Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World (23 page)

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
2.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

One down, two to go. That's more like it.

Miller was a resourceful man. He'd been around a bit. Actually, he'd been around quite a lot. Mostly with the SAS, more recently on his own. He had a unique set of skills which, once he'd served time and been dishonourably discharged from the army for the attempted murder of a superior officer, had proven most attractive to certain employers in the private sector. Employers like Netheridge, for instance. Miller had taken to post-military life like a duck to water. The pay was great and as long as he remained discreet, he soon found he could get away with just about anything, but he never forgot his training. How to avoid FISHing, for instance. Fighting In Someone's House, to use the accepted army acronym. He could still do it if absolutely necessary, and always carried a lead-filled sap and blade for that purpose, but preferred not to if possible. Fortunately, those psychos up at Credenhill had taught him all manner of ways to persuade people out of a house without resorting to violence.

He paused his game and pulled another phone from his pocket. Unlike his own sophisticated, top-of-the-range mobile, this was a cheap, well-worn, no-frills phone, much used and, in the relentlessly advancing world of mobile telecommunications, about as ancient as the dinosaurs. For God's sake, it even had funny little bumps below the screen called buttons. Miller didn't care about that. All that concerned him was the unused pay-as-you-go SIM card inside. He always carried a number of these tatty old phones, all paid for in cash. He used each to make just one totally untraceable call, then threw it away. He remembered buying this one from a car boot sale in Huddersfield. He'd haggled hard and eventually got it for a pound. Bargain!

He tapped in a number. Faintly, muted by distance, he heard the phone ring in the cottage. Here we go. ‘Mrs Timbrill?' he enquired in a cultured voice. ‘My name is Dr Lucius Lancer. I'm calling from Cheltenham A&E Department. Do you know a Mrs Glynis Badham? Oh, good. Well, I'm sorry to say she's been admitted with a broken leg and concussion. Yes, a hit and run in town, an out-of-control mobility scooter apparently. She's a little delirious, but has been calling for you. Can you come immediately? Excellent, that's very kind of you, Mrs Timbrill. Please ask for me when you get to reception.'

There, that should do it. He removed the SIM card and stabbed it deep into the soft soil at the base of the tree, then threw the old mobile into the farthest corner of the hedge. He went back to his own smartphone and resumed playing
Katapult Kanaries
for a few minutes. Yes, that was surely the front door slamming. He peered around the trunk and saw Celeste get into her car. The other man didn't. He waved her off and disappeared back into the cottage. The car slid down the drive and away past the church.

‘Damn,' muttered Miller. Bloody locals – haven't they got their own homes to go to? He thought for a moment, then shrugged. ‘Oh, well, looks like I'll have to do this the old-fashioned way.' Miller liked the old-fashioned way. It always included violence. He was a man who enjoyed a spot of vigorous physical confrontation, especially when he knew the measure of his opponent. The man was tall and thin, much older than him, a bald, morose streak of misery. Miller immediately dismissed him as a local. They all looked so sodding weird. He should have just taken his cup of sugar and buggered off. Now the lanky old fool was going to get a headache. He saved his play, pocketed the phone and, emerging from the bushes, took a good look in every direction. With the coast clear, he strolled nonchalantly around the side of the house to the back door. If you're going to assault and kidnap, do it in style.

The door was inevitably unlocked. He just loved rural folk. They were so trusting. He eased it open silently, waited a few seconds just in case, then padded into the kitchen, heavy sap in hand. A newspaper rustled in the next room. Miller closed in on the sound like a seagull homing in on an abandoned fish and chip supper. The man had his back to the door. Miller ghosted forward and tapped him on the back of the neck with the sap. He knew exactly how hard to hit someone, having done it many times before, and the man collapsed with a sighing grunt, falling into his open newspaper before sliding gracefully to the floor like an unset grey blancmange, face down, knees tucked up and arse pointing to the beamed ceiling.

‘Exemplary! Give yourself a Mars Bar,' murmured Miller proudly. That was a perfectly executed blow. He waited for any repercussions, but the cottage remained silent. The only witness watched, but said nothing. Bingo! Miller knew he'd have no difficulty identifying his target and so it proved. A substantial bird cage stood beside the fireplace on a wheeled supporting frame, its wire door open – and beside it perched a large blue macaw.

