...8:42 A.M., PST...
Long enough. Let them all think he had crawled off into a corner and died. He was feeling pain again, more than ever. The radio had been silent for almost an hour. No attempt to reach him. All right. Good.
He went up, one step at a time. He had been able to make a cup of coffee that had tasted awful, and then after that he had ducked into a ladies' room to relieve himself and wash his face. All in the dark. He had not wanted to see himself. Afraid. He had seen the mirror before he had found the light switch.
He went up, using the banister as a crutch. He was so dirty, he could feel the crust on his eyelids when he blinked, in his crotch when he moved his legs. If he lived through this, he was going to feel the pain for the rest of his life. No sound from the elevator shafts. He figured he would be better off in the middle, between the fortieth and thirty-second floors. Because they had not found him there yet, he thought the thirty-seventh was the safest of all. His chart said that the north side was offices, the south, some kind of typing pool.
He was trying to stay alert. He kept dialing the radio between nine, which was silent, and nineteen, which occasionally hissed with the static of distant transmissions. He was looking for meaning in the crackle of Marconi's ether. That dated him. Predated him. Steady.He could feel blood in the towel on his left foot. It made no difference now. In front of the television set he had tried to think of Kathi Logan, waiting for her to appear on the screen again, but when she had turned to him in his thoughts, she had been Karen. He was that tired. There was going to come a time in human history when people wouldn't have to pay six or a dozen times for the right to stay alive.
He stationed himself at the elevator bank on the thirty-seventh floor. He didn't give a damn how long it took. He could get two, even three of them if he had any luck at all. They had written him off. He loved it. Little Tony, Karl, and the woman Leland had heard reciting the letters and numbers on the radio. That would be the end of it. He wanted to hear that electric whine. When you were in an elevator, you never knew where it was going to stop. Thirty-eighth floor, women's lingerie, kitchenware, and toys; thirty-seventh floor, death.
He wondered if he could find a way of getting down below the normal line of fire, but he couldn't bend his left knee. The only thing he had going for him was the fact that the people in the car wouldn't know it was going to stop. Maybe he would catch them talking about how well they were doing, now that they were rid of him.
He had to wait another twenty minutes before one of the electric motors kicked over. A car was coming up from below. He had to hobble from door to door to decide which of the four on the right side it was. As soon as the doors started opening, he was going to shove the assault rifle in and start firing. He pressed the call button and wiped a gritty hand on his shirt, or what was left of it. He had that going for him, his appearance.
The rifle fired three rounds before it jammed. Leland had the Browning out when the doors fully opened — the car was empty. The doors started closing again. He hit the rubber bumper on the edge of the door with the barrel of the Browning. As the doors rolled open a second time, Leland peered inside.
A small trunk on the floor, and in the middle corner next to the control panel, on an aluminum tripod, a television camera. The doors began rolling again. Leland grabbed the camera by the top of the tripod and pulled it out of the elevator onto the thirty-seventh floor. If he had to give himself away and jam his machine gun for a television camera, he might as well have it. And get moving, too, because the gang would be after him again.
He lugged the thing toward the stairs.
He had to pull the desks out of the way to get to the open window. He stood in the shadow and turned on channel nine.
"Powell, are you there?"
"Hey, Joe, where've you been keeping yourself?"
"I've been around. Look, I want to let you have another souvenir, but I don't want to step out where I can be seen until I know some young genius isn't going to put one in my rib cage."
"Okay. Hold on." The radio went dead. "You're clear. What have you got for us?"
Leland told him. "You said they wanted to go on the air? They had the equipment for television."
"Black and white or color? I'm going into the business."
It made no sense to tell Powell he had seen him on television. "Well, I spoiled their fun. It wasn't what I had in mind, but it'll have to do."
He tossed the television camera out into the bright morning air. As he watched it plunge like an arrow toward the street, Leland asked himself if Little Tony was really so uncontrolled an egomaniac as to put himself on television for no good reason. The answer was no, he had a reason. While he stood in the window, Leland raised the jammed assault rifle over his head. If Tony was watching a television set, he could believe that Leland was still a player in the game. The pilot of the police helicopter pressed his hand against the plastic bubble in a salute. It was time to get out of sight.
