Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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BERTIE

and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World

Mike A. Vickers

Newly re-elected Independent MP James Timbrill is a hero to his constituents and now lives in marital harmony with his wife Celeste and their super-sentient hyacinth macaw Bertie in the not-so-wilds of the Gloucestershire countryside.

Some people, though, aren't keen on James's political impartiality, and mean to make sure that he starts singing to their tune. A cabal of criminal businessmen presents James with an offer he can't refuse – not if he wants to keep all his bits intact! Resist and there will be consequences – for him and his loved ones.

But those ultimate dodgy dealers haven't counted on the Sisterhood – a secret society dating back to the ancient world – nor the combined talents of an ageing ex-copper, a determined hairdresser, and our heroic macaw…

A fantastic farce for fans of traditional British satire.

To Jan

Who always returns from the hairdressers both invigorated and bursting with new ideas…

Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus

Many regard the hyacinth as the most beautiful of all macaws. Those who have had the fortune to see this magnificent bird in person are always astonished by its dazzling deep blue plumage. Coverage is complete but for bright yellow flashes beside the bill and thin sunshine spectacle rings around the eyes. The largest species of macaw, hyacinths are now heavily protected. Very few remain in the wild and those still existing in Paraguay and Brazil have seen their habitats decimated by increased human activity. Hyacinths are not deep forest birds but prefer open areas of savannah where they live in small social groups. They benefit from extended lifespans and are normally placid. Unlike African grey parrots, who demonstrate remarkable linguistic skills, hyacinths are not particularly noted for having unusual cognitive abilities.

But there are always exceptions…

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

AND FINALLY…

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

BERTIE…

OTHER ACCENT PRESS TITLES

CHAPTER ONE

There is a smell, of all the smells in the world, which has delighted generations, heightening anticipation and creating wonderful feelings of delicious expectation. This seductive smell makes people close their eyes, raise their chins and inhale deeply with a dreamy smile on their faces. Of course, the world is full of such smells and some are excellent indeed, such as welcome rain sizzling on a sun-baked pavement, bread fresh from the oven, or a newly mown English lawn, green and striped. Many other odours are perhaps less evocative but remain, nonetheless, immediately recognisable: WD40, oranges, ozone, molten tar, Burton-on-Trent.

We live on a surprisingly whiffy planet and as a consequence have been generously gifted by nature with the means by which to detect these odours. (Incidentally, the positioning of our noses, so conveniently sited as they are between our eyes, has also greatly assisted in the design of spectacles.) So, on the whole and taking all things into account, there is a positive cornucopia of great smells and it's one of these more agreeable aromas with which we are concerned at this particular time.

It is the wonderful smell of coffee brewing.

Doreen Coddle stood listlessly, twirling a lock of hair around her finger with that characteristic abstract nonchalance unique to women, waiting for the coffee to percolate. She was on the phone, her sleek black mobile pressed to one ear, a sour expression on her normally placid face. This particular conversation required privacy and so she'd excused herself from company and slipped away into the small kitchenette, but now the woman on the other end of the line was being plain tiresome and Doreen had no time for that, thank you very much. She had just suggested a particular course of action and, as a consequence, the woman was protesting as only a haughty Latin American aristocrat can protest. Doreen let the heavily accented contralto blather on for the length of time it took the old-fashioned percolator to burp thrice then stopped the woman in mid-word with a sibilant hiss. Maria desisted immediately, showing uncharacteristic restraint as she lapsed into a fuming silence. It took a special kind of authority to stopper up the nimble tongue of the mistress of the President of Paraguay – and Doreen had that authority.

Oh, yes, she had it in spades!

Now in her late forties, Doreen Coddle did not appear in any way remarkable for one endowed with so much power – and indeed one certainly needed to be a remarkable personage to be on nodding terms with the mistress of the President of Paraguay. She was of a more generous silhouette than she would have liked, the result of a sedentary life, a hopeless addiction to chocolate and the production of two sturdy children, and it sometimes depressed her that almost every effort she made to trim down her weight seemed to trigger an adverse reaction. She suspected there was an as yet undiscovered law of physics describing how, when dieting, the compulsion to graze between meals was directly proportional to weight lost. Now, there's something really useful physicists could turn their minds to instead of wasting time on black holes and – er, time. In reality, Doreen had long ago acknowledged that raiding her private sweetie store to satisfy an attack of between-meal munchies probably had something to do with those lying scales registering a steady upward nudge of the needle with each passing year.

However, although not a great beauty by any standard, neither was Doreen cursed with any distressing ugliness – but it sometimes rankled that, in a crowd, she would inevitably be one of the last to stand out, unless, of course, the selection process was determined by hair colour alone.

No, it could not be denied, Doreen was neither a Plain Jane nor a stunning beauty but instead found herself comfortably located within that convivial middle ground occupied by vast swathes of the human race, being neither tall nor short, stick-thin nor truly dumpy and neither elegant nor clumsy. She was an average mother of average height and somewhat above average weight, with an average complexion just on the right side of pale, and she had resigned herself to spending the rest of her life slowly becoming more and more comfortable around the middle. Nonetheless, there remained a waist in there somewhere and a careful choice of clothing could still raise a smile of satisfaction in the dressing mirror and more than just an affectionate squeeze from Bernard.

