Remote Control

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Overview

Few writers know the intricate landscape of special operations like Andy McNab. A member of the crack elite force the Special Air Service for seventeen years, McNab saw duty all over the world—and was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he resigned in 1993.

Now, in Remote Control, his explosive fiction debut, McNab has drawn on his personal experience and unique knowledge to create a thriller of gripping authenticity, ...

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Overview

Few writers know the intricate landscape of special operations like Andy McNab. A member of the crack elite force the Special Air Service for seventeen years, McNab saw duty all over the world—and was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he resigned in 1993.

Now, in Remote Control, his explosive fiction debut, McNab has drawn on his personal experience and unique knowledge to create a thriller of gripping authenticity, high-stakes intrigue, and unstoppable action.

After his mission is suddenly terminated in Washington, D.C., British Intelligence agent Nick Stone decides to visit an old colleague, Kev Brown. But when Stone arrives at his friend's eerily quiet suburban home, he discovers a chilling scene of carnage. Every member of the Brown family has been brutally slaughtered except one: seven-year-old Kelly Brown. His instincts on red alert and adrenaline in overdrive, Stone grabs the girl and runs—with anonymous assassins in hot pursuit. But whom do they wish to silence: Stone, the innocent child, or both?

During a heart-pounding chase that takes the resourceful, sometimes ruthless seasoned pro and his frightened young charge from Washington to Florida, and across the Atlantic to England, Stone begins to piece together a shocking global conspiracy. Thrust into a lethal game of cat-and-mouse, Stone is certain of two things: He and Kelly are on their own. No one can be trusted. And his darkest fears about the shadowy link between politics, money, and terrorism are about to be realized.

Combining relentless action, daring escapes, and breathless plotting with chillingly authentic operational detail rarely seen in thrillers, Remote Control is a novel so real and so suspenseful it sets a new standard for the genre.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's a corker."
Independent

"An enjoyably gritty thriller."
The Scotsman

"Proceeds with a testosterone surge."
Daily Telegraph

"McNab is the best suspense thriller writer to put pen to paper since Alistair MacLean."
—STEPHEN COONTS
   Author of Flight of the Intruder

"Action-packed and authentic in every detail, it gives us a hero who's at least as scary as the villains. Andy McNab is the real deal and a rare commodity—a hard guy who knows how to write."
—JOHN CASE
   Author of The First Horseman

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A rogue Special Air Service agent on the lam in suburban America with the seven-year-old daughter of a murdered colleague. Sounds like the latest Bruce Willis vehicle, costarring that little girl from the Pepsi commercials. But McNab, a former SAS agent himself and author of two nonfiction books on the subject, manages to balance the clich s and cuteness with large doses of tradecraft taken from his 17 years of undercover experience. When Nick Stone describes how to maintain a fictitious address or reveals the secrets of tracing a call made from a public telephone, the details ring true--and help get us over some of the more ludicrous speed bumps in his story. Stone, tracking two Irish terrorists from London to Washington, is suddenly ordered back home on the next available flight. His old mate Kevin Brown, now with the Drug Enforcement Agency, lives nearby, so Nick decides to drop in. He finds a slaughterhouse: Kev, his wife, and youngest daughter have been murdered, but daughter Kelly has survived in a special hideout. Prying information from the shocked child, Stone links the killers to either the CIA, the DEA or his own organization--which means that he and Kelly are on the run from everybody. As Nick trundles the spunky youngster from one seedy motel to another, stuffs her with junk food and teaches her the rudiments of espionage, he puts together a picture of why Kevin and his family were killed--a connection between a terrorist bomb scare in Gibraltar in 1988, the Colombian drug cartel and high-level intelligence agency skullduggery. The vast network of sinister collaborations isn't startling, but McNab reliably delivers the believable, real-life details and keeps readers' attention with steady, careful prose until the predictable but satisfying end. (June) FYI: Remote Control was the number one bestseller in London's Sunday Times for seven weeks. Because of McNab's SAS involvement, and his wanted status by several terrorist groups, he makes no public appearances. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Narrator Boyd Gaines seems to have an enormous amount of fun with the characters in Kerr's latest thriller, who include mobsters, Russians, porn stars, and assorted ocean-going scoundrels. During his five years in prison, Dave Delano developed a plan: get aboard a sea transport and hijack a large yacht that is smuggling money for the Russian mob. Such a plan takes financing, so Delano turns to the American mob for backing, which they give along with Al, a ruthless button man who is their loan security. Meanwhile, FBI agent Kate Fury and her Kansas-bred, ocean-loathing, oversexed male supervisor are working the same transport looking for illegal drug shipments. And then there is the all-female crew of a yacht owned by a porno film company that is also being transported. Patrons who like Donald Westlake's Dormunder series will enjoy this. Highly recommended.--Ray Vignovich, West Des Moines P.L., IA
Kirkus Reviews
Versatile Kerr, last spotted scaling the Himalaya in search of hominids and a CIA zealot (Esau, 1997), heads into Elmore Leonard territory in this amusingly overplotted thriller.