He was thinking of Tony... and the safe. Given the freedom-fighter pose in the window, Little Tony expected Leland to take the initiative again. In reality, Leland had only the Browning — but enough explosive to turn the Klaxon building into Wilshire Canyon. Tony had to think of the explosive, too. Perhaps he was convinced at last that Leland was liable to do anything. The trick was to keep him off balance. The situation had not changed. In spite of the daylight and the electronic penetration, Leland remained independent. It was to his advantage to let Little Tony think otherwise — that he was the "trained dog" that had beaten and shot Hannah to death. As things now stood, Tony thought Leland was still trying to break down their defenses against the police. Leland set out for the thirty-third floor, where Tony would not be looking for him. It was time to free the hostages, before the ring around them was drawn too tight.
The assault rifle was hopelessly jammed. He needed tools to get into it, and even then there could be a broken part, like a spring. He put it in a desk drawer. He had no need for deadweight, and leaving it where it could be seen was just foolish.
He turned the television set on, the sound very low. One of the elevators was running, and Leland assumed it was a trick to draw him out. He was curious about what they could have arranged. Enough of that — they wanted him curious. At least they didn't believe he could be frightened.
The radio was still silent. On the television screen, the reporter jabbered animatedly, looking up. The director cut to a shot of the building, labeled "live." The camera zoomed up to the window in which Leland had just been standing. What the hell was the use of that? The reporter again. The picture broke up and the building reappeared, labeled "recorded earlier."
It was the same shot, but now Leland could see a blackened ragged figure holding up the useless gun. On the screen he was not so much nightmarish as pathetic. Like something from a concentration camp. Now the director cut to a helicopter shot, tracking the police helicopter floating in front of it, the building swinging into view beyond. There he was again, recorded earlier, gun aloft. Leland turned the sound off. He wanted to think. Television was another tool, if he could figure out how to make it work. If he could communicate what he wanted without giving the game away.
More than that: without even having heard the announcer's words, Leland knew that he had been telling the world what it had just seen, and was about to see again. Tony had a television set. The people in charge of what went out over the air had revealed his position in a situation that was still life and death.
He wrote another note, strapped it to a staple gun with rubber bands, and put it in his kit bag. The police were able to retrieve notes thrown from the northeast corner. On the way he took a fireax from the wall, to break the window.
What he wanted was complicated, and he hoped that he was being clear. If he saw a television helicopter on station a quarter mile to the east, he would go to the windows of the thirty-fourth floor, where he would put on a show of pushing desks around. The television people would put him on tape, which they would broadcast for the first time at exactly 9:28, calling it "live." He and Powell could add the dialogue then, over the radio. Leland guessed that Little Tony would know within a minute it was another of Leland's tricks, but that was all Leland thought he needed to sweep the glass on the stairs out of the way with the towel on his foot, and get down onto the thirty-second floor.
The window was harder to break with the ax than he had thought, and then it shattered with a noise like an explosion. People half a block away on Wilshire Boulevard started running for cover. He could see broken windows and blackened walls everywhere from blocks around. He chucked out the staple gun and started away, hefting the ax like a woodsman. It was a good idea — it would work. The hostages would be headed down the stairs by 9:45. All Leland had to do was hide out another nine minutes.
The elevator again — more than one. The doors rolled open and someone shouted in German. Leland went down before the firing began, the sounds tearing through the glass partitions. They had seen him on television getting rid of the staple gun! He let go of the ax and crawled across the office floor. More shouting, high and low. They wanted him so badly they didn't care what was seen and heard on the street below. The next office led nowhere but back to the elevators. He drew the Browning and got behind a desk, his back to Wilshire Boulevard. The sound of the firing grew closer. The next burst crossed the top of the desk and brought the ceiling and walls down on top of him. Leland huddled down, trying to protect his head.
The next burst went in another direction. Someone shouted and there was another burst that sounded even farther away. More window glass shattered. A police helicopter made a run past the building, its engine pounding. He had to get moving, but he was buried by his own weight in debris. He had to crawl out from under it — he had been crawling all night and now again, in the daylight. He picked up the ax. Even with almost all of the glass partitioning down in here, there was nothing to see. The helicopter was gone, and the two terrorists either had retreated to the stairs, or were hidden by the debris still upright. The Browning drawn, Leland made for the stairs. He had to get up one flight for his rendezvous. He still had almost six minutes.
Now he saw in the glass at the other end of the building the reflection of one of the terrorists behind the elevator bank. He was crouching against the wall, waiting for the helicopter to return and he didn't see Leland. Leland moved faster, trying to get to cover.
