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...8:19 P.M., PST...

He stepped out on the thirty-fourth floor. Far enough. The main lights were off, and in all directions, through the full-length windows running completely around the building, he could see the city lights twinkling out to the murky horizon, the freeways streaming red away from the city. This floor was different from the thirty-second, wide open, without protection or hiding place. That was all right, for now.

He realized that he was going to have to learn a lot more about the building. It was the building's core that he wanted to understand first. The core was the same on every floor, eight elevators, four on each side, facing each other like square dancers. Right now he could not tell if the elevators were working, and setting one into motion unnecessarily would probably expose him. The four staircases were around behind the elevator banks, facing the four outside corners of the building. The party two floors down was in the southwest. Okay. Going down that staircase would get him closer to the party, but he wanted to do a little more thinking, first.

He walked around the perimeter of the entire floor, looking down into the street. Garage entrances on both side streets, the ramp's cutting down through the steps of the raised plaza. The entry level was two stories high, Leland remembered, sheathed in glass, so that all the elevator banks and the building's supporting pillars were visible. Given the size of the building, the underground garage was at least two levels deep, probably three. At the bottom level, or below it, was the heating plant, the electrical control panel, and the telephone switchboard. You could not defend the building from the ground, but above, far above, with the elevators disabled, it was better than a medieval castle. Not even assault troops could retake the place.

The four men in jeans and Windbreakers, armed with Kalashnikovs, had put on the flourescent lights and herded the crowd into the center of the big room. Leland had not seen Steffie, or Judy or Mark, but he had seen Rivers and Ellis, their hands on top of their heads.

A half dozen people down there would realize that Leland was not in the crowd, if they were calm enough to think clearly. Of them all, Leland probably had the most confidence in Rivers, in spite of what he thought of Rivers's character. Rivers was a survivor: in that, Leland was more certain of Rivers than he was of his own daughter. A longtime ago, she had loved and trusted her father completely. In recent years he had seen her grow annoyed with him, thinking him old-fashioned, out of step, superfluous. But this was not her remodeled kitchen in Santa Monica, and because of her position, she was probably in far more danger than she realized. The man Leland recognized was a killer who liked it — who almost certainly wouldn't be able to resist killing someone tonight, simply to assert his mastery of the situation.

Leland decided to go down the southeast staircase to the thirty-second floor. The door was heavy, fireproof, and almost soundproof. The knob turned smoothly and the bolt slid open in silence. He paused. There was no way of knowing if anyone was looking directly at the other side. He eased the door open.

He had a view of a blank wall. But now he could hear the man who was talking clearly enough to make out some of his words. "You people" something. Then something like "the whole world watching."

Leland stepped into the hall. He wanted to see what they were up to. He wanted to see how many of them there were. The hall narrowed into forty feet of relatively dark corridor, and it would take a good pair of eyes in that brightly lighted room to make him out in the shadows. He kept the Browning in his left hand. Even if he were seen, he would be able to get back to the stairwell, and as long as they didn't think he had a gun, they might believe he was no threat to them.

His view was not what he had been hoping for. He could see only one of the gunmen and a portion of the crowd, their hands still on their heads. The leader, the man Leland had recognized, went on talking, making something else clear: he knew he was secure from below. Leland went back to the stairwell and climbed up one flight.

Suspicion confirmed: the thirty-third floor was different from the other two above and below it that Leland had seen, a series of rabbit warrens leading to fair-sized, plush offices at the windows. Some even had television sets. He had to get organized and keep track of things, make a list of the different floor layouts he was encountering. If he had to run for his life, he might just make it because he had an idea of which direction to take.

The gang. He'd seen four. Even with their radios, they needed two people downstairs, in the lobby and in the control room. The one in the lobby was probably sending the police away at this moment. It would take Leland ten to fifteen minutes to get down on foot to the street level from here. He would have the element of surprise in his favor, and would probably be able to get out to the street. Then what?

Leland knew as well as any man alive. He had participated in the secret seminars and conferences that had developed the contingency plans of many of the nation's municipal police departments. This was the real, only and true reason for the creation of SWAT teams. The Symbionese Liberation Army shootout was a case in point. Ex-LAPD Chief Ed Davis had tipped the strategy completely with his so-called jocular response to the problem of air piracy: "Hang 'em at the airport."

The strategy: kill them all.

The Symbionese hideout had been burned to the ground, and all inside had died.

At Entebbe, a hostage was killed by an Israeli paratrooper when he did not obey orders and looked up to see what was going on.