When he's finished serving his five years for a manslaughter he didn't commit, Dave Delano, with his earrings and Lucifer beard, looks a lot like a pirate, so it makes sense that he'd think of piracy as his way of getting back on the map. Dave knows that American mobsters have started to launder their drug money by hiding it in yachts being ferried across the Atlantic to the new, mob-infested Russia, and he sees no reason why some of that money shouldn't be his. Naked Tony Nudelli, the capo for whom Dave took the rap, agrees to the extent of staking Dave to a boat of his own, so that he'll have some cover for booking passage on the yacht-carrying Grand Duke and a minder, Tony's business manager Al Carnaro, "Colonel Tom Parker with guns and jokes." Dave's not to know, of course, that Tony and Al have ideas of their own, or that the comely lady Dave's about to fall for, Kate Furey, has a cover story as bogus as his own. As Dave plies his romance with Kate, an FBI agent on the transatlantic trail of a cocaine shipment her idiot boss, Kent Bowen, is convinced is aboard the Grand Duke, it's clear that something special is in store for the happy couple.

But they're so evenly matched as liars and banterers, so equally spirited and attractive, and so evenly handicapped by their sidekicks, murderous Al and troglodyte Kent, that you keep waiting, as Kerr unveils twist after twist (porn filmmaker shipmates, a nasty hurricane, an unexpected change in course), to see which of them will finally get the upperhand. It all makes for a heartlessly accurate, if synthetic, copy of Leonard at his most disarming and leaves you wondering just how many more voices Kerr has up his sleeve.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780552152358
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Limited
  • Publication date: 11/10/2006
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: New
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

A former member of the crack elite force the Special Air Service, Andy McNab has seen action on five continents. Now, in his explosive fiction debut, he has drawn on his seventeen years of experience of active service to create a thriller of high-stakes intrigue and unstoppable action.

In January 1991, McNab commanded the eight-man SAS squad that went behind Iraqi lines to destroy Saddam's scuds. He eventually became the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier, and remains closely involved with the intelligence communities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Because of the highly sensitive and clandestine nature of his work with the SAS, he is wanted by a number of the world's terrorist groups. His whereabouts, therefore, cannot be disclosed.  

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Read an Excerpt

I dialed another number, and Kev answered. His voice was wary, until he recognized mine. "Nick! How's it going?" He sounded really happy to hear me.

"Not too bad. I'm in Washington."

"What are you doing? Nah, I don't want to know! You coming to see us?"

"If you're not busy. I'm leaving tonight, back to the UK. It'll be a quick stop and hello, OK?"

"Any chance of you getting your ass up here right away? I've just got the ball rolling on something, but I'd be interested to know what you think. You'll really like this one!"

"No problem, mate. I'll hire a car at the hotel and head straight over."

"Marsha will want to go into cordon bleu overdrive. I'll tell her when she gets back with the kids. Have a meal with us, then you can go on to the airport. You won't believe the stuff I've got here. Your friends over the water are busy."

"I can't wait."

"Nick, there's one other thing."

"What's that, mate?"

"You owe your goddaughter a birthday present—you forgot again, dickhead."

DRIVING WEST ALONG the freeway, I kept wondering what Kev could want to talk to me about. Friends over the water? Kev had no connection with PIRA that I knew of. He was in the DEA, not the CIA or any antiterrorist department. Besides, I knew that his job was far more administrative than fieldwork now. I guessed he probably just needed some background information.

