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...1:43 A.M., PST...

He had to go up. The shooting had stopped. What the hell, he'd put the fear of God into everybody, including himself. Climbing stairs was laborious and very painful now; for a while he found it easier to go backwards, but he could feel his muscles knotting. That was exhaustion, too. He went on past the thirty-seventh floor. The only thing that could genuinely surprise them at this point was more effort than they thought he was capable of exerting. He could see that his mood had changed, that he had found another way of keeping himself pumped up. He didn't think anyone was in any immediate danger because of the damage he had done to the building. The weight of the people involved was nothing compared to the weight of the structure itself. He was having trouble remembering what he was doing and what he was doing it for. Killing the second girl had been easier than killing the first. Nagasaki and Hiroshima nobody remembered Nagasaki. He'd had enough killing. He was sick of it.

He got out on the thirty-ninth floor, the computer installation. The floor was sealed off from even the daylight, great banks of electronic hardware bathed in their own dull gray emergency lighting. Curiously, none of the equipment had been damaged. Either the terrorists were as in awe of it as everybody else, or they planned to use it themselves in their journey into madness they thought was revolution.

Leland had seen the sheet on Anton Gruber a half dozen times. "Little Tony the Red" was supposed to lend him a certain glamor. He was thirty years old, the son of a Stuttgart industrialist, raised by nurses, sent to private schools. On his eighteenth birthday he was given a Mercedes; on his nineteenth, another. Through the late sixties, he ran with a bunch of indolent rich kids who open their summers at Saint-Tropez, winters at Gstaad. Some of those people had been on the arty fringe of the Baader-Meinhof gang, and gradually Anton Gruber was drawn in. He denounced his parents and accused his father of the "crimes" of hypocrisy, complacency, and arrogance.

There was more to it than that: Gruber perehad been an officer in the S.S. during the war, like so many presently successful German businessmen. Automobiles, electronics the old Nazis were everywhere, silent about the past, smug about the present. A generation of the damned, whose children hated their parents' lies and self-justifications. It was not all that different in America. Steffie had suffered in her life most of all at the hands of her parents, when they had been insisting insanely that their marriage was still alive.

Rivers was probably Gruber's sixth or seventh victim. Dr. Hanns Martin Schleyer, an industrialist like Gruber's father, had been executed the same way, a bullet through the lapel. Leland had heard that the West German police had tapes of Gruber gloating that he made sure his victims were dressed properly when he pinned the black boutonniere. Anton Gruber was fascinated by death, the presence and the look of it.

He was not the only one among them like that, either. Some of it was poetic German horseshit, but Ursula Schmidt, in an essay expressing her "final commitment to violence," wrote of her "womb of death to which men return for eternal rest."

Leland might have just killed her.

He didn't know who he had killed anymore: a generation ago, their fathers, uncles, possibly their mothers. In this building was a man who had just lost his brother because of Leland, unless Leland had just killed him, too.

The offices up here had clear glass half-walls facing the equipment itself, part of the paranoia that surrounded computers. The highest priests had to keep the totems in sight. He could not help grinning at the reaction tomorrow of the computer's attendants to the filth he was dragging in here. He wanted to take a position near the windows on Wilshire, although it would give him no protection. Perhaps that would work for him: given his past performance, they might not think he would be so stupid. He shook his head that kind of thinking would get him killed.

Even from this height, the results of the terrorists' preparation for battle could be seen. A black-and-white piled up against a lamp pole, the driver lying face down just outside the door. Leland looked up. Two hundred feet above the building, beginning to dissipate, was a great, gray cloud. Sure, the blast had been heard all over the basin: there were ten times as many lights on around the city as there had been a few minutes ago. It made Leland realize something else. He stretched out behind a desk and switched on the radio.

"What do you think a building like this costs?"

"Hey, twelve million. Twenty who knows? How are you doing?"

"I knocked myself on my can. That was one packet of their explosive. I've got two more. Be careful of what you say, because they're monitoring us."

