.
"How about a ride? Can I give you a ride anywhere?"
Webb shook his head. "It's late, and I don't want to impose on your hospitality any more than I already have. I'll walk. I need the time to think."
"Okay. You be careful out there."
"Yes, ma'am," he said as he opened the door.
"I hope you find what you are looking for, David." Shelly held out her hand. He took it in his. Her grip was firm and warm, totally sincere. "You are welcome to come back anytime."
"Thank you," he replied. "That means a lot."
He pulled the door shut behind him, breathing deeply of the chill night air. His side protested only slightly as he descended the steps. He looked up and down the street, fully aware that he was still being watched. Turning his collar up, he pulled it closer around his neck, and set off down the side walk.
Screen fades to black.
Starring Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Tom Gallop, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Julia Stiles, Edgar Ramirez.
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Adapted from the novels of Robert Ludlum.
Music by John Powell.
Background music is Linkin Park's What I've Done.
"In this farewell, there's no blood, there's no alibi, 'cause I've drawn regret from the truth of a thousand lies.
So let mercy come and wash away What I've Done.
I'll face myself to cross out what I've become erase myself and let go of what I've done.
I start again and whatever pain may come, today this ends, I'm forgiving what I've done."
Thus ends Book 1. More will eventually be written. Just no guarantees when.
However, I can't resist. The credits are over, the black screen slowly lightens as we fade in --
A late model dark-colored sedan turns the corner and comes along the street behind Webb. Lengthening his stride, Webb disappears around the next corner. When the car makes the same turn, Webb is nowhere to be seen.
The sedan stops. The passenger window opens. A voice calls out. "I know you can hear me."
Webb answers from the shadows, "I knew you were here. I knew you were watching."
"I knew you would leave. Sooner or later," is the reply.
Webb steps out of the shadows, maintains his position near the back of the vehicle, just enough to be seen in the passenger side rear-view mirror. "I am unarmed," he notifies the man in the car.
"So I see."
Webb leans a bit to look into the vehicle. The driver is a younger man with dark, curly, close-cropped hair, Spanish features - and a nasty cut on his forehead. "Why didn't you take the shot?" Webb asks.
The driver is silent for a few moments. "To make us even."
"Understood. Now what?"
The driver shrugs. "I have no assignment."
"Hirsch has been taken into custody, along with Vosen." Webb informs the driver. "And the director will eventually come under investigation. There will be no more assignments."
"Are you warning me to get out of Dodge?"
"Yes, I am."
"You killed Desh," the driver states.
"He was good. Very good."
"Yes. He was."
"Are you sticking around to see what happens?"
"Need a ride?"
"Where you going?"
The driver thinks for a moment. "Canada works for me."
"You offering a ride?"
"Tell me which way to go."
"I stashed some stuff in a locker."
"You gonna get in, or walk?"
Webb opens the passenger door, slides in, pulls the door closed.
"Which way?" the man called Paz asks as he puts the car in gear.
"Head for the airport."
Paz nods. After a few miles of silence, he asks, "What's in Canada?"
"A way to get back to Europe."
"You're going back."
"Easier to stay under the radar there," Webb replies. Besides, he thinks as he smiles to himself, I gotta go see about a girl.
Deja vu, anyone? Apologies to Matt, Ben and Robin. :)
Cue Moby's Extreme Ways...