...12:04 A.M., PST...
The whole thing was a lot clearer to him now. He hadn't done that badly. He'd made a pest of himself and weakened their ranks and slowed them down. They'd expected a siege. The hostages were part of it. Something in that safe brought it all together. Some highflying sharpshooters in an oil company had just sold a bridge to the military junta in Chile — that was what he knew.
In itself that might be enough, but the old cop in Leland didn't like it. He felt like a cop again — in fact, wearing a badge wasn't a bad idea. If the place was going to be crawling with the LAPD, it might just save his life. He took the badge out of his wallet, and turned the back into the light. THIS MAN IS A PRICK.
He put it on. At this point he'd rather have the hot coffee and doughnuts that always went with it.
He could use a cup of coffee. All the best police decisions were made over hot, bad coffee served in rough, earthenware mugs. If he slipped past them on the thirty-second floor, they would be permanently stymied, left to improvise the rest of the way. But the price was too high: he would lose his options with Steffie and the kids. The hostages would have to take their chances with whatever went down, as the guys out here liked to say, which he knew meant a SWAT assault — or worse, like the National Guard.
But if he stayed up above the thirty-second floor and they caught him, they would have the detonators and be back in business. Leland knew what they would do with him; he didn't need the questions of a taxi driver in St. Louis to remind him.
There was a third choice, although it involved some risk. The way things were going, he would be more useful a bit further along, when the locals could make their presence felt. The only place to hide was one that had already been searched, and the only one not blocked by members of the gang was the thirty-second floor itself.
It was worth it. He might even be able to keep his eye on Steffie and the others. He had the radio — the only problem would be in locating a channel someone was monitoring.
Now there was more shooting — it sounded directly overhead. To hell with the plastic for now. He would remember where it was, as well as his little fortress in the corner.
On the thirty-third floor, he made his way through the maze of offices to Wilshire Boulevard. Empty. The traffic had been light-to-nonexistent five hours ago. He had been here that long. One puttering motorist would tell him that the area was still open.
Here came a prowl car, number one-four-nine, the numbers on the roof, visible from the air. A black-and-white, they called it out here. Doing fifteen miles an hour. Leland could almost make out the face of the officer driving. He was looking this way. He was looking very carefully, trying to appear unconcerned, a look Leland had seen on policemen around the world. He was looking at the steps. They were onto it — they were here. But it could be hours before they were here in force. It might be daylight before he knew anything more than he did now. When was daylight? Around seven. A solid seven hours away.
The elevators started, and it sounded like all of them at once. He had been told no lie: these people were prepared to deal with the police. This was the time to move, when their attention was directed elsewhere. He felt a frightening wave of exhaustion. If this was going to continue until dawn, he would have to find a place where he could hole up and sleep.
The bulbs in the stairwell lamps on the thirty-second floor had been removed. Leland held his breath — he could hear nothing but the whining of the elevators. They'd had something in mind for him, but it looked as if they had had to abandon it. Still, he went quietly, the kit bag tucked under his arm for silence, the Thompson ready. The stairwell was as black as the ventilator shaft. The elevators stopped — again, seemingly all of them, and here, at the thirty-second floor. If he was going to find a place to hide, he had to do it now.
He knew exactly what was happening to him as soon as he felt the glass under his right foot, but his weight was pitched forward and he had generated too much momentum. His feet were gashed, the left worse than the right. The gang had been ready for him. He was motionless, holding on tightly to the banister, trying to keep from crying out.
The left foot had a big cut, a bad one. He had no one to blame but himself. They had taken the fluorescent tubes stacked in the stairway above the fortieth floor and broken them all over the stairwells. He should have known what they had in mind for him. Coming down from the roof, he had failed to notice that tubes had been moved. When he lifted his left foot back up to the step above his right, he could feel the blood pour off the ends of his toes. His instinct was to be careful, but he knew he had to hurry, even if they would be able to follow the trail he left to anyplace in the building. He had to get upstairs, but he had no idea of how he was going to tend to himself. The only first-aid equipment he knew of was in Stephanie's office. Bits of glass were embedded in his right foot; he could feel them grinding when he lifted his foot and set it down again.
He tried to go fast, but the cut in his left foot seemed to gush blood with every step. He hopped and skipped, trying to keep his weight off it, while the glass ground into the right foot. He went on up to the thirty-fourth floor, where at least he had the protection of his fortress.
Gunfire, just beyond the door. He stopped in the stairwell, his left foot raised above the rough concrete. It was running blood, the pain intensifying. Tomorrow he wouldn't be able to stand on either foot. He could feel the anger filling up in him again.He put both feet on the concrete, took his breaths, and pulled open the door.