I thought again about Slack Pat and made a mental note to ask Kev if he had a contact address for the assless one.

I got on the interstate. Tyson's Corner was the junction I had to get off at—well, not really; I wanted the one before but I could never remember it. The moment I left the freeway I was in leafy suburbia. Large houses lined the road, and just about every one seemed to have a seven-seat minivan in the drive and a basketball hoop fixed over the garage.

I followed my nose to Kev's subdivision and turned into their road, Hunting Bear Path. I continued on for about a quarter of a mile until I reached a small parade of shops arranged in an open square with parking spaces, mainly little delis and boutiques specializing in candles and soap. I bought candy for Aida and Kelly that I knew Marsha wouldn't let them have, and a couple of other presents.

Facing the shops was a stretch of vacant ground that looked as if it had been earmarked as the next phase of the development. On and around the churned-up ground were trailers, big stockpiles of girders and other building materials, and two or three bulldozers.

Far up on the right-hand side among the sprawling houses I could just about make out the rear of Kev and Marsha's "deluxe colonial." As I drove closer I could see their Ford Windstar, the thing she threw the kids into to go screaming to school. It had a big furry Garfield stuck to the rear window. I couldn't see Kev's company car, a Caprice Classic that bristled with antennae. They were so ugly only government agents used them. Kev normally kept his in the garage, safely out of sight of predators.

I was looking forward to seeing the Browns again even though I knew that by the end of the day I'd be more exhausted than the kids. I got to the driveway and turned in.

There was nobody waiting. The houses were quite a distance apart, so I didn't see any neighbors, either, but I wasn't surprised—D.C.'s bedroom suburbs were quite dead during weekdays.

I braced myself; on past form, I'd get ambushed as soon as the car pulled up. The kids would jump out at me, with Marsha and Kev close behind. I always made it look as if I didn't like it, but actually I did. The kids would know I had presents. I'd bought a little Tweety-Pie watch for Aida, and Kelly's was the Goosebumps kids' horror books numbers thirty-one to forty—I knew she already had the first thirty. I wouldn't say anything to Aida about forgetting her birthday; hopefully she'd have forgotten.

I got out of the car and walked toward the front door. Still no ambush. So far, so good.

The front door was open about two inches. I thought, here we go, what they want me to do is walk into the hallway like Inspector Clouseau, and there's going to be a Kato-type ambush. I pushed the door wide open and called out, "Hello? Hello? Anyone home?"

Any minute now the kids would be attacking a leg each.

But nothing happened.

Maybe they had a new plan and were all hidden away somewhere in the house, waiting, trying to muffle their giggles.

Inside the front door there was a little corridor that opened up into a large rectangular hallway with doors leading off to the different downstairs rooms. In the kitchen to my right I heard the sound of a female voice singing a station jingle.

Still no kids. I started tiptoeing toward the noise in the kitchen. In a loud stage whisper I said, "Well, well, well—I'll have to leave ... seeing as nobody's here ... What a shame, because I've got two presents for two little girls ..."

To my left was the door to the living room, open about a foot or so. I didn't look in as I walked past, but I saw something in my peripheral vision that at first didn't register. Or maybe it did; maybe my brain processed the information and rejected it as too horrible to be true.

It took a second for it to sink in, and when it did my whole body stiffened.

I turned my head slowly, trying to make sense of what was in front of me.

It was Kev. He was lying on his side on the floor, and his head had been battered to shit by a baseball bat. I knew that, because I could see it on the floor beside him. It was one he'd shown off to me on his last visit, a nice light aluminum one. He'd shaken his head and laughed when he said the local rednecks called them Alabama lie detectors.

I was still rooted to the spot.

I thought: Fucking hell, he's dead—or should be, looking at the state of him.

What about Marsha and the kids?

Was the killer still in the house?

I had to get a weapon.

There was nothing I could do about Kev at the moment. I didn't even think of him, just that I needed one of his pistols. I knew where all five of them were concealed in the house, always above child level, and always loaded and ready, a magazine on the weapon and a round in the chamber. All Marsha or Kev had to do was pick up one of the weapons and blast anyone who was pissed off at Kev—and there were more than a few of those in the drug community. I thought, Fuck, they've got him at last.

