David baldacci — split second (the first book in the sean king and michelle maxwell series)
The first book in the Sean King and Michelle Maxwell series
To my father, the greatest inspiration a son could have.
It only took a split second, although to Secret Service agent Sean King it seemed like the longest split second ever.
They were on the campaign trail at a nondescript hotel meet-and-greet in a place so far out you almost had to use a satellite phone to reach the boonies. Standing behind his protectee, King scanned the crowd while his ear mike buzzed sporadically with unremarkable information. It was muggy in the large room filled with excited people waving "Elect Clyde Ritter" pennants. There were more than a few infants being thrust toward the smiling candidate. King hated this because the babies could so easily shield a gun until it was too late. Yet the little ones just kept coming and Clyde kissed them all, and ulcers seemed to form in King's belly as he observed this potentially dangerous spectacle.
The crowd drew closer, right up to the velvet rope stanchions that had been placed as a line in the sand. In response, King moved closer to Ritter. The palm of his outstretched hand rested lightly on the candidate's sweaty, coatless back, so that he could pull him down in an instant if something happened. He couldn't very well stand in front of the man, for the candidate belonged to the people. Ritter's routine never varied: shake hands, wave, smile, nail a sound bite in time for the six o'clock news, then pucker up and kiss a fat baby. And all the time King silently watched the crowd, keeping his hand on Ritter's soaked shirt and looking for threats.
Someone called out from the rear of the space. Ritter answered the jibe back with his own bit of humor, and the crowd laughed good-naturedly, or at least most did. There were people here who hated Ritter and all he stood for. Faces didn't lie, not for those trained to read them, and King could read a face as well as he could shoot a gun. That's what he spent all his working life doing: reading the hearts and souls of men and women through their eyes, their physical tics.
He keyed on two men in particular, ten feet away, on the right. They looked like potential trouble, although each wore a short-sleeved shirt and tight pants with no place to conceal a weapon, which dropped them several pegs on the danger meter. Assassins tended to favor bulky clothing and small handguns. Still, he mumbled a few words into his mic, telling others of his concern. Then his gaze flitted to the clock on the back of the wall. It was 10:32 in the morning. A few more minutes and they'd be on to the next town, where the handshakes, sound bites, baby kisses and face reading would continue.
King's gaze had turned in the direction of the new sound, and then the new sight, something totally unexpected. Standing facing the crowd and behind the hard-politicking Ritter, he was the only one in the room who could see it. His attention stayed there for one beat, two beats, three beats, far too long. Yet who could blame him for not being able to pull his gaze away from that? Everyone, as it turned out, including himself.
King heard the bang, like the sound of a dropped book. He could feel the moisture on his hand where it had touched Ritter's back. And now the moisture wasn't just sweat. His hand stung where the slug had come out the body and taken a chunk off his middlefinger before hitting the wall behind him. As Ritter dropped, King felt like a comet flying hell-bent and still taking a billion light-years to get where it's actually going.