Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World (7 page)

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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James put the bag down. ‘Thank you, but I don't think I'll be following them.'

‘Of course not. Only a fool would do that. I don't see you as a fool. Strange sort of mugging though.'

‘What do you mean?'

‘I saw you go into yonder cafe full of the joys of spring. I saw them follow you in with the bag. Now everyone comes piling out the back door. They were in a hurry, you're obviously bruised and battered but now have the bag. None of my business, but even I know muggings don't work like that.'

‘Can't pull the wool over your eyes, can I?'

The woman cackled like a crazed Shakespearean witch. ‘Not with this hair you can't. So what's a fine-looking gentleman like you associating with dirtbags like that?'

‘Not my choice, madam.'

‘Mmm, well, take my advice – might be wise to avoid them at all costs. As I said, nasty looking. Dangerous. Wouldn't want to meet them again in an alley like this, would you?'

‘Not really.'

‘Normal people don't use fire exits out of an eating house unless they haven't paid. You don't strike me as a man who doesn't settle his bill.' She nodded back down the alley, head bobbing on a neck long enough to provide a home for several scarves, then looked at him more carefully, eyes narrowed in scrutiny. ‘You hurting bad, sonny?'

James couldn't conceal the drawn look of pain on his face. Perspiration sheened his forehead. ‘A bit. It's nothing.'

‘Liar!' she snapped. ‘That's not you. I see an honest man. You can't hide anything from me. I know it hurts.'

‘It does a little,' he admitted.

‘Go home,' the beggar ordered. ‘I'm sorry, there's no help I can give you, but be careful. These men might come knocking on your door again. They knew where you'd be today, that means you've been targeted and followed. Understand?'

James regarded her for a few moments. There was a lively and perceptive mind hidden under all those rags. A woman that clever shouldn't be living in an alley. He withdrew all the notes from his wallet. ‘Thank you, you've helped with good advice and for that I'm very grateful. I'm honoured to give help in return. It's not much, but it's everything I have. Please tell me you'll spend this on some hot food.'

His words seemed to break through the woman's gruffness. She stared up at him. James was captured by her intensity, but there was a touch of madness in her green eyes. She suddenly looked awfully familiar. He searched his mind, but could not place her.

They shared a moment in silence. James could easily bear a silence, unlike so many of his fellow MPs. They loved the sound of their own voices. None of them would have stopped since there would have been nothing to gain by the encounter. With no cameras around to capture the moment, nothing would have appeared in the media, and so no advantage gained. Instead, there was just James and the woman. He had a powerful feeling of deja vu. She detached an arm from the burrowed recesses of her blanket and squeezed his hand in thanks as she took the money. ‘You are so very kind,' she said gently, the wild cast in her eyes softening. ‘Hot food, I promise.'

James smiled wanly. Jeez, his knackers hurt. ‘My pleasure, madam. Be safe.'

He strode away as quickly as his injuries allowed. Now, where had he seen her before? He was so consumed in thought he completely and intentionally forgot to pick up the bag.

The woman watched him go. The blanket stirred and a pigeon's head appeared. ‘All right, Agnes, let's see what's in the bag Mr Timbrill was so careful to leave behind.' She opened the holdall and pulled out a great big thick wad of twenties. There was a moment's silence, then she tossed the wad back into the bag and stared thoughtfully at James's back until he limped round a corner and disappeared.

‘My, my, I don't think we need worry about the price of bird seed for a while,' she murmured.

Miller sat in the usual meeting room deep in the heart of The City. A fine view, he thought idly, staring out of the window while Woolley and Brasenose bickered and argued. What the hell was wrong with them. A bunch of nervous old men with too much money and an incurable addiction to power. He curled a weary lip at Adam Netheridge who in turn rolled his eyes in exasperation.

‘Gentlemen,' Miller said loudly and forcefully enough to silence the room, ‘I'm happy to report first contact with Spanker Timbrill.' Yeah, he thought, my fist in contact with his belly. Mmm, that had been a pleasant moment. Miller had always been given a wide latitude by Netheridge and took full advantage of his operational freedom, but grabbing hold of another man's goolies didn't quite cut the mustard as much as a good thump in the guts.