Very slowly, I put the presents on the floor. I wanted to listen for any creaking of floors, any movement at all around the house.

The living room was large and rectangular; against one wall was a fireplace. On either side of it were alcoves with bookshelves, and I knew that on the second shelf up, on the right, was the world's biggest, fattest thesaurus, and on top of that, tucked well back out of view, just above head level but close enough to reach up for, was a big fat gun. It was positioned so that as you picked it up it would be in the correct position to fire.

I ran. I didn't even look to see if there was anyone else in the room. Without a weapon, it wouldn't have made much difference.

I reached the bookcase, put my hand up, and took hold of the pistol, spun around, and went straight down onto my knees in the aim position. It was a Heckler & Koch USP 9mm, a fantastic weapon. This one even had a laser sight under the barrel—where the beam hits, so does the round.

I took a series of deep breaths. Once I'd calmed myself, I looked down and "checked chamber." I got the topslide and pulled it back a bit. I could see the brass casing in position.

Now what was I going to do? I had my car outside; if that got reported and traced, there'd be all kinds of drama. I was still under my alias cover; if I got discovered, that meant the job got discovered, and then I'd be in a world of shit.

I had a quick look at Kev, just in case I could see breathing. No chance. His brains were hanging out, his face was pulped. He was dead, and whoever had done it was so blasé they'd just thrown the baseball bat down and left it there.

There was blood all over the glass coffee table and the thick shag pile carpet. Some was even splattered on the patio windows. But strangely, apart from that, there wasn't much sign of a struggle.

4

I HAD TO MAKE sure Marsha and the kids weren't still here, tied up in another room or held down by some fucker with a gun to their heads. I was going to have to clear the house.

If only room clearing were as easy as Don Johnson made it look in Miami Vice: run up to the door, get right up against the doorframe, jump out into the middle of it, pistol poised, and win the day. A doorway naturally draws fire, so if you stand in one, you're presenting yourself as a target. If there's a guy waiting for you there with a shotgun, you're dead.

The first room I had to clear was the kitchen; it was the nearest, plus there was sound there.

I was on the opposite side of the living room from the kitchen door.

I started to move along the outside wall of the room. I stepped over Kev, not bothering to look at him. The pistol was out in front of me; it had to be ready to fire as soon as I saw a target. Where your eyes go, the pistol goes.

I mentally divided the room into sections. The first was from the couch halfway across the living room, a distance of about twenty feet; I got there and froze by a big TV stereo setup, which gave me a bit of cover while I cleared the door that led back to the hallway. It was still open.

There was nothing in the hallway. As I moved through, I closed the door behind me. I approached the one to the kitchen. The handle was on the right-hand side; I couldn't see the hinges, so it had to open inward. I moved across to the hinged side and listened. Just above the sound of my breath and that of my heart thumping, I could hear some bonehead going on about "Injured at work? Fight for compensation through our expert attorneys—and remember, no win, no fee."

My pistol arm wasn't completely stretched out but the weapon was still facing forward. I leaned over to the handle, turned it, gave the door a push, and moved back. Then I opened it a bit more from the hinge side to see if there was any reaction from inside the kitchen.

I could hear more of the radio and also a washing machine—turning, stopping, turning. But nothing happened.

With the door now open just a few more inches I could see a small part of the kitchen. I moved forward and pushed the door fully open. Still no reaction. Using the doorframe and wall as cover, I edged around slowly.

As the angle between me and the frame increased, I gradually saw more of the room. I took my time so I could take in the information in stages. If I had to react, being two yards away from the doorframe would not affect my shooting, and if it did, I shouldn't be in this business anyway. Using my right thumb, I pushed the laser sight button. A small dot of brilliant red light appeared on the kitchen wall.

I leaned my body over to present as small a target as possible. If anyone was in the kitchen, all they'd see was a very nervous bit of head, and that would be what they'd have to react to, not the full Don Johnson.

The room was like the Marie Celeste. Food was still on the side in the middle of preparation. Kev had said Marsha was going to cook something special. There were vegetables and opened packs of meat. I closed the door behind me. The radio was now playing some soft rock and the washing machine was on spin. The table was half-set—and that really upset me. Kev and Marsha were very strict on the kids' chores; the sight of the half-set table made me feel sick inside because it heightened the chances of the kids being either dead or upstairs with some fucker who had a 9mm stuck in one of their mouths.

