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...10:38 A.M., PST...

And he kept screaming, staring at the open window, at the brilliant sky beyond. He turned the gun around and looked into the barrel, screaming if she had done what he had told her to do, she would be alive, unharmed.

She should have trusted him.

She hadn't even listened to him. "Shoot him, Daddy," she had yelled.

"Steffie!"What did he do now? What was expected of him, the trained dog? The crowd was still shouting, yelling. What did they have on their minds? Did they want more blood or money?

Were they angry because they thought they weren't going to get the money? He did not want to go to the window. He did not want to see what had happened down below but just as much, he did not see the necessity for letting anyone know he had survived.

He did not know that he had. He did not know if he cared. He did not know if caring mattered.

He had not moved. He recognized what he was feeling. He had felt it when his mother had died, when his marriage had broken up, and again when Karen had died, the feeling that it was time to quit, that he would be better off dead. It was on him all over again, as if it had never gone really far away after all. Something in us always wanted to die. No forgiveness never any forgiveness in life. What did it say of a man, if he outlived all the women who had ever loved him? A man like him, with a gun in his hand? What did a gun mean, except death?

He shuffled back to the east side of the building and picked up the radio.

"...inside. Joe, if you can hear me, repeating, we are inside and some of the hostages are beginning to reach us."

He decided to leave the radio on. From the street came a voice calling for the money. What did they used to call those guys at the ballpark? Leather lungs. Six million dollars. For arms. Guns. Shoot him, Daddy.Millions for a bridge. Millions upon millions as if there were some use at all to the money madness and the hoarding up of treasure. As if it could add a day to your life. As if you could eat more than two eggs in the morning, Steinbeck once said, which was all you needed to know about the limits of life. What had Stephanie been looking for? What lessons in life had made her believe in it? What had made Little Tony believe in revolution?

Six million dollars. The president of Klaxon was down in the street, looking at the ruin of his corporate headquarters and wondering if his insurer was going to bug out on him. Leland had worked for an insurance company, so he knew it was damned well going to try. Insurrection? Act of war? No, the arms deal itself, which, because it was outside the law, voided Klaxon's coverage. It made Leland smile. How much pain can you inflict on an oil company? How much could it absorb, before the stockholders insisted on people going to jail? He had two rounds left in the Browning, all he needed. Merry Christmas, everybody.He started up the stairs again, crying like a child.

In her childhood, he and Steffie played checkers and Monopoly. She'd been born at the start of the war, and he had seen little of her the first four years of her life, one separation lasting almost two years. When he came home, he and Karen tried to make it up to her, sensing that she had been damaged by the war as much as them, but in ways no one could see. They tried to make it up to her... What you don't know in all your worry and concern is that later in your life the memories that matter most are of ordinary life. Checkers and Monopoly. Their relationship had fallen apart again while he'd been drinking, but when she had come to recognize that he'd stopped for good, it had grown better. He hadn't liked her husband, Gennaro.

She would be alive now if he'd surrendered and functioned as an observer or made his way out of the building to call the police. No, he couldn't be sure. He couldn't remember why he had done so many things through the night. In all, it would have been better for him if he had missed the plane in St. Louis. The accident outside the airport could have stopped him. It would have, if he had surrendered to fate. No, he had pulled a gun to keep to his schedule. He should have paid attention to what something had been trying to tell him. It was as if he had been rushing to see his daughter die.

Any cop would tell you, sooner or later you were aware of every mistake you had ever made. He made mistakes under pressure all his life. The mistakes were as much a part of human nature as the situations that created them. Maybe Little Tony had had the time to realize what he had done wrong. Tony had known about the gun behind Leland's neck, but had died anyway. It was Steffie who had made it possible for Leland to put one bullet after another into him. She had been sorry for what had happened to her father. She had held herself responsible. No one had thought of that.

Leland didn't know what would have happened if he had gone for a head shot. He might have hit her. If she had gotten clear, Leland would have tried to empty the Browning into Tony. It might have worked. It might have killed Leland in the process, but that would have been better than this.

He pushed oat onto the fortieth floor with the Browning still in hand. No need to be cautious. He shuffled past the board room, where the table was piled high with cash, around toward the staircase to the roof. He was thinking now that he had to do this quickly; if the police were in the building, they were coming upstairs slowly, maybe, carefully, but they were coming. His autonomy in here was almost at an end.

