Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World (8 page)

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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‘I don't know. Maybe.' They stared at each other for a few moments. Bertie sensed they were both at a loss. It didn't happen often, especially with Celeste. She was a woman who knew her mind, who took control. Especially over her mate. It didn't look like he was going to see her in her finest plumage after all. He guessed The Kneeling Man would be equally disappointed.

‘Hello, sailor,' he chipped in helpfully, feeling the silence needed filling. He peered at Celeste, a little concerned at her pensive frown. She chewed at her lower lip, a sure sign of doubt, but Bertie had absolute faith in his mum and remained warmed and comforted by her presence. His love for her was simple and unshakable, but he was also well tuned to her moods. She was definitely unsure, as if she wanted help. The Kneeling Man usually made her smile, particularly during their complex mating rituals, but he, too, was on edge. He also seemed to be in some considerable pain, and wriggled in discomfort. Perhaps they both needed a helping hand with whatever problem concerned them, maybe a few words of encouragement. He thought hard and eventually came up with two solutions.

The first involved a really large bowl of creamy, plump Brazil nuts followed by a pear or two. Bertie dwelled on the image. Yes, that's what he'd vote for if it was up to him, but somehow he knew on this occasion it wouldn't help. No, he needed to pursue the second alternative. Mummy and daddy required assistance from another human. Mrs Badham came to mind immediately, but this problem did not seem to involve dusting the house or the immediate deployment of a vacuum cleaner. Gavin next door and his inquisitive cows, perhaps? Again, he pondered for a moment before rejecting Gav and moving on. Sadly, there was not much moving on to do. Bertie's world was now almost exclusively centred around home life; indeed, few other humans had ever impressed him enough to warrant a place in his memory.

But there was one. Oh, yes, there was one who had made quite an impression. Grey, thin and unsmiling, easily manipulated, but a good friend nonetheless, this one had helped his mum before, but, most importantly, had also introduced him to Milly. Yes, he well remembered this man.

‘Wilf,' said Bertie casually, dropping his suggestion into the silence. Celeste and James both stared at him in wide-eyed shock. Goodness, he hadn't seen that look in a while! Rather missed it, if truth be told. ‘Wilf,' he repeated, this time with a little more emphasis. Come on, guys, keep up!

‘Wilf!' exclaimed Celeste, much to Bertie's relief. It had taken some time, but she seemed to have got the message at last. Bertie sometimes wondered just how these funny little apes had come to rule the planet.

‘Wilf!' stuttered James. Thank heavens, even The Kneeling Man was catching on. He usually brought up the rear in these matters, being a man and all that. All three exchanged stares. ‘Well cover me in pancake batter and spank me till Shrove Tuesday, I think that's a damned good idea,' exclaimed James at last.

‘What a clever boy,' said Celeste, stroking Bertie's head. He immediately started purring with pride. Yes, it was good to be the brainy one of the family. ‘He's the only policeman we know and a damned good one at that. He knows how to be discreet. It wouldn't be suspicious asking him down to stay for the weekend. Everyone knows we're friends. We can ask his advice. Do the police do private commissions – you know, sub-contract work?'

‘No, I don't think so,' said James. ‘Once you get them officially involved I think you'll find they are obliged by law to investigate to the fullest extent on behalf of the state.'

‘But they can only start an investigation if they receive a complaint.'

‘That's one trigger.'

‘Well, maybe we can ask him to have a nose around but not make a complaint.'

‘I don't know,' said James pensively. ‘I don't think it works that way. By anyone's book, I've been assaulted. That's a crime. Once it's been reported, off they go full of enthusiasm to boost their clear-up rates.'

‘Hmm, well, why don't we invite him down for the weekend anyway and see how it goes. I've been meaning to call him for some time now, just to catch up.'

‘Was he promoted after the case?'

‘Yes, but he may well have retired now.'

‘He's not that old, surely.'

‘Always difficult to tell Wilf's age,' said Celeste. ‘And don't call me Shirley!'

