Poison: Chapter 12

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Twelve

THE sun rose orange over the trees by the parked camper van. Inside, Amy and the two boys slept soundly, exhausted by the events of the previous 24 hours.

Blue sniffed at the double side door and scratched at his ruff with a hind leg. All was still. It was just past 5am and for the humans there was more sleeping to do. But the wolf was wide awake and hungry. He sniffed again, this time in the direction of the partly opened rear window.

Suddenly and with effortless ease, he jumped up onto the rear cabinet and eased his head and front legs through the window. In another movement he was free, leapt onto the tarmac and sloped into the bushes alongside the van. Nathan blinked at the slight noise, but his tired eyes refused to focus and he drifted off to sleep.

Outside, Blue was sidling along the fence of the neighbouring field, eyeing curiously some sheep grazing on the dew covered grass 200 metres away. The wolf had started to stalk the young ewe at the edge of the flock when a buck rabbit suddenly darted out of the undergrowth next to him. With a pounce, he was upon the hapless creature and his jaws locked around its neck. He dragged the dead rabbit into the bushes and began to enjoy his breakfast.

Some 70 miles away, a red Porsche Boxster was parked at a service station on the southbound M40. Inside its occupants were also sleeping, cramped on the black leather seats of the smart sports car. Exhaustion had taken its toll. Empty crisp packets and a half eaten chicken sandwich were strewn on the floor of the passenger side by Clara’s feet.

It was now just past 6am and the service area was waking up to early risers filling their cars with fuel. The driver of an articulated truck walked sleepily to the washrooms in the main foyer.

Tony blinked his eyes, dazzled by the morning sun shining through the driver’s side window. He glimpsed the figure of a man walking across the car park. He quietly cursed at the fact they had not managed to secure a motel room for the night… or was it the morning? he asked himself. He looked across at Clara who was still sleeping soundly and silently opened the car door. He stepped out into the warm morning air, closed the door and followed the steps of the trucker he had seen a minute earlier.

Five minutes later, refreshed by a quick wash, Tony ambled to the coffee bar next to the main foyer. He ordered two flat whites and carried the steaming cardboard mugs back towards the car.

He stepped out onto the forecourt and gasped loudly as a black BMW flashed by towards the filling station.

“You stupid blighter!” Tony shouted at the driver.

But inside the black car, Klaus was oblivious to the anger of the man he had almost hit and knew he needed fuel and a black coffee to keep himself awake. The two hours’ sleep he had managed to grab back in Shrewsbury had taken the edge off his tiredness, but disposing of Klaus’s body had added its own burden of weariness.

He stopped the BMW next to a fuel pump and glanced around for any sign of police cars. There was none, just a few trucks and a red Porsche parked 200 metres away.

He noticed a solitary man, who appeared to be carrying a couple of cartons, glance his way and wondered why he was looking at him.

Tony again glared at the driver of the black BMW and muttered another expletive in his direction.

As he opened the driver’s door of his Porsche, Clara woke with a huge yawn and smiled as she saw Tony’s face. She breathed in the morning air and said: “Ah, coffee, how lovely of you.”

Tony sat next to her, and still fuming, he answered: “Thought we both needed something strong to keep us going.” He handed Clara one of the coffees and kissed her right cheek.

“See that blinkin’ black BMW over there by the pumps? Well, its driver almost ran me over and I think he didn’t even realise it,” Tony added grumpily.

Clara shot a look in the direction of the filling station. With her left hand, she wiped some sleep from her eyes and looked again.

“Flipping hell,” she said suddenly, “I recognise that man and that car!”

Back at the service area on the M54, Blue had digested his first breakfast and was now sniffing at left overs in the bins by the burger bar. The wolf licked its lips at a half-eaten double cheeseburger and sat on the grass to devour it in one bite.

Around him cars, vans and trucks were busying about and the car park was starting to fill up.

Commuters, lorry drivers and holidaymakers were grabbing a quick breakfast or filling their vehicles with fuel.

A few yards away a young girl suddenly shouted: “Look, mummy, look at that big doggy!”

A fair-haired woman peered in the direction of the ‘big doggy’.

“Wow, that’s the biggest German Shepherd I’ve ever seen,” she said aloud. “Hold my hand, darling, and don’t try to stroke it, it may bite. Now let’s get some breakfast, darling, it is still a long drive to our holiday cottage.”

The girl grabbed hold of her mother’s hand.

“Nasty doggy,” she shouted at Blue.

The wolf sniffed the air and slinked back to the cover of the hedges.

Inside the burger bar, an older man was watching though the window as he finished his cup of tea and egg muffin. His grey eyes looked towards the young girl and then at the large animal disappearing into the bushes.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered to himself, “That’s a blinkin’ wolf if ever I saw one!”

He took a last sip of tea and walked into the passage by the burger bar, towards the blue telephone booth.

Inside the booth he lifted the handset and quickly dialled 999. When prompted he asked to be put through to the police.

Back at Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas was waking from a deep sleep and familiarising himself with the unfamiliar room. Sunlight was peeping through the gap in the dark green velvet curtains.

Nicolas yawned and stretched his arms wide as he glanced at the clock on the bedside table.

“Blimey, It’s past seven-thirty,” he gasped.

At that moment, there was a knock on his bedroom door.

“Yes, come in, I am decent,” Nicolas replied.

The ruddy face of Bob the butler peered round the door.

“Good morning, Sir,” he said brightly.

“Let me draw back the curtains for you. Her ladyship wanted me to ask you whether kippers, porridge and some poached eggs would suit you for breakfast, sir?”

“Wow, that would be lovely, thank you, Bob,” Nicolas answered.

“Oh don’t thank me, Sir, thank Mrs Wills, she is quite the finest cook this side of the border,” Bob breezed, as he drew back the curtains.

“I have also packed the Rolls as I think her ladyship wants to leave before nine,” he added.

Indeed, Felicity was already dressed and in the kitchen, demanding to know why Joy wasn’t already about her chores.