He moved more quietly when he reached the corridor to the staircase. He could hear her in there, thinking she was safe from attack from below. He was reminding himself again that he was a victim, that his daughter would be alive if not for these people, including this person:she would have died hours ago, if Leland had caught up with her. He had understood the risk at the start; maybe Steffie had understood it, too, but he did not see how that changed anything.

He had to keep himself going just a bit longer. Maybe they would figure out who had done what in these last few minutes, the real order in which things had happened, but there weren't going to be any witnesses to dispute Leland's version of events. You spend all your life behind one badge or other not knowing if you're a good cop or just lucky, but one thing finally does become clear to you: better than anybody else, you know how to commit a crime. The Forah said that you weren't responsible for what you did while you were a victim of a crime. The argument hadn't worked for Patty Hearst, but it would for him.

Rule one: no witnesses.

He was not going to jail because of some corporate thief's six million. Under the circumstances, what had been good for Little Tony and nine others of his gang and Stephanie was going to be good for Klaxon. As much as he could, he was going to inflict pain on these people.

He swung the Browning around into the staircase. "Freeze!"


"Speak English! Hands over your head!"

She was a little girl, plump, with rosy cheeks and green eyes. She looked hardly older than Judy. Judy was even taller. At the top of the stairs with her were more rockets in launching tubes and enough other ordnance to hold the building for a week. If they had had the personnel earlier this morning, the gang could have come out of the building to drive the police back, inflicting heavy casualties and damage along the way.

"Do you have an assault rifle or machine gun up there?"

She looked confused for a moment, then she nodded yes. She looked like somebody's baby-sitter. How old could she be, twenty? Twenty-two?

"I can see you very well," Leland said. "Do you understand me?" His nerves were crawling with self-disgust. "I want you to pick up a weapon by the barrel, and two clips of ammunition with the other. Don't move too quickly."

She did it, looking relieved, he thought. He saw her less well than he had said: the daylight filled the open door behind her. She had that dark red hair, a full, to-the-shoulders head of it, beautiful.

"Come down, one step at a time."

He was trembling. He wanted her to get close enough for him to kill her with a single shot before she realized what he was going to do. He wanted to stop sentimentalizing her; he didn't know who she was, what she had done, or the people she had killed. If she had been up here at dawn, she had killed the men in the helicopters.

And trying to kill him. Another mistake. This was the price of failure. She was at the foot of the stairs, holding a Kalashnikov, looking into his eyes, frightened, trying to smile. She had perfect teeth. He had the pistol low, so she would not believe he was aiming it at her. He shook quaked: his bladder opened. As he raised the pistol she realized that he had allowed her to live these extra seconds only to carry the gun to him. She started to scream. Leland could see that she had never lived, that she knew she was dying without ever having experienced most of the natural course of life. Leland thought of his dead daughter Steffie and shot this bitch in the forehead above the bridge of her nose.

Nothing on the radio. No shooting down below. There was more than just the six million on the table: documents, correspondence, internal memoranda, some of it bearing Steffie's initials, an "S.G." that looked like a flower. He wasn't going to worry about police problems. He wasn't going to worry about anything. It would be interesting to see if somebody tried to shoot him when the money started flying out over the city. Would the cops automatically assume that he was one of the gang? Or would that just be the story they gave out? The question of who was right and who was wrong was more a matter of point of view than anything else. If you were in a helicopter, you just might pull the trigger because the money was out of reach. You wouldn't even know why you had done it.

He had to get a chair on casters, and even then he would have to make two trips to the open window past the mutilated Rivers and the kid with the broken neck. Up here, Leland was the only one left alive. Tens, twenties, and fifties as well as hundreds, all banded and initialed by unknown Santiago tellers. After a job like this, if you had any brains, you shot them, too.

Leland was going to have to tear the bands off scores of packets of bills. Rivers and the kid were in rigor mortis now, complete with bright postmortem lividity, like a couple of starched shirts. Smart guys. Stiffs.

Leland's leg was beginning to hurt again. He didn't know if that was a good sign or bad. The first packets seemed to disappear into the haze, so Leland opened five at once before releasing them. From the street came a shout, then cheers and screams. Leland could hear a helicopter approaching. He pulled the chair back out of sight while he opened all of the remaining packets of bills. At the window, the air caught them, carried them upward in a spangled cloud. More screams from below, and horns blowing, as he scurried after the second chairload. Six million six million more,figuring the building.