Detective Sergeant Wilfred Thompson was on the path to retirement. This path had not been triggered by age nor by the accumulation of sufficient funds – and it was certainly not being followed voluntarily. Rather, he had been prodded and poked on to it by his superior officer who had suggested in no uncertain terms that Wilf leave the force under his own steam and with the benefit of a good pension, instead of being forcibly ejected by the disciplinary board.

The reason for this draconian action was simple. In the two years since his promotion, Wilf had driven Detective Chief Inspector Tristram Yates to the point of volcanic frustration, sending his blood pressure through the roof and contributing significantly to his accelerating rate of premature baldness. The focus and energy that had seen Yates bound effortlessly up the police corporate ladder had been diverted from his desire for promotion and channelled almost entirely into handling Wilf – and Wilf had worn him down. Crikey, had Wilf worn him down. Wound up to breaking point by that exasperating combination of Wilf's peerless detective skills, coupled with his smouldering insubordination and open resentment of authority, Yates had finally pulled the nuclear trigger.

As for Wilf, he'd rather enjoyed the past couple of years. Promoted after the Gordon burglary case with its extraordinary and devastating consequences, he'd strolled through his workload like a hot knife through butter, gathering in all manner of obnoxious miscreants and packing them off to court. He had one of the highest conviction rates in the Met and was admired greatly across the force for his unruffled approach and unconventional methods.

Except by Yates.

Yates didn't like unconventional methods. Yates liked convention. His mind worked on order. On precision. Meticulousness. The Book.

Wilf's intuitive approach was not covered by The Book. He drew on his vast experience, dogged determination – and contempt for convention. He and dear Tristram were like poles on a magnet, forever being forced into closer and closer contact, but never to actually touch. In this competition, the smart money around the station was on Wilf, but Yates possessed the ultimate power and had finally used it. Ruthlessly.

And so Wilf was now working out his last week of retirement notice on gardening leave. He still carried his warrant card and remained a serving officer, but Yates had taken a leaf out of Canon Law and excommunicated him, banning him from the station and effectively destroying his ability to carry out his job. If Wilf hadn't equally exasperated his Police Federation representative, he might have had recourse, but it all now seemed utterly pointless. Pity, he wasn't yet ready. He had plenty more stomach for the fight, but Yates had finally snapped.


The trouble had always been Yates.

What a tit!

And now, as if all that wasn't bad enough, here he was experiencing an acute attack of Pie Dilemma.

Wilf stood in the local Co-op armed with his bachelor's basket and burdened with an impossible choice. Steak and kidney versus chicken and mushroom in a shortcrust topping Death Match. Which should he have in a sandwich when he got home? He hefted one in each hand, balancing them in a moment of uncharacteristic indecision. Ham and leek had already been rejected on the grounds that he liked neither of the constituents. Ham he found too salty and leek too slimy, which really only left the pastry, and even Wilf, as seasoned a bachelor as he was, even he couldn't face a pie without a filling, especially between two slices of bread. He sighed sadly, a bitter twist to his lips. How had it come to this, when the most important decision of his day was pie-based. Thankfully, mercifully, wonderfully, his phoned chirruped. The theme tune to
Z Cars
. Now, that had been a good programme, and the real reason he'd originally joined the force. For a young lad eagerly anticipating each new episode, the wonderful world of policing proved irresistible – even in black and white! Both pies were tossed back on the shelf. He peered at the screen, saw the caller ID and all the sourness that stained his face evaporated in an instant, leaving a rare smile.

‘Ex-Detective Sergeant Wilfred Thompson,' he said crisply. ‘Macaw recoveries a speciality, governments brought down to order!'

‘Hello, Wilf,' chuckled a familiar and still very lovely contralto.

‘Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs, Celeste Gordon, now Timbrill.'

‘Haven't forgotten, then?'

‘Now that's not very likely, is it?' he countered with his usual heavy dose of sarcasm. He was feeling better already. Quite chipper, actually. ‘God, it's great to hear your voice again.'


‘Gardening leave and on the path to enforced retirement.'

‘I can tell from the tone of your voice you're really happy about it,' replied Celeste, matching his sarcasm. Wilf had missed her dry wit.