“Oh Mrs Wills, do we have fresh kippers, they are quite scrummy?” she asked the cook.

“Yes, madam, they were fresh in yesterday afternoon and I have kept them chilled in the fridge,” the cook replied.

“Good, and do you mind putting together a hamper of sandwiches and coffee, as I think we may have a bit of driving to do today,” added Felicity.

In the corner of the kitchen, a small TV was switched to the 24 hour news channel.

Felicity took in the round-up of the morning’s news and determined to telephone the local police station again as soon as it was open for business.

“And Clara still hasn’t replied to my text,” she snapped quietly.

Suddenly, she froze as the news reel at the bottom of the TV screen reported: “Motorway service station evacuated after wolf attacks child.”

Back at the M54 service station, the truth was far from that.

But over 40 frightened faces looked out nervously from the sanctuary of the burger bar and the filling station shop.

Six police cars circled the parking area and four uniformed officers armed with high powered rifles combed the bushes near where the old man and a waitress had both claimed they had seen the wolf.

Just over 150 metres away across the car park, Blue was crouched at the side door of the VW Camper van scratching quietly at the brown paintwork. The wolf knew that humans with guns were big trouble and his animal sense told him that they were looking for him.

His green eyes darted between the men with the guns, instantly computing where each one was walking next.

He stared at one marksman approaching the van, and snarled.

Poison: Chapter 11

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Eleven

TONY stared back at the creature as it moved off along the riverbank road behind the three humans. He looked again at the profile of the taller of the two boys and gulped.

“Blimey, that is Master Joe and I’ll be a Dutch man if that isn’t his wolf with him,” he muttered to himself.

Quietly, the 20-year-old opened the leather lined car door and stepped onto the pavement next to the Bed and Breakfast. He felt a burden of guilt towards Lady Felicity that compelled him to investigate further.

Meanwhile, 100 yards away on the riverbank road, Amy climbed back over a wooden fence with a look of relief on her face.

“Well, that’s those horrible guns taken care of,” she said. “Now I want to introduce you to Gertrude,” she added, pointing to a large parking bay opposite.

“Gertrude?” exclaimed Joe.

“Yes, she is TJ’s – and my – pride and joy. She is awesome,” Amy enthused.

Across the road was parked an old brown and cream VW camper van, which even at first glance looked like it had seen better days.

“We have been to six music festivals in her,” said Amy, “and this summer we had planned to take her to France… but I guess things have changed.”

“So does she still go?” asked Joe eagerly.

“Yes, of course she does,” Amy replied with a hint of hurt in her voice. “I have not driven her in a couple of weeks and she needs some petrol, but I reckon she will get us to London.

“And, yes Joe, you can bring your wolf with us, if you promise it won’t eat us all on the way,” she added, smiling at the young boy.

Joe grinned. “Did you bring that cheese,” he asked, “cos Blue is hungry.”

“Cheese!” exclaimed Amy. “A wolf eats cheese?”

“Yep, he loves it,” Joe volunteered, “seen him eat two pounds of cheddar in one sitting.”

“Yeah, and he was sick all over your mum’s floor right afterwards,” Nathan reminded him.

Joe grimaced at the memory of being forced by Joy the scullery maid to clean up the mess before his mum found out.

“Anyway, I think we all need to get away from here before that blonde haired guy breaks free and follows us,” Nathan added with renewed urgency.

Amy unlocked the camper van and the boys bundled their belongings into the back and battled over who would sit in the front. Amy stopped a row developing by insisting that both Joe and Nathan sit in the back and keep Blue company.

Once inside, Amy pulled out the choke and turned the ignition key. It took three turns before the engine spluttered into life and a loud rumbling sound emanated from beneath the bonnet.

“Exactly how old is Gertrude?” asked Nathan.

“Ooh, she was born in about 1978,” replied Amy. “She is a later model, you can tell by the big bay windscreen,” she added.

“Wow that makes her over 30 years old,” exclaimed Nathan, “You sure she will get us to London?”

“No problem,” said Amy as the camper van pulled out along the riverbank road in the direction of the old prison.

Just 50 yards away, behind a large rhododendron bush at the corner of Albert Avenue, Tony was watching everything. He had noted down the registration number of the camper van and was convinced he heard the girl say ‘London’.

He knew he needed to move fast.

Inside 24 Severn Avenue, Klaus had pulled the parcel tape, which had bound him to the bannister newel, from his left wrist and hand and was carefully unwrapping the tape from his other wrist. He squirmed in pain, as the wolf’s bite had gone deep and blood was still oozing from his wrist and leg. He glanced across at the body of Rolf and considered himself lucky.

“Those verdammf kids,” he said aloud. “They, and that wolf, are going to pay for this… this is now personal,” he added with menace in his voice.

Three minutes later, he had freed himself from the amateur bindings of the parcel tape and pulled himself to his feet, crying out in pain as he straightened his right leg.

He looked down at Rolf, bent over and felt for a pulse. But his colleague’s purple face betrayed the fact that he had been dead for a while.

Klaus limped to the front door and walked gingerly across the road to his parked black BMW.

He opened the driver’s door and climbed inside. The car felt cold and stank of cigarette smoke and stale sweet and sour chicken.

He look at his mobile phone in the door pocket. It told him he had received eight unanswered calls from headquarters, two voice mail messages and three text messages. He read the texts first then listened to the voicemails. His face whitened some more and his lips tightened.

Carefully, he lifted the laptop out from under the passenger seat and switched on. The machine beeped four times and the familiar face of the controller peered at him from the 14 inch screen.

“What the hell is happening Klaus?” the voice of the grey haired man demanded.

“And why have you not answered my calls?”

Contrition battled with reason as Klaus spent the next 15 minutes explaining to his boss the night’s events. He used the words “I’m sorry boss” at least eight times as he recounted the story.

“Right, Klaus, you are now on borrowed time,” demanded the boss.

