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...4:53 A.M., PST...

Pain awakened him. He knew where he was before he opened his eyes, but it took another moment before he remembered it all, or his memory caught up with the rest of him. He wasn't even sure he could move, he was hurting so badly in so many places. Even his thumb was cut, where Hannah had bitten him. The temperature had dropped or, more likely under the circumstances, his resistance had lowered just that much. Before he had fallen asleep, he had figured he had lost about a pint of blood, or the amount you gave at the blood bank, which was a hell of a lot of blood to lose. The sky was still black. At this time of year, there would be another hour and a half of total darkness.

He wanted to try standing up again. He had walked here, to the spot on the Wilshire Boulevard side where he had squeezed out of the ventilator. His left foot was so bad that he wanted to cry out. His thigh burned. He had been grazed by a bullet in his youth, and it had felt the same. He could walk, but he could see it was going to take five minutes to get around to the other side of the roof where Hannah's body lay. He stopped why the hell did he want to go there? He was going to have to calculate every step. He got out the radio, but he waited a moment before he turned it on.

Something was bothering him. Al Hollenbeck had asked him about the number in the gang. Why? Leland had heard the same gunfire. These kids had studied this stuff in guerilla camps throughout the Middle East. They could set up a field of fire as well as the U.S. Marines. Al might not know that; his work kept him occupied around the clock.

Leland had decided that he was only going to listen. Twenty-six was quiet. On nineteen, a woman was speaking German, reciting words and numbers. Nothing on nine. The police had their own frequencies, but that did not mean that the gang could not listen to them, too, with the right equipment.

He was going to have to get ready for them. It would be more than an hour before they came for him. They would want to wait until the sun was up over the mountains. The worst of it for him was not knowing about Stephanie. He did not want to outlive her. He hadn't wanted to outlive Karen, either. He did not want to go through that grief again. He didn't think he could.

He shook his head. People were coming to kill him in an hour, and he was worrying about living too long. He made his way to the edge of the roof, but his leg made it impossible for him to get up on the sign to look down onto Wilshire Boulevard. He was wondering again about the wisdom of not getting on the air. The police could have something to tell him.

It seemed that there were many, many more lights on all around the city. He'd bought the 310 after the divorce. He'd known it was going to be his last plane, and toward the end he didn't even use it much. There was a time in your life to quit certain things. For the past six or seven years he'd devoted himself almost completely to his work. Good, interesting work, too.

He had been on the team that had devised the first antiterrorist, antikidnapping driving course. He'd designed the security system in the first of the new ball parks, and it had been copied, or adhered to, ever since. And something he had learned not to tell people, that he'd been the one to advise the national retailers to force manufacturers of small items like ballpoint pens to mount them on cards too big for people to slip into their pockets. People hated having to gouge their way through the cardboard and plastic so much that it did no good to tell them that it had to be done because shoplifting the world over was so bad that it threatened the retailing business.

What was going out of the world was the understanding that it was worthwhile to care about other people. Few people lived in a neighborhood any more. Life was being organized to keep people distant from one another. Human beings were beginning to feel like guests on their own planet. The designers of this building were more interested in glorifying a bunch of oil pirates with an impressive raised plaza than in providing a few trees and benches where people could sit and talk to each other. He turned the radio on again.

"Al?"

"Hold on. He's awake."

"Joe? Are you all right?"

"What is this, 'He's awake,' crap? I've been up here writing letters and rinsing out a few things."

"Fella was spelling me on the monitoring, that's all. Try to stay loose."

"I'm loose, you're the one who sounds tired. Listen, they're going to come up for me..."

"We've been working on that. You're going to get air support."

Leland was silent. If the police could control the roof, they could lower men onto it. They needed Leland to get that close. Support, hell: they wanted him to cover their landing. As far as they were concerned, he was expendable. They had even managed to get a public-relations face on it, calling it "air support." Now the gang had another reason to want him dead. So much time had passed since they had locked him up here that it was possible they had stopped monitoring channel eleven.

