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Authors: Roderick Thorpe

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Nothing Lasts Forever (5 page)

BOOK: Nothing Lasts Forever
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"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
is
this?" 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
macho
factor, 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 —
goddamn
it! — 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.
...8:19 P.M., PST...
He stepped out on the thirty-fourth floor. Far enough. The main lights were off, and in all directions, through the full-length windows running completely around the building, he could see the city lights twinkling out to the murky horizon, the freeways streaming red away from the city. This floor was different from the thirty-second, wide open, without protection or hiding place. That was all right, for now.
He realized that he was going to have to learn a lot more about the building. It was the building's core that he wanted to understand first. The core was the same on every floor, eight elevators, four on each side, facing each other like square dancers. Right now he could not tell if the elevators were working, and setting one into motion unnecessarily would probably expose him. The four staircases were around behind the elevator banks, facing the four outside corners of the building. The party two floors down was in the southwest. Okay. Going down that staircase would get him closer to the party, but he wanted to do a little more thinking, first.
He walked around the perimeter of the entire floor, looking down into the street. Garage entrances on both side streets, the ramp's cutting down through the steps of the raised plaza. The entry level was two stories high, Leland remembered, sheathed in glass, so that all the elevator banks and the building's supporting pillars were visible. Given the size of the building, the underground garage was at least two levels deep, probably three. At the bottom level, or below it, was the heating plant, the electrical control panel, and the telephone switchboard. You could not defend the building from the ground, but above, far above, with the elevators disabled, it was better than a medieval castle. Not even assault troops could retake the place.
The four men in jeans and Windbreakers, armed with Kalashnikovs, had put on the flourescent lights and herded the crowd into the center of the big room. Leland had not seen Steffie, or Judy or Mark, but he had seen Rivers and Ellis, their hands on top of their heads.
A half dozen people down there would realize that Leland was not in the crowd, if they were calm enough to think clearly. Of them all, Leland probably had the most confidence in Rivers, in spite of what he thought of Rivers's character. Rivers was a survivor: in that, Leland was more certain of Rivers than he was of his own daughter. A
long
time ago, she had loved and trusted her father completely. In recent years he had seen her grow annoyed with him, thinking him old-fashioned, out of step, superfluous. But this was not her remodeled kitchen in Santa Monica, and because of her position, she was probably in far more danger than she realized. The man Leland recognized was a killer who liked it — who almost certainly wouldn't be able to resist killing someone tonight, simply to assert his mastery of the situation.
BOOK: Nothing Lasts Forever
6.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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