Hovering under the hotel's skull-and-crossbones logo, the four Crips waited silently as the valet brought out a 1996 white Cadillac and opened the doors. They piled in and eased the sleek new sedan into traffic. A fifth Crip in an old yellow Cadillac met them at the curb and followed close behind. He rode solo, with an AK-47 assault rifle lying across the front seat.
The traffic in front of Treasure Island was bumper to bumper. Cars honked. Billboards flashed. Neon-lighted fountains trickled nearby.
The driver of the white Cadillac lighted a cigarette. Behind him sat Anderson. The Crip in the front passenger seat handed Anderson the loaded Glock from Notorious B.I.G. The four men discussed staking out the club where Shakur would perform.
After waiting at a stoplight between Caesars Palace and the Barbary Coast hotel, the Cadillacs turned onto Flamingo and headed east toward Club 662.
As they passed the Bally's hotel on the right, the driver saw a caravan of luxury cars ahead on the left. The vehicles, packed with Mob Piru Bloods and Death Row employees, were stopped at a red light across from the Maxim Hotel. The crosswalk was filled with tourists.
Leading the convoy was Knight's black BMW. Shakur was in the passenger seat. They were alone in the car, unarmed.
The Crips couldn't believe their luck. They decided to chuck their plan and strike immediately.
The Cadillac raced up on the convoy and pulled up beside the BMW. Shakur didn't notice. He was flirting with a carful of women in a lane to his left.
"I saw four black men roll by in a white Cadillac," said Atlanta rapper E.D.I. Mean, who was in the vehicle directly behind Shakur's. "I saw a gun come from the back seat out through the driver's front window."
Bullets flew, shattering the windows of the BMW. Shakur tried to duck into the rear of the car for cover, but four rounds hit him, shredding his chest. Blood was everywhere.
"We heard shots and looked to the right of us," Knight said. "Tupac was trying to get in the back seat, and I grabbed him and pulled him down. The gunshots kept coming. One hit my head."
In the chaos, neither Knight nor Mean could make out who had fired. The driver of the yellow Cadillac just behind the assailants never got a chance to fire his AK-47.
"It all happened so quick. It took three or four seconds at most," Mean said.
Then the white Cadillac screeched around the corner. A bodyguard near the back of the Death Row caravan fired at the fleeing sedan. In a ruse designed to confuse Shakur's entourage, the Crip in the yellow Cadillac chased the white Cadillac around the corner, as if in hostile pursuit.
Knight made a U-turn, his bullet-riddled BMW squealing around the concrete median. The Death Row convoy followed him back to the Strip, where he rammed his car onto a curb.
Las Vegas police were soon on the scene. After summoning an ambulance for Shakur, they ordered everyone else in the Death Row convoy out of their cars at gunpoint. The police forced Knight, who was bleeding from a head wound, to lie face down on the pavement.
By the time the detectives figured out that Knight and his caravan were victims, not suspects, the Crips had returned to their hotel rooms and gathered their belongings.
Staggering their departures to avoid attracting attention, Anderson and his fellow gang members hit the highway, each in a different car. Two younger gang members drove the white Cadillac back across the desert.
Interstate 15 moves fast at night.
It was still dark when the Crips disappeared over the California border.
Surgeons at University Medical Center in Las Vegas removed Shakur's right lung in an attempt to stop the internal bleeding. When his condition deteriorated, they put him on a ventilator. He died six days after the shooting, with his mother at his side.
Wallace returned to New York, where he recorded a CD called "Life After Death," which has veiled references to the shooting in several songs. According to the Crips, Wallace paid the gang $50,000 of the promised $1 million through an intermediary a week after Shakur died.
In March 1997, Wallace discussed his feud with Shakur during an interview with a San Francisco radio station. Asked whether he had a role in the rapper's death, Wallace said he "wasn't that powerful yet."
Three days later, Wallace was in Los Angeles for the Soul Train Music Awards and an after-party at the Petersen Automotive Museum. He was gunned down as he sat in his Chevrolet Blazer at a traffic light on Wilshire Boulevard. No one has ever been charged in the killing.
Two days after Shakur was shot, gang warfare erupted in Compton as the Bloods sought revenge on the Crips. A rash of drive-by shootings left three people dead and 12 injured, including a 10-year-old girl. Informants told police that Anderson had been seen brandishing a Glock pistol.
Las Vegas police interviewed Anderson once. They said they could not build a case against him as Shakur's killer because witnesses in the rapper's entourage refused to cooperate with them.
Anderson said he had nothing to do with Shakur's death. "If they have all this evidence against me, then why haven't they arrested me?" he said a year after the shooting. "It's obvious that I'm innocent."
Anderson was shot dead May 29, 1998, at a Compton carwash in a dispute police say was unrelated to Shakur's slaying.
The three other Crips who were in the white Cadillac that night in Las Vegas still live in Compton. None of them has ever been questioned by police about the crime.
Coming Saturday: Why the police investigation foundered.