...9:27 P.M, PST...
He was on the thirty-fourth floor again. He had been to the thirty-fifth, with its similar layout, and had it ready. Now that he had this ready, too, he suffered a loss of self-belief. One good shot and he was dead. Was he ready for that? More ready than Mr. Rivers, ennobled on the deep-pile broadloom upstairs. Leland had seen many corpses, and he had seen men die, but he had never seen a man shot to death in cold blood. Plugged. In all this, Leland had forgotten pointing the Browning at the man-mountain driver of the station wagon in the snow burying St. Louis. He wondered how the cab driver was doing. He was home with his family, so Leland was going to stop worrying about it.
His plan was not going to work. But he had to try. He couldn't let them know hehad a gun. He had discovered he could flash the overhead fluorescent lights in code while watching the elevators. The stairwell doors were rigged with fireaxes to set up a clatter if they were opened. At the first sign of someone approaching the lights would go out. There was nothing subtle or elegant about it. He was waiting to see how many of them he was going to catch.
He was facing the Hollywood Hills. What did they see from up there? This building stood alone, with nothing around it rising as high as ten stories. The word KLAXON, in heavy, drawn-out capital letters, banded the roof: from a distance, the letters blended into a band of fluorescence. Lights were on all over the building. The lights of the thirty-fourth floor; flashing three long, three short, three long, would look as thin as a match-stick, almost indistinguishable from the background. And it was far from certain that the flashing would not be seen inside the building. You could see a faint flicker on the rooftops far below — but even if you were looking at it, you might not realize what you were seeing.
The lights disturbed his eyes — he had to fight to keep his mind from wandering. If you believed the popular magazines, for instance, the people living on those hillsides were about the last you would turn to for help. Leland imagined some whacked-out young actor in a Jacuzzi thinking he had picked up on the lights of a Christmas disco. Hey, dig it.Karen had always thought he sat in judgment on such people. Never.
They reminded him that what he did was not so important after all. There was a certain kind of life that went on in spite of politics and perhaps civilization itself. Karen had never believed that he could see the connections between whacked-out actors and the disconnected people on his own side of the line, like the doorman downstairs who had come alive with the prospect of rousting the guy in the Jag. The people of Los Angeles spent more money on cosmetics and beauty treatments than any other on earth. That was thought especially funny in San Francisco, where they spent more money on clothes...
Elevator: the humming was like an electric shock.
Lights out. Leland was down behind a desk, Browning in hand. He had a perfect view of the elevator bank. With a single, thin chime, the white light over the second set of doors announced the arrival of the ascending car Leland was gleeful. Whether they liked it or not, they even told you what doors they were coming through.
One. Just one; he had a Thompson, for God's sake. Leland had to draw the guy with the antique. The guy was fully out of the elevator now. He was about twenty-five. The doors closed behind him, but the car didn't move. Something else to remember. The kid stepped forward cautiously, his finger on the trigger. Twenty-shot clip. He was still a long shot for a handgun.
"Say, you! You come out with your hands up! We've been watching you flash the lights! Come out, we're not going to hurt you!"
Another German. Leland had to remember not to silhouette himself against the lights outside. He kept low, scuttling around to the west side, making it a long shot even for a submachine gun. What he needed was a paperweight, something twice the size of an ink bottle. The kid was groping for the light switch, still a good twenty feet from it. Now Leland headed toward the stairs.
"Come out! Don't make this difficult for you! We have guns! We are not afraid to use them!"
A flower pot. A little striated philodendron, with nice, white leaves. Leland kept his arm stiff and hurled the pot like a grenade toward the windows of the north wall. Dirt spewed out of the pot across the desks — it didn't sound anything like someone running, but it was enough: the kid was firing five or six shots even before the pot crashed on the floor.
Then something strange happened, a sputtering, popping noise. The windows were splintering. Tempered glass, they were dissolving in a million tiny opaque fragments. Outside air whooshed into the room. The kid moved toward them, springing from desk to desk.
Leland headed toward the stairs — and the light switch.