The lights were on. The sound of the door opening made the girl in the middle of the room turn around, but she was too slow and startled by Leland's appearance, and a single short burst lifted her over the desk behind her.
Another automatic weapon went off, and the ceiling panels to Leland's left jumped and shattered. Leland had safety in the stairwell only if someone did not come upon him from above or below. He scrambled on his hands and knees across the floor to a position behind a desk. More fire, scattering items inches above his head. Leland knew where it was coming from, near his own fortress in the northeast corner. He moved to the next desk westward, poked his head up, and fired the Thompson as the other guy leaped over Leland's traffic jam of desks.
He was the only other one? Leland's feet were planted in puddles of blood. The lumps of plastic and detonators he had molded around the emergency lights were off to his right, not even in view. He moved over again, fired another burst at his fortress, and got down again. While the guy returned the fire, Leland got the last packet of plastic out of the kit bag and molded it around a detonator into a ball. In another moment, the guy was going to wake up, give his position on the radio, and call for help.
Leland worked his way around a little more. He'd killed four of them now, which wasn't bad, given the odds. This plastic was potent stuff, more than they needed for the safe, probably wrong for it, too. Now the guy was on the radio. Leland poked his head up and fired again, trying to penetrate his own defenses. He moved three or four desks closer to the northwest corner, until he could see the emergency lights to which he had molded the other packets. The other guy shot again, stitching the glass behind Leland. The cops downstairs were loving every minute of this. Cops everywhere liked to be in charge of the gunplay, and when guns were going off and they weren't in on it, it made them more than a little bit crazy.
"Hey, creep! Do you speak English?"
"Yes I do, you human filth!"
"Take a good look at those emergency lights by the elevators!"
He laughed. "I saw that movie, Sergeant York!Gary Cooper made a birdcall!"
Leland hadn't had that in mind; but then he remembered that the old man downstairs had made him think of Sergeant York— now what filled his thoughts was what these people had probably done to that old man.
"Look again, dummy!"
Leland saw his head coming up. "Wait!" he shouted "Don't shoot at it!"
Leland had the Thompson trained on him. The first rounds hit the guy in the neck and high in the chest, driving him back and passing through him to shatter the window beyond. Leland stood up and emptied the clip into him, keeping him upright and driving him back against the glass and then through it, three hundred and forty feet above the ground. Leland glanced again at the plastic on the emergency lights. He'd thought he knew what it was. It had certainly scared hell out of Skeezix's new friend. Later — first, Leland had to tend to his feet. No, first he had to figure out how.
On his way out, he discarded the Thompson and picked up the girl's machine gun — a Kalashnikov at last — and three full clips of ammunition.
He went down to the thirty-third floor, looking for an office similar to his daughter's, hoping to find something besides paper, towels, and toilet tissue. He could walk, but walking made him bleed. He was on the south side of the building, on the assumption that the gang would have its attention turned to Wilshire Boulevard, where the black-and-white had been spotted.
He picked the last of the glass out of his right foot, then studied the left. The gash was in the pad behind the smallest two toes, a good three-eights of an inch deep, jagged, almost an inch and a half long. It had been a long time since he had seen his own meat like this. If it could be treated properly, the cut would give him no problems. But he didn't know if he would even find something to tie around it temporarily. Finally he remembered that the best offices had the corner views.
He found a Turkish hand towel, and he folded it once lengthwise and then tried to tie it, but it wasn't long enough. His temper started to flare again. He wanted to kill them all? Now it crossed his mind that he was glad he still had most of them left.
He caught himself. First he had to bind his foot. He sat up — where the hell was he, anyway? This was a business office. He hopped across the room to the desk and got a handful of rubber bands. Good. In fact, it was pretty slick. The thickness of the towel cushioned the pressure of the rubber bands.
He wanted to see what was playing on the radio. Twenty-six was quiet. He dialed to nine.
"Come in," a voice whispered. It was a young, black voice, deep, with no trace of ghetto. "If the person who radioed for help can hear me, acknowledge this transmission if you can."
Leland pressed the "Talk" button. "You got him. Listen: you've got seven foreign nationals armed with automatic weapons and high explosive, perhaps a lot more, holding approximately seventy-five civilians hostage on the thirty-second floor. They've killed one. He's on the fortieth floor. In addition to the two birds who took the short way down. I've killed three others, including two women..."
There was a pause. "You want to identify yourself, fella?"
"Not possible. If I get the chance, I'll throw my wallet out to you."
"What else can you tell us?"
"The leader of the gang is a German named Anton Gruber, a.k.a. Antonino Rojas, Little Tony the Red, with a call on him in the German Federal Republic. He has enough explosive in here to flatten the place, which may be what he has in mind if he doesn't get what he wants, whatever that is. On the other hand, I've got the detonators, or at least some of them..."