Hostages were secondary. The nature of this wave of international terrorism was the only primary element in the definition of the problem. The lectures, slide shows, reports, psychological profiles, material made available by a dozen governments and another dozen multinational corporations left no alternatives. There now existed a world-wide network of people in their twenties and thirties, some acting independently but most in combination with other groups, orchestrated from and protected in sanctuaries like Syria, Lebanon, South Yemen, and Libya, who had committed their lives to the destruction of social order in the noncommunist world. After that, they would build a revolutionary society, and naturally enough there was sharp disagreement among them about how they were going to do that.

Think-tanks had developed various scenarios of what would really happen, drawing on the revolutions of 1789 in France, 1917 in Russia, the long Chinese struggle, and now most recently in Cambodia and Vietnam: purges, massacres, genocide, counter-revolution, new schisms. One fat little academic, proud to be among the "tough guys" packing so much heat, dropped this pearl: "We figure a thirty-three to thirty-eight percent chance of world-wide anarchy, instead of the fifteen to twenty percent we're running now."

The psychologists were more help, but the psychiatrist with the profiles of five real human beings was the most useful to Leland. These kids weren't all the middle-class snotnoses the newsmagazines portrayed. An Argentinian who grew up in a seven-foot house made of reworked oil barrels, cardboard, and wine crates; a Palestinian raised in a refugee camp in Beirut, in sight of highrise apartments and first-class hotels, but who had lost all his teeth at twenty-two. People who had no reason to live hoped for redemption in death, or through it. These youngsters knew they were going to die; it made them cling to each other. Before a mission, they partied to the breaking point, passing the girls around. The Japanese kid spraying an air terminal with a Kalashnikov, scared as he was, knew that paradise was at hand. They really were the wretched of the earth.

You had to go to Europe and America for the middle-class snotnoses. Ursula Schmidt, the German poetess who celebrated death, the Italian kids who specialized in killing politicians slowly, or Little Tony the Red, from Germany again, who loved the drama of death, made theater of it, straightening the tie of his victim before shooting him in the lapel of his jacket..."pinning the black boutonniere," he called it.

It was Little Tony — Anton Gruber — whom Leland had recognized downstairs.

The professional advice, and the consensus of Le land's colleagues, was that these people were irredeemably insane on the evidence, that no outrage — using rockets on a commercial airliner, hacking off a penis in Zaire, executing a. pilot after making him get down on his knees to beg for his life — was beyond them.

On Thursday, the next-to-last day of the conference, when Leland and most of the others reported to the amphitheater for what they thought was going to be a day of dividing and subdividing into committees and subcommittees, they found the room being searched — one more time — for listening devices. Sitting in his seat, papers spread before him, was the chief of a department in the Midwest, a white-haired, lantern-jawed man of nearly sixty, one of the most respected policemen in America, his lips drawn so tightly across his teeth that the blood was hardly circulating. Because of what people thought of him, the meeting was convened in the normal manner and the chairman remarked that he thought there would be no objection if he deferred the regular agenda. Without another word, the floor was yielded. The chief stayed at his desk, hardly raising his head, and started slowly.

"I'm sorry about all this, but I had a long, difficult night. For one thing, I wanted us to be able to express ourselves freely. I wanted to be able to express myself freely.

"The longer I thought about this last night, the deeper I had to go inside myself to find out where I really stood. It just kept challenging me, all the way down. Then finally I woke up: not only was it the ugliest damned mess I'd ever had to face as a police officer, it was also the worst problem I'd ever had to face as a human being."

He turned in his seat and looked up to the younger men in the last rows.

"For those of you who don't know me, I rattled doorknobs for eight years and served thirty-three months with the Marines in the South Pacific. I've seen everything — I know how terrible life can be. I've been married for thirty-seven years to the same woman, and I love her more today than I did when I was a boy. We have four daughters, all college-educated, and nine grandchildren. I'm going to get the hell out of here on Saturday because we're having a barbeque for my eighty-seven-year-old aunt. She's my mother's youngest sister, and I think she's decided she's going to die, because she asked for the party. We've shared a lot of life, she and I, and I know she feels pretty satisfied with how far the family has come."

He stood up.

"Well, these kids have got methinking of my family, and what's important to me, because they've made it perfectly clear how they feel about anything that can be manipulated to bring about their grand design. Now I paid very careful attention when the psychiatrist was here, and I can see how those youngsters came to the conclusions they have about the nature of the world. If they're wrong at all about the way things work, it isn't by much. I want everybody to have a fair chance at life just as much as they do, but I not only draw the line at killing for it, I fail to see the connection between the kind of killing they do and the social justice they say they want to bring about.

"They say.I've been around — I've seen things like this before. Once people like these children start killing, they can't stop. When they're in charge — if — they'll organize trials and secret police, but the killings will go on to become a bloodbath, then genocide — you don't have to be an historian to see that once the world is run by fanatics, fanaticism is the order of the day. You don't have to look at the modern period. The Inquisition destroyed Spain.