“You need to do three things… first get Rolf’s body out of that house and dispose of it somewhere where it will not be found. Make sure you take any identification from him before you do that. We don’t want the bungling British police crawling all over this, do we?”

“Then you get yourself cleaned up and get back to London as quickly as you can, while I call in some back-up for you.

“Finally, you make it your one mission to get the evidence left by that blasted girl and eliminate the other girl and her accomplices.

“Failure to do any of that and you will end up as fish feed… I will see to that personally.

“Do I make myself clear… we must protect the company.”

“Ya, I mean yes, boss, will see to it right away.”

And with that he closed the screen, dabbed at his leg and began the first task.

Outside the Bed and Breakfast, Tony sat in his Porsche and texted Clara his news.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the teenager had decided the leave a reply to her mother until the morning and try and grab a bit of sleep in the meantime.

Suddenly, her mobile beeped again and she glanced down to see the new message from Tony.

She read it twice and leapt out of bed to look out of the window. She waved down at the red car parked below. Tony looked up and waved back.

Her phone rang and Tony talked through everything he had seen and heard on the riverbank road a few minutes earlier.

“Oh crikey,” Clara exclaimed, “We need to follow them.”

“Bit late to do that now, but they won’t go very fast in the old van they are in,” he added. “And I have the registration number. There surely aren’t that many brown and cream bangers around like that anymore.”

Clara was already getting dressed while balancing her mobile phone between her chin and shoulder.

“I have had to pay for this blinkin’ room in advance, so I have no worries about leaving without saying goodbye. And if the breakfast is anything like the room, the old bat downstairs can keep it,” she said.

With that, Clara quietly opened her bedroom door and crept downstairs. She left her keys on the hall table and gently unlocked the front door.

On the street she and Tony hugged each other closely and kissed quickly.

“Come on darling, we need to move,” he urged. “A bag of things for you is in the back and we can stop at a service station soon, so you can freshen up. Anyway, I am low on petrol and need to fill up as well.”

“I reckon that to get to London, they will go by motorway all the way, unless that van falls apart before it gets to the M6,” he laughed.

Clara laughed with him and held his left hand tightly as they moved towards the Porsche.

They climbed inside and kissed briefly again.

The engine roared and soon the car was pulling onto the riverside road in the direction of the prison.

Back at Greenfield Mansion, Nicolas slept soundly in the Elizabeth Room. On the other side of the house, Felicity was not so lucky. She sat upright in her four poster, stewing over her daughter’s failure to respond to her text message and the fact she had seemingly now switched off her mobile phone. She also began to worry deeply about the safety of her darling Joe… and Nicolas’ rather lovely boy, Nathan. Then she thought about Nicolas himself and felt warmed by his kindness and resourcefulness over the past 16 hours. He was actually rather a handsome guy, she mused.

Sometime later, at an all-night service station off the M54 near Wolverhampton, a red Porsche Boxster pulled up at the pumps.

Tony turned to Clara, who was asleep next to him. “Hey girl, do you want to take this bag into the ladies room over there and change and things? I’ll fill up with fuel and get some snacks and drinks from the service area. Anything you fancy?”

Clara nodded: “A strong coffee please… and thank you Tony.”

She kissed him on the cheek, grabbed the leather holdall from behind the passenger seat and made her way across the forecourt.

Tony got out from the driver’s side and selected high performance green from the fuel pump.

Less than 200 yards away in the overnight parking area of the service station, two green eyes watched every move from the shelter of a brown and cream VW Camper van.

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.

Poison: Chapter Nine

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield

Book 1: Poison

Chapter Nine

NICOLAS pulled his car onto the now familiar gravel outside Greenfield Mansion. The moon played shadows on the steps to the front door as he and Felicity quickly made their way indoors. The lobby and drawing room lights were still burning and the house seemed unusually warm. Nicolas suddenly remembered that he had probably left his own back door open and his cottage would be far from warm.

“Blinkin’ goats!” he spouted involuntarily.

“Pardon?” exclaimed Felicity.

“Oh, nothing important,” answered Nicolas. “I have just remembered that I probably left my back door open and you can bet the goats will be in the kitchen or conservatory again… the blighters make such a mess if they get inside.”

Felicity smiled broadly and giggled to herself quietly. Nicolas’s cottage was a mess anyway, she thought.

“Look, I have an idea,” she said, brightening suddenly.

“Why don’t you pop home and sort out your goats and things, pack a bag and come back. I can get Bob to make up a bed for you in the West Wing and we can plan what to do next.

“Meanwhile I will telephone the police station,” she added.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Nicolas. “And a good one too… I won’t be long,” he added. He made his way back towards the front door, the stopped and turned towards Felicity.

“Oh, the registration plate on Tony’s Porsche is T04Y WWD,” he said.

“Crikey, that was observant of you,” Felicity replied, blowing an air kiss in his direction.

Nicolas blushed and waved as he hurried outside.

Back at Severn Avenue, all hell had broken loose.

In what seemed to be a co-ordinated simultaneous action the younger man, Rolf, tumbled forward down the stairs cracking his head hard on the bottom banister as he fell.

At that same moment a grey haired animal leapt from the open front door and sank its fangs into the right leg of the blonde haired man Klaus. The pain of the animal’s bite shot up his leg into his thigh and groin. He crumpled to one side, firing his silenced Walther revolver three times into the kitchen door. The wolf was upon him, now biting hard into his right wrist until the gun dropped onto the hallway carpet. Quick as a flash Nathan kicked out and sent the revolver spinning into the open living room.

Amy froze.

“Blue!” Joe yelled. “You beauty!”

“Blinkin’ heck,” gasped Nathan, “What is he doing here and what a life saver!”

The wolf was now standing astride a terrified Klaus, slavering onto his face.

The wolf made eye contact with Joe as the young boy ordered: “Hold… don’t kill!”

Nathan moved towards the body of Rolf, who lay just four feet away. The man’s swollen right hand gave away the secret. TJ’s bag and its contents lay scattered on the stairs, and in the half-light, Nathan examined where the pieces of fungi had fallen.