‘All went according to plan. The encounter was brief but – ah, instructive.'

‘I can imagine,' rumbled Black. Miller had proved himself on numerous occasions to be direct, brutal and sadistic. ‘And the invitation?'

‘Delivered.'

‘Good. It's always best to establish the nature of these relationships from the beginning.'

‘A bag full of money is a powerful incentive,' agreed Woolley. His own avarice blinded him to any other conclusion. Naturally, he expected James to react in the same way he would himself. A pecuniary incentive backed up by the threat of violence usually obtained the required results and, of course, the moment Timbrill accepted just one payment then the man was theirs, heart and soul, to be corrupted for as long as he was useful.

Miller's mobile vibrated. He took the call while the others congratulated themselves on their cleverness, but Netheridge studied his man's face and knew all was not well. This assessment was swiftly confirmed.

‘Gentlemen,' announced Miller flatly, once the call had ended. ‘I regret to announce Mr Timbrill has misplaced the invitation.'

There was a stunned silence. Miller smirked, despite his flash of anger at hearing the news. He so loved to see them all discomfited. ‘I tasked one of my colleagues to observe the target post-delivery. He emerged from the venue without the invitation. My colleague entered the venue to make enquiry. My colleague has confirmed the invitation was not left in the venue. Despite an extensive search, it has not been located. Therefore, we have to assume Timbrill has not accepted the invitation and it has been lost.' His information was delivered in terse, accurate packets, one piece of information per sentence. Military style. Actually, Herefordshire style. Thanks for the SAS education, boys.

‘Goddammit,' muttered Brasenose. ‘What the hell's wrong with the man.'

‘You mean we've lost the money!' snapped Woolley.

‘Actually, I've lost the money,' Netheridge pointed out mildly. ‘You've lost nothing.'

‘Ah, er, quite,' blustered Woolley.

‘So where is it?' asked Black.

‘If it's not in the venue, nor with Timbrill, then maybe your colleague has it,' suggested Woolley. ‘Thought he'd help himself to a small perk, perhaps?'

Miller did not rise to the suggestion. ‘My team is hand-picked and personally trained by myself. I trust them implicitly,' he said.

‘Well, if it's gone, it's gone.' Brasenose waved a hand dismissively. Miller was astonished at how blasé they could be – if the cash had been his, he'd have hunted it down to the ends of the earth and then been merciless to the thief.

‘That's all very well for you to say,' objected Netheridge. ‘I've just shelled out a lot of money with no tangible return on my investment.'

‘Stop whining, Adam,' said Woolley. ‘We'll all make a contribution if you feel like that, although I have to say I'm surprised you're bleating over such a trifling amount.'

‘I'm not. The amount is negligible. I'm just disappointed we were unable to obtain immediate results.'

Miller observed Netheridge closely. Just losing a quarter mill had to hurt, even for him. Funny, none of them would have batted an eyebrow spending extravagantly on a yacht or a couple of first-class Russian whores or even half of Hampshire, but to just lose it completely? Ouch! ‘I think you've underestimated his resolve,' he said crisply. Black snickered to himself. Miller passed the buck with smooth professionalism. Had the invitation been successful, it would have been a ‘we' situation.

‘Or perhaps you were not persuasive enough,' probed Woolley, always keen to blame a scapegoat.

Miller was having none of that. ‘Be assured, I was,' he retorted grimly. ‘Would you like a demonstration? I think you'll find I had an excellent grip on the situation.'

‘Enough jokes,' snapped Netheridge. Despite his nonchalance, he was quietly fuming over the loss of his cash. ‘Timbrill has made a serious tactical error and needs to be punished. He does not seem to appreciate the gravity of his situation. He was warned of the consequences and has chosen to ignore that warning, although apparently in an entirely unexpected way.' Who actually
loses
that much money, especially an accountant? ‘As a result, his actions have now made his wife and her bird legitimate targets. I suggest we direct our attention to them, and in particular, the bird. Agreed?'

‘Agreed,' the others said in turn. Miller examined his nails, seemingly disinterested. He did it for effect, knowing this low level of insubordination really ticked off his employers, but they needed him and his unique skill set. He appeared lost in his own thoughts as a silence stretched out in the room, but in fact was counting in his head.