The helicopter swinging back and forth outside held a guy with a television camera. Leland made sure to stay back out of view. Maybe they would figure out who had thrown the money from the window, but they weren't going to be able to prove it. He opened all of the packets before he wheeled the chair past the bodies, and the money lifted up like the last fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Leland could hear automobile horns from all over the city. He gathered his equipment for the trek downstairs.

On the thirty-ninth floor he loaded the Kalashnikov and stepped out among the computers. He stopped, seeing what he had planned wasn't going to work. He had been about to empty both clips into the equipment. It wouldn't matter. That was part of the new magic that the young understood so well it wouldn't make any difference. Whatever he destroyed here could be replaced quickly, or the workload distributed elsewhere. The people in the field probably would welcome the challenge.

He threw the gun down. Let the police find his fingerprints. In fact, he'd see if they were good enough to find them. One thing that was notgoing to happen: the police and Klaxon were not going to make him the fall guy. Not even for his goddamned trick badge. Six million and the building, that was enough damage. Maybe as much as twenty-five million, enough to trigger panic selling on Wall Street. The president of Klaxon Oil, whoever he was, could not yet imagine the trouble Leland was going to bring down upon him. Somehow. None of it was going to bring Stephanie back. He wanted to know when how long ago her life had slipped beyond his reach.

He turned the radio volume up. "This is Leland. I'm coming down."

"Hi, Joe." It was Al Powell. "Where are you?"

He did not want to be caught in a lie. "The thirty-ninth floor, on my way down from the fortieth. I just got the last of them up here. Did you get the one down there?"

"We haven't seen anybody. Now what do you mean, you got the last of them up there?"

"I told you I heard them say there were twelve. I kept very careful count. Since I went off the air after nine o'clock, I killed four more, including Little Tony..."

Taco Bill let out a rebel yell.

"We saw two," Al said. "They landed on a black-and-white."

"No. One of those was Little Tony. The other, whom he killed, is my daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro."

"Take it easy, Joe."

"No, I want to get this straight. I killed three others besides him, two men and a woman. The woman is the last she's on the fortieth. I told you I kept count. I killed eleven..."

"Come on, Joe..."

He was on the thirty-eighth floor. "No, listen to me, damn it! There was one downstairs. If you're not sure you have him, make sure. His name is Karl. I killed his brother and he knows it. He's a tough bastard, covered with dirt and blood. Like me. Find my granddaughter. She'll tell you that one of them was covered with soot and maybe blood. That's the one I didn't kill. Do you understand? I didn't get anyone like that."

"Joe, why don't you sit down and wait until we get to you? If the roof is clear as you say, then we'll be able to put men on it..."

"I have one shot left. The guy has been listening to us right along. How far up into the building are you?"

"There are people coming out of all four staircases. We have only your word that you have as many as you say or that there were twelve to start. I'm not asking, Joe, I'm telling you: appreciate our position. Let us do our job."

"There's one more," Leland said.

The pain was increasing, but he had fallen into an easy, slow cadence that allowed his arms and shoulders to take his weight on the banisters. He was finished he was going to get out. He needed medical attention. At the rate they were going, the police wouldn't get to him for hours, even if they came down from the roof. If they tried to lift him to a helicopter, they might just drop him down to the street. Accidents happened. All concerned would be better off if this thing remained a mystery.

He marveled at himself: he was still afraid of falling, even after Steffie had already done it. It made him sick to his stomach. He had one shot left with Karl on the loose and the police afraid to come up into the building. It was as if people wanted him to die. Certainly the president of Klaxon Oil. After this night, the list was longer than ever.

On the way down he tried to figure out everything that had happened and where all the bodies were, but he was too tired, so tired he wasn't sure he was going to be able to remember even after he'd had the rest he needed. He would let other people worry about it. He was going to get to sleep. He wasn't going to think. He would answer questions later. The first person he would talk to was his lawyer.

At the thirty-second floor, he thought of looking again at Steffie's office. If he wanted to live, he would have to forget things like that. After the medical attention, he needed a bath, one given to him, a meal, and a night's rest, in that order. He wanted to see his grandchildren. He wanted to talk to Kathi Logan. The kids had a father, but Leland wasn't sure they wanted to be with him. They weren't that young and Leland wasn't that old. It was a thought and a reason to live.

At the twenty-eighth floor he had to stop to rest. He sat down heavily, stretching his left leg stiffly across the stairs. Both legs ached, his back, his chest, and his arms. Coming down, when he tried to ease the strain from one part of his body, another would begin to give way to pain, and then spasms. He knew he could make it. He would be all right once people could see him, once cameras could pick him up. That was what he wanted. He wanted to get better. He wanted to get healthy, eat a steak and baked potato. He wanted a meal that started with a shrimp cocktail, about eight fresh jumbos.

