Poison: Chapter 10

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Ten

NICOLAS sat in one of the half-chewed wicker chairs in his conservatory and, under a single basket shaded lamp, tried to decipher the uneaten part of his son’s note.

He could make out that Nathan was apologising for something and also that he was with Joe, and on closer inspection, he also saw TJ’s name and the words “life or death”. But the rest of the note was either illegible or simply missing.

He stuffed it into his trouser pocket.

The final two words “Love Nathan” stayed neatly etched in Nicolas’s mind as he hurried upstairs to pack a bag and report his findings to Felicity.

In his small double bedroom he stuffed a few bare essentials into a corduroy grip and changed into a baggy jumper, a pair of canvas chinos and some old suede desert boots.

At the last minute he remembered to retrieve Nathan’s note from his old trousers and tuck it into the back pocket of his chinos.

Nicolas then turned off his cottage lights, shut all the doors and hurried out to his car.

As he approached the vehicle, the two goats skittered past him into the darkness.

“Finest Afghan goat curry, both of you,” he growled after them.

On the short drive back to Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas again thought about Nathan’s note and especially the reference to TJ.

Was he missing something? Why would Nathan mention his sister and why the words “life or death”?

Nicolas knew TJ was away on an animal rights activist demonstration somewhere. But she was with friends and she was always self-assured in her texts and postcards home.

But there hadn’t been a postcard or text for over two weeks.

Nicolas wondered whether to telephone his former wife Elizabeth to ask whether she had heard from TJ… and as that thought passed through his mind he found himself outside the front door of Greenfield Mansion.

A cloud passed across the moon as he ran up the steps to the main door and pushed it gently.

It was now well past 2am as he entered the lobby to be greeted by a tired but smiling Felicity.

“Good to see you again, Nicolas,” she said, as he put his grip down next to a large potted aspidistra.

“Come and sit over here… there have been some developments,” she added.

Nicolas obeyed and sat on the chaise longue.

“Would you like a cocoa?” Felicity asked.

“No, I am fine,” was the reply.

“Well then, you’ll never guess what I found,” smiled Felicity, producing Clara’s mobile phone from the seat next to her.

And for the next 10 minutes she told Nicolas every detail of not only the three text messages shared between her daughter and Tony earlier that evening, but of a succession of dozens of texts between the couple from the past few weeks.

“I know Clara is 17 years old and needs some privacy, but I am her mother and I feel she has been less than honest with me,” she said.

“The deceit about the music lessons with Master Anthony is one thing, but matters have gone much too far. And now she is heaven knows where with this man and seems to know far more about what is going on than either you or me.”

Nicolas lightly touched the back of Felicity’s right hand and said gently: “Don’t worry, I am sure the kids are safe and we will get to the bottom of this.”

Felicity turned and smiled, her greying auburn hair caught the moonlight playing through the pane above the main door.

“Are you sure you don’t want that cocoa?” she said more calmly.

“Oh, yes… thank you,” answered Nicolas, rising to his feet.

The two parents ambled through to the kitchen and continued their conversation.

Back at 24 Severn Avenue, Amy was about to ring 999 on her mobile phone.

“No, don’t!” Nathan and Joe shouted almost in unison.

“We must not get the cops involved or TJ could die,” added the younger boy hurriedly.

“Well what do we do?” demanded a now increasingly agitated Amy. “We have a dead man, a wolf, a gun, three bullet holes and another man lying here in front of us in the hallway of my house… we have to do something.”

“Make that two guns,” said Joe, shining a large rubber torch he had just found on the sill next to Amy’s front door.

Joe shone the torch beam at a rifle lying half way up the staircase, then he turned the beam at the doorway of the living room to where Nathan had kicked the revolver.

“Well, I think first of all I need to clear away the bits of fungi,” pressed Nathan, “before someone else touches them by mistake… do you have any other torches, Amy?” he asked.

“Oh and any duct tape?”

Amy hesitated and said she had another torch in her bedroom and a roll of parcel tape in a box in the spare room.

“Parcel tape… well, I suppose that will have to do,” Nathan answered, disappointedly.

“Let me clear the stairs of the fungi and find the other torch and the tape,” he added, taking control of the situation for the second time that night.

“Can you help me pull this dead guy away from the stairs so I can get past… and don’t touch anything else, nor his right hand,” he added.