"I understand that now."

"Don't sweat it. Is the building on fire?"

"Not so we can see. Now we want to know what happened."

Leland told him. "I saw one in the elevator. They have the escape hatches pulled because of a number I did on them earlier. So now we're down to six."

"We had a report from one of our people that he saw two of them back into the elevator. They have some kind of a barricade on the ground floor."

"Well, I saw one. You have to figure six left. I can't count probables here. Now tell me about the building."

"The seventeenth and eighteenth floors are completely blown out, and you have windows smashed all the way up and down the building. They're going to have to tear the sucker down."

"Was anybody hurt?"

"Not by you. We have two men hit. You blew crap all over the neighborhood. That explosive is strong medicine. I saw a desk and chair go sailing clear over Wilshire Boulevard. Hold on. Don't go away."

While he waited, Leland looked for evidence of the damage he had done. A hole the size of a compact car was drilled through a cigarette billboard, and across the street, the front of the squat, little building looked like the victim of a riot.

"Hey, boss, you still there?"

"Merry Christmas," Leland said.

"Merry Christmas to you. I'm going to turn the radio over to my commanding officer, Captain Dwayne T. Robinson, okay?"

He sounded like he was introducing a guest speaker. "Okay," Leland laughed.

"This is Dwayne Robinson. How are you?"

"Fine."

"No, whoare you? I want to know your name."

"I can't tell you that right now."

"Why not?"

"Next question."

"You've given us some information here. How did you come by it? Why are you in that building?"

Leland stayed silent. The guy wanted to control the situation from outside, if he could if:old Dwayne T. wasn't thinking clearly.

"Are you still there?"

"Yeah. Put the other guy back on."

"No, I'm giving the orders here. We don't need any more of your kind of cooperation. I want you to lay down your weapons and retreat to a safe location. That explosion did a tremendous amount of property damage and threatened the lives of scores of people. Now these are the lawful orders of a policeman, and you are liable to arrest and penalties if you refuse to obey them."

"Put the other guy on," Leland said. "I don't want to talk to you any more."

"Now, listen, fuckhead..."

"No!" Leland screamed. "You listen to me! You've got six psychos holding seventy-five people at gunpoint. They have enough high explosive to flatten this end of the city. What they don't have is the means to detonate it, because of me. They're down to half their strength, because of me. As long as I'm in business, they can't get themselves set up the way they would like. Do you think you can stop them down there? Come on, tell me you're the fuckhead! If you think I'm going to put up with your shit now and not have your chief kick your ass all the way down to Terminal Island when it's done, you don't know me!Put the other guy on! Now!"Silence.

"Here you go," the black man said. "How're you feeling?"

"Like I should have saved my strength. Who is that turdlet?"

"Don't draw me into that kind of talk. I can understand that you're tired and under strain, but down here it seemed like you were overreacting just a little, if you know what I mean."

There was something comforting about common sense coming from someone decades his junior, Leland decided. "I'm sorry. At this point, this kind of fighting looks easier than that kind of fighting."

"I hear you, partner. Just kick back and relax a while, hear?"

"It's been a long time since I've been called partner. Are you on the street?"

"No, I'm inside."

"All the years I was a cop, I was always on the street."

"How old are you?"

"Old enough to be your father."

He laughed. "Not mine!"

"I said, you oughta get a look at me now. What detail do you have at Hollenbeck?"

"Juvenile. We have a whole big show there."

"You like kids?"

"I love kids. Say, man, is there someone we can reach out for via the land line who can identify you? Once we establish your credibility, we can get going on who these people are."

"It's the long way around, but I see what you mean. You call William Gibbs, in Eureka, California. Tell him what's happening and where, and the first two words out of his mouth will be my name."

"Gotcha. Anybody else?"

"A Ms... got that? Mz?.. Kathi Logan." Leland gave him the area code and her number. "Tell her I was wishing her a Merry Christmas when I was cut off. She'll understand."

