The sound of automatic weapons firing made everyone look up.
Dave Marshall was standing on the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard with a hundred other gawkers. They had all been looking at the front entrance to the W Hotel, where half a dozen men in black armor, combat helmets, heavy equipment belts, and military assault rifles were blocking the entrance. They didn’t wear any kind of insignia or identification of rank, no bright yellow FBI printed on their backs, no Homeland Security patches, no LAPD.
A few minutes earlier three black armored personnel carriers had roared up and these anonymous heavily armed men poured out. They quickly cleared the small plaza around the subway station, and a dozen of them had entered the building just as Dave was leaving it.
He was as curious as everyone else, and maybe a little worried, so instead of doing the prudent thing—if this was a bomb report or a hostage situation—which would have been to get as far away as possible, he’d lingered to see if he could find out what was going on. Regular LAPD patrol cars arrived without sirens, half a dozen of them almost simultaneously, and the officers had blocked off the street and gave orders for everyone to move along. That’s when they heard the gunfire.
He looked up. One of the big panes up there had shattered. Shards of glass glittered in the sunlight as they twisted and turned on their way down. Before they had gone very far a human figure followed them, falling backwards, his arms flailing.
Dave could tell the man was bald. He could see bright redness on the back of his white shirt. He even fancied he could see a stream of blood arcing away from the falling body, though that might have been his imagination.
Then he lost sight of him behind other bystanders, and there was the sickening thump as the man landed very close to where Dave had been standing only seconds before. It was much louder than he would have expected. He actually felt the impact with the concrete. There were shouts and screams of horror.
The cops quickly got a lot more serious about moving people along. He was jostled and almost lost his balance, because he kept looking back over his shoulder and trying to count the floors. It wasn’t until he was across the street and able to stand still for a moment that he was able get a good look at the hole in the side of the building where the big glass pane had been. One of the black-clad commandos was leaning out, looking down at the dead man below. Dave was now sure that the man had fallen from the eleventh floor.
Something else he was sure of was that, no more than ten minutes ago, he had been talking with the dead man in the man’s apartment.
Suddenly, he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life.
It had all started a little over twenty-four hours before…