...10:40 P.M., PST...
How many? There could have been as few as two on the fortieth floor. In his panic, Leland had been thinking at least three. Now it didn't matter. They had him treed like a cat.
He was back on the cool, metal catwalk inside the elevator tower. He'd hoped that he would be all right once he'd gotten to the roof, but it had been nothing for them to ascend the enclosed stairs and cover their own passage onto the roof. By then he had made it around to the iron ladder outside the elevator tower, and when they finally saw him, he was halfway through the door above. Now they could not climb the ladder without exposing themselves, and he had nowhere to go. The elevator that had been on the fortieth floor was headed down. When Leland had peered into the shaft, he had been able to see that they had opened the roof hatch of the car. They had figured out everything, were so close behind him that he had not escaped, he had been delivered.
Leland turned the radio selector switch past channel nineteen to channel nine. He was drawn up in the corner next to the door to the roof, where he would be able to hear them outside as well as watch what was going on in the elevator shaft, for the little it was worth. All they had to do was move their activities to the other bank of elevators, and they had him neutralized. He pressed the "Talk" button.
"Mayday," he whispered. "Mayday. Tell police foreign terrorists have seized the Klaxon Oil building on Wilshire Boulevard. Many hostages. Repeating. Mayday..." And he went through it again. When he released the "Talk" button, the radio began receiving.
"I doubt that that will be effective. Can you hear me? We know where you are. Will you acknowledge this transmission, please?"
Leland pressed the button. "What do you want?"
"I want to strike a bargain with you, a realbargain. These little radios are not very powerful, by the way, so broadcasting alarms from inside an iron cage is probably futile. Are you listening?"
"Stay where you are. We want no more bloodshed. Stay where you are and keep out of our business. We can come after you if we have to. Ah, and you know it won't be possible for us to deal with you lightly."
Leland thought he heard something. "How did you get on to me?"
"You did it to yourself," Gruber said cockily, "when you said you wanted to send the girl down. You heard me say that at the elevator, and you thought I would be quick to believe there was a girl.
"The conversation I referred to in English about the clothing we found — your clothing, I presume — never took place. Possibly it makes no sense to you, but I have found it useful to act on such obscure little impulses. However, now that I consider it, I judge that you do understand. After all, it was you who thought to climb to the roof of the elevator car. Who are you? You are a bold man..."
Why the stalling? Leland had taken the hesitation before the remark about not dealing with him lightly as an indication that the brother of the dead man was asserting himself in unpleasant ways — not exactly a break in discipline, but perhaps a sign. They seemed to have time to burn. 10:50. In an hour and ten minutes it would be Christmas. 3 A.M. in New York. 10 A.M in Europe. The Pope always had a Christmas message — did he appear in public? The biggest nightmare of the Italian police was an assassination attempt against the Pope. But what did the Pope have to do with an oil company building a bridge in Chile?
Leland rubbed his eyes. He had been awake for the start of "Good Morning, America" in St. Louis, 7 A.M. central standard time. In that time zone it was ten minutes to one, Christmas morning. Eighteen hours. If he'd slept on the plane, he would have missed Kathi Logan, who might be home by now, wondering if her telephone recorder had failed. He couldn't waste time hoping she would make something out of a broken connection. They'd kissed like kids. He wanted to get out of here and kiss her again.
Maybe they were only trying to make him think he was safe. In anticipating him, they'd drawn their perimeter at the fortieth floor. They had been ready for the man who had revealed his presence to them.
Q.: What had he told them about himself?
A.: That he thought he was capable of dealing with them.
Proceeding from that assumption, and the possibility that he was not overestimating himself, they would have to defend what was most important to them. It had taken the leader just seconds to tell the others on the fortieth floor that he was headed toward them. This while he'd been talking to Leland on channel twenty-six. So they had other working channels. Leland was going to have to keep his head up. So far, they didn't know he understood German, however poorly. The radio might become as important as the Thompson.
If he got a chance to use either again.
Another fantasy. Dick Tracy always stitched perfect X's with his tommy gun. It was obvious that Chester Gould had never tried to ride one of these broncos.
Leland did not know if he should try to send another message, or even if it would be worth it.