"I'll do that exactly right. Don't you worry about it. Why don't you get some rest?"

"No, I'm going to tune in on the opposition a while."

"You do that?"

"Channel twenty-six. Don't let them kid you. They all speak English."

"We heard the German, but none of us can handle it. We're getting it on tape. What have they been telling you?"

"Little Tony likes to think he's a seductive, persuasive guy. You've already heard everything I've been able to figure out. Nothing so complicated: he juices my fruit, and I juice his."

More laughter. "I'm going to tune in."

"What the hell people are dying left and right, but it's all in fun, right?"

"If you say so."

Leland dialed to channel twenty-six. "Are you there, Tony?"

"Yes, Mr. Leland. It took me a moment to adjust my receiver. Mr. Leland, are you listening?"

Yes."Yes." He almost didn't say it aloud.

"We have here your colleague, Mr. Ellis."

Leland closed his eyes. "How are you, Ellis?"

"All right, Joe." It was a voice on the edge of terror. Leland couldn't remember Ellis's first name. "Listen to me," he said, echoing Leland's words to Dwayne T. Robinson, Lieutenant, LAPD listen to me:some kind of Mayday into the void: "Listen: they want you to tell them where the detonators are. They know people are listening. They want the detonators, or they're going to kill me, Joe. Joe, I've done you a lot of favors in the recent past. I want you to think of that. I thought you would understand that, Joe. Joe, are you listening?"

Favors?He was telling Leland that he was shielding Steffie, but was favors the word he thought expressed what he was doing? If Leland didn't turn over the detonators, would he tell them who Stephanie was, to keep himself alive? "Yeah, I hear you."

"Tell them where the detonators are. The police are here. It's their problem now."

"I can't tell them. I'd have to show them. Then what? What happens to me?"

"Mr. Leland." It was Little Tony. "What Mr. Ellis has hesitated to tell you is that we are going to kill him straightaway if you do not yield our equipment at once."

"There are people here, Joe," Ellis said. He meant Steffie. He'd already said that he hadn't identified her. What was he threatening?

Leland closed his eyes. Goodbye, Ellis."I don't believe them," Leland said into the radio. God forgive me,he thought.

Through the little radio speaker, the shot sounded like a rush of air, and the screams that followed seemed very far away.

Leland pressed the "Talk" button. "All right. I'll give you what you want."

"We want the detonators," said Little Tony.

"Let me get them and put them where you can find them."

"Excellent. And where will that be?"

"Uh-uh. I'll drop them off first and get clear, then I'll call you."

"You have five minutes."

"I need more time," Leland said. "I've got a long way to go and I'm no longer in the best of shape."

"Ten."

"I can't do it. Not that fast."

A pause; then: "How long will it take you?"

"Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour."

"Twenty minutes, then we will shoot someone else, perhaps this time a woman." There was silence. Leland pressed the "Talk" button.

"You guys get all that?"

"Meet us on channel nine," the black officer said flatly.

"Now I know they can hear me, but I want to find out what the fuck you think you're doing up there." It was Dwayne Robinson. "First you tell us that you don't want to give your name, then that punk calls you Leland is that your name?"

"Yeah. Billy Gibbs will give you the rest of the information."

"We've got somebody talking to him. Why all the bullshit? I want an explanation now."

Leland stayed silent. Anything he could say would let Little Tony figure it out.

"Now listen to me, you son of a bitch," Robinson snarled. "Everything that went down between you and that punk is on tape down here. You let that man die. I don't give a fuck who your friends are, if there's a way to jam your ass in jail, I'm going to do it."

"Go fuck yourself," Leland said. He turned the radio off.

This was going to kill him, he knew. He did not know what to do but go out and meet them head-on. He was trying to remember that there was no sense in being stupid about it. He hobbled to the southwest staircase, trying to decide if he should go upstairs and fight it out with whoever was there. If he won, he could hold the position.