I moved slowly to the other end of the room and locked the door to the garage. I didn't want to clear the bottom of the house only for the guys to come in behind me.

I was starting to sweat big-time. Were Marsha and the kids still in the house, or had they made a run for it? I couldn't just leave. The fuckers who'd done that to Kev would be capable of anything. I was starting to feel my stomach churn. What the fuck was I going to find upstairs?

I went out into the hallway again. As I moved, I had my pistol pointing up the stairs, which were now opposite me. The last room uncleared downstairs was Kev's study. I put my ear to the door and listened. I couldn't hear anything. I did the same drill and entered.

It was a small room, just enough space for some filing cabinets, a desk, and a chair. Shelves on the wall facing the desk were full of books and photographs of Kev shooting, Kev running, that sort of stuff. Everything was now on the floor; the filing cabinets were open and paper strewn everywhere. The only thing not ripped apart was Kev's PC. That was lying on its side on the desk, the screen still showing the British army screensaver I'd sent him for a laugh. The printer and scanner were on the floor beside the desk, but that was where they had always been.

I went back out and looked at the stairs. They were going to be a problem. They went up one flight, then turned back on themselves just before hitting the landing. That meant that I'd have to be a bit of a Houdini to cover my ass getting up there. I wouldn't use the laser now; I didn't want to announce my movements.

I put my foot on the bottom step and started to move up. Fortunately, Kev's stair carpet was a thick shag pile, which helped keep the noise down, but still it was like treading on ice, testing each step gently for creaks, always placing my feet to the inside edge, slowly and precisely.

Once I got level with the landing, I pointed my pistol up above my head and, using the wall as support, moved up the stairs backward, step by step.

A couple of steps; wait, listen. A couple more steps; wait, and listen.

There was only one of me, and I had only thirteen rounds to play with, maybe fourteen, if the round in the chamber was on top of a full magazine. These guys might have semiautomatic weapons for all I knew, or even fully automatic. If they did and were there, it would not be a good day out.

The washing machine was on its final thundering spin. Still soft rock on the radio. Nothing else.

Adrenaline takes over. Despite the air-conditioning, I was drenched with sweat. It was starting to get in my eyes; I had to wipe it with my left hand, one eye at a time.

The girls' room was facing me. From memory there were bunk beds and the world's biggest shrine to Pocahontas—T-shirts and posters, sheets and bedspreads, and even a doll whose back you pressed and she sang something about colors.

I stopped and prepared for the worst.

I reached for the handle and started to clear the room. Nothing.

No one.

For once the room was even clean and tidy. There were piles of teddy bears and toys on the beds. The theme was still Pocahontas, but Toy Story was obviously a close second.

I gradually came out into the hallway, treating it as if it were a new room because I didn't know what might have gone on in the half-minute since I'd left it.

I slowly moved to the next bedroom with my back nearly touching the wall, pistol forward,

As I got nearer to Kev and Marsha's room, I could see that the door was slightly ajar. I couldn't actually see anything inside yet, but as I moved nearer I started to smell something. A faint, metallic tang, and I could smell shit as well. I felt sick. I knew that I'd have to go in.

As I inched around the doorframe I got my first glimpse of Marsha. She was kneeling by the bed, her top half spread-eagled on the mattress. The bedspread was covered with blood.

I sank to my knees in the hallway. I felt myself going into shock. I couldn't believe this was true. This was not happening to this family. Why kill Marsha? It should have been Kev they were after. All I wanted to do was throw my hand in and sit down and cry. But I knew the kids had been in the house. They might still be here.

I got a grip of myself and started to move. I went in, forcing myself to ignore Marsha. The room was clear.

The next job was the master bathroom. I went in, and what I saw made me lose it, totally fucking lose it. Bang, I went back against the wall and slumped onto the floor.

Blood was everywhere. I got it all over my shirt and hands; I sat in a pool of it, soaking the seat of my pants.

Aida was lying on the floor between the bath and the toilet. Her five-year-old head had been nearly severed from her shoulders. There was just three inches of flesh left intact; I could see the vertebrae still holding on.