For the next 15 minutes, the three friends worked together to clear the staircase and make safe the back door with a chair wedged against the broken door handle. The spare torch helped them all see things more clearly.

All the while, Blue stood over the prone body of Klaus, who occasionally let out a small cry of pain or fear as the wolf moved against his bleeding leg.

“Pack a bag for yourself,” Nathan suddenly said to Amy, “We need to get as far away from here as we can. I have read enough Tom Clancy to know these guys are bound to have support somewhere.”

“But it’s my house!” cried Amy.

“And do you feel safe here?” asked Nathan.

“No, I don’t and haven’t felt safe for at least a week until you guys arrived,” she answered.

“Well in that case we need to move now,” said Nathan.

“But where to?” asked Amy.

“Sshhhh, you know where,” Nathan replied, winking at her in the half light.

“But what about this blonde haired man, I reckon he could still hurt us?” asked Joe.

Nathan produced the roll of parcel tape.

“This should slow him down,” he said. “Joe, you put your foot on his right wrist and if he tries to move, press down hard on it.”

Joe did as he was told and gave Klaus’s wrist a test heel.

The man screamed.

“Sshhhh or you’ll wake the whole street,” whispered the younger boy.

Nathan then proceeded, with Amy’s help, to bind Klaus’s mouth with parcel tape before clumsily taping his wrists and ankles to a chair, the banister newel and a hall table.

Satisfied with their work, Nathan quipped: “That should slow him down.”

A decidedly uncomfortable Klaus made increasing moans of pain.

Blue now sat by the man licking at the blood which still oozed from his torn right trouser leg.

Amy then turned to the boys and said: “Okay, now it’s my turn to have a plan and that plan is parked at the end of the road by the river bank! But first of all I want rid of these guns out of my house.”

“Well,” said Joe, “is the river bank near a river?”

“Yes of course it is, stupid!” came the reply.

“Well, seems like a good place to get rid of these guns,” he added with a big grin.

“Let’s go then,” urged Nathan.

“Oh Amy, do you have some cheese?” asked Joe suddenly.

“Yes, I think I have a new block of cheddar in the fridge, why?” she replied.

“You’ll find out soon,” Joe added. “Can Blue come too?”

In the kitchen at Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas and Felicity were sitting on a wooden settle, sharing cocoa from two old TG Green mugs.

Felicity told Nicolas about her call to the local police station.

“I couldn’t believe it, do you know our police station is only part-time. What do we pay our rates for?” she seethed. “Anyway they put me through to headquarters ruddy miles away and I spoke to some jobsworth officer who didn’t even know where Gresburton was,” her anger mounting as she told the story.

“But they have now got Master Anthony’s registration number and assured me they were taking the matter seriously. The officer said he had logged it all on their computer thingy and our local station would pick things up when they open at 8.30am,” she added.

Nicolas reassured Felicity again and reached into the back pocket of his chinos to retrieve the remnants of Nathan’s note. He passed her the piece of paper.

“Blimey!” she gasped as she tried to read the note.

“What do you think it means and why is TJ mentioned?”

“I think it means that we have a couple of leads,” replied Nicolas.

“I think it might be a good idea if you try texting Clara on the number logged on her phone and I will ring the dear witch to see if she has heard from TJ recently, because I have not heard a dicky bird in at least two weeks.”

“That’s odd, I have not heard from Sam recently either,” added Felicity, “And he is usually good at keeping in touch, even when he is abroad.”

“I will text Clara now, but as it is rather late, do you think it might be better to ring Elizabeth in the morning… unless she is at an all-night coven,” Felicity said with a schoolgirlish smirk.

“We can’t do much else now so I suggest you get some sleep, Nicolas. I have had Bob make up a bed for you in the West Wing and I will ask Mrs Wills to cook breakfast early when we are both more awake.”

Nicolas nodded appreciatively.

“Let me show you to the room,” offered Felicity, “And don’t forget your bag.”

“I will let you know if Clara replies to my text,” she added, giving Nicolas a tiny peck on his cheek.

In Shrewsbury, Amy, Joe and Nathan walked briskly down Severn Avenue towards the river bank. A few yards behind them a wolf slunk quietly along the bushes taking care to stay out of glow from the street lights. Further back the front door of number 24 had been closed tight. Inside, Klaus was struggling to free himself from the parcel tape manacles.