A very large blue macaw.

Miller baulked for a moment. ‘Jeez,' he murmured softly, ‘you're big.' The two eyed each other up for a moment, then Miller tried the universally accepted approach. ‘Who's a pretty boy, then,' he cooed soothingly, clicking his fingers. The bird considered this in aloof silence, then uttered one word.


Miller didn't have the time for social niceties. He drifted forward, increasingly aware of the size of his target and, keeping an eye on its claws, then lunged, grabbed it unceremoniously around the neck and swiftly stuffed it into the cage with little ceremony, thankful for his leather gloves. The bird squawked in loud indignation, wings flapping, but he ignored its shrill protest. A violet feather fluttered to the carpet in the struggle, saving him the trouble of plucking the damned thing. He picked up the feather and, taking a plastic bag from his jacket pocket, extracted a forensically clean note using disposable tweezers.

A careful man, was Miller.

Both were laid on the kitchen table. Miller liked a touch of the dramatic and with a violent downward sweep, stabbed feather and note to the table with Celeste's best Japanese boning knife. His favourite way to leave a message. He retrieved the Transit and reversed up the drive, then rolled the cage to the front door, bumped it over the sill and manhandled it into the back of the Transit, struggling a little with its weight and bulk. The double doors slammed, he strapped himself in and drove away in a manner entirely unsuspicious.

That was easy.

Had he bothered to look back at the cottage, he would have seen another blue bird watching from the bedroom window.

Bertie started out of a light snooze, aware of noises downstairs. Mummy must be home, he thought, and stretched a wing lazily. He'd been basking in a pool of bright sunshine on his favourite window ledge, the only spot in the house where he actually felt as warm as he'd done in Brazil all those years ago. Now, there was a country that knew a thing or two about heat. And trees. And rain. Yes, lots of rain. It rained out there almost as much as it did here in this chilly land.

He cocked his head to one side. Surely that was Milly squawking. She didn't sound at all happy. Odd, considering the circumstances. They'd mated not an hour ago and she seemed pretty happy then. Mind you, she could have been faking it. Bertie had been around humans long enough and seen sufficient TV to understand the unsettling concept of faking it. He also knew she was twenty-five years his junior, but he'd always known she liked the older, more mature macaw. Having never had a mate before, Bertie had no real experience in these matters to make comparison, but he had to admit that she appeared much more willing nowadays than she had done at their first encounter. That little incident at the zoo must have come as a hell of a shock. In public as well. He'd played to an audience that day. Sadly, her meteorological obsession remained unchanged, hence his preference for a little quiet post-humping reflection up on the bedroom window ledge.

Now alert, Bertie was about to hop down and scamper off to investigate when he heard another squawk. Distance dulled the call, but that one definitely sounded like a cry for help. He became aware of the distinctive rattle of Milly's cage as it trundled over gravel outside and peered back through the window. To his amazement, he saw a strange man sliding Milly's cage into the back of a van. She looked up and caught Bertie's eye even as the doors slammed shut. Moments later, the van made off down the lane.

A wave of agitation swept over Bertie. That shouldn't have happened. Mummy and Sparrow Man from the zoo had promised Milly would be staying for some days. His concern grew swiftly. He half-hopped, half-fluttered down the stairs and scampered into the lounge, but there was something very wrong with Wilf. He knew how people were supposed to sleep. They lay down flat and made funny rasping noises with their mouths open. Daddy was especially good at this. However, Wilf was propped against the sofa, his rear end skywards, his face squashed flat against the rug. Now, that didn't look comfortable at all. Something was very wrong here. Bertie chirruped in an attempt to wake him, but there was no response. He tickled an ear with the tip of his bill. Again, nothing. Perhaps this needed something a little more vigorous, so he tugged hard on a wisp of hair and squawked in surprise when it came loose in his beak. He felt an intense pang of guilt. Wilf's plumage was exceedingly sparse at the best of times and now he'd pulled out a large percentage of what little remained.