However, when it came to the really essential life skills, the things that truly mattered to women across the globe, she excelled in three vital areas; she'd married a good man, brought up two wonderful children – and most crucially of all, she had an impeccable taste in shoes.

But, sadly, none of those fine attributes were helping at the moment.

Doreen sighed inwardly and ran an exploratory hand over her hip as she let Maria stew in simmering silence. Yes, there was no doubt about it – despite a strict diet dripping with carbohydrate, sugar and fat, her body was finally answering the siren call of gravity. Mercifully, her features remained essentially unchanged. She had pale, greenish-grey eyes, fine brows, clear skin and a thin-lipped mouth. Her hair, her pride and joy, was always cut in a very nice bob, but those luxuriant waves had recently found themselves host to a very, very unwelcome guest – and this was a guest who had no plans to move on, no plans at all.

She'd first become aware of this interloper two days ago and the sight had almost reduced her to tears. Two days! How could so short a time have had such a devastating effect? How could it have changed her life so much? The guest was still there and very soon one of its cousins would be coming to stay as well. Then another would join them both, and another. Doreen sighed. Her first grey hair was going nowhere. It was making itself entirely at home, settling in for the duration, a distressing, unwanted, insignificant but ultimately deadly ashen thread emerging like an infection at her temple.

This catastrophe merely reminded her she now lay firmly in the grasp of middle age. Her youth had long departed, and like just about everyone else, she hadn't even noticed! This, above all, was the source of her current bout of unease and dissatisfaction, and spurred on by that single grey hair putting its feet up beside her ear, she'd taken out her frustration with Moaning Maria. Doreen had to admit it was grossly unfair – but it did help. A lot.

For a long time every facet of Doreen's existence had been remarkable for actually being unremarkable – and that, in a nutshell, more or less describes the lives of almost everyone on the planet.

Then
she
came.

Until that moment there had been no real extremes in Doreen's life, neither peaks nor troughs to liven things up a little, and she had somehow found that fact to be increasingly sad. She'd been essentially content with Bernie and the kids, with her career, but there had always been that quiet nagging voice inside, the one whispering that surely there was more to life than this. She was in no doubt other women heard the same whisper, including many of her friends. This is life, it murmured over tea and a plateful of buttered scones, do something with it before it's too late! Bernie would have been surprised to discover Doreen had felt that way. He was a good husband and gave his all to provide for the family, but again, that had been before
she
came. That woman! That remarkable, warm-hearted, astonishing, passionate, charismatic woman.

She
changed everything.

Suddenly, Doreen's life had more ups and downs than a Merthyr Tydfil bus route. Who would have believed it!

Oh, and by the way, be careful what you wish for. Be very careful indeed.

Her thoughts again turned to that awful grey hair while she continued to let Maria fume. She knew it was pointless plucking it out. That would merely initiate an avalanche of eager replacements, all keen to avenge their cruelly uprooted colleague. Damn, why did it have to happen now, just as she was getting acclimatised to her disappearing waist? She checked the mirror again, just to see if she'd been mistaken, but it was still there contaminating her lovely colour. The sight of this solitary interloper had made her sharper than usual with Maria.

Patience. Always. Especially when dealing with prickly characters like the volatile, sharp-tongued and extremely excitable Maria Consuela Bernicia Rosalinda Melgarejo: concubine, mistress, pneumatic ex-call girl and savvy bed partner to one of South America's most egocentric and bombastic presidents. He liked to think his beloved people still called him El Toro – The Bull – but although El Presidente was snorting, belligerent and muscular in his public life, he was not quite so bestially potent between the sheets. El Toro's horn tended to be short, blunt and downward-turning these days, much to Maria's chagrin.

Now there was something Doreen had no complaints about, even after twenty-seven years of marriage. Bernie had been her childhood sweetheart and she still found him as enticing as the day she went on the pill as a sixteenth birthday present to him, some time way back in the foggy dimness of the eighties. To tell the truth, Doreen actually had to come off the pill just before their wedding and in one of those strange coincidences which often pepper our lives, her mother, that very evening, had sat her down and advised that now she was about to marry she should strongly consider oral contraception to prevent any untoward accidents. Poor Mum; she never knew the truth to her dying day.

Bernard Coddle had approached the young and fresh-faced Doreen Williams in their school bike sheds one lunchtime in March. She was fifteen, he a year older. No awkward shuffling of the feet and sheepish mumbling for Bernie. No, indeed. He had simply walked up to her as she was padlocking her bike and said, ‘Doreen, you're the prettiest girl in school and I want to go out with you.' Overwhelmed by the subtlety of his approach, Doreen simply had nodded and when Bernie marched off, head held high, she'd walked to her history lesson in a bit of a daze. The lively consequences of the Enclosure Acts had held no interest for her on that particular afternoon!

They married young and the kids came quickly after that, doubtless something to do with coming off the pill. She and Bernie had done a lot of squeezing in those days. Martin came first, a bouncing bundle endowed with three superlative skills: smiling, puking and farting. A year later he was joined by Joanne. Doreen's hopes for a less messy baby were sadly shattered. Jo was everything her brother was, with the added bonus of an ability to fill her nappy with truly astonishing frequency. Doreen had thought there was something very wrong with them both until her mother informed her they were merely continuing a fine family tradition.

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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