Nathan turned to Amy and Joe, who were now both on their feet.

Amy was shaking almost uncontrollably as Nathan ordered: “Don’t touch anything… this other guy is dead… but I think it was the fall that killed him and not the Grey Skull shrooms!”

Joe placed a hand on Amy’s arm and hugged her.

“Don’t touch that grey stuff on your stairs, Amy, they are poisonous,” he told her.

He turned to Nathan and added: “And you, matey, are a legend.”

Amy was slowly regaining her composure. She moved quickly and closed the front door. As she did so she noticed the lights in a number of houses opposite were switched on and she could see faces peering out of one upstairs window.

“Whaaaat is that?” she stammered pointing at Blue.

“Never seen a wolf before,” Joe grinned back at her. “He’s mine, he’s called Blue… but I’ll be blowed how he got here! Look, he will let you pet him,” he added, tousling Blue’s mane.

Under the wolf, the blond haired man’s face was almost white with fear as the animal’s dribble trickled around his chin and throat. Blood oozed from his leg and right wrist. His grey eyes blinked into the unflinching green eyes of his captor and guard.

“We need to ring the police now,” interrupted Amy urgently.

At Landfill Cottage, Nicolas’s VW pulled up outside the back door. He jumped out and ran into the conservatory. The door was still open, blowing back and forth in the gentle night time breeze. He reached for the light switch and in the electric glow he surveyed the devastation that two unattended goats could cause. Chewed wicker furniture, a broken mug, a ruined rug and half eaten tomato plants gave an indication what lay ahead.

“Oh dang it, blinkin’ goats,” Nicolas swore.

He turned on the kitchen lights and viewed the mess, which included a well gnawed pine chair and two decimated wooden door handles, while the entire contents of the veg rack and the kitchen waste bin were strewn everywhere.

Next to the kitchen range, two content goats slept soundly.

Nicolas moved quickly towards the animals. He poked the first goat with his foot and shouted: “Right you two… outside!”

The animals started, before obediently trotting out through the kitchen door and into the conservatory. Nicolas followed and watched as the younger of the two animals stopped to take a bite out of what was left of a tomato plant.

“No, Annie, get outside!” he shouted.

The goats broke into a run through the conservatory door and onto the veranda, leaving pebble-shaped involuntary mementoes of their stay as they ran.

Nicolas shut the door behind them and began the tiresome task of cleaning up the mess.

Two full black bin bags and a matted broom later, the kitchen was passable. He would need to clean it properly another time.

The conservatory was a different matter. The mess of chewed tomato plants, strewn compost and goat poo needed a shovel, a bucket, disinfectant and a mop.

Nicolas had just finished the cleaning and was thinking about selling the goats and packing an overnight bag when he noticed a piece of half chewed note paper on the floor by the left hand window. The paper betrayed his son’s neat handwriting and he could make out the words: “Love Nathan”. He bent down, picked up what remained of the note and began to read it.

A mile away in the lobby of Greenfield Mansion, her Ladyship was explaining to Bob about their pursuit of Master Anthony.

“I need to speak to his father,” she was saying, “He has as good as abducted my daughter. He is in real trouble when I catch up with him.”

“Yes Ma’am,” said Bob, yawning.

“Oh, Bob,” I am so very sorry,” gulped Lady Felicity. “It is well past your duty hours and your bedtime. Please get yourself to bed and thank you for everything you have done.” “Thank you Ma’am,” answered the butler, “But as long as you are sure there is nothing else I can do tonight.”

“Oh, just one small thing,” Lady Felicity remembered. “Do you mind turning back the bed and putting a radiator on in the Elizabeth Room in the West Wing… Mr Sunnybank may be staying tonight?”

“Not at all,” answered Bob as he trotted off towards the back staircase, grinning quietly to himself.

Felicity sat on the chaise longue next to the landline telephone in the lobby and prepared to give the local police station both barrels of her anger.

She breathed in deeply and was about to dial the station’s number when she noticed Clara’s pink mobile phone on the lobby table next to her.

“Blimey, I thought Master Anthony had taken that,” she exclaimed loudly.

She picked up the phone and for the first time since her daughter was fourteen decided to read her text messages.

“I know I shouldn’t but a mother must do what a mother must do,” she muttered.

Felicity quickly scanned the most recent text conversation and grew quickly agitated when she read the recent exchange between Clara and Tony.

The agitation turned to fear and anger when she then read Clara’s original text message.

“I am unsure who is going to feel my wrath first,” she fumed, “my darling daughter or that duplicitous boy!”

“But I am sure of one thing… the police need to know now!!

And she began to dial the police station number on her landline phone.

At Albert Avenue in Shrewsbury, a red Porsche Boxster pulled up under a leafy Rowan tree outside a terraced house advertising bed and breakfast. The car’s occupant glanced at the upstairs windows of the building and then at the packed holdall on the passenger seat.

“Phew, that was close getting away from Lady Felicity and that guy from the cottage,” Tony thought to himself. “I hope she doesn’t involve dad in all of this or there could be hell to pay. I just hope it is all worth it.”

He turned to his mobile phone and sent a short text to Clara.

Two streets away in a black BMW, a laptop computer was beeping for attention. Almost 140 miles further away, the caller’s steel grey eyes were growing agitated at the failure of his operatives to respond.

The last text message on his phone simply read: “We are moving on the girl now.”

But there had been no further contact for more than an hour.

In a room less than three miles from this location two blank eyes gazed towards the ceiling of a surgically clean painted room.