And he was afraid to open the door and look outside.
Karen would have loved it, he knew. Everything from arriving at the airport in St. Louis to this moment. Pulling a gun in a traffic accident. Kissing Kathi Logan. Letting this happen. And then making one bad decision after another, until he could not make a move, or say a word. Hubris. The All-American Hero. The sin of pride. He'd seen an example of it in an interview with a pretty-boy ballplayer: "My wife was just another coed, but then more and more she became a complement to me."
Leland shuddered. He had hurt many people in his life, but he had hurt Karen more than anyone.
Except, of course, for the people he'd killed. He pressed the "Talk" button.
"Listen, Fritz, I'm getting fed up with this penny serenade. Suppose you tell me what you bums are up to?"
Gruber laughed. "That's very entertaining. Perhaps you would be interested in coming down from there and surrendering yourself."
"You just told me I couldn't be dealt with lightly. Is Karl there? Can he hear me? I want to tell him what it was like to break his brother's neck."
There was a sound, and then the radio went dead. Leland checked his watch: almost eleven o'clock. He looked at the door and asked himself if he could really be sure that he would hear them coming up the iron ladder. He shivered again. The temperature was dropping — L.A. was a desert city. He shook.
For a while he dialed around the radio, trying to find their transmissions to each other, and then he cranked up the volume and listened to the faint transmissions from outside. Citizens band. Kids talking about their midwinter skiing vacations. Utah. One was going back to Arizona. He liked the slower pace of life.
Leland had to fight the cold. His father, who had been a cop, too, had taught him to take ten deep breaths; it got oxygen in the blood, which speeded the generation of heat. His father had outlived his mother, as he had outlived Karen. No, not exactly. His mother had had two strokes, a year apart, and in that year his father had taken care of her. Karen had been married to somebody else at the time of her death, which was not the same thing at all.
She died in her sleep, her heart stopping. Her husband called Leland early that morning, and Leland returned the favor by forgetting his name. Her husband for two years — Leland couldn't remember his name if his own life depended on it. He knew it was a way of not facing what had happened to their marriage. For all their work, they had let it get away from them at the end. Failed. Dick Tracy was entitled to shoot perfect X's: after all, he managed to get the bad guys in the cubicles, and keep himself outside.
Like a kid counting his Christmas money, Leland checked his ordnance again. Two full clips, plus extras — more than forty rounds. If he was able to go one-on-one the next time out, he would have a chance of picking up another weapon.
Getting ahead of himself, he thought.
I'm not going anywhere.After the divorce and before her remarriage, after Leland had quit drinking, and when he had himself in good shape again, Leland wrote to Norma MacIver in San Francisco. They had been drawn to each other years before, but nothing had come of it for many reasons. In the letter he told her what had happened to him. He had been in and out of the San Francisco area on business several times since the divorce, but he had not tried to contact her because he hadn't thought she would like the man he would have had to present to her. Now, he said, he felt better about himself, and wanted to see her.
She called him. They talked for three hours.
Six weeks later, as fast as he could arrange it, he was headed north from San Francisco International Airport in a rented convertible. The weather was brilliant.
Norma had an apartment on Nob Hill two blocks from the Cathedral. The key was in an envelope under the mat at the door. The note told him not to worry about the scruffy toy poodle, and that Joanna, her daughter, was due home from school at twenty-to-four. He was walking into another life.
Norma was an assistant to a San Francisco Supervisor, the dog was a jet-propelled little freak, and Joanna was tall and slim, like her father, but dark, like her mother.
"You shot down all those planes, didn't you? My Dad is at the very end of the book."
"He got into the war late. Now that I'm older, I know how brave all of us were, including your father. Especially."
Fisherman's Wharf. Three days later it would be Jack London Square, in Oakland. Norma looked beautiful. Motherhood and ten years had softened and slimmed her; having created so much for herself made her look wise. Joanna was perfect: intelligent, inquisitive, and brimming with self-belief. She knew her mother and Leland would be sleeping together, Norma told him.