Two streets away in the bed and breakfast room, Clara was woken by two text messages. The first was from Tony, telling her he was parked outside and would wait until morning. The second message was from her mother.

Clara sent a single ‘x’ text back to Tony and lay puzzling how to reply to the second message.

Outside, Tony’s tired blue eyes were adjusting to the darkness when he suddenly saw two young boys and an older girl all hurry by at the end of the road. Each was carrying a bag and the girl appeared to also be carrying a long item in her left hand that looked like a fishing rod or a gun! Some yards behind them loped a large grey animal.

Tony gasped loudly. The animal turned its head and its piercing green eyes looked towards him.

The Hill: Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light

WP Hill

FROM childhood sexual abuse, through cancer, bankruptcy, divorce, loss of two of my children, a nervous breakdown, recovery and meeting the most wonderful woman in the world, my life has come full circle. So The Hill: Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light is now complete and ready to go to the printers tomorrow morning. 100 pages of angst, joy, reflection and opinion. Pre-order your copy now for just £3.99 plus £1.80 P&P (UK postage) for first day issue. Will personally sign your copy if you wish.
Thank you to Gill, Nathan, Helen, Nicky, Angela, both my mums and many gorgeous friends for their input and help.

The False Widow

The dawn it screams in anger

How can it now be true?

How can the hope that dangled


Be sewn with weeds anew?

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances


Until there is no fight

The morning conjures bleakly

How quickly life can change

They measured their options


Behind the kitchen range

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances


Until there is no fight

The noontime sun advances

Their motives are quite clear

The marionette now stands


Looking beyond the frozen sphere

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances


Until there is no fight

So evening calls more quietly

A vague hope it still clings

Touching love and life


And cutting webs and strings

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances


Until there is no fight

So dust the broom in moonlight

Keep it clean and new

The way ahead still lies


Until morning’s early dew

Return of the Pale Rider

Kobane it falls to ISIS

Murder’s irony is not so sweet

The West it turns its shoulders

Watches the news and tries to sleep


On Gaza’s shattered pasture

They grieve for their own kin

In the dark Israeli kitchens

They can’t wash away their sin


Many millions gaze in anger

A million more cry tears of shame

When they see what they have done

What’s been done in their own name


The Kurdish sky now turns red

As the women are raped below

They cry in the name of Allah

Their black flag is just a show


Back in bloody Palestine

They struggle to rebuild

The world it looks away

Their compassion has been filled


Many millions gaze in anger

A million more cry tears of shame

When they see what they have done

What’s been done in their own name


On Turkey’s frozen border

The generals stand and stare

The USA’s dirty dollars

Makes it easier to bare


Behold a pale rider

The oil baron he just stands

60 years still with the desert dust

Slipping slowly through his hands


Many millions gaze in anger

A million more cry tears of shame

When they see what they have done

What’s been done in their own name


Back home in middle England

And in the mid-west towns

The voters are manipulated

As false manikins and clowns


They say there is no money

For hospitals and schools

But billions left for weapons

We are treated worse than fools


Many millions gaze in anger

A million more cry tears of shame

When they see what they have done

What’s been done in their own name

That Lucky Old Sun

TODAY (2nd October, 2014) is the 10th anniversary that my musical hero – and the world’s best fiddle player – Dave Swarbrick underwent a double lung transplant which ultimately saved his life.

From his early days with the Ian Campbell Folk Group to his recent forays with his good friend and English folk musician Martin Carthy, Dave – or Swarb to his fans – occupies a true legend status.

Although short in stature, he has always been larger than life with his high octane virtuoso fiddle playing, wit and banter and infectious personal charm.

But, during his 50s and early 60s Dave suffered steadily worsening health due to emphysema. There was huge embarrassment for the Daily Telegraph in 1999 when it published a premature obituary for Swarb, after he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection.

At the time he famously commented: “It’s not the first time I’ve died in Coventry.”

Almost immediately his long-time friend and drinking buddy Dave Pegg (Fairport Convention) and Dave’s wife Christine launched the SwarbAid appeal. This included a fund-raising concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in July 1999, and a limited-edition EP recorded live, to raise cash for Dave whilst his poor health was preventing him from working. It is a personal delight that I still have a copy of that EP.