"Throw them out."
"Can't right now, and I don't think it's a good move. As long as he thinks he can get me and make me tell him where the detonators are, he won't play his last card, the hostages."
"You talk like a man who knows something, if you understand me. I want you to throw the detonators out. The first objective is to reduce the chance of disaster."
"I already have, until they catch me. Let me talk. From what I can tell, they have the elevators locked up on the thirty-second floor. You try to shoot your way in, from above or below, and they're going to start killing women and children. Call your boss and ask him if he wants children shot on Christmas in his town."
"I want you to listen to me..."
"No, you listen: I'm wounded and I left a trail of blood to where I am now. They're still after me. I won't be leaving a trail anymore; let me protect myself and I'll get back to you."
Leland turned the radio off. He had been in one place long enough. He had to get himself together and understand how the situation had changed. He wanted to talk some more with the police.
He was limping, but he could move. It was like walking on loaves of bread. His left foot felt as though it had been sliced in half. He would know if he started bleeding badly again. He went upstairs, taking the southeast staircase, hurrying the first flight to get past the thirty-fourth floor, then slowing and feeling the pain the next two. Good enough. He was tired anyway. He wanted to rest.
Of all the aircraft he'd owned after the war, the best had been his Cessna 310. During the war he had flown all sorts of things, of course, from training planes up through the Thunderbolt, a heavy-handling, evil-looking brute, to the Mustang, the best single-engine piston aircraft ever built, bar none. He had been happiest thinking about airplanes and flying. On the day he'd checked out in the 310, he'd dropped the salesman off at the office and taxied back out to the runway again. The kid in the tower had told him to keep the wings on — he'd know how good Leland was feeling that day...
The thirty-sixth floor was like the thirty-third, a gridiron of tiny cubicles surrounded by equally tiny, but color-coordinated offices — in a big corporation, you always knew where you stood in relation to the top.
It had no status now, with bulletholes, splintered panels, and broken glass everywhere. He was on the north side again, sitting on the floor behind a desk, looking down into Wilshire Boulevard. Three blocks away, he could see the flash of a boiling light against a building. A helicopter appeared over the hills, then swung around abruptly and headed north, toward the San Fernando valley.
Leland was eating his Milky Way. He'd finished the Oh Henry!, and he was saving the Mars bar for last. He felt like a kid in the movies, or a young cop eating for energy in a prowl car...
He'd taken the 310 straight out to sea at a height of a thousand feet, across the New Jersey suburban blight where every tacky, upright swimming pool stood revealed, every van, every bolt-together aluminum tool shed — at a thousand feet, at one hundred and fifty miles an hour, the suburbs looked like an enormous junkyard.
But then he'd gone on, out over the ocean. Two miles out, he was at five hundred feet; ten miles, fifty feet. By then he was making better than two hundred knots, faster than he'd flown in almost twenty years. It was a brilliant, blue-sky day, with only a few cirrus clouds far above. The sun was over his shoulder and the water looked very dark, so close the wave's seemed to be nipping at the plane. He passed a sport fishing boat and waggled his wings. The 310 was his second twin, with wingtip fuel tanks, as pretty as any general aviation aircraft ever, loaded, equipped for IFR, one of the first small radars — he had world-wide capability At thirty miles out, he came upon two freighters, five miles apart, making for the Ambrose Light Using their superstructures as pylons, he flew figure eights; and when the crews came out on deck, he waggled his wings, climbed straight up, rolled, stalled, let it fall, and finished with a full loop between the ships where both crews could see. When he headed back to the land, he could see arms waving from the decks.
He pressed the "Talk" button. "You guys still there?"
"Ah, how you doing? What happened to you?"
"I had to get the show on the road. For the last ten, I've been cooping."
"Right. A couple of us heard your earlier transmission, and we agree that you're the real thing. We're going to take a chance on you. Now how do you make the situation?"
"The roof is easier to defend than to take. They're very heavily armed..."
"How about you?"
Leland thought of the Browning, and that Little Tony might be listening. "I'm in business," he said.
"How do we recognize you?"
Leland smiled. "I'm black. I wasn't when I started, but I am now."
"I hear you. We'll talk about that later. What about the radio? How did you come into that?"
No wonder: they hadn't figured out that he had one of the gang's radios.
"I came into this the same way I came into this sweet little Kalashnikov machine gun. It's logical to assume they're tuned in, too. Do you know who Little Tony is?"
"Hey, I usually work out of Hollenbeck. I was on my way home to West L.A."