He got up.

He had to stop again at the twenty-second floor and this time he threw himself back on the stairs to ease the cramps in the muscles all around his rib cage. Terra incognita:he kept thinking of the offices and labyrinths outside the staircases, the self-important little bastions of clerical territoriality what if he opened the doors and found more computers, more value, more magic beyond his grasp? He kept going, thinking that an old man believes in himself in spite of the changing evidence, in spite of everything.

On the nineteenth floor they started to hail him on the radio again, and he turned them off until he passed what he thought could be a danger zone. He was thinking of where his chair-bomb had hit the elevator. The wreckage he had seen on television opened the possibility that one, more, or all of the staircases were unsafe, exposed, or both. If hostages were hiding in the middle part of the building, he had not seen them. He did not want to see them. He had one bullet left, and he did not want to scramble the wrong person's brains by accident.

The staircase was intact. The blast must have gone straight out the windows. Maybe the building wasn't that badly damaged. He gave up as an unnecessary risk the opportunity to look out on the two floors. Karl had not established that he had an imagination, but how much imagination did it take to stake out the floors about which Leland would be most curious?

At fifteen he rested again. This time he went out onto the floor. Some ceiling panels were down, windows broken, but otherwise it looked like every other office waiting for Monday morning. He sat on a desk, pushed his weight back so that his thighs were supported, then lay back. He had to wipe the grime off the face of his watch in order to read it. Almost noon, if it was accurate.

He thought of staying where he was.

He had to get down to the ground floor. His daughter was dead. Her children were alone. He couldn't stop. You don't stop, ever, no matter what.

He was barely able to get up. His muscles shook so much he felt as if he were being raised by a bumper jack. The sun was so high now that the light pouring through the windows was pearl-colored. Who was going to clean out his daughter's room? He had taken care of both his parents, and perhaps God had spared him Karen, but he did not want to do it for Stephanie. He did not want to intrude on her privacy. Karen would not have wanted it. He was on his feet, moving.

"Bill? Can you let me talk to Kathi?"

"Sure, man. Anything you want."

"Joe? Are you all right?"

"Do you know what happened?"

"Yes. I'm sorry. If I can help you in any way, please let me."

"I got all of them but one. There's one still running around in here."

"The television picked that up. The police say they have no way of being sure, one way or the other. Can you stay where you are? Can you tell the police your location and wait for them to come for you?"

"This fellow's listening to every word we say. He's in here somewhere."

"Joe, he's not your responsibility..."

"She's telling you the truth, Joe," Al Powell said, "Look, I believe you. I don't want anything to happen to you!"

"I'm not looking for him! I'm trying to get out of here!"

"Please, Joe..."

It was like living your life for nothing. What was left? Everything he and Karen had worked for, everything they had planned, and all that had survived the disaster they had made together, was gone. It was just history and the passage of time. He pressed the "Talk" button. "What else is happening? What are they showing on television?"

"The streets of Los Angeles are jammed with cars," Kathi said. "People are trying to follow the money, which is blowing east. The building is between Beverly Hills and the direction the money is taking, and people in their Rolls-Royces can't get around the jam. If you caused all that after what you've been through, if you were the one throwing the money out the window, I'll love you forever."

"I don't know anything about any money. I never saw any money."

"Do you want me to come up there?"

"I'm going to get into the right hospital. Try to get some rest. I want everything to slow down."

"I'll be watching for you," she said.

He had forgotten that television would be downstairs, too. Something made him feel a start of fear he didn't know what it was. Now Al Powell broke in.

"Joe, let me have a word with you. We have people coming down in twos and threes, reporting that there are people up there too exhausted or frightened to move. We have about forty down here now, but no sign of your grandchildren. On the basis of what you've been saying, Captain Robinson had devised a plan. We're sending teams of officers up all the staircases. These men are heavily armed. As they get to each floor, they're going to say so radio that information to me. I'll relay it to you. You don't have to give us your location. When the officers are near you, sit down on the stairs and put your hands on your head. We'll get you down, I promise. I promise you, partner."

It took another forty minutes; they were being very cautious. He was on the sixth floor when he heard their voices and the scraping of their shoes. He sat down, put his hands on his head, and announced his presence.