After a relapse a few years later, they launched SwarbAid II with a similar concert in 2004 – and yes I have that T Shirt too! Dave received his double lung transplant on 2nd October that year.

During the past 10 years he has resumed his career with fervour, as a solo performer and tours every Autumn with Martin Carthy. In 2007 he joined his old cohorts from Fairport Convention on their 40th anniversary as a band at Cropredy to play their legendary album Liege and Lief in its entirity on stage. It is one of the musical highlights of my life to have been there and witness Swarb play as amazingly as ever.

Then this summer – following a flurry of emails – I was lucky enough to visit Dave’s home where his wife Jill gave me one of his old fiddles (for a donation in return – okay I bought it!).

So this morning as I thought about Dave, his humour, his music and his health something suddenly dawned on me. It was something which had almost passed me by.

You see, 27 years ago today I was lying in a bed in St Lawrence’s Hospital in Chepstow, South Wales recovering from cancer surgery.

The operation one week earlier was quite radical. To remove a malignant tumour, the size of an orange, the surgeons took away my right shoulder muscle and replaced it by re-routing one of my pectorals. Additionally they cut a dinner plate sized flap of flesh from the middle of my back to give my shoulder a good covering of flesh before seven weeks of radiotherapy.

Other than the cancer spreading to my right lung seven months later (which required more surgery) the first operation was a complete success. I lost a little mobility and strength and my off spin bowling action was definitely illegal, but it is a small price to pay for my life and the lives of three children.

The only downside is sometimes the muscles on the left of my back try to over compensate if I overdo it – and bang the back goes. I guess over more than a quarter of a century that has happened about ten times.

And it happened yesterday afternoon while working on demolishing and rebuilding an old Victorian wall in my garden. The result is that since about 6pm last night I have been hobbling around like an old cripple.

Subsequently I have spent most of today lying on our bed, watching the sun stream through the window, thinking bugger I am sore, but how fucking lucky I am to be here at all.

I guess Dave must feel the same!

Going down to the bottom with a fist full of lies

It has been quite a while since I have rebooted one of my newspaper investigations. So here is one exclusive I still treasure. It involves a convicted fraudster called Alex Lothian. I first met Mr Lothian – and was taken in by – while Chief Reporter at the Galloway Gazette in early 1994. I followed him while at The Scotsman and his final comeuppance came in Cupar Sheriff Court in May 1995, while I was working for The Herald. Guys like these – and I have come across far too many of them – are leeches on society.


A FRAUDSTER whose most recent deal was to front a £35 million heritage project was convicted yesterday in a case involving £1,700.

Alex Lothian, 44, of Newgrange Park, Pittenweem, was ordered by Sheriff Charles Smith at Cupar to do 250 hours of community service.

Afterwards, Lothian said he was a ”ruined man” and he would never work again.

He was originally indicted on two separate charges. The first alleged attempted fraud of £280,000 and obtaining £15,000 in connection with the failed Litetronics Lamps business in Anstruther during 1991 and 1992. The second charge was of fraudulently obtaining £1,716.02 from a Stranraer deer farmer, James Baxter.

His trial began on May 2 and was set to last at least three weeks. However, three days into proceedings, after only two witnesses were called, the fiscal, Alan Kempton, offered an amendment to the charges.

In return for dismissing the first charges, Lothian pled guilty to the fraud against Mr Baxter and financial consultant Douglas McIntyre and farming consultant Alastair Gray.

He admitted defrauding Mr Baxter of £1,716.02 by pretending he was acting on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry.

His QC, Edward Targowski, yesterday pled for his client to be spared a custodial sentence to allow him to care for his 82-year-old invalid mother.

However, Sheriff Smith, noting that Lothian already had a criminal record for fraud, said: ”It is obvious that you have returned to your bad ways. Your offence was deliberate and involved stealing. You seem to have ideas beyond your abilities and those who are unfortunate to become involved in your projects become the victims.

”No doubt a custodial sentence is appropriate for you,” he said, adding that it was a ”narrow decision” to impose 240 hours of community service to indicate the gravity of the offence.

In the summer of 1992, Mr Baxter was struggling to maintain his deer farm at Leswalt, near Stranraer, and decided to investigate plans to diversify.