Poison: Chapter Eight

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield
Book 1: Poison
Chapter Eight

BACK at Greenfield Mansion two frantic parents jumped into the VW Polo parked on the gravel outside. Nicolas flicked the ignition and the car tore off down the drive to the gates of the manor house. He turned a sharp left and drove as fast as he could into the nearby town.
It was almost midnight and Gresburton was surprisingly quiet for a Monday night. The high street had temporary traffic lights for road works to the gas mains, but Nicolas ignored the red light and sped straight on to the Old Granary at the junction with John Talbot Street.
The car came to a stop outside a recently renovated barn type building. Nicolas and Felicity jumped out and looked up towards the penthouse flat above them. Lights were burning in all the windows and they could just make out the shadow of a man walking across one of the rooms.
Nicolas was the first to move. He pressed the button on the intercom at the front door. It made a familiar buzzing sound. After what seemed ages, an even more familiar voice emanated from the intercom and asked: “Yes, who is it?”
Nicolas almost barked: “Tony, is that you? It is Nicolas, Nathan’s dad.”
“And Felicity,” her Ladyship shouted from his side.
The intercom went dead. Nicolas pressed the button again… but no reply. He tried twice more, but again no answer. In the distance, they heard a door bang shut, but nothing more.
“Darn it, the blighter is ignoring us,” Felicity almost screamed. “What do we do next?”
At that moment the two worried parents heard the sound of a powerful car engine start just around the corner from the Old Granary. They moved towards the sound and the roar of the engine was suddenly upon them. Looking right they froze as a red Porsche Boxster turned the corner and raced away in the direction of the Old London Road. Nicolas took a mental note of the registration plate: T04Y WWD.
“Dang and blast!” shouted Lady Felicity. “What are we going to do now?”
“We will never catch him in this old thing,” answered Nicolas, pointing towards his VW, “She was a good car in her time, but I am lucky to get 60mph out of her now.”
“Well I guess we had better get back to the manor and ring the police again,” suggested Felicity.

Sometime later in the night at Severn Avenue things were starting to happen.
Amy sat on the sofa in the dark living room of her house with her right hand over her mouth.
“Crikey, I hope I didn’t wake the boys,” she said quietly to herself. “I can’t believe it had not occurred to me before.”
But the sound of footsteps on the stairs betrayed the fact that both the boys had woken at the sound of Amy’s involuntary shout.
“What is it Amy? Are you okay?” Nathan asked from the doorway to the living room. Joe peered over his shoulder and broached the same question. They both noticed a change in Amy’s demeanour. No longer did she look frightened or nervous, but she actually appeared excited.
“I think I have worked out the significance of the pictures,” she said suddenly, “and the five figure number!” Amy opened her arms towards the boys and said: “Come here and have a look and let me know what you think.”
The boys sat either side of their new friend on the comfort of the sofa. Amy produced four rough A4 print outs of the photos they had seen earlier on her PC.
“I thought I recognised the building,” said Amy. “I remember last summer when TJ and I went to London for the day for a protest march at Hyde Park against something like oil drilling in Sumatra or somewhere like that. Anyway, TJ pointed out this building to me when we were on the coach down there, she said it was the university where Sam works.”
“Yeah, it’s Glenwing,” interrupted Joe, “Sam took me down there a few years ago to show me some amazing snakes. But I don’t remember it looking like that!”
“That’s because the School of Tropical Reptiles is around the back of this building,” explained Amy. “I found the university on Google, it is in North London and have double checked everything on their website… this is it!”
Amy led the boys across the small living room to the PC and slowly showed them the information and pictures she had found while they were asleep.
“So what I think I have worked out is this,” she continued. “We know that wherever TJ went with Sam may have been dangerous. I reckon TJ left this bag here on purpose, as a life-line if things got nasty.”
“But what about the lockers and that number?” asked Nathan, “You haven’t explained that yet.”
“I have thought that one out,” said Amy. “I know your sister and your brother have only been going steady for a few months, but they have known each other a good deal longer. They met when your mum held that party at your manor house after you know what,” she added, looking at Joe.
“Oh, you mean after dad disappeared!” giggled Joe.
“Yes, exactly, and that was a good few years ago, you were still a wee nipper then, Joe,” Amy smiled back. “I remember TJ telling me that she and Sam shared a real passion for wildlife things, even though she hated snakes. So that explains why she pointed out Sam’s university over a year ago, even though it didn’t register with me at the time. And that explains why this pink fuzzball here is dangling from a locker door at Sam’s university,” she added with a spark in her eyes.
“And that number could be the key code for the locker or something,” suggested Nathan. “And the library card could be for the university library,” he added.
“I think you could be right,” returned Amy.
“Now then, what is that address that Sam asked you to go to?” she asked an equally excited boy.
Nathan said he would get Sam’s note from his bag and quickly ran upstairs to the bedroom.
Joe and Amy sat and stared at the print outs of TJ’s photos.
Suddenly there was the sound of a dull thump on the back wall of the house and the three friends were plunged into darkness as the lights went out.
“Blinkin’ hell, what was that?” shouted Nathan from upstairs.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a power cut,” Amy called back, “Stay where you are and I will find a candle.”
But before she could move she heard Nathan padding quickly downstairs. “Shhhhh,” he whispered. “I don’t think it is a power cut. I looked out the window and the streets lamps are on and there are lights in the windows of a few other houses across the road… anyway, there is someone in your back garden!”
Amy and Joe fell silent as Nathan led them back upstairs and pulled a corner of the bedroom curtains aside to peer outside. In the half-light, they could make out two men by the hedge. One was wearing what appeared to be yellow rubber gloves and was carrying a large pair of cutters while the other was carrying what looked like a hand gun… with a very long barrel. The first man knelt down, removed his gloves and began to open a black attaché case, he glanced up at the window.
“Oh my god,” choked Amy. ”It’s that blonde man I told you about and his mate. What are we going to do? They are after that bag.”
“Easily sorted,” suggested Nathan calmly. “Hey Joe, where is your torch?”
“I don’t know,” answered Joe. “It was in my bag when I left home, but it had gone when I opened the bag last night.”
“Dang,” snapped Nathan. “Doesn’t matter, we can do without, but it will be more difficult. Okay, Amy, get TJ’s bag and everything else and Joe and I will get dressed properly.”
Amy stood stunned as the young boy seemed to take control of things.
“Cummon, move quickly,” ordered Nathan.
Everything then became a blur of speed. Within what appeared to be a few seconds, the three friends were assembled back in the bedroom. From the dim glow of the street lights across the landing, Nathan put the flashcard, the fuzzball, the library card, the £10 note, the keys and the slip of paper containing the five figure number into his own bag. He then carefully retrieved something from his bag and placed it in TJ’s blue denim bag.
“Okay,” he said. “Now let’s leave TJ’s bag here and get out the front door while those men are still in the back garden. They mean business… and yes he was carrying a gun!”
Without question, Joe and Amy followed Nathan downstairs as quickly and quietly as they could in the darkness and made towards the dim light of the front of the house. Amy turned the Yale lock on the wooden door and opened it quickly. As she did so they heard a crack and clatter as if someone had broken a window or door behind them.
“Quick, run!” Amy was about to scream.
But as she opened her mouth her words stuck… a black leather gloved hand pushed her face backwards and she felt her body falling on top of the two boys.
The three of them lay frozen in fear on the hall carpet as two grey eyes looked down on them and a long barrelled pistol was pressed against Amy’s forehead.
“Sshhh kids, don’t make a noise,” the man with the blonde hair said slowly. “One move or sound and none of you will see the morning and no-one will hear it happen!”
Their attacker glanced up beyond them and barked an order: “Rolf, you look for the bag… it is a blue denim one. I’ll take care of these kids.”