It was close enough to the end of the wall for Leland to reach it from cover. When the lights came on, the kid whirled, ducked, and fired all at the same time. The recoil knocked him on his backside, and the burst tore up twenty feet of urethane ceiling panels, which jumped out of position and fell down onto the desks. Leland waited until the kid came up again, blinking. The Browning was out of view. Leland was shaking: he had contracted with himself to kill this kid, but now he did not know if he could go through with it, at least on the terms he had planned.
"Hey, shithead, over here!"
Another burst, thudding into the plaster walls. Surely they were hearing this down below. Stephanie and Ellis knew what it was about. Leland ran up the stairs and out across the thirty-fifth floor. He had cut lengths of electrical cord, tied them together, and hoisted a chair draped with computer print-out paper up against the window. It was a lousy effigy, or scarecrow, or whatever it was, and now Leland thought that the kid already had made so many mistakes that he was going to start getting smart. Leland knew his luck could not hold indefinitely. He set his contraption in motion, then ran back for the stairwell.
The thing rotated slowly, catching the light. Leland heard a scrape on the stairs. He was around the corner, not six feet from the door. The kid appeared. He was not fooled. He stepped toward Leland's contraption, the Thompson up, ready to shoot. Leland ran at him, the Browning raised like a blackjack.
The boy almost got around in time. The Browning struck a glancing blow off the side of the boy's head, knocking him backward. He was still conscious, trying to get the Thompson up between them, when Leland hit him again, throwing his weight on him. The kid's head struck the vinyl floor; the submachine gun went flying. The kid got to his hands and knees. He was stunned, trying to crawl away. Leland locked his forearm around the boy's neck. He caught the windpipe. The kid's hands came up. There was no time to waste. Leland got his shoulder against the base of the skull.
They taught this with drawings and diagrams, not demonstrations. "Believe me, it works," the FBI instructor had said, almost a quarter of a century ago, "I hope to hell you never have to use it."
The human spine was as thick as the handle of a baseball bat. Focusing on what he had been taught made Leland lose sight of what he was doing to a fellow human being. There was no choice — not with Rivers lying upstairs. You had to throw your weight out behind you as you dove forward; your shoulder, with all your weight behind it, separated the skull from the neck.
Leland did it, flinging himself out as if from a diving board, and the boy's neck broke with a sound like a sapling being twisted in a strong man's hands.
His head flopped like a chicken's.
Leland felt his bladder open. He thought he was going to be sick. He had to relieve himself. He breathed deeply and held on. He could hear the kid's bladder spilling. The kid's legs were shaking, his hands clenching, as if they did not know they were dead.
Leland retrieved the Thompson and set it on the desk while he went through the kid's shoulder bag. Two more full clips — forty rounds. A small but promisingly heavy hand-held CB radio, civilian America's version of the walkie-talkie. Candy bars — a Milky Way and two Oh Henrys! No grenades.
Leland pulled the bag off the body and put it over his own shoulder. He would be crazy if he thought he had gained an advantage. He had passed from having been undetected to someone they had to hunt down. They would not underestimate him again.
He had to figure he had used up all the luck he was going to get. He had to figure he was a dead man; he had done it during the war, as much as he had wanted to live. It had been the thing about him that Karen had understood least. You forgot you had a personal destiny. Yes, when the mind and body were together, functioning as one, you forgot you had a personal identity. That was the trick of it.
He rolled a secretary's chair next to the body and then wrestled the body into it, struggling to get the weight onto the seat. The head hung face-down on the chest, almost face-inward. Leland scavenged the remaining cartridges from the clip on the Thompson, then fitted a fresh clip. He took paper and a marking pen from a desk.
When he was ready, he wheeled the body around to the elevator bank. It was the second car that had come up to the thirty-fourth floor; if it had not been called back down, it would travel up one flight in only a moment. Leland touched the button and ducked around the corner.
The chime sounded almost at once, and when the doors slid open, the car was empty. Leland braced his foot against the door while he rolled the body in and turned the chair around.
Now he looked up. This was the thing he had wanted to see, if he could climb to the roof and replace the panel before the car reached the thirty-second floor.
