...7:04 A.M., PST...
He headed downstairs. Each step felt like a knife in his back. He didn't know if his numbness meant he was going to lose his left leg or not, but at this point he wasn't sure he even cared. He would worry about his leg later.
Now he had an advantage, and he wondered how he could exploit it. Unless Little Tony could take the time in all this confusion to read the evidence on the fortieth floor in the shattered window and the mutilated corpses, the gang had no reason to believe Leland was alive.
Leland was thinking he was going to let the police, too, believe he was dead. Of course, there might be an advantage in having the gang take a close look at the corpses. Let them think they were dealing with someone who had gone insane. Leland understood what he had done — why he had done it. Never explain, never complain. THIS MAN IS A PRICK. Now it was keeping him alive.
He had been trained for this? Policemen had a view of the world that few others understood. It was the way humanity wanted things arranged. No one wanted to know what life — and death — really looked like. Every day this country slaughtered seventy-five thousand head of cattle, a quarter of a million hogs, and a million chickens, but not one person in a hundred actually knew someone with a portion of that blood on his hands. People expected the Lelands of the world to dispatch the Little Tonys as simply as the butchers turned lesser beings into cutlets. But you'd better not demonstrate just how thin the veneer of civilization actually was. If you covered yourself with blood, had the look of death in your eyes, you, too, had to be scourged. He was wise to that. He was still alone. He would be alone until he got out of this building. Leland wanted to live. Like everyone else, he had a right to life, and nothing else mattered.
He heard the elevators humming before the shooting started to fade. With only five left at this point, he could plan his killing so that the opposition was left defenseless at every step along the way. It was the only chance to save the hostages, starting with Stephanie, Mark, and Judy. Ellis had wanted Leland to see that he was doing people favors. Dwayne Robinson was incapable of understanding a really serious situation. The guidance systems that had directed the terrorists' rockets into two helicopters would not have been all that complicated to the kid who had built his father's Christmas television set. How many people had been able to see that highrise office buildings were beyond law enforcement, even after it had been shown that they were beyond fire protection?
Leland kept on going down, trying to remember where he would find equipment to replace what he had lost. If the gang thought he was dead, he might have the chance to kill them all. His head was spinning with it now. More than anything, he wanted to kill every last one of them.
In the northeast corner of the thirty-sixth floor, where he had built the fortress he had never used and where he had caught number five with his head up looking at the plastic explosive, he found a radio, and from the emergency lights near the staircases, he retrieved the explosive itself. The sun had risen clear of the downtown brightness, and the office, or what was left of it, was flooded with warm, pink light. Leland went around to the west side of the building to see what he could take from number four, the girl he had surprised when he had come out of the stairwell. Her kit bag was glued to the puddle of blood in which she lay. She had given him the Kalashnikov; now she surrendered a second radio.
She had some candy, but he didn't think he could stand any more. He was hungry, he thought, as he stood looking down at her shattered body, but he wanted a real breakfast, eggs over easy and bacon or sausage.
Elevators were humming again. More helicopters were in the sky than ever but all of them were quite high and far away. Leland stepped back from the window. If the police thought he was dead, they could have their snipers primed to shoot at anything moving above the thirty-second floor. He turned to channel nineteen: a man reciting prayers. Twenty-six had some kid yelling at the top of his lungs. Nine sounded with a steady, high-pitched note. On thirty Leland heard the man reciting the prayers.
God only knew what was going out over the channels he couldn't receive.
Leland took a piece of memo paper from one of the desks, wrote a note, folded the note into his wallet, and took the wallet to the window. A fire on one of the rooftops across the street was getting worse. He had to attract attention to himself. A quarter of a mile out, a small helicopter tightened its swing back toward the building. Leland waved the wallet, then tossed it out into the street. The helicopter rose and pounded swiftly overhead. Leland turned for the stairs. A noise erupted from the street, the crowd again, people yelling. Cheers. He understood who they were for, and he was chilled, as if he had made a mistake, and tested his luck.
He went down again, to the thirty-third floor, and worked his way out to an office on the northeast corner. It had a television set. From the hills chugged two large, red and white helicopters, great tanks slung to their bellies. They dropped down, swung to Leland's right, and passed over the fire across the street far below him, dumping a reddish cloud over the entire block. Leland turned on the television set and set the volume low.
The screen showed the fire department helicopters going away — from the angle, the picture was being taken from one of the helicopters far above. The air jangled with microwave transmissions. A reporter appeared, microphone riveted to his chin. He was in the street; behind him were four or five black-and-whites, and occasionally an officer in a bulletproof jacket sprinted past him. The director cut to the helicopter shot of the smoldering rooftop, while the reporter indicated that the fire wasn't serious. Leland changed the channel.
