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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The boy looked directly at him. Under the illuminated arc of the one flickering alley lamp that somehow had not been shot out, the child's features were outlined vividly. Web noted the too-lean body and the muscles in shoulders and arms already hard and clustering around the protrusion of ribs, as a tree grows bark cords over a wound. A knife slash ran across the boy's forehead. A puckered, blistered hole on the child's left cheek was the unmistakable tag of a bullet, Web knew.

"Damn to hell," said the child in a weary voice, and then he laughed or, more accurately, cackled. The boy's words and that laugh rang like cymbals in Web's head, and he had no idea why; his skin was actually tingling. He had seen hopeless kids like this before, they were everywhere around here, and yet something was going on in Web's head that he couldn't quite figure. Maybe he'd been doing this too long, and wasn't it a hell of a time to start thinking that?

Web's finger hovered near his rifle's trigger, and he moved farther in front with graceful strides even as he tried to rid himself of the boy's image. Though very lean himself and lacking showy muscles, Web had enormous leverage in his long arms, and strong fingers, and there was deceptive power in his naturally broad shoulders. And he was by far the fastest man on the team and also possessed great endurance. Web could run six-mile relays all day. He would take speed, quickness and stamina over bulging muscles any day. Bullets tore through muscle as easily as they did fat. Yet the lead couldn't hurt you if it couldn't hit you.

Most people would describe Web London, with his broad shoulders and standing six-foot-two, as a big man. Usually, though, people focused on the condition of the left side of his face, or what remained of it. Web had to grudgingly admit that it was amazing, the reconstruction they could do these days with destroyed flesh and bone. In just the right light, meaning hardly any at all, one almost wouldn't notice the old crater, the new rise of cheek and the delicate grafting of transplanted bone and skin. Truly remarkable, all had said. All except Web, that is.

At the end of the alley they stopped once more, all crouching low. At Web's elbow was Teddy Riner. Through his wireless Motorola bone mic, Riner communicated with TOC, telling them that Charlie was at yellow and asking permission to move to green—the "crisis site" of the target, which here was simply a fancy term for the front door. Web held the SR75 with one hand and felt for his custombuilt .45-caliber pistol in the low-slung tactical holster riding on his right leg. He had an identical pistol hanging on the ceramic trauma plate that covered his chest, and he touched that one too in his pre-attack ritual of sorts.

Web closed his eyes and envisioned how the next minute would play out. They would race to the door. Davies would be front and center laying his charge. Assaulters would hold their flash bang grenades loosely in their weak hand. Subgun safeties would be off, and steady fingers would stay off triggers until it was time to kill. Davies would remove the mechanical safeties on the control box and check the detonator cord attached to the breaching charge, looking for problems and hoping to find none. Riner would communicate to TOC the immortal words, "Charlie at green." TOC would answer, as it always did, with, "Stand by, I have control." That line always rankled Web, because who the hell really had control doing what they did?

During his entire career Web had never heard TOC reach the end of the countdown. After the count of two, the snipers would engage targets and fire, and a bevy of .308s firing simultaneously was a tad noisy. Then the breach charge would blow before TOC said "one" and that high-decibel hurricane would drown out even your own thoughts. In fact, if you ever heard TOC finish the countdown you were in deep trouble, because that meant the breach charge had failed to go off. And that was truly a lousy way to start the workday.

Copyright © 2001 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.

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