Excerpt from Last Man Standing by David Baldacci, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Last Man Standing

By David Baldacci

Last Man Standing
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2001,
    548 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2002,
    656 pages.

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It took all of thirty seconds to determine that all but Bandanna Boy were looped out of their minds and that none of the druggies were carrying guns—or cell phones that could be used to call up the target and warn them. Bandanna Boy did have a knife, yet knives had no chance against Kevlar and submachine guns. The team let him keep it. But as Charlie Team moved on, Cal Plummer ran with them backward, his MP-5 trained on the young back-alley entrepreneur, just in case.

Bandanna Boy did call after Web, something about admiring Web's rifle and wanting to buy it. He'd give him a sweet deal, he yelled after Web, and then said he'd shoot Web and everyone else dead with it. HA-HA! Web glanced to the rooftops, where he knew members of Whiskey Team and X-Ray were in their forward firing positions with rounds seated and lethal beads drawn on the brain stems of this gaggle of losers. The snipers were Web's best friends. He understood exactly how they approached their work, because for years he had been one of them.

For months at a time Web had lain in steamy swamps with pissed-off water moccasins crawling over him. Or else been wedged into wind-gusted clefts of frigid mountains with the custom- built rifle stock's leather cheek pad next to his own as he sighted through his scope and provided cover and intelligence for the assault teams. As a sniper he had developed many important skills, such as learning how to very quietly pee into a jug. Other lessons included packing his food in precise clusters so he could carbo-load by touch in pitch-darkness, and arranging his bullets for optimal reloading, working off a strict military model that had proved its worth time and time again. Not that he could easily transfer any of these unique talents to the private sector, but Web didn't see that happening anyway.

The life of a sniper lurched from one numbing extreme to another. Your job was to achieve the best firing position with the least amount of personal exposure and oftentimes those twin goals were simply incompatible. You just did the best you could. Hours, days, weeks, even months of nothing except tedium that tended to erode morale and core skills would be sliced wide open by moments of gut-wrenching fury that usually came at you in a rush of gunfire and mass confusion. And your decision to shoot meant someone would die, and you were never clear whether your own death would be included in the equation or not.

Web could always conjure up these images in a flash, so vivid were they in his memory. A quintuplet of match-grade hollow points would be lined up in a spring-loaded magazine waiting to rip into an adversary at twice the speed of sound once Web's finger pulled the jeweled trigger, which would break ever so sweetly at precisely two-point-five pounds of pressure. As soon as someone stepped into his kill zone, Web would fire and a human being would suddenly become a corpse crumbling to the earth. Yet the most important shots Web handled as a sniper were the ones he hadn't taken. It was just that kind of a gig. It was not for the faint-hearted, the stupid or even those of average intelligence.

Web said a silent thank-you to the snipers overhead and raced on down the alley.

They next came upon a child, maybe all of nine, sitting shirtless on a hunk of concrete, and not an adult in sight. The approaching storm had knocked at least twenty degrees off the thermometer and the mercury was still falling. And still the boy had no shirt on. Had he ever had a shirt on? Web wondered. He had seen many examples of impoverished children. While Web didn't consider himself a cynic, he was a realist. He felt sorry for these kids, but there wasn't much he could do to help them. And yet threats could come from anywhere these days, so his gaze automatically went from the boy's head to his feet, looking for weapons. Fortunately, he saw none; Web had no desire to fire upon a child.

Copyright © 2001 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.

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