A night scene, with the words "recorded earlier" in yellow at the bottom of the screen. A black-and-white came into the picture from the right, seemed to shake as it crossed the center of the screen, then wheeled off crazily and into the light pole. Leland remembered something and turned the volume off. A shot of the muzzle flash of one of the terrorists' automatic weapons. Police running. Now the picture went out of control, spun around, and focused on the building with a cloud of smoke obscuring the upper floors. Daylight again... "Live" — showing the ring of destruction around the middle of the building. Leland had done the job; he had aced the whole building. He turned up the volume.
"...And then, with the sunrise, police helicopters came over the hills to try to protect the desperate, former policeman who, he says, has killed seven of the gang. Although three are known dead, the man observed early last night on the steps to the front entrance, the man shot and then who fell from, the guess is, the thirty-sixth floor, and the woman still visible on the roof — although, I say, although these three are accounted for, the information is that the police discount Leland's estimate of the size of the gang and his body count, as it were, because of the incredible show of strength by the terrorists at dawn, just a few minutes ago."
"I should have taken scalps," Leland said sourly.
"It ought to be said here that this is not a pretty piece of tape, so viewer discretion is advised..."
Tape of the street now: with slightly more light, it was possible to see bullets striking the walls and sidewalks. A long, long shot of empty sky, with a bit of the Klaxon roof coming into view. The helicopters appeared as spots growing larger. It took Leland a moment to get his bearings. He was out of the picture, to the left, and from this distance, his contribution, such as it was, would not even register. One after the other, the police helicopters exploded. None of the cameras was even trained in his direction.
"Now comes word from the police asking all those persons here in the Los Angeles area to stop, repeat, stop, jamming the forty Citizens Band channels. You will recall that Leland asked the mysterious Taco Bill to jam one of the channels on which the German language transmission had been heard. While no one knows exactly what did happen to Leland, there is no evidence of his death. He is not in view on the roof. Repeating: the police want the persons jamming..."
Leland changed the channel. A blonde woman in a blue housecoat watching herself on a television screen. Kathi Logan — with her hair down to her shoulders, Leland almost did not recognize her. A microphone appeared at her shoulder.
"Did you see anything?"
She leaned toward the microphone to speak. "No."
"What do you think?"
"He told me not to worry. I think he's alive. I've only known him a short period of time, but he's a very special man."
"He said he was going to do his duty," the reporter said with apparent amusement. Kathi Logan kept watching herself on television.
"Well, he's under tremendous pressure. Normally he doesn't talk like that, but people who know him are aware that he has his own set of rules and he lives by them even when it's very difficult to do so."
"He says he's killed seven people. What are your feelings about that?"
Now she turned. "My feelings are that I hope that God has mercy on their souls, because they'll need it. The man in that building isn't young, and he's alone!"
"If there are television sets in the Klaxon building, he could be watching right now. Anything you'd like to say to him?"
She glared at him. "We just didtalk!"
"I mean now, on television, when he can see you. If he can."
"Just that I know that he's right and those hoodlums in there are wrong, and most of the people in this country agree with me. We don't want killing — we don't want to be threatened with machine guns or bombs, ever. We have the right to live our lives in peace, all of us, and we ought to say so. I think most people are like me. What you see is all I have in the world."
The reporter put his hand to his ear, "Uh, thank you. Back to the Klaxon building in Los Angeles."
Another reporter was standing next to a young black man with a badge on his jacket. Al Powell: he looked like a twenty-year-old. Leland smiled. Behind them was a battery of television sets, and Powell was holding a two-way radio. "Thanks, Jim. This is Sergeant Al Powell, pressed into service late last night. You've been actually talking to the man inside, Joseph Leland, haven't you?"
"Yes, but not in the last few minutes." Leland watched Powell's eyes, although it did not seem that Powell was thinking that Leland could be watching him. "We're asking people to stop jamming the CB. The telephones in there are shut down, and CB is his only means of contact with us. This man has been tremendously valuable so far, and we know that if he can continue to help us, he's going to try."
"Now, something came out of one of the windows a little while ago. What was that, a message?"
"No, the wind up there is pretty strong, and with all those broken windows, things are going to come flying out."
"What was the object?"
Al Powell smiled. "Hey, finders, keepers, right? Look at all the terrific television sets I've picked up. Maybe we can work out a deal. Let's see that watch you're wearing."