No matter. The first time Leland made love to Norma MacIver was in her kitchen, that first night, with the coffee cups moved quickly from the table. He undressed her, more excited than he had ever been in his life, and they made love with their eyes open, under the fluorescent light, looking at what they were doing to each other. He believed he was with the most honest woman he had ever known. He carried her into the bedroom, and in the morning, when they awakened, they were still in each other's arms.
For the next five days they made love constantly, and for more than a year they were lovers, faithful to each other. But she did not want to return to the East, and his business made it impossible for him to relocate in the West. He was wildly in love with her, hoping they could solve the problem somehow, when she suddenly broke it off. She would have been willing to move at once, she told him, if she could have brought herself to believe that she could ever be more than second in his life not just to his work, but what his work represented.
"Joe, if you had once entertained the idea of chucking everything and starting over with Joanna and me, we wouldn't be at this point. But you never said it, never thought it long enough to discuss it with me. I don't want to be in love with a man who would have to fit us in around his career. I won't settle for it. Not even MacIver did that to me — and I don't think you even know what I'm talking about."
He did know. He loved her, but not enough to fully surrender his imagination. A year later she married a Berkeley radical five years her junior and moved with Joanna and him to St. Thomas, in the Caribbean, where they still lived, for all he knew. She had been right. If he had been willing to give himself a chance, he would have been happy. It took him a long time before he could let himself think of her. He still figured that he had missed the chance to salvage something of his life.
"Merry Christmas," he said aloud. He stood up and stretched, raising the submachine gun over his head. What'd you get for Christmas, Joe?During the Depression, even the cops had been on short hours; you stood on the corner with your buddies a day or two after the holiday, not comparing notes, trying to make your parents look good. "Oh, I did okay. I got what I wanted." He'd been an only child. And he'd had only one, Stephanie. And now Judy and Mark and — for the time being, they were in no danger, he thought.
You didn't tell us, Joe. What did you get for Christmas?Just what I needed,he thought, in the way he'd talked as a child, Igot this really swell gun.Not even his father could understand the things that had happened to him. "Never had to use my gun," he'd said in his old age, as if to atone for the blood on his son's hands. "You don't know how sorry I am that it happened to you."
Hey, Ace, how many kills now?Leland didn't have any idea. He didn't know how to count the mistakes, like the old cop before the war whose bad idea Leland the rookie had followed in spite of himself, or Tesla, who had gone to the electric chair instead of the real killer.
Karen had helped him with Tesla. "You must not blame yourself. He confessed. The confession was wrung out of him, but not by you. There was a district attorney, a judge, and jury. A defense attorney. You are not responsible."
Perhaps. But because he had survived them both, they danced in Leland's dreams. Tesla especially, living the life that had been taken from him.
Leland put his ear against the door to the roof. Nothing. He peered down into the shaft. All of the elevators were far below, motionless.
The cables were out of reach — and covered with grease anyway. The walls of the shaft were smooth cinder block all the way around, all the way down.
He thought about the door again. If one of them was outside and saw the knob turning, he would have Leland cold. Just touching the knob on this side involved an unacceptable risk.
Whether he liked it or not, he had to take another look at the air-conditioning and ventilating system.
A fellow in San Francisco had fallen down one of these vertical shafts twenty-nine or thirty stories; he'd lived, according to the news story, because the air under him had cushioned his fall. Leland didn't think he wanted to try it.
He figured, too, that he would be wise to make as little noise as possible. If someone heard the little iron door clanging, Leland would have the whole bunch after him again.
He could see about three feet down. The idea of going in the shaft made him so sick, he was not sure he could continue to stand where he was, much less try to sustain himself inside. There was no point in dropping another cartridge. Four hundred feet. This was not the same as flying. It was not even the same as crawling into a cave. The large vertical shaft had to branch off into smaller, but still large-enough, horizontal, rectangular tubes. Once in — if he got that far — he would not be able to turn around. He might not be able to get the leverage to break through the register covering the duct opening. He might find himself head down, unable to move.
Did he have to turn himself into a bug in a drainpipe?
He put down the radio and the Thompson, got on his belly on the iron platform, then projected his head and shoulders through the doorway and down into the shaft.