It was as if he had been away out of contact with people for years. After they disarmed him and Al told them on the radio they had the right man, two of the officers picked him up and carried him down the stairs. There were six of them altogether, all trying to talk at once. Just as well, for he had nothing to say. He dreaded the talking he was going to have to do. He had lost weight; he could feel it in the ease with which they carried him, then passed him to their fellows.

"How are you doing?"

"Okay. I'm okay."

"You tell us if we bounce you around too much."

"No, you're doing fine."

He could hear the roar of voices from above the second floor, even through the steel door to the lobby. He muttered something, and the officer bearing him on the right said that he might as well get used to it.

"Here he is! Here he is! Get back!"

The door opened on a wall of people, police, cameramen, and reporters, all shouting at him, pushing each other. The light was so bright that he was temporarily blinded. A doctor started cutting at the left leg of his pants. He could see a stretcher at his feet.

"I want to stand a while."

"How do you feel?" a female reporter asked.

"Did you really kill them all?"

"Where's Al Powell?"

"Right here." He was standing back six feet, his hand on the butt of his .38, his eyes searching above the heads of the crowd.

Leland smiled. "You look better on television."

"I'll remember that." He stepped away, not looking at the short, dark-haired white man on his left. "This is Captain Dwayne Robinson."

"We're going to have to ask you a few questions, Leland. We're studying the video tapes now, and we're very interested in who got rid of that money, and why."

Leland saw Powell shake his head: the tapes showed nothing.

"I'm not answering questions without the advice of a lawyer," Leland said. "I think his first advice would be that I get medical attention."

"Let us talk to him," a dark-haired, moustached reporter said.

Leland recognized what was happening with the first sound, to his left, at the door to the northeast staircase. He wanted to get to the floor, but Robinson was blocking him, pushing him back against the wall. Karl shouted and opened fire on the reporters, whose screams and shrieks as they fell almost obscured the sound of the Kalashnikov. It was like looking in the mirror. Karl was covered with dirt and blood. He wanted to kill them all. It was another kind of madness, like the greed that had brought this down on them. Karl was not going to be satisfied until somebody stopped him. Not even Stephanie had been able to stop Leland. Not even Stephanie's death.

Now Karl found Leland. It was exactly like looking in the mirror. Karl could see no one but Leland; Leland knew it. Robinson had his gun out, but he never got off a round. Karl shot first, as Al Powell grabbed Robinson's shoulder and pulled him into Karl's line of fire. There was a ferocity to Powell's expression that Leland would not have imagined from what he had just seen upstairs on television. Robinson backed and fell against Leland, who felt himself being hit again, in the thigh, high up. Before the shock and the weight of Robinson's body knocked him down, Leland saw Powell take careful aim and, with two clean shots, tear off the top of Karl's head in a sheet of brains and blood.

Leland tried to pull himself out from under Robinson. With two hands, Powell rolled Robinson's body away. He tore at the leg of Leland's trousers. The blood felt as if someone had poured a bowl of soup in his lap.

"Medic! Medic!"

The doctor was lying dead beside Leland and Robinson. People were just stirring from where they had thrown themselves around the lobby. People started shouting.

"Give me that fucking belt," Powell said, pulling it loose. "You're not going to die on me, not now." He lashed the belt tightly around Leland's thigh. "I liked the way you ducked behind Robinson."

Leland stared.

"He died a hero," Powell said. "Don't you forget it."

"I wish you hadn't done anything."

Powell looked at him. "I know. But nobody should think that about himself especially not the guy I'm counting on as my partner."

"Robinson made a mistake," Leland said aloud, but to himself.

"He gave his life for you," Powell said. "That's the only way to look at it. You're not bleeding anymore. You're going to live."

"You're a hell of a good cop," Leland said.

"Next to you, I'm no kind of a cop at all." Now he was crying. Cops crowded over him, craning for a look. A bottle of plasma was being set up. A new face appeared.

"Don't let go of that belt, kid."

"Sergeant," Powell said.

"Sergeant, I'm sorry. That's exactly right. Don't let go"

"You take it easy," Powell said to Leland. "You have years of living ahead of you." .

Leland had no answer. He wanted to say something, but found himself suddenly unwilling to think. He realized he could let everything go he could let himself drift. He felt the whole long life he had already lived recede deeper into his memory. He was being picked up, rolled quickly toward the door. Somebody was holding the plasma, running alongside him with Powell. Powell smiled, the same man who had just looked so ferocious.

Leland closed his eyes. Now, and for a little while longer, he was going to think of flying.

...10:00 A.M., PST... | Nothing Lasts Forever |