Using the muzzle of the Thompson, Leland poked the panel aside. The gun would have to go up first. He could gain six to ten seconds by pressing the buttons for the thirty-fourth and thirty-third floors. The question was, did he have enough strength to pull himself through the hatch? If he didn't, the doors would open and close on the thirty-second — he would have thirteen shots to defend himself for three to five seconds.
He reached up, got a handhold and lifted himself up to his toes with one hand. He pushed the Thompson up, touched all the buttons, and allowed the doors to roll shut.
He was on the roof when the car reached the thirty-third floor, but he was still trying to get the panel back in place when it started down again, and he was just getting to his feet, the Thompson slung over his shoulder, when the doors opened on the thirty-second.
They were waiting. A woman gasped — they had women, as he had suspected. The car shook as people stepped aboard and the doors started to close again before they were blocked. Leland could see only a narrow strip of floor no more than a foot out from the elevator entrance. He was aware of the shafts on both sides, but he saw no reason to get curious and look down.
"Was geht hier vor? Lass mich den Zettel sehen!"
Little Tony again, wanting to know what was happening.
"Now we have a machine gun," he read. "His neck is broken?" he asked. "Speak English."
"Maybe a security guard we overlooked?"
"Why would someone do this if he had a gun? The note says 'we.' That's interesting.. What did you find in that office?"
"A jacket, shoes, and socks."
"One man's clothes. We? A man and a woman, if what you said is true. They went off to make love and were able to slip away. Upstairs? Why is the man without shoes or socks and the woman fully clothed? Lovers who break a man's neck like a Green Beret? Oh, no."
"We have to do something."
Little Tony the Red sighed. "We have to tell Karl his brother is dead. I want Karl down here. The body should be upstairs, out of sight. I want these people kept calm for as long as possible." He moved almost out of earshot. "Call Karl on the radio and tell him to come down here. When he is on the way, you and Franco take Hans up to that place where we put the other fellow. This individual — or these people — now have one of our radios. That is not on the note. This was not braggadocio and the man is no fool. You and Franco come down via the stairs with your weapons cocked. We will keep the way clear for you."
"Karl is coming down," a new voice said. "You had better get going."
The doors rumbled shut, and the car started up. Leland thought of killing them right now, shooting down through the roof of the car, but too many factors argued against it. The shots would be heard. The car might be damaged in a way that could trap and kill him. Or he could not be as effective against these two as he had to be. Perhaps they were doing him a favor, taking him all the way to the top.
Now the car coming down rushed past him so quickly that he had to reach for the cable with his other hand. He spent the rest of the trip holding on tightly.
He waited until they were wheeling Hans out of the car before he took the step up to the catwalk inside the elevator shaft above the fortieth floor. He had to climb over a double railing. He was smeared with heavy, black axle grease. Unless he could clean up, he was going to have to be careful reaching for hand or footholds. When the elevator door closed again, he was left in darkness.
A big of light came through a ventilator. Four elevators on one side, four on the other: what was in the middle? The wall was concrete. He felt his way along until he came to a metal door four feet high. In the center was a sheet-metal sign he couldn't read. Warning enough, he thought. The door swung outward heavily. Leland took one of the .45 cartridges from the canvas bag and held it out through the door opening before dropping it. Thirty-two feet the first second, double that the second, double again the third. After almost four seconds, the cartridge landed with a nonexplosive clatter. All the way down. He'd found the air-conditioning system. He smiled. All he needed was a rope, boots, hammer, and pitons — he could run through the building like a rat. He went on.
There was another metal door at the far wall, this one large enough for a man. It was not locked, but something pulled it closed. The wind. It was howling up here — but by the look of things, blowing the smog out to sea. The city was brilliant. He was looking south to highrises on the horizon twenty or thirty miles away, the traffic still flowing toward them. Long Beach and San Pedro, according to Stephanie. He was two or three stories above the lighted edge of the roof. One thing was obvious: you couldn't land a helicopter up here. You could land assault troops, but you couldn't possibly get the hostages to climb flexible ladders into helicopters hovering forty-five or fifty stories above the street.