Wider than he had thought. Almost too wide. He could get down about three and a half feet, no more than that. If he couldn't see the first of the horizontal branches, he hoped he would be able to feel it. No dice. He would have to go in without knowing where the first toehold would be. If it was beyond him, and his strength failed, he would fall to his death. Put another way, he would have almost four seconds more of life, enough to make death far from quick. His stomach churned and he had to back out of the shaft.
He looked again at what he had. How was he going to carry all this stuff? He was going to need both hands, and the Thompson had no sling.
The kit bag had a canvas strap. Unhooked, it extended about five feet. Could one of the hooks hold him? If it could, and if he used the Thompson as a T-bar across the small iron door, he could lower himself into the shaft. Figuring on not being able to extend his arms fully because they'd be bearing almost all of his weight, he could get down perhaps as much as ten feet. If one hook could hold him, so could two — if the first hook failed, that would be the end of it, anyway.
The shoulder harness was thick, top-grain cowhide, and presumably stronger than the canvas of the kit bag sling. Another two feet, with the Browning stuffed in his belt. Another two feet. He might lose the Thompson. As well as the kit bag. No. He could leave the kit bag on one end of the sling, drop it into the shaft, and climb his way down around it, then down the shoulder harness. After he found a foothold, if he couldn't shake the Thompson loose, he could still reach up and unhook the shoulder bag. And if he had to give up all that firepower, they would think he was unarmed again — if, of course, he called it to their attention. First, there had to be a toehold.
Don't get ahead of yourself, boy.He thought. He had been able to step from the roof on the elevator to the catwalk here — step up: he had reached above his head for the railing. It took a little figuring. He could be as little as four or five feet above the conduits in the ceiling of the fortieth floor. Then what? Suppose they heard him scratching around overhead, like a rat inside the plaster?
He had to face the fact that he would go no farther down if he found a passageway at a safe level. If he could not have the relative security of the sling and harness, he would not be able to think about getting in there.
The clips were the weakest links. They could be nothing more than some kind of flattened wire. In the light, they'd looked like brass. He was going to see if he could rig a test, wrapping the Thompson around the railing. No noise. If they heard him crapping around, they would be on their way.
It was a good idea to think of other things when he could. It rested the mind. He wondered about the benefit in talking to himself. He'd thought for years that he'd never done it, but his mother had told Karen that he'd done it as a child. Karen had been an orphan, a foster child. She'd talked to herself. She'd remembered more of her childhood than he ever could remember of his. Since he'd never wanted to be anything but a cop, he'd spent his childhood in a dream world, playing, listening to the radio, passing the time, coming awake to make note of something only when someone spoke one of dozens of buzz words, like collar,the verb, or suspect,the noun.
His mother had given him so much support, he'd taken so much for granted, that he'd gotten past the middle of his life, and at the end of hers, before he'd realized how little he understood her. His relationship with Karen had a lot to do with that realization and his father's advancing senility. A lovely woman, his mother, a twentieth-century classic. She'd met her husband right after high school and her only child had been born before her twentieth birthday. She spent the rest of her life creating a home, which an unmarried man knew was making something out of nothing but love, will, effort, and sacrifice.
He stopped to get his bearings again. Even the cartoon Napoleon going out the window of the nut house paused for a check of the knotted bedsheets. Leland was going to know this building — perhaps for only four seconds, but he was going to know it. He made sure the safety was on the Thompson, and then he looped the sling over the railing, which had already taken his weight. The clips still worried him. He was going to be able to put pressure on only the first, there was so little room in here to maneuver. He had to clear his head.
He had to think that this was the same as changing a tire.
What would his mother think of him now? The real question was, what had she thought of him before she'd died? She'd always said she was proud of him, but later, when he was being honest with himself, he thought he could recall something else, too. He'd frightened her. Well, hell, he had frightened everybody. All his life, people had kept their distance, only rarely reaching for him.
A parent was entitled to reservations about his or her child, and he doubted that his mother's generation was the first to realize it. He had his reservations about Steffie downstairs. He used to play Monopoly with her, hoping she'd win. There was a lot of real life on Park Place and the Boardwalk.