Time seemed to stand still as the boys and Amy lay huddled on the hallway floor. Nathan wriggled a little as Joe held back tears and choked for breath. The gun was still pressed against Amy’s head.
Suddenly they heard a voice from upstairs call: “I have found the bag, boss!”
“Bring it down here, Rolf,” ordered the blonde haired man.
“And now it is time to say goodbye,” he whispered to Amy.
The silencer barrel pressed hard on her forehead, the hammer clicked back on the revolver, in less than a second she knew she would die.
But a sudden deathly scream emanated from the stairwell above them. Everything froze.
Four faces turned instantly upwards towards the noise in time to see a younger man’s face contort with agony as he fell forwards towards them.
From the opened front door a pair of green eyes surveyed the back of the blonde haired man with the gun.

Poison: Chapter Seven

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield
Book One: Poison
Chapter Seven

BACK at Greenfield Mansion, Tony read the text on Clara’s phone and was about to alert Lady Felicity to the message when Joy came running into the drawing room.
“Ma’am, ma’am, Bob was telling me… but anyway I thought you ought to know,” she blurted. “You need to know…”
“What do I need to know?” demanded Lady Felicity, while the other adults stared at the young scullery maid.
“Well, I should have said earlier… but when I went to feed the horses at tea-time I noticed something really odd in the stable store, so I went back just now to have another look,” hurried Joy.
“Well what is odd?” her ladyship demanded again, “We are in a bit of rush here, we have two boys to find and a 17-year-old young lady who has some explaining to do… cello lessons, my foot,” she added, glaring at Tony.
“At the back of the stable store I noticed the bags of pony nuts had been moved and I have never seen it before, but in the back wall there is an old door,” continued Joy.
“Well, the door was open and there seems to be a passage beyond it… and I also noticed the tin you keep the cash in for the farrier was open too!”
“Anything else?” asked Lady Felicity, feeling exasperated by Joy’s interruption.
“Yes,” answered Joy. “Clara’s favourite fleece was hanging on the saddle rack… you know the one she was wearing this morning.”
“Oh my God, Joy, why didn’t you mention this sooner?” retorted her Ladyship, before turning to stare daggers in Tony’s direction.
“Well young Anthony, do you know anything about this?” she asked. “It appears you and my daughter have not been exactly honest about the music lessons.”
“No Ma’am, I do not. I haven’t seen Clara since last night… I mean since yesterday afternoon,” he added, correcting himself.
“I am as worried as you are… and for Master Joe too… oh and young Nathan.
“But I think you ought to read this.”
For the second time Tony was about to show her Ladyship the text message, but decided to wait until he had time to talk to Clara on his own.
“Read what?” asked Lady Felicity.
“Oh, it’s nothing really, it can wait,” replied Tony.
Nicolas, who had been a silent observer for the past few minutes suddenly interrupted and suggested they ought to investigate the stable store more closely.
“And we really ought to decide where we are going if we are packing up the car,” he added. “Everything is getting a bit random.”
“Yes, yes,” admitted Felicity, “It is all a bit of a whirlwind at the moment. We do need to get our heads around this.”
With that she grabbed Joe’s silver coloured flashlight and ordered Tony to help Bob get a few essentials packed for their as-yet unplanned journey.
“Nicolas,” she asked quietly, looking into his eyes for reassurance, “do you mind accompanying me to the stable store?”
And turning to the scullery maid, she added more brusquely: “Joy, you had better come too.”
Quickly the trio of adults made their way downstairs to the kitchen and out the back door to the stable block.
A horse whinnied as they opened the side door and another stamped a foot on the floor.
A large black stallion peered curiously over its door at the frenzied humans invading his space at night. Above the door was the name Black Sabbath.
“Ah that’s Clara’s new pony,” exclaimed Lady Felicity, noticing Nicolas look at the horse and the sign. “The store room is this way,” she added, leading them along a passage next to the fourth stable.
Joy unlocked the stable store and switched on the light – a single unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the eight foot square wood panelled room.
It was as Joy had described.
In front of them five bags of pony nuts were stacked to one side of an old pine door, which stood partly ajar. Next to the door a rusty and empty money tin lay open on a shelf and to the right, a girl’s beige coloured fleece was hanging on the saddle rack.
“Okay,” said Nicolas, “Let’s see what is beyond this door.”