"Look, I'm not sure that will work. This roof is covered with structures that will give them damned good cover. They came to stay. It's odds-on that they have rockets."

"Only one way to find out, right, brother?"

Now they were brothers, Leland thought. Hell, he could hear the con in Al's voice! "Look, kid, we can talk about his honestly, but don't bullshit me, please."

"Something I should have told you, Joe. The networks are here, and they're picking up and sending out everything we're saying."

Leland sighed. "Am I getting paid?"

"I don't think so."

"They'll have to take their fucking chances with the rest of us."

He voice was controlled. "It's Christmas morning back east, Joe. Little kids are watching."

"They should be in church. Sure if anybody out there wants to do something for me, he can go to church."

"There you go. Everybody knows you've been through hell now you've got me doing it. Merry Christmas, everybody! Joe, we're not kidding you. With first light, we'll have helicopters overhead constantly. They're going to cover you."

"Listen to me. Listen carefully and think!The only reason I'm still alive is because they know they have the situation under control. They wantto shoot down a helicopter."

"No, Joe, they want air time. They want to patch into the networks. They want to hook up to the satellite and talk to the whole world."

"And?"

"The people we've been able to talk to so far say that it's difficult, if not impossible, to give them what they want. We're trying to talk to them about it."

And at first light, the helicopters would attempt to get what remained of the SWAT team down. If they succeeded, the men would fight their way down to the hostages, many of whom would be killed. Among the dead, Steffie, Judy, and Mark.

But the police were going to fail. The job would be surrendered to the army, which would blow its way in from above and below. The army would succeed, and then all would die. Leland decided not to argue any more.

"Joe, are you awake enough to talk to a friend?"

"You soundlike you're on television."

"Go easy on me, man. I want to go home and see what Santa left under my tree."

"People keep giving me machine guns." He was moving again, trying not to let the pain show in his voice. "Got six of them so far."

"I thought you said seven."

"Oh, I got seven of them.The last was Hannah over there."

"How do you know her name?"

The police had to get a picture of what had happened in here. "I wanted to talk to her about poetry. What's this about a friend?" He saw that he had an interesting dilemma: if he had enough light to see what he was doing, he would not be able to do it for long.

"Well, you have a choice of two, Billy Gibbs or Kathi Logan."

"Tell Billy Gibbs that I'm still flying point. He'll know what I mean."

"Then you want to talk to Miss Logan?"

"Ms."

"Hey, I had to do that in front of the whole country. Billy Gibbs heard you on television and he says to come out of the sun, whatever that means."

"It means that Billy knows who the Captain, is, that's what it means." It wasn't bad advice, actually. Leland struggled to the east side of the building.

"Was that your rank during the war?"

"Are you going to let me talk to Kathi or aren't you?"

"I'd better, or I'm going to get bad fan mail."

"I keep forgetting we have an audience. They missed half the show."

"You keep saying that. Are you sure you killed seven?"

"So far."

"And that there were originally twelve?"

"I heard them say that and not for my benefit, either."

"What do you mean by that?"

"We've been playing cat-and-mouse up here since nine o'clock last night. If any of them live through this, we're going to have a reunion next year. Pizza and bowling. Put Kathi Logan on before your switchboard lights up, hambone."

"Boy, I'm glad I don't ride a black-and-white with you."

"Joe? It's Kathi. Can you hear me?"

"As if I were in the candy store around the corner. Want to go to the movies? How are you?"

"I'd love to go to the movies. I'm fine how are you? I have the television on and it looks like a war up there."

"Nah, just one dumb cop trying to quiet down the neighborhood."

"They're saying what you've done so far."

"You can say it."

"No, I can't."

"I understand. Listen, kid, this is what I was trained for. There's a young lady lying over there who called me a trained dog. These people have a habit of trying to deny your humanity. Do you care who's listening?"

"Besides me, no. I'm interested in who's talking."