"This is heartbreak for me. I was raised to believe that we here in the United States are everybody's children, and we have the responsibility of leading the way to exactly the kind of world these kids say they want. When I got older and was able to travel abroad, I saw the other side of the coin: if we're part of the world family, then what we are dealing with in other countries are our grandparents' cousins' great-grandchildren — the difference between us goes back, in most instances, to the smallest stroke of fate.

"We happen to be here today because the world is in an upheaval so violent that our country, which used to be safe, isn't anymore. It's been a time, my aunt and I agree, when families have had to hold on for dear life. And many haven't. In the past fifteen or twenty years, we've seen many, many lives wasted or destroyed."

He took, a step back and hitched up his belt.

"Well, late last night I started asking myself, who the hell did I think I was, bringing my personal life to all this? I'm a professional police officer, in charge of a department responsible for the safety of almost a million and a half human beings. Because I'm determined to be professional, I'm burdened by a great mass of law, regulation, and prior practice. For instance, my department has forty-seven pages of regulations on the proper use of force and restraint. Public information — wonderful, because anyone who wants to go to the trouble, can find out exactly where he stands in any situation beforehand.

"I told you I wanted to speak frankly. A bit later last night when I was trying to understand my options and what they would lead to, I remembered my own regulations governing the use of force. My officers are required to take any and all measures necessary to insure the public safety when firearms are being used in connection with the commission of a felony. In any and all instances.

"What the hell are we talking about here? A lovesick ex-husband holding his ex-wife and kid in their house at gunpoint? Three characters hitting a supermarket? Whether the characters in the supermarket know it or not, the last thing we want in a confrontation like that is loss of life. As for me, I don't even think, over the long haul, that it's good for the morale of the department, if it happens too often."

He arched his back and threw his chest out.

"These kids aren't a bunch of losers looking for the exit. They're a tightly organized, self-reinforcing cluster of young psychos for whom nothing is too vile, too low, too uncivilized, if it advances the common madness. I for one am not going to allow my community to become their battleground. One way or another, if need be, I'm going to serve notice that any incursion into my jurisdiction is going to be met with the most extreme countermeasures. These people say they're fighting for the future. Well, they'll find no future at all in my neck of the woods. And the result will be that there will be no further incidents, no media publicity, no showcase trials. These lunatics will not become heroes. And no hostages are going to be taken later to effect their release.

"As I say, I've given this a lot of thought. I don't like it. I'm going to have to answer to my maker for it. But these kids have made it clear that they're not going to negotiate, except to move closer to their own goal, not to accommodate anyone else, and I don't need my old aunt to tell me that that most definitely includes my four daughters, their children, and everything my family has worked to accomplish for four generations.

"And it's clear, too, that we'll get no help from the media, who are not to blame. The news is what we make it. If we started parading prisoners in front of the press, the newspapers will tell us what they had for breakfast when they were seven years old — and if they can't find it out, they'll make it up. As for television, all it does is take pictures of what we put in front of it.

"I want this clearly understood. A prisoner is a snarling, sullen, cocky little prick. A corpse is garbage. A person using a firearm in my jurisdiction is going to suffer the results of the most extreme measures. I mean death. If these people come to my community, they're going out on stretchers with the sheets off,so that everyone can see exactlywhat will happen the next time. I mean every word I say — God is my judge: I take personal responsibility for this."

He sat down. One by one, police chiefs and their representatives got to their feet and applauded. Leland and the big guy on his right were among the last to stand.

"A lot of innocent people are going to die," the big guy said.

An older man in the row in front turned around.

"Ten years from now, five years, those fuckers are going to get their hands on an atom bomb. Do you think they're going to hesitate to use it?"

None of that mattered now. Little Tony, the man downstairs, was one who had been profiled at that conference: Anton Gruber, a.k.a. Antonino Rojas. Little Tony the Red, who straightened neckties, who liked to "present the gift of death" in the form of the black boutonniere.

There was a hell of a lot more that Leland had to know. It was now 8:52. They had been in the building more than half an hour. No gunfire so far, but that was not necessarily a good sign. What was their plan? There were too many of them for this to be a suicide attack. The language Leland had heard left no doubt that, whatever their objectives, they were going public with it — which meant that they planned to take hostages away with them.

Sure, packing them in, using them like insulation, they could get thirty or forty hostages in the truck with them. If they had Kalashnikovs, they probably had fragmentation grenades.

Now Leland realized that he was listening to an elevator humming in the shaft.

...7:14 P.M., PST... | Nothing Lasts Forever | ...8:56 P.M., PST...