CHAPTER TWENTY

A shotgun is a bit of metal and a couple of pieces of wood, and not much else. The two Grafton left also had slings attached, so they could be carried by hanging them over a shoulder.

The eighteen-inch barrels had once been a bright, polished blue and were now pitted, scratched and, in the one I was holding on my lap, a bit rusty in three places. The receiver was shiny, with only traces of the original bluing. All in all, the Remington Model 870 Police shotgun in my lap looked like what it was, a utilitarian weapon that was lucky to get a wipe-down occasionally and an annual look from the agency armorer.

The raw winter day outside the window was overcast, breezy and promised rain. When I talked to Willie on our radio net early this morning, he was doing okay, he said. “Gettin a taste of how the other half lives,” he told me. “More people oughta give this a try.”

“My next vacation,” I said.

The radio earpiece was a tiny thing, about the size of an earplug. It fit completely inside the ear channel, so was invisible from any angle but directly abeam. Most people who saw it would assume it was a hearing aid. Mine fit fairly well, so after a while I forgot it was in there.

The three women spent the morning watching chick flicks in the den, and I spent it walking around the living room, sitting in a chair with my shotgun on my lap or lying on the couch with the darn thing on the floor beside me. The other shotgun — Robin’s — was on the dining room table. She pumped all the shells out onto the carpet, pulled the trigger, made sure the safety worked, then loaded it again and left it there. Out in the living room I could hear the three of them laughing occasionally above the sound track.

Ah, me.

I couldn’t get Marisa out of my mind. She appeared to be a victim of an evil man — and I could go either way on this — a daughter whom he loved, sort of, and wanted to use to help with the family crimes, or an innocent child that he had made a psychic prisoner with a lifetime of abuse so that he could use her someday, someway, for his own perverted ends.

On the other hand, she might be Qasim’s loyal lieutenant, following orders, playing a role for us suckers. What if everything she told me, and presumably Grafton, was a lie?

She could have killed her husband. That would have been relatively easy.

It would have been more difficult, but she could have done Alexander Surkov. At Qasim’s order, perhaps.

Why did she try to distract me in the Zetsche castle when I was whanging away at a fleeing villain? The villain turned out to be her mother-in-law’s chauffeur, but she didn’t know that. Or did she?

Why didn’t I ask her when I had the chance?

Was I worried about the answer I might get?

And that knife in Zetsche — conceivably she could have put it there. Probably not, but perhaps.

I walked around Grafton’s living room, peeked out the crack in the drapes occasionally and worried all these beads again and again.

When I got hungry I raided the fridge, made myself a sandwich and ate it at the dining room table. Washed it down with a bottle of water. Thought about Marisa as I ate.

If something didn’t happen, and soon, I was going to lose it big-time. My future would be a straitjacket and a padded room.

Jake Grafton went to Huntington Winchester’s private office and locked the door, then called his boss, William Wilkins, on his portable encrypted satellite telephone.

“Eighteen cell phone calls from that house in the last three days,”

Wilkins said with a sigh. “They’re worse than a pack of teenage girls. No incoming calls. Apparently they keep their phones off when they aren’t calling someone so that they can fool you. They do get a string of messages when they turn their phones on. All pretty innocuous, so far. If they have cell phones we don’t know about, they may have made and received a few more calls. Got a pencil?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jerry Hay Smith made eight calls. He called four different women, if you can believe it — that ugly little runt. And he called his editor four times, told him he was being held prisoner by the CIA. Those were interesting conversations.”

“The editor going to run it?”

“Not today or tomorrow. Smith told him to sit on it, but the editor is curious as hell.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Cairnes talked to his wife once, his kids twice and his bank associates three times. Winchester called his company headquarters twice and his divorce lawyer once.”

Jake was making notes. He added the numbers. “That’s seventeen.”

“Yeah. Saving the best for last, ol’ Marisa called someone in Brooklyn, a male. Gave him your home address in Rosslyn and told him where you and she and Winchester and Isolde and all the rest are.”

“Uh-huh,” Jake said, making a little meaningless doodle on his notepad.

“The bitch sold you out, Jake.”

“Looks that way.”

“You knew she was going to do it, didn’t you?”

“Kinda had a hunch. Didn’t you?”