Leland went down the ladder to the roof itself. All four stairwells wouldn't come up as far as the roof, but certainly one would lead to a door up here. Leland wondered if anyone else was thinking along the same lines, but there was no reason for anyone to have guessed he had climbed onto the roof of the elevator.
But there was no question about it: in Little Tony, he was up against one smart customer, who had been able to cut right through the nonsense Leland had incorporated into the note. If Leland had any more luck, this individual was going to get to know him a whole lot better, possibly well enough to get even one step ahead of him. Leland asked himself: if he were on the other side, what would he be looking for?
Now he thought he probably had made a mistake, not killing the two in the elevator. They expected him to try to use the radio, and if he allowed them to learn that he had made his way to the roof they would see that much more clearly how cautious they had to be with him.
It would have been better if the elevator car had arrived on the fortieth floor with three corpses in it. In the confusion, he would have had that much more time to get a message out.
Sure, they would have heard the shots, but if he had been thinking, if he had been willing to take the chance, he could have cut deeply into their numbers, drop back into the car, stop it, and get off before it reached the fortieth floor.
He shuddered, and it made him wonder if he was going into shock. He could still feel that boy's neck breaking. He couldn't let himself think about it. If he caved in, it would be only a matter of time before they caught and killed him. He could not be mistaken about that: if they caught him, they would kill him.
He found an open door in the southwest corner. Inside was a large room containing fluorescent lamps for the sign around the roof, and a staircase going down to the fortieth floor. The door below probably opened on the corridor he had followed around the building before he had seen them kill Rivers. If Leland understood the way these people worked, sending Karl downstairs left only one man on the fortieth floor. It was 10:25 now — it had taken him almost ten minutes to find his way down from the elevator tower. How many floors had the other two been able to search? Leland wanted to know what they were doing in the executive suite, but getting a message out was more important. He went back out onto the roof.
The radio had five channels, which someone had helpfully numbered. The selector switch was set on channel twenty-six. Leland flipped the radio on.
"...so you see it is quite pointless to continue. Unless you surrender to us by ten-thirty, we are going to start shooting hostages. Who knows perhaps we will shoot someone you know and love..."
Bullshit. Little Tony Gruber was taking a shot in the dark. He wanted to keep the hostages calm. He wasn't going to do that by shooting them. He didn't even know if Leland was listening. Of course, if Leland acknowledged the transmission, everything would change, and not in Leland's favor. Something bothered him about this. Even given the fact that he was loose with a submachine gun, why would the guy devote so much time and energy to him?
They weren't ready to go public. They needed what Rivers had refused to provide. On the fortieth floor.
At 10:28 P.M., Leland turned the radio on and pressed the "Talk" button.
"You run your mouth so damned much, I can't get a word in. I want to make a deal with you. Are you listening?"
"Yes. Go ahead."
"Let me send the girl down. She's done nothing and she's afraid something's going to happen to her. Let me send her down in the elevator. I want your word on that."
"Yes, of course, you have my word. Summon an elevator and put her aboard..."
Leland wasn't listening. He put the radio down on the table in the law library and stepped quickly into the long corridor leading down to the two bodies and the executive suite. Leland figured he had about a minute — long enough for them to realize that he had distracted them for his own purposes. Who among them was alone? Leland wanted them terrified of him, if that was possible. He was beginning to look terrifying anyway, covered head-to-foot with grease from the elevator cable.
As he reached the end of the corridor, the lights in the suite went out.
Leland froze. He heard a clicking sound, far off around the corner — someone trying to turn a doorknob quietly. Leland took two steps back, then turned and ran. Now he heard them coming. He stopped, turned back, got low, and fired a burst. In the dark he could see nothing, and the roar of the Thompson had him deafened, but he had a sense of the tremendous damage the weapon was doing, tearing through the paneled partition on the far side of the room and the heavy glass plates beyond.
They had figured it out — they had gotten wise to where he was. He backed farther up the corridor toward the library door, and fired another, longer burst. He was shaking now, sure he was going to be shot in the back as he tried to get inside. He ran, stumbling as he reached the door itself, and fell inside.