"Trained I am; a dog I'm not, or any other animal. I'm a human being, just one, and they can't see that my presence here ought to teach them something."

"I agree with you, Joe, but I don't know if I'm as brave as you are."

He was looking for a way in through the roof. If the five survivors were monitoring him, let them think that he was having a chat with his girl. He could smell her perfume. He could feel her lips on his lips again. Thank God it was what fate had left him to believe in. "Okay, this is a personal call. Did you listen to your tape?"

"Yes."

"I was cut off by these people. They didn't know that I had stepped away from the party to call you. I got upstairs. I saw them kill a guy named Rivers. Anton Gruber shot him through the heart. I'm an eyewitness. I tried to flash an SOS, but they sent a guy after me. I sent him back with his neck broken. You might as well know who I am, kid. I've been operating on this corner for almost thirty-five years. The police want a record of this. Do you understand what I'm doing?"

"Yes."

"Can I really make this a personal call?" There was no way in through the roof. "I've been thinking of that place on the beach. It's going to be a while before I can walk, but that's all right."

"Why can't you walk?"

"I'll tell you that, too." The only way in that he knew was through the ventilator shaft, but then he would have no way of going up or down. Even if he could really move.

He was beginning to see that it was in his favor if he could convince Little Tony that he was totally disabled. He had to provide covering fire for the helicopters, if for no other reason than to make the gang think that he could still defend himself. What the hell time was it? Almost 5:30. They would start to see light in another fifty minutes.

He kept talking, almost as if reciting in class, counting the bodies out loud. He had decided to take stock of all his assets, including Hannah's empty automatic. He had a pair of kit bags. Skeezix's Czech assault rifle and almost three clips of ammunition. He had bath towels wrapped around his feet, if he needed them. What else? What was left of him?

It was still a long time until dawn, and at odd moments, because of his exhaustion he would sense the black globe, in which the darkness seemed to press up against his eyes. Pilots, sailors, and truckers knew about the globe.

He told Kathi that he didn't know who had signaled him that the police were on their way, but he wanted to think it was some actor in a Jacuzzi with a beautiful woman. She actually did the work, at his instruction. Kathi understood what he was doing. She said she knew the guy, and that he would be glad to lend them his tub. Leland was studying the crap he had.

"I appreciate this, Kathi. I really do."

"I want to see you when this is over. I want you to live."

He thought again of Billy Gibbs's advice. He wondered how much being four hundred feet above the pavement was going to bother him now, in his condition, "I want to live, too. Al, you on the line?"

"I was trying to maintain a discreet distance. What can I do for you besides get the champagne and caviar? Just don't ask me to wear a butler's uniform."

"Too bad, it was just getting interesting. Listen, I'm trying to set myself up for your suicide charge, and I want to get the sun behind me."

"It'll rise about ten degrees left of the highrises downtown. I love you, man. Do you understand? I'm with you."

"Thank you, Al. Billy Gibbs will tell you what kind of a partner I am. Kathi, are you still there?"

"Yes, Joe."

"Well, as a regular viewer, you know that the LAPD will be coming over the hill at sunrise, if not before." He was trying to figure out how much he could carry. No, he had to figure out what he needed. He had to make a plan. He had to assume that Tony was listening, looking for the way Leland was trying to set him up. Well, to hell with that shit; Billy Gibbs's advice remained the best. With the sun behind him, Leland stood a chance.

Billy knew that Leland meant to go on the offensive. That was right. That was goddamned right. He had become the climax of a horror flick only because of these animals. If God was good, he was going to be able to kill them all. This was not the first time he'd had that thought; now he wanted it more than ever.

"Anyway," he said to Kathi Logan, and, he thought, to anyone who happened to be listening, "What I'm going to do is get my back to the sun so these people will have to look into it to find me. We did it in World War II. From that position, I'll be able to cover both the door to the roof and the door out of the elevator tower. Since I saw you last, Kathi, I moved into Klaxon Towers here. I know it more intimately than I've known most people."

"Joe, I want you to live."

"You said that."