“We have the number and location of that cell phone she called, and a voiceprint of the man she talked to. The account is in the name of some guy who isn’t in our database, an Iranian immigrant, we believe.

“Don’t go after him,” Jake said. “Qasim probably isn’t there, and if he is, he’ll boogie before you can spring the trap.”

“The FBI is chomping at the bit. We’re flat running out of time. I’ve talked to Molina three times today, and he wants me to pull the rabbit out of the hat now. I’ll keep you advised.”

“Okay.”

Jake hung up and continued to make designs on the notepad in front of him. Finally he tired of it and tore the top five sheets of paper off the pad, wadded them up and burned them in the fireplace. Then he went downstairs.

The whole crowd was seated around the fireplace in the living room. Conversation stopped when he appeared at the head of the stairs, and three or four of them glanced at him as he came down.

Looks like they’re planning a mutiny, he thought. He headed for the kitchen to talk to the FBI agent who was doing the cooking.

“Tommy, we got a watcher.”

Willie Varner’s voice in my ear brought me wide awake. I had been dozing in a living room recliner. The women were in the kitchen going through cookbooks and hunting through the cupboard, so we were going to eat well during our incarceration. I looked at my watch. Five thirty in the evening.

“Tell me about him,” I said to Willie as I got out of my chair and laid the shotgun on the couch.

“He’s in an old Saturn, kinda dark blue or maybe black — hard to tell in this light. Been sittin’ there for a half hour or so. He’s alone in the car, parked across the street, just sittin’ there watchin’ the building and the street.”

“What’s he look like?”

“Can’t tell. I’m in a doorway about fifty yards behind him. Can’t see nothin’ but the back of his head. Don’t want to move. Don’t want him to pick up on me.”

“Just sit,” I told him. “Watch for other people. There’ll be somebody else along after a while. You got something to eat?”

“Oh, yeah. Had a pit stop a while back and got a sandwich. I’m fine.”

“Thanks, Willie.”

I went into the kitchen and watched the women plot their culinary triumph. When Robin glanced my way, I motioned toward the living room. She followed me.

When we were there I told her about the watcher. “I suspect there will be other folks along sooner or later, and when they come, I’ll go down, sorta check them out. You sit in here with a shotgun.”

“Why don’t you let me go out and you stay here?” She asked that innocently, with big eyes.

I knew the ice was thin. Charges of sexism were lurking nearby, but I didn’t care. “Because I’m in charge,” I said roughly.

“The admiral didn’t tell me that.”

“Call him and ask.”

“No need to bother him,” she replied coolly, and went back to the kitchen.

I looked at my watch again. Five thirty-six. I was clean out of patience; didn’t have a scrap left. I went to the door and peered through the security viewer, just in case. The hallway was empty.

0kay, Willie. Keep your eyes peeled.

I got down on the floor and started doing push-ups.

An hour passed, then two. We finished dinner and were cleaning the dishes when Willie’s voice sounded in my ear. “Car just went by, dropped off two guys.”

“Uh-huh.” Everyone in the kitchen looked at me as if I’d made an audible social faux pas. I tossed the dish towel on the counter and walked into the living room.

“They’re medium-sized dudes,” Willie said. “Wearin’ jeans, dark hip-length coats, dark wool pullover hats. Skinny. They looked around casual-like, spotted the Saturn. Both of them looked at it, even though they drove right by it when the car came up to drop ‘em. Now they’re walkin’ down the alley behind the buildin’.”

“Let me know if the Saturn guy moves.”

I motioned to Robin, who was still in the kitchen but looking at me. She came into the living room.

“We’re on,” I said to her. I tossed on my coat, checked that my pistol was riding where I wanted it and told her, “Lock the door behind me.”

She nodded.

If they came into the building through one of the basement doors, I wanted to be there before they went higher. The fewer people around if they started shooting, the better. On the other hand, they were going to have to do something seriously illegal before I started shooting. I didn’t want to kill two local teenagers who were dabbling in burglary; after all, I’d done a little of that myself, way back when.

I checked the lights above the elevators. One was on the ninth floor and one was coming up, passing four. The two dudes couldn’t be in the up elevator — not enough time. I jabbed the down button and waited.