Back in the main house, Tony had found a quiet corner in the lobby and sat down to reply to Clara’s text message.
“It is Tony. Where are you and what has happened?” he typed quickly.
In an instant Clara replied: “I am okay, but could really do with you here, can you ring me cos I don’t have much credit on this useless phone.”
Tony put Clara’s mobile phone down on the lobby table and retrieved his own phone from his jacket pocket. Looking down at Clara’s pink mobile he copied the new number into his own phone’s memory and tapped dial.
Within seconds he and Clara were talking quietly to each other.
Clara outlined how her “b******” little brother had locked her in the stable store and how after an hour of banging and shouting she had eventually discovered the old door. She had used a farrier’s claw hammer to prise the lock and open it.
“It was really creepy,” she elaborated, “But I used dad’s army flashlight and found this amazing passage to the old air-raid shelter at the other side of the house.
“It is in remarkably good condition, but very damp and smelly,” she continued. “And the shelter door was locked… and it was while I was trying to open it that I saw blinkin’ Joe and his friend Nathan running across the meadow towards the railway station. They both had bags on their backs.
“Anyway I went back to the store, grabbed some money from mum’s tin and used the hammer again to open the door.”
“I had to follow them, cos Joe has been acting really spooky for over a week now.”
“Wow,” said Tony, “A real adventure girl, hey! Now slow down… where are you now?”
Clara explained how she had followed the boys to Shrewsbury and the bed and breakfast, adding that she did not have enough cash for another night.
“I really need you Tony,” she pleaded.
“Don’t worry darling, I will be there in an hour,” he replied.
“No, you had better wait until the morning because the landlady is horrendous and she will never let you in,” warned Clara. “Oh and can you bring some clean clothes and my toothbrush too. And please don’t tell mum where I am, she’ll have a fit… just let her know I am safe.”
Tony took note of the name and address of Clara’s bed and breakfast before hurrying out to his red Porsche Boxster and driving into town to his apartment to gather some things.

Back at the stables, Nicolas, Felicity and Joy had discovered the passage to the old air-raid shelter and the open door onto the paddock.
“What has been going on here?” asked Lady Felicity.
She suddenly gasped as something caught her eye. She reached out and took a small torn piece of floral fabric from the rusty broken catch of the shelter door.
“Well blow me down, if I am not mistaken this is a piece of Clara’s Monsoon blouse I bought for her birthday… and look – this appears to be blood!”
Nicolas took the piece of cotton cloth from Felicity’s hand and examined it closely.
“I think there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” he said.
Turning to Joy he asked: “Was the stable store locked or unlocked when you went to feed the horses?”
“It were locked, Sir,” replied the scullery maid, “That’s why I thought the open old door on the back wall was strange.”
“Well it seems that this door here in the shelter has been forced open from the inside,” deduced Nicolas.
“Maybe your daughter Clara became locked in the stable store and found her way out,” he added looking at an increasingly nervous Felicity.
“But that store door can only be locked from the outside,” her Ladyship offered, “And more importantly, where is she now… and where is my little Joe too?”
“And Nathan,” added Nicolas, “I suggest we go back to the house and question young Tony more closely.”
Felicity agreed and together with Joy they followed Nicolas back to the main house.

Once in the lobby they were met by an even more red-faced than usual Bob.
“Ma’am, ma’am… it is Master Anthony,” he blurted. “He’s sort of disappeared and his car is no longer on the drive.”
“I knew he was hiding something,” retorted Lady Felicity. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows where Clara is. Do you, Bob, know where he lives?”
Bob shook his head.
“I do!” volunteered Joy suddenly. “His brother used to go out with my sister, Plenty. He recently moved into a very smart penthouse above the old granary in town… and he drives a very nice red Porsche too,” she added, still feeling guilty about forgetting to tell her ladyship about the stable store earlier.
“Well if we needed a plan, I suggest that finding young Mr Woodward is first on our list,” interrupted Lady Felicity. “We’ve only been gone half an hour, he can’t have gone far.”

Back at Severn Avenue in Shrewsbury, Klaus was still waiting for Rolf to relieve him on his watch and was smoking his eleventh cigarette of the night.
He turned and reached to below the rear passenger seat and removed a black attaché case from a hidden compartment.
Carefully he opened the case and studied the dismantled Luther high powered rifle inside. He removed the silencer and blew a puff of cigarette smoke through its gunmetal housing.
“Perfect,” he purred to himself, before returning the silencer to the case.
With his right hand he then gently padded the hand gun in the holster under his jacket.
Outside, the grey animal had picked up a new scent. It moved from its cover under the laurel bush and sloped off quietly along the avenue to the far end.
Suddenly the silence of the night was disturbed by a muffled scream from the living room of number 24.
Green and grey eyes turned quickly towards the house.

Poison: Chapter Six

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield
Book One: Poison
Chapter Six

IN the dark of her own bedroom, Amy felt restless and found sleep a distant memory. She shuffled under her duvet and ran the events of the past few weeks through her head and thought about the sudden arrival of Joe and Nathan.
“What is so important about TJ’s bag?” she thought for the umpteenth time.
“Is it even the right bag?” she asked herself.
So yet again, she turned on her bedside light and emptied the contents of the small bag onto her bed.
A key fob with three door keys and a small locker key, a crumpled piece of paper with the numbers 45176 written on it, a pink lip salve, a little pink fuzzball, two photos of Sam, a library card, a £10 note and a 264MB flashcard from a camera, items she had seen TJ fumble through many times after watching a movie together downstairs.
Nothing seemed out of order, she thought, although the number 45176 started Amy’s head spinning again for answers.
It was too short to be a phone number and one digit too many to be a cashpoint number… so what was it?
Then the flashcard dodged into her mind.
TJ had taken her cameras with her, so this flashcard was surely unimportant she thought.
Or was it?
With something approaching divine inspiration, Amy sat bolt upright in bed.
And with a new sense of urgency she decided to see what might be stored on the card.
She went downstairs, creeping slowly to avoid disturbing the boys. Amy sat at the PC and inserted the card into the reader slot at the foot of the computer tower.
After what seemed ages, the screen told her that the card had 102 photographs stored on it, and begged the question whether she would like to copy or view them.
Amy chose the latter and blinked as dozens of boozy party pictures and holiday snaps from the previous Christmas reeled across the screen.
“Huh, nothing unusual,” she whispered, and began to admit defeat.
But then came four pictures she didn’t recognise.
The first was of a large Victorian building – which may have been a library or museum or some other grand establishment.
The second was of a large hall lined with books. Presumably, thought Amy, it must be inside the same building.
The third and fourth pictures showed a line of grey filing cabinet type lockers and one locker in particular with a small pink fuzzball hanging from its metal handle.
A fuzzball, just like the one in TJ’s bag.
Amy’s mind raced… why would TJ take photographs of books or lockers?
Was it significant?
Amy removed the card from the reader and switched off the PC.
She ambled back upstairs and climbed into her cold bed.