He had all the kit bag straps assembled. This time he was going to attach it to his shoulder harness at his end, while he was still wearing it. His legs were worthless. He had to go with what he had. A rat in a trap would chew his foot off if it would set him free.

He threw the harness onto the roof. It wasn't going to work. If he did not face that fact, he would die. He would die if he tried to stay on the roof. But he could not trust his weight to those clips again, especially if they had to take it suddenly, which was going to be the case. He had less than half an hour left.

"Al, are you still there?"

"Right here, Joe."

"Kathi, stay on the line. Al, I want to talk to Vince Crane."

"I'm sorry, you can't."

"Why the hell not?"

"He's not available, Joe. Stay loose, will you?"

It took Leland a moment to realize: "Crane was dead. Dwayne Robinson was in charge again, however briefly. He had devised the roof landing and if Leland happened to get killed in the process, it would be no skin off Robinson's ass. Leland pressed the "Talk" button. "Al, who is the officer presently commanding this operation? I want it on the record."

"Joe, you don't have to help us. You've done enough."

"Let's get the man's name on the record, Al."

"Captain Dwayne T. Robinson. Now, Joe, you've been under tremendous strain."

"Don't kid me. All this time you've been keeping it light, and Vince Crane is dead. Now tell me what the situation is down on the street."

He was moving toward the elevator tower again. His left leg was completely numb it was his back that was racked with pain now. If there were fire hoses up here, they might be in the same relative positions as the hoses down below.

"Are you going to tell me about the situation or aren't you?"

"Mr. Leland?" It was a new voice, very loud and clear.

"Who's talking?"

"Never mind. I have this little base station up in the hills with enough power to blanket Canada. They had it on television. The garage is rigged with explosives."

Leland had an idea. "You want to get in on this?"

"My pleasure."

"Can you hear me well enough?"

"Hell, I'm getting you in stereo. If the FCC saw my equipment, why, they'd just about make me eat it."

Leland smiled. "They have their limits."

"Joe, this is Dwayne Robinson. I want you to back off, and I mean now! You've been at this all night, and you've had enough."

"I'm going to do my duty," Leland said.

"Joe, find yourself a place to hole up." It was Al Powell again. "You've done more than your share. Put yourself in our position down here."

"That's exactly what I have in mind."

He had found the hose in a metal chest like the glass cases downstairs, but it was too heavy to carry. He had to unravel it anyway, to get at the coupling that secured the hose to the water outlet. How long was it? Forty feet?

He wasn't going to be able to cut it. In fact, he didn't want to cut it. "Kathi?"

"Yes, Joe."

"If this is too much for you, say so."

"They've already told me they're coming down here with cameras. They're on their way."

The hose was stretched across the roof. "Hey, you with the oversized transmitter: what do I call you?"

"Taco Bill. I'd tell you why, but there are kids listening."

Another voice: "Joe, this is Scott Bryan from KXAC On-the-Spot News. We thought you'd like to know that the churches back East are filled..."

The coupling was frozen. He had to hit it with the butt of Skeezix's gun. Now he picked up the radio again. "Uh, Bryan, I'd appreciate it if you stayed the hell off this channel."

"Sorry. We're rooting for you."

"Stay the fuck off!"

It took two more trips to get the whole length of the hose to the edge of the roof. A quarter to six. He wasn't going to make it easy for Little Tony. Leland would still be able to cover both doors if he took another five or ten degrees of arc to the north. It might be enough to pull them out in the open a little more although Leland really doubted it. They had been too quiet. They had everything figured out.

Leland himself had to figure something else, and for that he had to get up on the metal frame supporting the sign around the building. For the last half hour he had been keeping his thoughts away from this, and now that he had to think about it, he could feel his rage rising. He didn't even know if he could get up on the sign at all, and what he had in mind required at least two ascents. Maybe more.

He pulled himself up with his arms, like a child. Four hundred feet. Smoke was still rising from the street. The officer's body had been removed, but the look was that of a war. The street wasn't what he was interested in, however.