The elevator ascending went by my floor, and the one above came down. The door opened. I stepped in and pushed the button for the lobby, the door closed, and down I went.

There was an old lady in the lobby, checking her mailbox. She was the only person there, besides me. Beyond the glass doors the street contained the usual traffic and the endless stream of pedestrians going to and from the Metro stop down the street. Every parking place on the street was full. The parking garage across the street and down about fifty yards was probably also approaching capacity. Although the sun had been down for an hour or two, the streetlights, car headlights and lit signs made a good deal of light out there.

I glanced at the floor lights above the elevators. There were only three ways up from the basement: the two elevators and the stairs. If the two men out back got into the building, they had to come up this way. I opened the door to the stairwell and stood listening. I felt sure I would hear the basement door open, if…

Although I had thought through about a dozen scenarios in the last twenty-four hours, I was playing this tune by ear. Stay loose and keep thinking, my instructors had said. Great advice but difficult to pull off.

“They’re coming out of the alley,” Willie said into my earpiece. I clicked the button on my belt transmitter twice.

I saw them through the front windows of the lobby. They walked up to the entrance, looked in — I was busy trying to find a key on my ring that would fit a mailbox — and gave the keypad that unlocked the exterior door and intercom the once-over. After another glance into the lobby at me, they strolled away to my right, off toward the Metro stop. And the waiting car. And Willie.

“They’re coming at you,” I said into my mike.

“Got ‘em. The guy in the Saturn just started his car … Yeah, looks like they’re going to get in with him … Yep… That’s what they did. Car coming your way.”

An elevator door opened beside me. A man got out and walked toward the exit without bothering to acknowledge me. I ducked into the empty lift, out of sight of cars passing on the street.

“They’re gone,” Willie said.

“They’ll be back. Midnight or later.”

“I figure you’re right,” Willie said pleasantly. “They’re just workin’ up to something mean.”

So how would they do it? They looked at the entrances, decided the police weren’t waiting … Where should Robin and I be?

The elevator started beeping at me, so I punched the button for the eighth floor.

I went upstairs to brief the Graftons and my partner in crime, Robin Cloyd. I explained that an inspection of the premises before committing a crime aged quickly. The people who had looked this building over would be back fairly soon, or not at all. We needed to be ready. Callie nodded. Amy looked brave.. and pensive.

Robin removed her pistol from her purse and checked it as I talked. When I fell silent she asked, “Are they suiciders?”

“I don’t know.”

I handed her a headset. “Hopefully Willie will see them and give us a minute or so warning. I want you to stay in the corridor outside. I’m going to be downstairs. I’ll disable the elevators. The only way up will be the stairwell. If you hear shots, you’ll know they’re bad guys. I’m going to wedge the stairwell door shut, so they’ll have to blow it or do some serious pounding to get it open. Be lying here by the Graftons’ door. If anyone comes out of the stairwell, use the shotgun on them. We want them dead or incapacitated quickly, just in case they’re bombers.”

“Okay.”

I looked at Mrs. Grafton. “If you hear shots, call the police on the landline.”

She nodded.

I looked at Amy. “If the phone goes out, be ready to call the police on your cell phone.”

She bobbed her head once, vigorously.

I looked straight into Amy’s eyes and said, “You could leave right now, you know. There really isn’t any reason for you to stay. This is Robin’s and my job. This is what we do — you teach elementary school.”

“What about the other people in the building?” Amy asked.

“We can’t knock on doors and ask them to leave. The object is to catch or kill terrorists. If the building is dark and empty, they won’t come.”

“I’ll stay,” Amy said.

Callie put her arm around her. They were Graftons, all right.

I told Robin, “Give Callie your pistol. You’ll have the shotgun and extra shells. Keep shooting until they don’t even twitch.”

“Okay.” Matter-of-fact. No sweat.

Say what you will about her hair and ditzy manner, Robin was kind of a class act. I was finding I liked her.

“This terrorist, Abu Qasim — tell me about him,” Huntington Winchester said to Jake Grafton. They were seated at the bar in the main room, and they were alone. Winchester was nursing a glass of old Scotch, and Grafton was working on a beer.

“Not much to tell,” Jake said. “Most of what we know is hearsay, picked up on the streets in dribs and drabs.”

“Maybe he’s a myth.”