The terrorist's radio suddenly erupted with Little Tony's voice, in German. He was speaking much too quickly and excitedly for Leland to understand him. Leland reached the door of the northwest staircase, and the sound disappeared.
He hesitated. Tony had been smart enough to send two of the gang after Leland when the television coverage had given him away. What had been all that on the radio? 9:24 — four minutes to go. He wanted to stay concealed until the last moment. The gang still did not know he was without a machine gun — or had Tony figured that out, too.
At 9:26 he opened the door and looked around. Clear. Daylight was no longer his natural habitat. He was beginning to descend the stairs when the door directly below opened.
He couldn't help smiling. He backed out onto the thirty-fourth floor and eased the door closed carefully. If Bozo came out on this floor, Leland would be waiting for him, and if he kept going up, turning his back to the door, that wasn't bad, either.
More than four hours had passed since he'd tagged one of them. For a moment Leland was afraid he was going to find he had lost his taste for killing. He brought the ax over his head. The guy was on the other side of the door, his shoes grinding on the concrete. If Leland had had any sense, he would have fitted himself with somebody's shoes at the start of the evening. You weren't supposed to wear a dead man's shoes. He had been too civilized. The doorknob turned slowly, making Leland doubly wary. Tony had figured something out — suddenly Leland was sure of it.
The door eased open into the stairwell. First the muzzle of Bozo's Kalashnikov — it was the guy Leland had just seen on the thirty-third floor, one of the two who had been trying to kill him. Leland brought the blade of the ax down on his forearm, knocking the gun down and pulling the guy out of the doorway. The ax had gaffed him — he was too stunned to scream. He rolled over on the floor, holding his arm, and Leland hit him again. It was easier than a cleaver going through a chicken. Now the guy couldn't scream. He was still alive, just barely, looking at Leland, helpless, when Leland buried the ax in his head.
"I'm back in business."
He remembered 9:28. He had about a minute, time enough to conceal Bozo, or at least drag him behind a desk and hope that Tony would begin to worry about desertions.
Bozo had a clip and a half left for his weapon. There was nothing else Leland wanted. He headed toward the east side of the building, trying to remember to stay careful. Now he knew what the others didn't: the gang was down to four. This time, Leland wanted to keep the information to himself.
When he turned the corner, the sky to the east was empty. He moved forward to get a better view: there was nothing in that part of the sky all the way to the mountains.
He looked behind him, to the west. Two helicopters, so far off he couldn't tell whose they were. He thought of getting closer to the window, but changed his mind. He turned for the stairs and switched his radio on.
"Powell, where are you?"
"Right here, Joe."
"Not exactly. I'mright here."
"We can't go that way, Joe."
"What was wrong with the idea?"
"Put yourself in our position, Joe. We can't yield sworn responsibilities to you, no matter how good a job you've done for us so far. Joe, we want you to withdraw from the battle. You've had enough."
Leland was on the stairs, going down; he was thinking of something else. He pressed the "Talk" button. "Can I talk to Kathi Logan?"
"Are you kidding me?" Leland. "I told you how bad the situation was! You wouldn't believe me! Your people are dead because you wouldn't listen to me! You guys are really beautiful — what are you trying to do by this, patch up your image?"
He was buried by another transmission, clear and booming. "From here it looks like they're really fucking you over, cowboy." It was Taco Bill. "They had it on television. We saw you throw a note down. Boy, you really are some kind of a mess. After all the work you did for them, they don't want to work with you? Well, they sure can kiss my ass. You want to talk to your girl? I'm looking at her right here on television, and I can patch you to her myself, if they have a CB."
"You think you can reach San Diego?" He knew the answer; he was out on the thirty-third floor, moving toward the office with the television set, keeping low.
"Well, that's a kick in the head," said Taco Bill. "She's right here on this screen, and some slicker just handed her a portable CB. Can you hear me, honey? You talk into this microphone, and I'll pick it up off my TV and relay it to your friend."
"Thank you very much." It was Kathi, almost as if she were in the room with Taco Bill.
The whole floor was destroyed, but the television set was still playing, and there was Kathi. He boosted the volume, but not too much.
"Hi, Kathi," Here we go."Bill, boost me up if you can, she looks like she's having trouble hearing me." He was moving away from the set, toward the east side of the building. With all the glass gone, the winter sun flooded the floor with white light. "Can you hear me? You look great."
"Just a minute, Joe." He was watching her from the next office through the broken glass of the partition. She turned off the two-way radio, then reached forward and turned up the volume of the television set. "The network is picking up and relaying your signal," she said. "I can hear you perfectly."
