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...7:14 P.M., PST...

Leland really didn't know how Steffie had gotten this job. She had come out here with Gennaro, her husband, after college, at a time when she was not on speaking terms with her mother and her relationship with her father was only beginning to mend. Gennaro had looked like Leland, trim, with close-cropped, dark hair — this shortly before the hair explosion. Leland's own hair had been almost completely gray then, but there was no mistaking what was going through her mind, however unconsciously. Gennaro was a bit too eager to make an impression, one of those kids determined to look you in the eye when he was talking. Cops took that as a sure sign of a liar, but Leland was in a period of compromise with himself, he thought, and what the hell, a marriage was a step up for Steffie, even one that was so obviously a first marriage.

They were going to California, Gennaro told him. He had an M.B.A. and a couple of remote connections made in college, and he was "working with the draft board," as he put it — what the hell, Leland said to himself, figuring his influence with his daughter was nonexistent anyway.

Now Leland didn't even know if Gennaro was making his child support payments. For a while he was living with an actress in Malibu, going to all the right parties, and then a few years ago Steffie told Leland the guy had a place in Encino, wherever that was, south of the boulevard, which was supposed to mean something, too. At the time, according to Steffie, he was trying to be a better father to Judy and Mark — malarkey, because Leland hadn't heard either one of them mention their father in all the time since.

Leland began to hear something faintly as the elevator approached the thirty-second floor. The doors rumbled open and he was hit by a blast of thumping disco. Strobe lights flashed against the walls. Jesus, Stephanie wanted him to find her in this? Did she have the kids here? A half dozen people had spilled out here into the corridor, holding drinks, passing joints, and writhing to the music. Beyond them, in what looked, in the dark, like the whole southwest quadrant of the building, fifty or sixty adults and teenagers flailed to a sound so loud, so acoustically true, or both, that it made the prestressed concrete floor vibrate like the loft of a barn.

"Hi," a blonde said, "Merry Christmas. You smoke this crap? It's good commercial Colombo."

"The doctors at the sanatorium told me not to. Do you know Ms. Gennaro? She wanted me to meet her here."

"Do you know what she looks like?"

"Always have. I'm her father."

"Jesus. I'm sorry. Excuse me. Wait a minute." She ankled out to the middle of the corridor. "You see that door over there? Mr. Ellis's office. The last time I saw her, she was in there with the other big wheels. Oh, Christ, excuse me. Hey, forget I said that, huh? Please. Tell her Doreen said Merry Christmas — and congratulations."

"What for?"


"What's this?"

"You don't know, do you? Mr. Ellis and Ms. Gennaro just put over a one hundred and fifty million dollar deal! Hey, go find out! Let her tell you — then come back and join the party! We'll take care of you!"

"I'm too old for your mother!"

"But not for me, you old fox!"

He winked and blew her a kiss.

"That's Gennaro's father," he heard her say, giggling, when he was supposed to be out of earshot. He didn't look back, because he didn't exactly like the way she had said his daughter's name.

The desks in the big room had been pushed back against the walls to create a dance floor, and Leland had to elbow his way through the onlookers who were three-deep most of the way around. Ellis's door led to his secretary's office, but the furnishings here were a big step up from the brightly colored metal and plastic outside. Thick green carpeting, rosewood walls, and an imitation stained glass ceiling fixture, all for a secretary. Like everybody else, the Klaxon executives took advantage of tax-deductible, business expense provisions in the revenue code to fit themselves out with the kind of accoutrements that would make a pharaoh's jaw drop. The door to the inner office was ajar, but the thumping of the music vibrating beneath his feet did not let Leland hear anyone on the other side. He rapped his knuckles on the doorframe.

"Who is it? Come in."

Three men turned in their chairs. Steffie, beyond them on the sofa, leaped to her feet.