He was scrambling to his feet, his shoulder going numb from hitting a chair, when the corridor filled with a returning burst of fire. Kalashnikovs — you could recognize their sound anywhere. He had to get his hands on one of those guns. The muzzle flash lit the corridor its entire length, and Leland could hear the damage being done in the rooms on the south side of the building. He was not going to fight it out with them. For all he knew, they were coming around the other way, too. He needed the radio. Given the way the partitions were being torn to pieces, he had to keep low. He scuttled through the far door, the radio slung over his shoulder. He felt like Robinson Crusoe escaping the cannibals.
Across the south side of the building, he tried to keep below the level of the desks, across one small room after another. Three single shots rang out — they were at the library. He kept going, even though he was afraid he was heading right into them again. How had they guessed it? He had done something wrong, but he didn't know what it was. The whole floor was indefensible. If he could get around to the northwest staircase, he could disappear into the floors below.
He held back at the corridor on the west side. Its lights, too, were out. They had been lit before. They were driving him like a deer around the building. This was the bottleneck. They were going to catch him halfway to the northwest stairs, and cut him in half. He wondered if they had learned anything about him from anyone downstairs. There was Ellis, Stephanie's boss. Sure, Stephanie had yet to learn the lesson of her life.
Leland was going to die here, if he didn't get moving.
He took another look into the corridor. The door to the roof was twelve feet away, which was too far, with the radio, shoulder bag, and the Thompson weighing him down. He rapped on the partition separating him from the office opposite the door leading upstairs. Wood, probably three-eighth-inch paneling over a hollow core. If he had the time, he could kick his way through it like a rat chewing through a plasterboard wall.
He looked up: by moving the urethane ceiling panels, he could go over the top.
If he moved fast enough.
On the other side, he had to hang from the metal support and drop the last foot and a half to the floor. He had wanted to replace the ceiling panels, but he had been able to see that they would realize quickly enough what he had done. His shoulder was throbbing now. It would be immobile tomorrow. Firing a Thompson wasn't going to help. He had fired one once before, during an FBI course, and it had felt like trying to tackle Larry Csonka.
The door to the corridor was locked from the outside. He stepped back. He had hoped that he would be able to step from one doorway to the other, but now he couldn't even see the other. When they reached the adjoining room, they would see the hole in the ceiling and understand what he had done to himself.
He had put himself in a box. It was like one of those garden mazes the English loved so much. He was in it and they could blast away until they were sure they'd killed him. Dick Tracy did it all the time.
Unlike the great Chicago detective, Joe Leland had gotten it backwards — and the bad guys had his kid, too, like old Lucky Lindy himself. He wanted to kill them, he thought for the first time. Oh, yes, now he wanted to.
The locking mechanism was covered with that hefty-looking brushed aluminum plate. He had to hope that the ammunition wasn't short-loaded. All he needed was bullets ricocheting around the room, and then the job he would have done on himself would be complete. He moved to the side and squeezed off a long burst. The door swung inward like something out of a ghost story.
Leland decided he wasn't being morbid. Now that he had revealed his position, he had to guess if they were waiting for him at the end of the corridor, or if they had arrived at the next room — or even if they were waiting for him on the staircase to the roof.
Even if he got to the roof, he did not know if he would be able to keep them from coming up after him. In any case, he had no time to think about it. He took a running dive across the corridor, and what sounded like a Browning automatic rifle went off five times, about a foot over Leland's head.
He got up running for the stairs. More shooting. They had enough ordnance to hold off a company of marines, considering the position they held. At the top of the stairs, Leland got low and fired the last of the clip through the open doorway below, trying to buy the time to get out onto the roof. He couldn't hear anything but the roar of the gunfire now. His ears felt like they were crammed with cotton. It would take too long to get another clip on the Thompson. The man with the B.A.R. reached the lower door before Leland got out onto the roof, and for a moment Leland was silhouetted against the pallid sky. Leland dived again, but the man tried to anticipate him, and Leland felt two of the shots pass within inches of his eyes.