‘At your leisure, Mr Miller,' ground out Woolley eventually. Damn, eleven seconds. Almost a record.

‘Oh, sorry, I didn't know you were waiting for me,' he apologised suavely. Netheridge snickered. Miller was brilliant at annoying them. ‘I was hoping, like you, that our invitation would be a sufficient incentive. Sadly, this has not proved to be the case so we must now move to the standby phase of our operation. As agreed previously, the alternative target has been under observation for some time by my team. They've been on her tail for weeks.'

‘Are they any good?' asked Woolley peevishly. ‘I don't want amateurs on the job.'

Miller snorted in contempt at the jibe. ‘MI5 are novices in close quarter surveillance compared to my experienced team.' Miller had trained his men personally. Even those jokers from JSON were no match for him. They'd been caught. By a bird, for Christ's sake. There was no way he'd ever make such a fundamental error. Careful man, was Miller.

‘I have been analysing her movements,' he continued. ‘There have been no significant departures from her normal domestic routine. With regard to her home, its rural location ensures it is reasonably secluded. I have identified access and escape routes. I have also made preparations for the incarceration of the macaw at a nearby facility. There are one or two minor arrangements still to complete with my team, but essentially I am in a position to move on your instruction. If required, I can guarantee the macaw will be in our hands by the end of the week.'

The men looked at each other around the table, then nodded in unison.

Miller smiled. ‘Thank you, gentlemen, it looks like I'm heading west. Time to break out the wellies and grease up the sheep.'

CHAPTER FIVE

‘You must tell the police! I'll not have another man touching my husband's private parts.'

Celeste was adamant. James stood before her with his trousers and leather pants down around his ankles. She was shocked at the marbled bruising on his space hoppers. They were definitely the wrong colour. Plummy. Literally! His spuds had actually darkened like a pair of Victorias fit to fall in autumn. Add into the mix the PM's pen tattoo and James's lower half was beginning to look exceedingly artistic. A sort of Jackson Pollock-inspired post-expressionist study in blue.

Bertie bobbed on his perch, watching them both with great interest. This looked like it was shaping up as a typical evening for his mum and dad. No doubt Dad would start kneeling soon – he did look good kneeling, especially in leather – and when that happened a jolly good time would be had by all.

‘Is that wise, darling? I feel I'm already taking a risk telling you. These people need to be taken seriously.'

‘I think it's safe to assume we passed way beyond risk when you dropped off their cash with the old lady.'

‘I'm not taking any bribe,' said James flatly. ‘I needed to get rid of that bag as soon as possible. Besides, she looked like she could do with a bit of help.'

‘Darling, I think what you did was absolutely wonderful. That's why I love you so much.' She peered at his injured undercarriage again. ‘I think I'm going to run you a nice hot bath with extra bubbles, then we'll get some soothing lotion rubbed into those. How does that sound?'

‘Will I be tied up?'

‘Of course.'

‘Gagged?'

‘Naturally.'

‘Then that sounds absolutely splendid. It's a radical treatment regime from the cutting edge of medicine, but I think it'll really help with the bruising.' He paused, suddenly unsure, then sighed unhappily. ‘Frankly, I'm still in two minds as to whether I should have even mentioned what happened.'

‘Like you can possibly imagine I'd not notice something was wrong,' she observed with impressive sarcasm. ‘Honestly, James, we are talking about my favourite parts of you. Well, apart from your red hot bot, of course.'

‘I don't want to put you in any danger. I'd never forgive myself if any harm came to you. Or Bertie.'

‘It won't. My baby will protect me, won't you, sweetheart.'

‘Oh, yes,' said Bertie, ‘I will. What am I saying?' he added conversationally.

‘I'm sure he will, but they'll know if we go to the police. These sort of people always know, and there's no way I'm risking getting you involved. Or Bertie.' James stepped out of his trousers and pants, his lower nakedness wafted by dangling shirt tails. He winced at the tenderness in his marital department. ‘God, I'm getting flashbacks to those burglars in London. You don't think it's anything to do with them, do you? They're out of prison now.'

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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