He was introduced to Lothian as a business consultant but Lothian falsely claimed to be a licensed credit broker and DTI adviser.

Mr Baxter was soon convinced that the Fife consultant could help him. Lothian increased his credibility when he introduced an innocent party, Alastair Gray, who he claimed was a deer farming expert.

On August 5, 1992, Mr Baxter received written proposals for his farm’s redevelopment and details of DTI assistance and Government loans.

The sting was attached to the end of the document: ”The charges for consultancy services will be on the basis of £25 per hour exclusive of VAT and do not include expenses for any travel, telephone, postage, facsimile or typing charges which will be billed at cost.” The first £1,000 had to be delivered upfront.

Mr Baxter was instructed to hand over a £500 deposit ”made payable to Alex Lothian”.

More than a week later, Lothian presented his scheme to develop the farm into a profitable deer park and visitor centre. The plans included a tree-top walkway, an activity wood, restaurant, gift shop, and exhibition area.

Two days after Mr Baxter paid his deposit and a further £500 ”to set up the consultancy contract”, a bill for £504 arrived from Lothian for the first 16 hours of Mr Gray’s consultancy time.

Further bills, varying from £3.53 for a business lunch to £212 for VAT, were soon dropping through the letter-box. However, as a request for a further £1,000 of consultancy work arrived, Mr Douglas McIntyre of St Monance — who was innocently involved in the Frances mine project as Lothian’s financial adviser — had been tipped off about Lothian’s activities and in turn warned Mr Baxter.

His warning came as Lothian — now gaining new confidence — uprated his consultancy fees to £50 per hour.

”It was only a bit of nifty footwork in stopping cheques so quickly that he only managed to get £1,001 from me,” observed Mr Baxter. ”I saved £700 and could have lost a lot more.

”He was a cracking good con-man. All sort of suckers get taken in by Alex Lothian. Thank God he has now got his come-uppance. It may stop him repeating his routine again.”

Soon after defrauding Mr Baxter, Lothian became involved in a bogus £35 million heritage project to restore the derelict house and grounds of Barnbarroch, 20 miles away near Wigtown.

The brains behind the project — Andrew McCulloch, 59, a solicitor and property developer — was jailed two months ago for defrauding the Royal Bank of Scotland out of £300,000 in a gamble to keep other business interests afloat.

Last October, Lothian was forced to resign as consultant to the project, as he faced fraud charges involving his activities in Stranraer and Anstruther.

In 1993, while attending a business course in Newton Stewart and with the help of a public grant of £2,400, McCulloch developed a scheme for a cultural theme park similar to the Landmark Centre near Aviemore.

McCulloch was introduced to Lothian, who also saw the opportunity to cash in on Scottish interest in its cultural history.

By October, Lothian had launched a £20 million development plan for Barnbarroch House and its 3,500 acres.

He claimed the scheme would create more than 200 jobs and was supported by a project consortium including merchant banks and conglomorate companies. The funding and backers did not exist.

The project, he said, would include a nature reserve, historical and cultural centre, theatre, museum, butterfly farm, forest walkway, leisure centre, shops, restaurant, and 300 holiday chalets; and would attract one million visitors a year to economically depressed Wigtownshire.

Despite the hype, nothing happened for six months and the regional council’s planning department closed its file on the development.

In May 1994, Lothian admitted he and McCulloch had parted company.

Lothian told the press: ”Too late we discovered that Mr McCulloch did not have his own funding to go ahead.”

He said a new scheme was under way involving a £23 million trust status development of Barnbarroch as a national museum and educational centre with residential accommodation provided by 200 Norwegian chalets.

Another four months passed before a second relaunch of the Barnbarroch scheme was undertaken with uprated costings of £35 million.

Lothian claimed that more than 25,000 people had already joined the trust, each subscribing £30 a year to the scheme and between £2 million and £3 million had been raised. Investigations by The Herald discovered that no such membership or level of investment existed.

Within a few days of the relaunch, Lothian appeared at Cupar Sheriff Court on charges involving fraud.

Last night, Lothian told the Herald: ”I am happy to admit I have made mistakes. But I am a ruined man because of this conviction, press reports, and the way the police have warned people against me.

”One thing’s for certain. I’ll never work again.”