Page 89 of Overload


But, if the report just received was genuine, the danger real, there was insufficient time for normal methods.

In daytime, with emergency forces from the police and fire departments working together, a big hotel like the Christopher Columbus could be evacuated in half an hour. At night, however, it would take longer-an hour if they were fast and lucky. Night time evacuation posed special problems; there were always some heavy sleepers, drunks, skeptics, illicit lovers unwilling to be discovered, all requiring room-byroom checks and the use of passkeys.

But there wasn't an hour. The watch lieutenant glanced at the big digital clock above him: 2:21 am The newspaperwoman had said a bomb or bombs might go off at 3 am True? False? He wished to hell a more senior officer could be briefed and make the judgment. No time for that either.

The lieutenant made the only decision be could, and ordered, "Start bomb evacuation procedures-the Christopher Columbus Hotel."

A balf-dozen phones in the operations center went into use immediately. Alarm calls were placed to central district police and fire units first; fire trucks and all available police cars would roll at once. Next, calls went directly to the police department's night commander and deputy fire chief who, together, would direct the hotel evacuation. Simultaneously, the police tactical unit, which included the bomb squad, was being alerted; they would follow other forces quickly. After that: a call to a nearby Army depot where an explosives ordnance squad would contribute experts in bomb disarming. Police departments in neighboring municipalities were asked to aid by rushing their bomb squads too. ambulances-almost certain to be needed-were summoned. Continuing to work down a list, major law enforcement, fire, and city functionaries were notified, most aroused from sleep at home.

The watch lieutenant was speaking by telephone with the night manager of the Christopher Columbus. "We have a tip, which we believe to be authentic, that bombs have been placed in your hotel. We recommend you evacuate immediately. Police and fire units are on the way."

The word "recommend" was used advisedly. Technically, the lieutenant had no authority to order evacuation; any such decision must be the hotel management's. Fortunately, the night manager was neither a hair splitter nor a fool. "I'll sound the house alarms," he said, "and our staff will do whatever you say."

Like a war machine set in motion, the command effect spread rapidly, each component gathering momentum, each utilizing specialized techniques to become part of a total effort. The action had already moved away from the operations center, which would now become a conduit for reports. Meanwhile, answers remained unknown to two vital questions. First: Would bomb explosions occur at 3 am? Second: Assuming they did, could the hotel be effectively cleared in the remaining time-an all-too-inadequate thirty-six minutes?

The suspense would be short-lived. The answers to both questions would be known soon.

* * *

She had done her bit for humanity, Nancy Molineaux decided. Now she could go back to being a newspaperwoman.

She was still in her apartment though getting ready to leave. In between throwing on outdoor clothes hurriedly, Nancy phoned the Examiner's night editor and gave him a fast rundown of what she had. As be asked quick questions, she sensed his excitement at the prospect of a big, breaking story.

"I'm going to the hotel," Nancy told him. “Then I'll come in to write." She knew, without asking, that every available photographer would be dispatched to the scene at once.

"Oh, one other thing," she told the night man. "I have two tape cassettes.

I had to tell the police about them, and they're sure to be wanted as evidence, which means they'll be impounded. Before that happens, we should make copies."

They arranged that a messenger would meet Nancy at the hotel and collect the tapes. From there he would rush them to the residence of the paper's entertainment editor, a hi-fi nut who had his own sound lab.

The entertainment writer was known to be at home and would be warned that the tapes were on the way. The copies and a portable playback machine would be in the newsroom, waiting, when Nancy got there.

Nancy had reached the outer door of her apartment, on the run, when she remembered one more thing. Racing back to the phone, she dialed the number of the Christopher Columbus Hotel, which she knew from memory. When the operator answered, she instructed, "Give me Nimrod Goldman's room."

* * *

In Nim's dream, the GSP & L electric system was in desperate crisis. One by one, the system's generating stations had failed until only one remained-La Mission No- 5, Big Lil. Then, exactly as happened last summer on the day Walter Talbot died, the La Mission No- 5 panel at Energy Control began emitting warning signals-flashing lights and a high-pitched ringing. The lights diminished but the ringing persisted, filling all of Nim's consciousness until he awoke and found the bedside telephone shrilling. Sleepily, he reached out and picked it up.

"Goldman! Is that you, Goldman?"

Still only partially awake, he answered, "Yeah."

"This is Nancy Molineaux. Listen to me!”

"Nancy Molineaux, you idiot!" Anger fought its way through sleep. "Molineaux, don't you know it's the middle of the night . . . “,

"Shut up and listen! Goldman, get hold of yourself and come awake. You and your family are in danger. Trust me . . ."

Raising himself on an elbow, Nim said, "I wouldn't trust you then he remembered what she had written yesterday, and stopped.

"Goldman, get your family out of that hotel! Now! Don't stop for anything! Bombs are going off."

Now he was wide-awake. "Is this some sick joke? Because if it is.

"It's no joke." there was pleading in Nancy's voice. "Ob, for Chrissakes, believe me! Those Friends of Freedom bastards have planted bombs disguised as fire extinguishers. Get your wife and kids . . ."

The words "Friends of Freedom" convinced him. Then he remembered the hotel, jammed with conventioneers.

"What about other people?"

“The alarm's gone out. You get moving!"

"Right!"

"I'll see you outside the hotel," Nancy said, but Nim hadn't beard. Instead he had slammed down the phone and was fiercely shaking Ruth.

Only minutes later, with the children crying, sleepily bewildered, and still in nightclothes, Nim rushed them from the suite. Ruth was right behind. Nim headed for the emergency stairs, knowing enough to stay away from elevators in a crisis in case they failed and occupants were trapped. As they began the long journey down twenty-six flights, he could hear the sound of sirens from outside, faint at first, then growing louder.

They were three floors down when fire alarm bells throughout the hotel began ringing stridently.

* * *

There were acts of gallantry and heroism that night. Some passed unnoticed, others were conspicuous.

Evacuation of the hotel proceeded swiftly and, for the most part, calmly. Police and firemen moved promptly onto every floor; they thumped on doors, shouted, brushed aside questions with commands, hurried people toward stairwells, cautioning them not to use elevators. Others from the emergency force, assisted by hotel staff, used passkeys to check rooms from which there had been no response. Through it all, the fire alarm bells continued ringing.

A few guests protested and argued, a handful was belligerent but, when threatened with arrest, even they joined the outward exodus. Few, if any, of the hotel guests knew exactly what was happening; they accepted the imminence of danger and moved fast, pulling on a minimum of clothing, abandoning belongings in their rooms. One man, obeying orders sleepily, got as far as the stairway door on his floor before realizing he was naked. A grinning fireman let him go back to put on pants and a shirt.

The evacuation was already in progress when the police bomb squad arrived in three trucks, tires and sirens screaming. The bomb men poured into the hotel and, working swiftly but carefully, checked every fire extinguisher in sight. Those which were suspect had ropes looped over them, after which-paying out rope as they went-the bomb men retreated around corners, getting as far away as was practical. When someone had made sure the immediate area was clear of people, the ropes were tugged. This jogged the extinguishers and toppled themnormally enough movement to set off any booby traps. However, there were no explosions and, after each extinguisher was dealt with, a bomb man lifted it and carried it outside. That represented the greatest risk of all, but was accepted because of the special circumstances.

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