Obviously, Wilf was dead. That was an unsettling thought. Maybe that's why he hadn't helped Milly. Bertie knew Wilf would have stopped the strange man if he could, but he hadn't. Because he was dead. And now even balder. Pity. Bertie had really liked Wilf, but he had no time to mourn. Milly had called for help. She was his mate. He had to do something. With Celeste nowhere to be seen and Wilf now dead, the moment for action had arrived – and Bertie was the sort of macaw who understood the need for action. Time was of the essence and he needed to get after Milly, so he stuffed the plucked strands of hair under the sofa cushion – just in case there was a slim chance Wilf was still alive and he needed to hide the evidence – then scuttled into the kitchen and, heading for the back door, nosed open Sebastian's cat flap. Finally, that damned animal had proved useful. He squeezed his bulk through and, once outside, immediately took to the air. Like a huge blue bomber, Bertie banked around the side of the house in a flash of azure, gained height and set off in hot pursuit of the van.


Bertie could be a determined flyer when occasion called and swiftly made up the distance, closing in steadily on the back of the van. He tucked himself in close, slipstreaming in its wake, coasting along, conserving his energy. He had no idea where he was, but he knew he had to stay with Milly. Fortunately, the van avoided the big roads and soon turned on to a smaller lane, slowing significantly as it negotiated its way between tall hedgerows.

Miller drove casually, neither speeding nor dawdling. As an accomplished field operative, he knew what he had to do to blend in, to pass invisibly amongst people, to avoid arousing the interest of the police. Especially to avoid arousing the police. The secret was simple. Act normally. Drive normally. Why so many criminals were unable to understand this was quite beyond him, but then again most of them were not very bright. British prisons were full of not very bright people. He had no plans to join them.

A careful man, was Miller.

He was pleased that the macaw behind him remained docile and silent. The lane ahead narrowed even further. Grass made an appearance, a green stripe down the middle of the worn tarmac. You certainly don't see that in London. He glanced in the mirrors to check he was not being followed and immediately stamped on the brake.

‘What the hell!' he muttered. The merest flash of blue had caught his eye. Twisting around, he checked the cage. It was still occupied. The macaw glared at him. Without hesitating, he leapt from the van. He knew what he'd seen, but it was impossible – the cage was still firmly locked. Miller walked to the back of the van and peered around the corner, a hand on the haft of his knife. Nothing. He circumvented the vehicle completely. Still nothing. Then he did so again in the opposite direction. He even climbed up to have a look on the roof and got down on his hands and knees to peer underneath. Again, he drew a complete blank. He examined the hedges on either side of the lane and then stood for a full minute listening, but heard only the tick of cooling metal and the usual rural symphony of insects, husbandry, birds and wind. Still not entirely satisfied, he finally got back in and drove away. He could have sworn on his mother's grave he'd seen another blue bird following close behind, but he was very definitely on his own. Warily, and looking in his mirrors frequently, he started off again.

Had he been bothered to climb to the topmost branches of the nearest tree, he'd have come face to face with an angry macaw.

Presently, Miller turned down a rough track which ended in a small collection of dilapidated, lichen-stained farm buildings arranged around a small yard. Rusty agricultural machinery cluttered one corner. He parked the van and reconnoitred, still disturbed by the inexplicable appearance of another blue bird. The buildings were deserted. There shouldn't be anyone around. He'd arranged with the farmer to rent the yard, paying handsomely in cash to keep the man away. No questions were asked, none were answered. They both understood each other perfectly. The farmer didn't give a toss once he had his money. Miller was entirely confident he had the place to himself, but he was still a cautious man and spent ten minutes or so walking from building to building before unloading Milly and wheeling the cage into an old barn.

Bertie watched from a nearby tree, well hidden behind the trunk. A pair of elderly thrushes hopped up to say hello and generally fuss over their guest. It wasn't often something huge and blue dropped by for a chat. Did he want to stop for tea? They were most insistent. Bertie declined politely, having never really developed a taste for snails and earthworms. He had a much more refined, sophisticated palate. Pears in particular, but his mum only allowed those on special occasions. Unsurprising considering the way they accelerated his digestive transit.

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
2.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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