“He’s real, all right. Real as a heart attack.” Grafton sipped at his beer. “The world is a far different place than it was on Labor Day 2001. Security is a lot tighter, more assets are devoted to it, everyone in law enforcement and intelligence takes it seriously, so it’s not as easy to be a terrorist these days as it was then. Sure, screwball amateurs can always pull off a spectacular atrocity, murder some innocent people and die doing it. But there are only a few terrorists competent and capable enough, with the necessary network, to really do something that would hurt Western civilization. Abu Qasim is one of them. He’s a damned dangerous man.”

“There aren’t many men, good or bad, who can make a difference,” Winchester mused.

“That’s not really true,” Grafton said. “I was just getting started in the Navy when I learned that every single person who makes a stand makes a difference. How you live, what you believe, what you do — it all matters. Results are important, too, but the critical factor, the most important thing, is making a stand, which is why we have to fight the Abu Qasims.”

“You see, when I weigh my life,” Winchester said, “and my son Owen’s, his was the more important. I’ve built a company, made a lot of money, but if I hadn’t made oil field equipment someone else would have. Owen, on the other hand, set forth to save lives. He gave all he had doing it.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Jake Grafton said. “You raised a fine son, which is more than many of us manage. And you took a stand when you signed on to this goat rope. With a little luck, your stand will pay off.”

“Umm.” Winchester sipped at his drink. “How will you know which one of these guys you think is coming is Qasim?”

“I’ll know.”

“How?”

“Marisa will tell me.”

“How will she know?”

Jake’s cell phone, which was lying on the bar, rang. He glanced at the number. “Ask her,” he said to Winchester, then answered the phone.

“Hello, Tommy.”

When I had finished briefing Grafton, he said, “I want the guy in the Saturn, too. Alive, if possible. In fact, get him first.”

I took a deep breath. “There are no parking places on the street, as you well know. He’ll probably pull up and the bad guys will pile out. If they’re suiciders, he’ll just drive away, leaving them.”

“I understand,” Grafton murmured.

“I can’t just shoot him right then. These may not be bad guys. And if they are and I gun him, I’m going to be in a shoot-out with three or four armed men right on the street. I can’t get ‘em all before they get me.”

“Use your best judgment.”

“I’ll try.”

“After you pop him, or when he drives away, have Willie call 911.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Call me when it’s over.”

“Yes, sir.”

We hung up then, and fifteen seconds later, I heard Callie’s cell phone in the kitchen ring. It was undoubtedly her husband.

I tested my radio with Willie and Robin, then grabbed four wedges and my hammer and headed for the stairwell. Robin went out into the hallway, and Amy bolted the door behind her.

In the stairwell I hammered home four wedges under the door to the eighth floor, then two in the gap between the top of the door and the upper jamb. There wasn’t room in the little vertical gap for a wedge. I figured they would blow the lock with some kind of explosive, unless they were willing to take the time to break the lock, pick it or remove the door from its hinges. Even if they blew the lock off with a charge of plastique, the door wasn’t going to open with the wedges jamming it. I hoped. When and if they did get through, Robin was going to be in the hall with the 12-gauge. Meanwhile I was going to be coming up the stairs behind them.

I climbed a flight of stairs and left the hammer there.

I had thought about wedging every door in the stairwell shut, but the risk was too great. If these guys were bombers and a fire started, everyone in the building would be trapped.

I was trotting down the stairs with my shotgun in hand when the fourth-floor door opened and an elderly gentleman poked an old revolver at me. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded.

“Uh, Tommy Carmellini, sir. I’m staying with Jake Grafton on the eighth floor. You probably know him — a retired admiral? And who are you?”

He was suspicious, but I looked clean-cut and wholesome. “Fred Colucci. I heard someone pounding and came to see. Don’t want no trouble. What you got that gun for?”

“I heard the pounding and came to investigate. Would you please stop pointing that pistol at me?”

He lowered the revolver. Slowly, waiting for me to do something dumb.

“Thanks,” I said and trotted on down the stairs.

“Four-B,” Colucci called. “Stop by and tell me what’that pounding was. I’m gonna call the Homeowners. Too much damn noise in this building.”

“Okay,” I called, and kept going.