What time was it? Almost three o'clock, deep into the black hours before dawn, when people died anyway. He didn't want to die. He wasn't ready to die. He wanted a bath first. They hosed you down at the morgue, but an undertaker would clean his head and hands and bury the rest of him dirty.

He did not want to die while Steffie and the children were in this danger. That was why he was on this rampage. He didn't start the killing. Rivers died first. And how bad a job was he doing? He'd bagged five of them before the cops had even arrived. If he had it to do over, he would do it exactly the same way. Goddamn, he couldn't imagine how he could have done it any otherway.

He knew he was exhausted. "Man, you are beat," he said aloud. He had been awake twenty-two hours, and he knew from experience that the worst was to come but that with the daylight he would be good for another full day. The body was habituated to sleep, but could easily do without it for one night. He had to manage himself carefully for the next three or four hours, if he lived that long.

He stopped at the elevator banks. If the blast had blown out two floors, the chair must have hit the roof of the car when it was between, or nearly between, them. Leland was wondering what had been done to the east bank. The doors on both floors would have been blown away, but the cars and more importantly, the cables had been above the explosion. As long as you stayed above, say, the twentieth floor, just to play it safe, then everything should work perfectly. Naturally, the gang would hear the electric motor humming, unless some other noise masked it.

All right, he knew something. What did he do with it?

It was as if he had been reduced to functioning with only shreds of himself, he felt so drained. He had to make so many new, strange connections to hold himself together.

He switched the radio on. "Tony. Tony, are you there?"

"It is a matter of more than passing curiosity to me, Mr. Leland, how you happen to know my name and so much about us."

"You just happened to run into exactly the wrong guy." Leland knew it was a mistake as soon as it was out of his mouth: it contained no hint of the capitulation implicit in turning over the detonators. Silence. It was as if Leland could hear the bastard's wheels grinding.

"Tell me, Mr.Leland, why were you so interested in concealing your name from us?"

"I know so much about you that I couldn't be sure that you didn't know something about me."

"What difference would that have made?"

"You would have taken me a lot more seriously than you have."

"Yes, that's true. Very good. You're a wily opponent..."

"Look, I only called to tell you that I'm doing what I said."

"I know," the voice purred. "The reception is of a different quality, and I have to point the antenna in a different direction."

You son of a bitch.Leland was thinking of the kid who was giving his father the big screen television set. How did he know that story? Yes, the chauffeur. Asleep in his bed, bless him. Unless he had been awakened by the explosion. "Why did you kill Ellis?"

"Why did you let him die?"

Leland was moving toward the stairs again, thinking that it was what Gruber wanted: only in the stairwells did they have a chance of hearing Leland's voice and not on the radio, either. "That won't wash, Tony. I saw you kill Rivers. You had no reason to do that. You wanted him to open the safe, but you were prepared to do it yourself. You killed him because you felt like killing somebody, but you did it on the fortieth floor, where the hostages wouldn't see it. All evening you've been trying to keep them calm, and now suddenly you've changed your act."

"Well, that was your doing, Mr. Leland. Surely you understand that. The explosion set off a panic down here. You seem to be such a warrior, you must know that you left us with no choice but to show them that we have the capacity to realize our aims."

Leland was in the stairwell. "You really know how to lay it on, Tony. The people you had to convince were your own. You're not doing so well, kid. Karl wants action, doesn't he? You made a mistake. You let Karl pressure you. When you have to start showing people how tough you are, you're already finished. You're a walking corpse, Tony. Start getting used to the idea of being dead."

"Like to have a word with you, Mr. Leland." It was Hollenbeck, with his nice, easy way of talking.

"I planned to go off the air."

"Good plan. We're picking up an awful lot of traffic in German on channel thirty..."

Leland switched off and went back up the stairs.


...12:04 A.M., PST... | Nothing Lasts Forever | ...3:10 A.M., PST...