"Okay," Leland said. "He's third generation Red Army Faction, West Germany. After Andreas Baader died, his people went deep underground Nobody knew where they would turn up, but the stories were always that they would do something big. Here we are." Leland had a sudden thought: what if the marshal on the plane from St. Louis had been responding to some wild, incoherent information? If Leland had been paying attention and identified himself, he might have learned something that could have prevented this.
"How do you know all this stuff?"
"Just say it's a long time since I worked Hollenbeck. Look, I told you: These guys need me, and it's not a good idea to stay on the air too long."
"Well, we're going to give them a taste now."
Leland froze. The police still did not understand the situation. He had become convinced that Little Tony was listening. Leland moved closer to the window — and now, faintly, he heard one of the elevators running. He couldn't be sure that they weren't coming for him. No, such a short trip would have been completed already.
They had been listening! They were headed down to meet the police!
Leland pressed the "Talk" button. "Our conversation was monitored. They're coming to meet you."
"Right on," the black voice said. "Thanks a lot."
With only seven of them left, Leland didn't think they would mount another mission against him. He got up — he needed a cane, or even crutches. He made his way from one doorway to the next. If he was going to continue to be effective, he would have to figure some way to make the gang come to him. There was no point in staying at the window. If there was to be a firefight down in the street, this was the best place to get hurt. He had an idea, anyway. And a thought to bear in mind later: on the basis of the information he had given them, police snipers could assume they could shoot at any target above the thirty-second floor.
He had to give an account of himself, or the gang would know how badly he was hurt. If they sent someone after him while he was exposed and vulnerable, that would be the end, surely. But he knew he would be better off in the long run if he could keep them thinking that with him they still had more than they could handle.
He needed a chair on casters, an electric typewriter, and a fireax. The floor was quiet. His bleeding had stopped, but the pain was intensifying. He remolded his ball of plastic explosive until it was the shape of a football, with the detonator in the middle. He put it on the seat on the chair. Carefully he put the electric typewriter on top of the explosive, tied the typewriter to the chair with its cord, then pushed the chair toward the elevator banks.
Now he heard popping of gunfire out on the street. The position of the elevator banks on the lobby floor and the locations of the garage entrances below that, limited the terrorists' field of fire in all directions on the street level, but from above, three or four stories up, they could keep the police from ever getting near the building.
The gang would be ready for armored cars. There were iron gates across the garage entrances, and an armored car with wounded men in it stalled at the bottom of the ramp would be impassable. This wasn't wartime, when the order would be given to blow it away. Policemen did not kill brother officers in the line of duty. It was more than society had a right to ask.
He could hear gunfire coming up the elevator shaft. What he was waiting for was the sound of a car in motion. He would not have a lot of time, and there was nothing he could do in advance, for it involved using the fireax on the door. As soon as it was heard and understood on the thirty-second floor, they would be after him. He heard automatic rifle fire from outside.
He got out the radio. "How are you guys doing?"
"Well, I guess you were telling us the truth. Some people thought you were a psycho. They're kicking the shit out of us. You say there were twelve?"
"Well, you're one tough fucking dude, let me tell you."
"Stay tuned." Leland said, and put the radio away. One of the elevators was in motion. He wheeled the chair into position, then turned to the elevator door with the ax. With the first swing, the pain in his left foot was so severe that he nearly dropped the ax on it. The next swing got the blade of the ax into the crack of the door and broke something inside, because the door opened, then was forced shut again. He rotated the handle of the ax so that the door came open again, enough for him to get his hand in and pull it open wide, and block it open with the length of the ax handle.
He looked in — and bullets hit the top of the door. The car, coming up, was still a long way down. Leland had to return the fire — he had to show he was still fit. He poked the Kalashnikov into the shaft and fired a burst down toward the car on the thirty-second floor from which the firing had come. Far below, someone in the ascending car fired at him, the round pinging upward toward the roof. Leland got behind the chair and rolled it like a baby carriage into the shaft. If the guy saw the thing coming down, he might think it was Leland. Even if it didn't go off, his chair-bomb would go through the roof of the car.
Suddenly the shaft filled with brilliant light, and in the fraction of a second before he heard the sound, Leland knew he had accomplished far more than he had intended. The roar was the loudest sound he had ever heard in his life, and the concussion wave flung him through the air across the corridor and against the elevator door on the other side. He never lost consciousness, and he could feel the building continuing to shake as he slid to the bottom of the door. The floor was bouncing like a high school gymnasium during a dance. He could feel the building yawing. It wasn't his imagination — downstairs, people were screaming.
Then the motion was gone, but it had lasted long enough for him to understand what he had done. He had to get moving before he could start broadcasting again. The blast had knocked the wind out of him. Everyone else, too, he hoped.