I paused at the bottom of the stairwell and stuck the shotgun under my coat. Got my pistol out and put it in my right trouser pocket where I could get at it easily. The spare magazine was already in my left trouser pocket.

I stepped out onto the ground level, the basement. The elevator control box was mounted right there on the wall beside the garbage cans. It was locked, but I managed to open it with a pick in approximately thirty seconds. The elevator power switches were big and obvious.

“Hey, Willie, can you hear me?”

He answered in about four seconds. “Yeah.”

“I need to know the instant you see them.”

“They’ll probably drive by a few times, man, before they pull the trigger. No parking places out here.”

“Keep me advised.”

“Okay.”

“Robin?”

“Yes, Tommy.”

“They blow that door to get onto your floor, have your mouth open and ears covered.”

“I’ll manage, Carmellini. You handle your end.”

Willie chuckled into his mike.

The super had a little folding chair at his desk. I put the shotgun on the desk and parked my heinie in his chair. I waited.

“I’m leaving, Grafton,” Simon Cairnes said to the admiral. “I’ve called for my car.”

“Okay.”

Cairnes was standing by the bar, leaning ever so slightly on his cane. He looked a little startled at Jake’s answer. “What?” he said. “No comment about it’s my funeral?”

Jake shrugged. “I’ll send flowers. See you on the other side.”

“You nervy son of a bitch,” Cairnes growled and turned to go. He shot a glance at Winchester, who was descending the stairs. “Don’t ever call me again, Hunt. Not for any reason under the sun.”

Then he was gone along the hallway toward the front door.

Winchester came the rest of the way down the stairs and parked himself on a bar stool beside Grafton.

“She’s Qasim’s daughter.”

“Maybe.”

“Damnation, Grafton! He’ll come here to get her.”

“No,” Jake said with a sigh. “If he comes, he’ll be coming to get you.”

“And you, I figure.”

“More than likely,” Grafton muttered and keyed the radio on his belt. “Car will be coming to pick up Cairnes.”

He received two mike clicks in reply.

It was a quarter past eleven in the evening when Willie’s voice sounded in my ear. “It’s the Saturn. He’s slowin’, drivin’ by, four in the car maybe.. maybe five. On past and down the hill toward the subway stop.”

“Got it,” I said. I grabbed the shotgun and strode for the elevator power box. Fortunately neither elevator was moving just then, so no one was going to be trapped between floors when I killed the power. One was on the lobby level, the other on nine. I hit the switches to turn off the power, closed the door to the box, then turned off the basement lights and ran up the stairs to the lobby.

“Here they come again, comin’ slowly.” Willie was excited. For that matter, so was I.

I shot out the main door and threw myself on my back behind a bush, holding the shotgun in front of me.

This position was terrible, and I was a fool to be here — but Grafton wanted the wheelman, and I had to be outside to get him.

“Still rollin’… rollin’… goin’ on by.”

I was so keyed up that I almost collapsed when he said that. I lay there frozen, looking up at the side of the building, the little balconies sticking out, the lit windows… Just then I had the oddest thought, wondered what someone up there would do if he or she saw me lying here.

“He’s acceleratin’, goin’ on up the street. Be right back, I figure. And Tommy, there’s five heads in there.”

“Got it.”

“Robin copies.”

I got up, took off my coat and wrapped it around the shotgun, then crossed the street. There was an office building entrance there right off the sidewalk, two steps up to the door. The sign out front said the thing was full of doctors’ offices. They were all gone for the night — not a light showed.

I sat on the steps and leaned sideways, as if I were about to pass out, with the shotgun on my lap.

The waiting was getting more and more difficult. I kept watching the street toward the subway stop to my left. They would come from that direction, I suspected; just turn around and come straight back. On the other hand, maybe they would go around the block. I forced myself to look in the other direction, too.

No pedestrians this time of night. The good folks were all home in bed.

When I looked at my watch I was surprised to find that only three minutes had passed.

Here came a set of headlights, up from the subway stop. The driver was moving right along.

“It’s them,” Willie said.

The driver turned into the alley that ran behind Grafton’s building, and four men piled out. They ran off down the alley. The car’s backup lights illuminated. They were suiciders. Oh, Lord!