"Daddy! Merry Christmas! You're just in time!" She rushed across the room, hugged him, and kissed his cheek. In his arms, she felt too soft and out-of-condition to suit him. With her arm around his waist, she turned to the others, who were standing now, and introduced him. Ellis, behind the desk, was in his forties; the man Leland's age was a Texan named Rivers, executive vice president for sales; and the boy in his twenties, Martin Fisher, was Stephanie's new assistant.

Rivers was the first to shake his hand. "Welcome, Mr. Leland. A pleasure and an honor. We heard about your accident in St. Louis. Well, it doesn't look like much." Stephanie looked at his forehead. Rivers turned to the boy. "Do you know how many German planes this man shot down?"

"Oh, yes." He was looking at Leland, trying to match what he had been told to the man standing in front of him.

"It's ancient history," Leland said to him. "Your parents don't even remember it."

"Not true," Ellis said, stepping in front of the desk, smiling. "Not true at all. Welcome. Perfect timing. This is the biggest day of our lives." He pumped Leland's hand with an unpleasant energy that put Leland off at once.

"I heard something about one hundred and fifty million dollars."

"That's right," Ellis said. "It's the biggest contract Klaxon has ever done outside of petrochemicals."

"We're in the bridge-building business, Daddy. In Chile."

"Show him that watch," Ellis said to her.

"He'll see it later," she said.

"I've got a model of the bridge upstairs in my office, Mr. Leland," Rivers said.

"Call me Joe. I feel old enough without a graybeard like you treating me like Santa Claus." Or Lucky Lindy, he thought, as images of the past few hours rose in a flurry, stirred like leaves in a wind.

"I was in the South Pacific, myself," Rivers said.

"The whole thing should be put on bubble gum cards, as far as I'm concerned," Leland said. "Stef, I'd like to clean up a little, if I may. It's already been a fourteen-hour day. I'd also like to use the telephone."

"Something wrong?" Rivers asked.

Leland shook his head. He was thinking of the old cop downstairs, but what he had seen on Ellis's desk, a rolled-up dollar bill, made him want to be cautious. "I want to call San Diego." Leland gave Steffie a smile. "Something nice happened on the plane."

"Old goat," she said. "You took the through flight to San Diego, didn't you? She won't be home by now."

"The lady has an answering service or a machine, one or the other. She didn't say so, but I'll bet on it."

"Being a policeman is like having a sixth sense, isn't it?" Rivers asked.

"More like a way of putting things together," Leland said, not looking at Ellis.

"Who isthis?" Stephanie asked, pulling at Leland's jacket.

"The stewardess," Leland told her. "Don't worry, she's older than you — though not by much. What's this about a watch?"

"I bought myself a present. Why do you call her a stewardess?"

"I usually call them flight attendants. In this context, I wanted it to be clear that I was talking about a woman."

The male laughter made her blush.

"We all hear this," Ellis said. "We're all getting re-programmed."

"Deprogrammed," she said with a smile. Leland turned to Rivers.

"I'd enjoy seeing that model later."

"Sure thing."

Who Stephanie slept with was her business — she was old enough to know that office intrigues usually led to trouble — but Leland didn't like the idea of cocaine. Beneath his salesman's gloss, Ellis was as grisly a specimen as Leland had ever seen. Stephanie still seemed incapable of learning the lesson of her life, and Leland could only accept the burden of his failure with her. He gave her another hug. "I'll use your office. I know where it is."

"I'll come with you," she said. "We weren't doing anything but patting ourselves on the back."

"She's the one," Rivers said to Leland. "She put a lot into this. It wouldn't have gone over without her."

"That's just great," Leland said.

In her office, diagonally across the building from the party, Leland went to the window and looked down into the street. The Jaguar was gone. Leland had scared the fellow off, or made him change his plans.

Judy and Mark were here, lost in the crowd and darkness. The party had been Rivers's idea. The call from Santiago had come in this morning, and the place had gone wild. The deal had been very complicated, negotiations with the ruling junta had been delicate, everything was still secret. Klaxon had had to keep her in the background because of the machofactor, which made her angry. Rivers had assured her that her bonus would be "just as good" as the others. She was waiting to see.