Now it was cocaine with Ellis. What Leland really knew about drugs had come from Norma, who had started smoking marijuana while he was seeing her. It was the time when drugs first started flooding into the country. He passed; with his track record on intoxicants, he thought he was doing himself a favor. What you made of drugs, like alcohol, was entirely a matter of your personality — and that was what disturbed him about this situation. He knew enough about Steffie and cocaine to see that the stuff could only re-enforce everything ugly in her. Cocaine was for power-trippers, people looking for an advantage, an edge — like Ellis.
Like Stephanie. He took a breath.
In. He could not think about his fear. Four hundred feet. The cartridge had taken so long to fall that he had wondered what happened to it. The submachine gun was braced against the bottom of the opening. The door itself was swung wide against the wall, and it was too heavy to swing back to trap the Thompson. Leland thought he was going to lose the gun anyway. The shaft was too wide for him to brace himself across it with his back and feet. He did not begin to put weight on the harness until he was hanging from the opening with his hands. Nothing shifted. Now he was fully inside.
As he hung from the harness, he worked his feet around the walls, probing for an opening. The walls seemed to be covered with some kind of fine dust. He was still within reach of the opening. He had to go farther down, but he didn't believe in it anymore. He didn't believe it would work.
He had to stop thinking: he had no choice.
He lowered himself, one hand under the other, until he passed over the kit bag and down to the middle of the sling. It was too dark to see his hands. He swung his feet around, touching all four sides again. No opening. He had to go lower.
Oh, God, please don't let me fall.He had about three feet of canvas strap left. Once more, he swung his feet around. On the right, the wall fell away. He had to go lower still, maybe as much as two feet.
No. His foot touched the floor of the horizontal shaft almost immediately. The shaft was no more than twelve inches high.
At least he had something to put his weight on. It was pitch-black in here. What he had to decide was whether he should take a chance on the horizontal shaft. Once he dislodged the Thompson, there would be no way back up.
If the little shaft branched again, he could be stuck in it for days, maybe for good.
He worked his right leg, then his left, into the shaft until he was on his knees, hanging onto the last fifteen inches of the canvas strap. He had to take the pressure off it for the Thompson to fall away from the bottom of the opening. But he was still using the strap for balance.
Take your time, boy.He dried his left hand on his pants and braced it against the opposite wall. Slowly he released his pull on the strap. From above came a clunk that he felt more than heard. Now the strap would no longer take his weight.
He lowered himself down the main shaft, pushing his legs into the horizontal shaft as far as he could, getting the backs of his thighs against the upper wall. It was as far as he could go without letting go of the strap.
He paused again.
The harness was around the butt of the Thompson, which was supposed to have fallen with the barrel away from the shaft. Now he tugged on the strap. When it gave, he lowered himself more and pushed himself deeper into the little opening. It was twelve by fifteen inches, he guessed: wide enough. He was able to get his hips in so that he was almost horizontal across the large shaft. Even if he could turn his head far enough, there wasn't enough light up above to let him see the position of the Thompson. The safety was on. The whole mess was going to come down on him; he had to get as far into the horizontal shaft as possible when he pulled the strap the last time.
One last pause. He counted backward from five.
He pushed hard with his left hand and wriggled backward furiously; he pulled the strap, something caught and then gave, there was a clang, and as Leland lost his purchase with his left hand and started to pitch headfirst into the shaft, the kit bag hit him on the back of the neck, and the butt of the Thompson bounced off the bag and hit him heavily on the back of the head. He blacked out momentarily; he seemed to know it while it was happening to him. He fell far enough out of the shaft to be able to reach the far wall again. The submachine gun started down, pulling the bag and the strap with it. Leland lunged for the strap as he pushed back into the shaft. His scalp felt like it was bleeding. He had the strap, but he was not safe, and he was still fuzzy from the blow of the gun butt. Using his free hand, he worked his way back until he was flat inside the shaft, his arms out in front of him, his equipment in front of them, the submachine gun still out in the shaft, too long to get into the opening sideways. The top of his head was smearing blood on the metal above, he realized. And he was squeezed in here on all sides. He could feel the rage building inside him as he scrambled forward for the Thompson. He wasn't thinking; he felt his hand on the safety, but he was too angry with himself and his situation to allow the position it was in to register in his mind. His hand went to the trigger, pulled it, and the gun discharged.