I tore the coat off the gun, sprinted toward the car. The driver never saw me coming. He backed into the street and stopped. As he shifted gears I jerked open the passenger door and dove into the car. He put it in motion. I reached for the keys, turned off the ignition. Couldn’t get the keys out one-handed, so I didn’t try.

He decided I was his biggest problem, so he hit me. Hit me with surprising force, considering that he was seated and belted in. He was scared, pumped with adrenaline. So was I.

I got my knees under me and elbowed him in the face as hard as I could. He was still struggling, so I did it again and again and again. Until he went limp.

I patted him down as fast as I could. No weapon. I jammed the transmission into park and removed the keys from the ignition. Took the keys with me.

Ran into the building and listened at the stairwell door. Maybe a minute had passed since the four guys ran down the alley.

“You want me to call the cops, Tommy?” That was Willie.

“Not yet. First shot.”

I figured they would just use a pipe wrench on that personnel door, so was surprised when I heard a muffled thud. The idiots had blown the knob.

If they had any sense they would ignore the elevators. If they didn’t, they would try the elevators first, and when they didn’t work, come up the stairs. Either way, they were using the stairs.

I waited, my ear against the door.

And heard their feet pounding on the steel stairs.

I waited, tense as a spring.

With his cell phone in his hand and his coat collar pulled up around his ears, Willie Varner was seated on a stoop beside a leafless bush about a hundred feet north of the Saturn, which sat nosed into the curb, blocking half of one lane of traffic. Not that there was much traffic. Just one car passed after Tommy ran into Grafton’s building.

Willie looked around carefully. If there were any more terrorists around, his job was to tell Tommy about it. He didn’t see anyone.

Now the guy behind the wheel of the Saturn stirred. Willie saw his head move. Then the driver’s door opened and he tried to get out. Ended up falling. Picked himself up slowly and leaned against the car with his head against his arm.

Willie adjusted his baseball cap and scanned up and down the street.

I heard them running in the stairwell, their feet pounding on the steel steps. They came up from the basement and charged by the lobby door and kept going up.

When the last one seemed to be above me, I eased the door open. They disappeared around the upper landing and kept climbing.

I started up two stairs at a time, as close to the outside wall as I could get, the shotgun ready and the safety off. The rumble of their feet filled the stairwell.

As we passed the third-floor door, I had closed the gap. I saw legs between the steps on the flight above me. I used the shotgun. One shot. Two. The reports were like cannon shots in that concrete box.

Two men fell, screaming. I kept climbing. One was down, lying on the stairs, so I gunned him. He took the ounce and a quarter of buck in the back. I kept going, worked the slide, and let the second one have it in the gut. Blood erupted; he crumpled and lay still.

A bullet spanged off the steel beside me.

I paused to shove more shells into the magazine.

Another shot, this time from higher up. He was still climbing, shooting to discourage me.

I stepped over the corpses and kept climbing, looking up for feet to shoot at.

The guy stopped climbing, fired off four shots. He aimed them at the walls so the bullets ricocheted. One of them kissed me on the top of the shoulder. The damn thing burned and I almost dropped the shotgun. Held on to it and aimed for the wall, gave him a load of buckshot, just to see if I could bounce some his way.

He fired again, so I adjusted my aim and gave him another ounce and a quarter of lead.

Someone was screaming in my ears. “… are coming!”

I kept going, got a glimpse of a foot and shot at it. Hit it, too. A shout, and a groan. He emptied his pistol into the wall, trying to hit me with a ricochet.

While all this was going on, I shoved the last of my shells into the Remington. I had lost count of how many were in there, and my pocket was empty.

This guy must have fired seven or eight shots into the walls. I figured he had one of those thirteen-shot magazines. When the shooting stopped, I heard him sob, so I ran upward. He was lying on the landing against the concrete wall, the stump of his foot covered with blood, blood on his face, trying to get another magazine into his pistol.

I took careful aim and shot him square in the face. That close, his head exploded.

Working the slide, I eased up the stairs to the fifth-floor landing.

Keeping against the wall as much as possible, I kept going, carefully. You won’t believe how careful I went up.

Heard an explosion, not muffled. He had blown the lock on the eighth-floor door. Now I heard him grunting, trying to get it open.

I kept going, the shotgun up, looking for …

A shot, and simultaneously a bullet hit the wall right above my shoulder. Reflexively I jerked off a shot and jacked the slide.