Leland laughed. The flustered reporter took Powell's cue. "This is your communication center, isn't it?"
"Well, actually it's yours,but we've borrowed it, and the studio has been feeding tapes back to us."
"We're using them to gather information."
"You've been to the city engineer's office, too, haven't you?"
"Hey, my wife thinks I've been here all night."
The reporter smiled haplessly. "Sorry. What's the next step?"
"You know as much as I do. The people in control of the building said we would hear from them again at ten o'clock. We'll all learn something then."
Leland was sitting up.
"And that was the only communication from the terrorists?"
"That's it. The one line just a few minutes ago. 'You will hear from us at ten o'clock.'"
"There have been no negotiations, then?"
"With the situation as it is, we're going to have to wait."
The reporter announced a commercial break, and Leland turned down the sound. After the station's holiday greetings, there was a shot of an oil-drilling platform belonging to one of Klaxon's competitors. Leland wanted to go to the window to have a look at what was happening, but now he was afraid that one of the helicopters would spot him and let one and all know he was alive. Powell knew. The note Leland had enclosed in his wallet had asked for the jamming to stop, adding, "Let me make first radio contact with you. The helicopter attack was ineffective — no casualties on the other side."
It looked like the police were beginning to respond to him, but Leland wasn't completely sure. Cause and effect weren't always what they seemed. He wanted the CB transmissions stopped, and the police seemed to be going along — but Leland was following another line of thought now, independent of what he had been putting into events. It had to do with the safe, the hostages, and the building. What if Leland had never gotten here? What if he had called Steffie and taken the plane on down to San Diego?
The television screen was zooming in on an actor portraying a gas station attendant holding a can of motor oil next to his cheek in a way people never held anything in real life. With the fade-to-black, Leland turned the sound up again, while he followed his line of thought. The terrorists would have seized the hostages, secured the building, and gone after the safe, exactly as they had done. Given the power of the plastic explosive and the number of detonators he had hidden, they could have wired the entire building. Suppose they got into the safe? Then? It stood to reason that once they had opened the safe, they were finished with the main business of the operation.
The reporter on the street below was reading from notes he had developed earlier when Leland had identified the people who had taken over the building. Unconfirmed.Leland thought he would lower the next one down in a basket.
These people thought of themselves as commandos, freedom fighters. Having accomplished their mission, they would withdraw. Leland drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. The television screen showed the building again, blackened and smoking.
You don't blow up a building while you're still in it.
But you canblow it up from a distance with the right kind of transmitter. And if you can threaten to blow it up from a distance, you might be allowed to go on your way.
The gang had enough explosive not just to pulverize Klaxon Oil and the seventy-five people inside it, but everything and everyone for a half mile around. If they left via the roof, up into a helicopter, they would be able to see that their bomb wasn't defused until they were on a jet leaving the airport. Everything was in view here. For all Leland knew, that was the only reason why they had chosen Los Angeles. The police weren't going to be able to get into the building from below, even if they came through the sewers, and the gang knew it.
The police still didn't believe Leland. According to Powell, they wanted him to serve them again. While they waited for ten o'clock, they were looking at engineers' maps and video tapes, and still not ready to accept seven when he said seven, or five when he said five, not six or four or twelve. Kathi Logan understood it. He was alone. He had to solve the problem by himself.
He watched television for another twenty minutes, dialing from one channel to another when the reporters started repeating themselves. One of the networks had footage taken in Germany of some of the gang, including Hannah and Skeezix, whose real name was Werner something. And Karl, the brother of the boy Leland had rolled into the elevator, number one. Karl was a big guy with shoulder-length blonde hair: he looked like a drummer in a rock and roll band. Leland didn't see Kathi: maybe the director thought she was too upset to put on the air again. His mind wandered groggily. He felt himself falling asleep and had to jar himself awake. Old man, he thought. That had been his first mistake, thinking he had the internal resources for this. Heroes grow old, not just obsolete.
At last, another realization: there was food everywhere in the building. All his life people had been telling him how smart he was, when he had always seen that his best ideas came to him when he was being shown just how stupid he was. He had gotten away with mistake after mistake all through the night. Taking advantage of Skeezix and Hannah because they were young, an old man keeping himself alive on his experience — it made him feel ugly. The food was in the desks of the secretaries and typists; every twenty-year-old girl in the country would have listed it among her assets from the start. Diet crunchies. Crackers, cookies, envelopes of soup, jars of instant coffee. And hot plates for the water to brew it. He grinned — once again, he had come through. If he could balance on one leg, he would kick himself.