Turning my head away and looking out of the bathroom, I could now see more of Marsha. I had to hold back my scream. Her dress was hanging normally, but her tights had been torn, her panties were pulled down, and she had soiled herself, probably at the point of death. All I saw at this distance of about fifteen feet was somebody that I really cared for, even loved maybe, on her knees, her blood splattered all over the bed. And she'd had the same done to her as Aida.

I was taking deep breaths and wiping my eyes. I knew I still had another two rooms to clear—another bathroom and the large storeroom above the garage. I couldn't give up now because I might wind up getting dropped myself.

I cleared the other rooms and half-collapsed, half-sat on the landing. I could see my bloody footprints all over the carpet.

Stop, calm down, and think.

What next? Kelly. Where the fuck was Kelly?

Then I remembered the hiding place. Because of the threats to Kev, both kids knew where they had to go and hide in the event of a crisis.

The thought brought me to my senses. If that was where Kelly was hiding, she was safe for the time being. Better to leave her there while I did the other stuff I had to do.

I got up and started to move down the stairs, making sure that, as I moved, I had my pistol pointed. As I descended I could see the blood I had left on the wall and carpet where I'd sat. I was almost willing the attackers to appear. I wanted to see the fuckers.

I got a cloth and a trash bag from the kitchen and started to run around the house wiping door handles and any surfaces where I might have left fingerprints. Then I went over to the patio sliding doors and closed the curtains. I didn't want anybody to discover this mess before I was well out of it, hopefully on a plane back to London.

I took a quick look at Kev and knew I was back in control. He was now just a dead body.

I went back upstairs, washed the blood off my hands and face, and got a clean shirt and a pair of jeans and running shoes from Kev's closet. His clothes didn't fit me, but they would do for now. I bundled my own bloodstained stuff into the trash bag that I'd take with me.

5

KEV HAD SHOWN me the "hidey-hole," as he called it, built under an open staircase that led up to a little makeshift loft stacked with ladders. The kids knew they had to hide there if ever Kev or Marsha shouted the word "Disneyland!"—and they were never ever to come out until Daddy or Mommy came and got them.

I headed to the garage. Pushing the door slightly, I could see the rear of the large metal doors to the right. The garage could easily have taken three extra vehicles besides Kev's company car. "Fucking thing," I remembered Kev saying, "all the luxury and mod cons of the late nineties, in a car that looks like a nineteen-sixties fridge."

The kids' bikes were hanging from frames on the wall, together with all the other clutter that families accumulate in garages. I could see the red laser dot on the far wall.

I moved in and cleared through. There was no one here.

I went back to the area of the staircase. Chances were she wasn't going to come out unless her mom and dad came for her, but as I moved I started to call out very gently, "Kelly! It's Nick! Hello, Kelly, where are you?"

All the time the pistol was pointing forward, ready to take on any threat.

Moving slowly toward the boxes, I said, "Oh well, since you're not here I'll go. But I think I'll have one more look, and I bet you might be hiding underneath the staircase in those boxes. I'll just have a look ... I bet you're in there ..."

There was a pile of large boxes. One had contained a freezer, another a washing machine. Kev had made a sort of cave with them under the staircase and kept a few toys there.

I eased the pistol down my waistband. I didn't want her to see a gun. She'd probably seen and heard enough already.

I put my mouth against a little gap between the boxes. "Kelly, it's me, Nick. Don't be scared, I'm going to crawl toward you. You'll see my head in a minute, and I want to see a big smile ..."

I got down on my hands and knees and kept talking gently as I moved boxes and squeezed through the gap, inching toward the back wall. I wanted to do it nice and slowly. I didn't know how she was going to react.

"I'm going to put my head around the corner now, Kelly."

I took a deep breath and moved my head around the back of the box, smiling away but ready for the worst.

She was there, facing me, eyes wide with terror, sitting curled up in a fetal position, rocking her body backward and forward, holding her hands over her ears.

"Hello, Kelly," I said very softly.

She must have recognized me, but didn't reply. She just kept on rocking, staring at me with wide, scared eyes.

"Mommy and Daddy can't come and get you out at the moment, but you can come with me. Daddy told me it would be OK. Are you going to come with me, Kelly?"