Pounding feet. He had given up on the door and was climbing!

I went up, too.

Then three shots, trip-hammer fast. A moment later, the sound of a door swinging shut.

I ran, knowing full well he might still be in the stairwell and waiting for me.

He wasn’t. He had shot the lock of the ninth-floor door until it gave, then run out.

So he was out in the hallway waiting for me … or trying to get into an apartment to take hostages.

I eased the action of the shotgun open until I saw brass, then looked into the magazine well. Saw the head of a shell. So I had at least two left.

I took a deep breath, jerked the door open and looked right, then left.

Empty both ways.

Stepped carefully out. Saw the open elevator door. Oh, yes, one of them was here when I killed the power. Heard noises.

Eased my head around to see as slowly as humanly possible, every nerve ready to go.

He had gone out the emergency door in the top. A hole gaped in the overhead.

I looked up into the black void.

He was up there somewhere, that was certain.

With the cops notified, Willie Varner watched the man by the Saturn. His head was up now, and he looked at the building. He, too, must hear the muffled shots from inside the building, as if they were fired from a long distance away.

He got behind the wheel of his car and groped for the key. Willie knew what he was doing even though he couldn’t really see him do it. Tommy would have taken the key, of course.

Now the man got out of the car, looked again at the building and began walking quickly this way. Now he broke into a trot.

Somewhere a siren moaned.

The man’s gait became a run. He was going north, downhill toward the Metro station.

Willie timed his rush perfectly. He charged from the stoop, sprinted across the street and slammed into the running man, who apparently didn’t even see him coming, or, if he did, didn’t react quickly enough to change course or get out of the way.

Both men went to the sidewalk. Willie was up first, probably because he was more frightened. He thought the man might have a gun, and he knew damn well he didn’t. So he grabbed the man and slammed his head into the sidewalk. The man passed out.

Lacking any better ideas, I fired the shotgun up into the emergency exit in the roof of the elevator car … and heard the buckshot raining down the shaft as I worked the action.

Stepped sideways and aimed for the ceiling and fired again. Blew a hole in the top, then listened to the rain of shot.

Aimed again and pulled the trigger. Click. The Remington was empty.

I dropped it, then leaped for the hole and got the edges. Pulled myself up. Got an elbow through and then my head. Kept waiting for the bullet that he would fire when light from the elevator car stopped coming through the hole.

The shot didn’t come, so I knew he was below me. There had to be a ladder in the shaft.

Sure enough, when I got onto the top of the car and waited a moment for my eyes to adjust, I saw the gleam of light reflecting off the ladder rungs. The ladder was on the steel supports between the cars.

I looked over the edge as I pulled out Grafton’s Colt. Dark as the pit of hell, but he was there, and I doubted if he had made it all the way down. One way to find out.

I thumbed off the safety and pointed the pistol down the ladder and let ‘er rip. The flashes blinded me. Emptied the entire seven-shot magazine, then pulled back and fished the other one from my pocket as I listened to something soft smack into something hard.

Heard a soft groan, then nothing.

I stood there a moment listening to my heart gallop. Heard the wail of a police siren. Two of them.

Decided to take a chance. Got my penlight from my pocket, held it as far from my head as possible, turned it on and pointed the beam down the shaft.

Took a moment for my eyes to adjust; then I saw him. He was lying on the top of the elevator car that was on the lobby level, all sprawled out on his back.

Holding the light as steady as possible, I held the pistol at arm’s length, pointed down, aimed as carefully as I could in that light and let him have another. The report was deafening. A second or two later, from far below, came the tinkle of the spent shell as it bounced off steel.

Of course, I had no idea if I’d hit him. I shot twice more because I’m a mean bastard, then gave up.

I turned off the penlight and sat down on top of the car. A little light shone up through the square emergency exit and the little round hole I had blasted. I used it to ensure the pistol’s safety was engaged.

“Cops are going in the front door,” Willie said.

I fumbled for the transmit button on the radio on my belt, found it and pushed it in. “Dudes are all dead, I think. Willie, tell the cops that the power to the elevators is off and three corpses are in the stairwell. Another one is on top of the elevator at the lobby level. Robin, tell Cal-lie to call Jake Grafton.”

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