He had to hang his head and shoulders out over the side. The last time he had tried to estimate the distance down, he had been off by six or eight feet. The conditions had been different, but hardly worse. He had to estimate the distance down, the arc he would travel, where that arc would take him, and then translate it all into the length of the hose. If he secured the hose properly, there would be no danger of falling. He might wind up hanging by the waist three hundred and seventy feet above the street, like something in a shooting gallery.

The first moments were critical. Given his condition, he was going to have to roll off the roof. He was going to be spinning. He could only hope that the momentum was going to take him back in toward the building again. And he had to calculate his position on the fortieth floor. Once the action started again, he would be safe there, unless someone figured out what had happened to him. Then he would have to scramble for his life again. Crawl.

He was so frightened he could hardly focus his eyes. He didn't know if he should take that into consideration or not. He got the hose up onto the KLAXON sign, measured it off, then doubted his calculations. He didn't want to do it, but he was going to die if he didn't. Now he realized that he was going to have to keep the hose taut while he was lying on the sign, or rolling off would yield the same effect as being dropped through a trapdoor. He would break his back.

He was going to use the massive brass connector to lock the end of the hose looped around one of the sign supports. Around his waist, he had planned to wrap the other end, secured the same way by the hose nozzle, but he was having second thoughts about that. The force of the fall could drive the nozzle right into his rib cage. And if he actually did get inside the building, he might not be able to get the thing undone before he was pulled out over the street again.

He put on the harness and secured the Browning. He connected the kit bag straps so that they became a webbing of three thicknesses. That still did not solve the problem of quick release. He took off his own belt.

By 6:05, he was in position hisposition. He had been out to the edge of the sign again to fix the target window clearly in his mind. At this point there was no way to tell how much time he would have once the shooting started. It could be as little as a few seconds, not enough to allow him to get the window open not an easy shot, from this angle. Presumably there would be more light, but he couldn't even be sure that the police weren't planning to jump the gun and attempt to land before dawn. The noise of the helicopters precluded the element of surprise. For that matter, Leland had to figure that the gang right now was on the other side of the door to the roof, waiting for the first sound of the helicopters.

Which put him in no-man's-land. Beyond the law. Now he neededpeople like Taco Bill. He had been driven here in a limousine, wearing a suit and tie. People would recoil in horror if they saw who they were rooting for. The difference between heroes and villains was only a matter of time anyway.

University kids in Germany had been cheering for these bums for more than a decade. Not that they were completely wrong. The police had tried to sucker Leland into a little thing like laying down his life for a mission he knew to be futile. The police were only quiet now because more talk would point to how little control they had over the situation. They weren't telling Taco Bill to stay off the air. Sovereignty had its limitations, and thank God.

Of course, the best thing that could possibly happen to Dwayne T. Robinson in the next hour was the death of Joseph Leland, eliminating a source of embarrassing questions later. Civilization was full of Dwayne Robinsons, seeing everything that happened to them as opportunities for their own advancement and aggrandizement. They were the spoilers of society as much as all the Little Tonys who had ever lived, with Richard Nixon at the top of the list. Assholes. Because of them, civilization ceased to be even a sometime thing and sank into ambiguity. You didn't know what to believe in any more, or whether there was anything left.

No, Robinson was really playing hardball. As a cop he knew what was going to happen to every one of the people who had died in this thing. When the forensic lab was finished cutting into you, you looked like a boat burned down to the waterline. That's what they called them, canoes. They peeled the skin off your skull, too it ripped off like the skin of a tangerine. If Leland died, they'd have him all done and sewn back up again by nightfall.

Now he became aware of automobile horns near and far off. People were coming to see. He wanted to think it was typical Los Angeles, but he knew that that attitude was everywhere now. Leland was in no-man's-land: he hardly understood what he was fighting for. There was still no sign of dawn.


...3:10 A.M., PST... | Nothing Lasts Forever | ...6:41 A.M., PST...