Still no reply. I crawled right into the cave until I was curled up beside her. She'd been crying; strands of light brown hair were stuck to her face. I tried to move them away from her mouth. Her eyes were red and swollen.

"You're in a bit of a mess there," I said. "Do you want me to clean you up? Come on, let's go and get you sorted out, shall we?" I got hold of her rigid hand and gently guided her out into the garage.

She was dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, running shoes, and a blue nylon fleece. Her hair was straight and just above her shoulders, a bit shorter than I remembered it; she was quite lanky for a seven-year-old, with long, skinny legs. I picked her up in my arms and held her tight as I carried her into the kitchen. I knew the other doors were closed; she wouldn't see her dad.

I sat her down on a chair at the table. "Mommy and Daddy said they had to go away for a while but asked me to look after you until they come back, OK?"

She was trembling so much I couldn't tell if her head was nodding or shaking.

I went to the fridge and opened it, hoping to find some comfort food. I found the world's largest Easter egg. "Mmm, yum—do you want some chocolate?"

I'd had a good relationship with Kelly. She was a great kid, and that wasn't just because she was my pal's daughter. I smiled warmly, but she just stared at the table.

I broke off a few pieces and put them on one of the side plates that she'd probably been setting earlier with Aida. I found the Off switch on the radio; I'd had enough relaxing soft rock for one day.

As I looked at Kelly again I suddenly realized I'd fucked up. What was I going to do with her? I couldn't just leave her here: her family was lying dead all over the house. But more important, she knew me. When the police arrived she'd be able to say, "Nick Stone was here." They'd soon find out that Nick Stone was one of Daddy's friends; the house was littered with photographs with me in them. And if they did arrest the grinning drunk in the barbecue shots, they'd find that for some strange reason he wasn't Nick Stone at all—he was Mrs. Stamford's little boy.

Kev's jacket was hanging over one of the chairs. I said, "Let's wrap you up in your dad's coat; that'll keep you nice and warm." At least she'd have something of her dad's; with luck it would cheer her up.

There was just a little bit of whimpering in reply. She was almost in rigor mortis with shock, though at least she had turned her head to look at me now. This was where normally I would have let Marsha take over, because a child's mind was far too complicated for me to work out. But I couldn't do that today.

I wrapped the coat around her and said, "Here you are; get this around you. Look, it's your dad's! Don't tell him, eh, ha ha ha!" I felt something solid in one of the pockets and checked. "Oh good, look, we can phone him up later."

I looked out the window—no movement. I picked up the trash bag, grabbed Kelly's hand, then realized that to reach the front door I'd have to come out of the kitchen and into the hallway.

"Just sit there a second," I said. "I've got to do something."

I had a quick look to make sure the doors were closed. I thought again about fingerprints, but if I'd missed a set, there was nothing I could do about it now. My only thought was to get out of the area and keep Kelly away from the cops until I'd sorted things out.

I went back and got her and checked the front of the house again for movement. She seemed to be finding it hard to walk. I had to grip Kev's coat by the collar, half-dragging her toward the car.

I put her in the front passenger seat and smiled. "There you go; that's nice and warm. Better look after your dad's coat for him. Keep it nice for when you see him."

Then I threw the trash bag in the back, settled into the diver's seat, put my seat belt on, and turned on the ignition.  We drove off at a really sensible pace, nothing outrageous, nothing likely to be noticed.

We'd gone only a few hundred yards when I thought of something; I looked across at her and said, "Kelly, put your seat belt ojn. Do you know how to do that?"

She didn't move, didn't even look at me.  I had to do it for her.

I TRIED TO make small talk.  "It's a nice day today, isn't it? Yep, you'll stay wit me a while; we'll get everything sorted out."

Silence.

My mind switched back to the matter in hand. What was I going to do? Whatever I decided, I knew it was no good where we were at the moment. We needed to lose ourselves in a crowd.  I headed for Tyson's Corner.  I turned to Kelly and smiled, trying to be the happy-go-lucky Uncle Nick, but it just wasn't happening.  She was staring anxiously out the window as if she was being wrenched away from all her familiar landmarks and seeking them for the last time.

"It's OK, Kelly."  I tried to stroke her hari.

She jerked her head away.

Fuck it, just let her get on with it; with luck I'd be able to drop her off somewhere before too long.

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