Back in the drawing room at Greenfield Mansion, bed was the last thing on the minds of the assembled adults and two police officers sipping tea on the Chesterfield sofa.
Lady Greenfield and Nicolas had supplied the officers with photos of their sons and recounted for the third time their discoveries of that afternoon.
“Well,” said the greying sergeant, “I think as it is now well past 10pm, we can assume that they are late in.”
“Late in!” fumed Lady Greenfield. “I have told you a hundred times, Joe hasn’t been seen by anyone here since this morning. And he is never home later than nine o’clock, ever!
“Now are you going to start finding our sons,” she demanded.
But before either police officer could answer, Nicolas interjected: “And Nathan is just eleven-years-old… do you have any idea what is happening? We have two young boys and one with over £400 in his pocket and they have both disappeared with packed bags. For Cripes sake do something…. or we will!”
“Steady on Mr Sunnybank, please get a grip,” said the Sergeant. “It isn’t going to help your boys if we go about this half cock!”
Nicolas felt like punching the stupid sergeant, but Felicity squeezed his hand tightly and whispered: “Let them do their job”.
“We will start a Missing Person file immediately and distribute the photos of your sons to every station and newspaper in North Wales and the adjoining English counties” said the sergeant, with some more urgency.
“Don’t worry we will find them,” he added as he and the younger PC stood and made their way to front door.
As they made to leave, the younger officer turned and winked at Lady Greenfield. “We’ll find them, Ma’am, don’t you worry yourself.”
The door closed behind them and Felicity and Nicolas glared in anger at each other as they fought to say “Blinkin’ useless policemen!” first!
“Right,” said Nicolas, “I don’t care what those boys in blue may or may not do, I can’t sit here while my little Nathan is Lord knows where!”
“I agree,” stammered a flustered Felicity, as the two parents made their way back into the drawing room.
“Bob!” shouted her ladyship.
With that Tony started from reading a copy of last month’s Uncut music magazine and Bob the butler appeared red-faced at the drawing room door.
“Please pack an overnight bag and ask cook to prepare sandwiches and a flask for Mr Sunnybank and me… oh and we’ll take the Range Rover,” she added with authority.
Bob turned obediently and disappeared into the hallway.
“But where are we going to start?” asked Nicolas. “We have no leads at all!”
“And where is Clara?” asked Tony.
With that Clara’s mobile phone ironically buzzed in Tony’s jacket pocket. Tony reached for the phone and glanced at the new text from an unknown number.

Meanwhile, in the single bedroom of a dingy bed and breakfast near Shrewsbury Prison, a restless Clara was fumbling with the buttons of a cheap Pay As You Go mobile phone she had bought from a shop near the railway station.
“Gosh, this thing is out of the ark,” she muttered, “The keys are like blinkin’ bullets and the screen is tiny… guess that’s what you get for a tenner.”
Clara was still mulling over what she would like to do to her brother Joe when she eventually got her hands on him. But she was also intensely puzzled by the secrecy of Joe and his friend Nathan and why they had travelled to this hideous market town without telling anyone.
“Blinkin kids,” she said.
Eventually Clara worked out the basics of the new mobile phone and sent a test text message to her proper mobile back at Gresburton. It was the only number she could remember.
It was a simple message which read: “If you read this, mum, I am okay and will be home tomorrow. ❤ Clara xxx”.
She rolled over and closed her eyes to try and get some sleep.
“How stupid am I forgetting to take my phone,” she thought.

Two streets away in the black BMW, a blonde haired man, aged about 35, was smoking his ninth cigarette of the night and had wrapped a tartan blanket over his lap. The car reeked of the stale smell of the remains of a cold Chinese take-way and cigarette smoke.
“Ya, the girl thinks she is safe, but she won’t get away,” he murmured to himself.
He looked down at his laptop and touched the remote button to begin a conference call.
On the screen the face of a thin grey haired man with a sallow complexion and wire rimmed spectacles appeared.
“Any news Klaus?” he snapped.
“Nothing yet, Sir, but we have the girl under close surveillance and she now has two young boys for company,” answered the blonde haired man.
“Do we know who the kids are?” snapped the grey haired man.
“No, Sir,” came the reply.
“Well find out… and dispose of them if you must. Oh and Klaus, get hold of that bag ASAP or you will have me to answer to!” the other man ordered.
“And where is Rolf?”
“He is in a guest house nearby. We have booked a room there under assumed names,” answered Klaus. “He will relieve me in two hours.”
“Good… report back at 8am your time,” the grey haired man ordered.
At that the screen went blank as the older man switched off his connection.
Outside the car, in the darkness of shrubbery on Severn Avenue a large grey haired animal was quietly sniffing the rear door and boot of the BMW. The animal’s green eyes watched the blonde haired man with suspicion.
Then as quietly has it had arrived the animal sloped off back across the road and down the avenue to nestle back under the laurel bush next to number 24.

Inside number 24, Amy still could not sleep and had gone back downstairs. She had made herself a large mug of hot chocolate and was sipping the drink while puzzling over the four photos on TJ’s flashcard and the relevance of the number 45176.
“I must be going mad,” she thought. “There is something obvious here and I can’t see it for looking.”
Upstairs Joe and Nathan slept soundly, while outside two green eyes watched their bedroom window intently.