Leland thought she looked tired. For years she had been five pounds too heavy, and now it looked like ten. With cocaine in her life, he had to be glad to see that she was still eating. She looked deeply fatigued. Maybe she would be ready to listen to him in a few days. Not now. The first thing he wanted to tell her was how proud of her he was.

"Dial nine to get an outside line," she said. "You'll find everything you need in the bathroom. I'll see you on the other side of the building."

Leland waved. First he found the office directory and dialed the main entrance.

The guard said hello.

"It's Leland, the fellow who just came in. The Jag took off."

"Yeah, well, I put the call in. It can't do any harm. He's probably still right here in the neighborhood, and they'll have an easy one. How's that party up there?"

"Deafening. Have a nice Christmas."

"Hell, I'll be here working."

Leland decided to try Kathi Logan tonight, after all — but not this minute. In the bathroom he saw that Steffie knew how to take her perks, too. The place was what you expected to find in milady's boudoir, including shower and fully equipped medicine cabinet. After he helped himself to two more aspirin, Leland took off his jacket and tie, opened his collar, and rolled up his sleeves. He got out of the harness and put the Browning over his jacket. For years he had been able to get away without having to carry a firearm, but then the word had come down. He was a menace to himself and others without a weapon and the practice that would make him effective with it. He had always been an excellent shot, but now, even at his age, because of the practice, he was better than he had ever been in his life.

Leland didn't want to see too much of the Browning with Ellis so close to his thoughts. The rolled-up dollar bill, evidence of cocaine, made the guy clear. An asshole. The LAPD called them assholes, guys who thought they could keep one step ahead of the system in pursuit of their own desperate satisfactions. Steffie was sleeping with him. Leland knew his daughter. She had something of her own to prove — to her mother, to him, to Gennaro, Ellis, and all the men.

In any event, Leland had to be careful. He had steered the conversation away from police work in Ellis's office because of the dollar bill. Marijuana was seen everywhere, especially in California, but cocaine carried very heavy time, and there was no telling how people reacted if they were faced with years in prison. Better Leland play as dumb as Ellis thought Rivers was. What disappointed Leland was that Steffie underestimated him, too — she had forgotten a lifetime of what Rivers thought was a "sixth sense."

Leland didn't like Rivers any more than Ellis, and not because of the old war buddies crap. Rivers was another hustler, like Ellis, only better. A lot of it was the down-home Texas cornpone. Some easterners never got on to that, and it always worked to the Texans' favor.

Texas was a different attitude, almost a different culture. Cleaning the other guy out wasn't enough: you were supposed to look him in the eye, smile, and squeeze his hand. That was Rivers, a sweet piece of work. One consolation: Ellis thought he was as good as Rivers, and he wasn't.

Leland was a traveler trying to wake up, and he washed accordingly, with cold water, deep into his hairline, careful around the Band-Aid over his brow, around the back of his neck, up to his elbows. Then he dried vigorously, rubbing to draw the blood up to his skin. He felt better, tired inside but not yet ready for sleep, good for hours more.

He took off his shoes and socks. In the sixties, the first time he went to Europe on business, he sat next to a German, an executive in the American branch of an optical firm who had crossed the Atlantic over seventy times, going back to the first quarter of the century. Leland said he was working for Ford, doing a study on the economics of shipping parts by air rather than by sea, to reduce the amount of the float tied up in inventory, and then let the old man talk from Virginia to Hamburg.

The old man had known Hitler, whom he called a peasant incapable of reshaping an opinion. The way to cross an ocean, he said, of all the methods he had been able to try, remained the dirigible. One hundred miles per hour at a height of a thousand feet, almost two days in the company of real ladies and gentlemen. A wonderful man, full of wisdom. Leland would have lied, if he had been asked what he had done in the war.

"Do you want to know a secret, Mr. Businessman? You can be wide awake at the end of the day if you wash your feet. Walk around barefoot for ten minutes. You'll feel terrific."