So can I.He almost giggled as he kept moving away. Tony would be wise to this, but it wasn't Tony, Leland was after. Bozo had taken the unlucky staircase. Leland figured Tony had simply turned around the two who had just stopped by the police helicopters — Tony had sensed something. He was that smart. He was like an animal. Maybe he already knew that Bozo was dead.
Leland pressed the "Talk" button. "Kathi, let me know that you understand what happened here."
"I do." He could hear her in both ears, from the television set and his radio. He dialed down the volume of the radio; it wouldn't affect the level of his transmission.
"You see," he said, still backing up, "there's a lot on my mind, and I want to get it said before I don't have any more chances. I don't know what you saw of the last few minutes, but it looks like I've run out of luck."
"Don't talk like that," she said.
He was almost to the east side of the building. Except for the kiss, there had never been anything but the most casual, even plastic interaction between them. Maybe even the kiss. Four or five panes of unbroken glass stood between the television set and him. This was going to take a lot of dead reckoning. He felt another failure of nerve. He pressed the "Talk" button. "Listen — can you hear me? Say so."
"Yes." Now he was beyond the range of the sound of the television set. At least Taco Bill was still patching the signal into the Citizens Band channel. Leland saw that he would be giving himself away if he told Bill to stay with it.
"Pretend we're alone," he said into the radio. "I want to pretend there's nobody listening but you and me. The worst thing in the world is one human being using another." He lowered his voice. "It's an awful way to start a relationship. Do you understand what I mean?"
"Don't just listen, talk. I want to hear your voice." It would give him the chance to move around. He thought he had heard something, a cracking sound like somebody stepping on broken glass.
"I understand what you're doing, Joe," she said. He lowered the volume on the radio a little more, then switched to channel nineteen. It was silent. He wished he could hear the television set. He went back to nine. "It's very important for you to remember that the rest of us out here know and believe that what you're doing, as unhappy as it is, is for us all."
He was supposed to say something. "It weighs on you. They're hardly more than kids." Now talk— keep talking.He turned back to nineteen and strained to hear what was happening in the room. Another crunch of glass. Leland was almost on the floor, like a turtle, trying to get closer.
Leland could hear it near and far, Little Tony's voice, on two radios; but then, in the next second, as if the act had been too far along to be stopped, a machine gun went off. Leland pulled himself up and poured the full clip through the windows in that direction. As the glass fell like snow off a roof he could see the guy's shadow briefly, spastically dancing in the impact of the rounds hitting him. Before Leland moved forward, he inserted the remaining half clip. He picked up the radio and pushed the "Talk" button, "I'm doing you a favor, Tony. I'm letting you know I'm alive."
"You stupid braggart..."
"Tony, I'm looking forward to killing you."
"That remains to be seen."
"Ah, well, I have other calls to make. It's Christmas, remember?" He turned to channel nine. "Kathi, can you hear me? You'll have to talk into the radio now."
"Yes, yes, I can."
"How about you, Bill?"
"I'm all ears. I'll show you sometime. How are you?"
"Okay. Kathi, I'm sorry, truly sorry. I meant what I said about using people, but I had no choice."
"I knew what you were doing. Now I'm beginning to feel it."
Leland shuddered: he had stretched his luck again. "Credit yourself with a third of an assist, Bill. The other third goes to Billy Gibbs..." He was looking at his ninth victim. He had killed nine young men and women since nine o'clock last night. This one had three in the chest and one in the cheek below the right eye. The face was twisted out of shape, but the blood was still spreading. The guy was alive — Leland felt sick. He took out the Browning and administered the coup de grace.Again he had tested his luck — he had a bad feeling about himself, an awful feeling.
"Billy always knew how to keep a guy alive," Leland said into the radio, but absently, as if to himself.
"He says to return to base, Joe." It was Powell. "Why don't you listen to him?"
"You're the one who's talking."
"Do you want to talk to him?"
Maybe Billy didn't know that Steffie was in here. He could say something that would let Tony know who she was. "No, I don't want to talk with him. I'm all right."
"The mayor is here, and the president of the company."
"Tell the mayor I'm not a constituent, but I appreciate his interest. As for the other guy, tell him that my liability insurance doesn't cover acts of insurrection or war."
"That's right, Mr. Leland," Little Tony said. "Your daughter wishes to speak to you."
"Daddy!" Steffie urged. "Listen to him!"