It was true. Wriggling his toes, his cuffs rolled up to his knees, Leland carried his daughter's telephone over to the windows, braced it on his knee, dialed nine, then one, as you had to do in Los Angeles to call long distance, the San Diego area code next, and finally, Kathi Logan's number, which he had already memorized.

It rang twice, then there was a mechanical pick-up.

"Hi, this is Kathi Logan. I'm not home right now, but if you'll leave your name and number after you hear the beep, I'll send you your dime back. Or maybe I'll call you. Who are you, anyway? Wipe that grin off your face and speak up."

Ah, California. Leland was laughing aloud when the tone sounded. Far below, thirty-two stories down, a truck turned from Wilshire into the side street, then just as quickly into the ramp down to the underground garage under the plaza that surrounded the building. Something turned over in Leland's mind. The truck had been going too fast, but that wasn't it.

"Kathi, this is Joe Leland, your friend from St. Louis today. Thank you. Tomorrow build yourself a perfect day. I'm going to call in the evening and ask to see you. I thought we could meet in San Francisco..."

Disconnect. The tape had run out — no, there was no dial tone. The telephone was dead. He tapped the cradle button. Nothing.

He looked at his watch: eight o'clock. Maybe the switchboard had an automatic cutoff. There was no point in going outside to call again; it would only add to her confusion. For a while he stood at the window, staring at the lights on the Hollywood Hills. Someone had once pointed out Laurel Canyon to him — he couldn't remember who it was, or when that had been.

That old German had left one problem unsolved: putting the socks on again. A change in pitch of the air coming through the ventilator made him look up. No, that wasn't it. The music had stopped. Abruptly. He wondered why he would take notice of it, and then realized what he had wanted to remember about that truck: it was the one he had seen parked on the side street facing Wilshire a half hour ago. No wonder the guy in the Jag had wanted to hide the microphone.

The telephone was dead?

Leland was going for the Browning when he heard the woman scream.

He was on his feet at once. His head was clear. He got into the harness, drew the gun, popped the safety, and snapped the first round into the firing chamber.

Leland extinguished the lights and opened the door slowly, as silently as possible. The corridor was empty, but now he could hear a man's voice, sharp, but too far away to be intelligible.

Leland had to decide what to do — now.His shoes were in the bathroom. If the voice was barking orders to partygoers, then it was only a matter of moments before his teammates made a search of the rooms on this floor. How many of them were there? The staircase was around on the other side of the elevator, bank. For a second Leland would be exposed as he crossed the main corridor, but if people were looking the other way, into the party room, he just might get away with it.

The Browning. If he were caught with it, there would I be shooting. If he left it behind and they found it, they would come looking for the owner. No time to hide it, either — no sense in giving them the chance to get closer to him at all, not when he was carrying an NYPD badge, whatever its gag origins. Barefoot, the Browning raised, Leland stepped onto the shaved surface of the industrial carpet in the corridor.

The voice became louder as Leland neared the elevator bank. He had to get a line on this, if he could, but he had to achieve safety — some measure of it, at least. He stopped five feet before he reached the corner.

An accent. Leland still could not make out the words. The accent was faint; the careful, conscious phrasing showed that the speaker had studied the language in school, or later. Now Leland darted across the elevator area to the staircase door.

Four of them, one of whom he recognized, goddamn it — goddamnit! — all armed with the world's best one-man weapon, the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle. Leland shook with rage and self-reproach. He should have done better than this!

He waited, catching his breath. If he had been spotted, someone would have shouted. He had to evaluate what he had seen, which was plenty. He had to think. The first obvious point was that he could not take any kind of effective action with the information he had so far. Now he had to make another decision. He opened the door to the staircase carefully, stepped in, and eased the door closed quietly behind him.

He went up, his bare feet taking the cool, rough concrete steps lightly, two at a time.

...6:02 P.M., PST... | Nothing Lasts Forever | ...8:19 P.M., PST...