‘I had a minor disagreement with a senior officer,' he said bluntly. ‘It was either retirement with full honours and a pension, or the disciplinary board and a ritual casting out into the wilderness.'

Celeste guessed he had only been given the choice in grudging respect for his professional qualities and, more importantly, to keep the press from turning him into a martyr – after all, Wilf had been instrumental in solving the case of the decade.

‘That's a shame,' said Celeste. ‘You have a real gift.'

‘Others don't think so.'

‘Ah, yes, the less talented officers in the Met. Sorry, I meant to say your superiors.' Celeste paused and Wilf caught on straight away.

‘You in trouble?'

‘Maybe. Yes. I don't know.'

‘Indecision? That's not the Celeste I knew.'

‘I've not been in this situation before.'

‘Is Bertie all right?' he asked suddenly.

‘Yes, but why do you ask?'

‘Well, we've all seen the consequences of his actions. He seems to have the knack of stirring things up, so I just wondered.'

‘Not this time. It's James who has the problem.' Celeste noted obliquely that Wilf had asked after her pet but not her husband. She tried not to read too much into that. ‘We were wondering if you could come down to Gloucestershire to see us. I guess you have time on your hands so why not stay for a couple of days.'

Wilf's mind was already working away, looking at angles, at motives. He couldn't help himself. ‘So you think your phone's not tapped because you called me, but the situation is serious enough to warrant a face-to-face discussion, yet because of our previous association and friendship my appearance at your home would not arouse any undue suspicion just in case you're under surveillance. My, Celeste, what have you been up to?'

‘That's the Wilf I remember,' she cooed in admiration. ‘I've come over all goosebumpy.'

‘I have that effect on women. And, oddly enough, llamas.'

‘So are you available?'

‘Let me consult my diary. Hmm, it's so full. How about tomorrow morning, the first off-peak train into Gloucester from Paddington.' Without looking, Wilf grabbed the nearest pie off the shelf, tossed it into his basket and headed for the checkout with a new spring in his step. It was only when he got home he discovered it was ham and leek.

‘I've never been this far west,' said Wilf, standing at the bottom of the garden and looking out across the Severn Vale. The Malverns swept upwards in the distance, a roller-coaster silhouette of bald hills all in a line, a uniquely dramatic panorama found nowhere else in England. ‘It's lovely,' he added. ‘I can see why you gave up London.'

‘Yes, we like it a lot,' replied Celeste.

‘Big trees,' added Bertie. ‘Very nice.'

‘That's all right, then,' nodded Wilf, peering with affection at the big macaw. Bertie sat on a fence post protruding from the thick hawthorn hedge separating the garden from a field full of Gav's finest milkers. One separated herself from the herd and ambled over for a nose, udder swaying. She blinked coquettishly at them, chewing her cud with methodical deliberation.

‘Hello, Buttercup,' said Wilf. ‘Blimey, haven't you got gorgeous eyelashes.'

‘That's the most disturbing comment I've ever heard you say.'

‘And you're so big as well. I could get a lot of chops out of you.'

‘Chops come from pigs and sheep.'

‘Oh, sorry, I thought they came from Asda. I've had my mind on other things recently.'

‘So I gather. We had no idea you were leaving the force.'

‘Neither did I.'

‘When do you actually finish?'

‘Next Wednesday.'

‘That soon? Would you like to stay with us until then and we can celebrate?'

‘I'm not celebrating,' snapped Wilf.

‘Now don't you go all bitter on me, Detective Sergeant,' said Celeste brusquely. ‘We can do without that, thank you very much.'

Wilf shrugged. ‘Sorry. Old habits die hard.'

‘Time for new ones, then.' She and Wilf stared out again, drinking in the glorious view. He breathed in grass-scented air. It was considerably more pleasant than the pervasive whiff of diesel so often found in London. ‘So what's on your mind, Celeste?' he finally said. ‘Skip the bits that have been reported in the papers over the last few years. I've been keeping a distant eye on you both, just in case of … repercussions.' They both knew what he meant.

‘James was attacked in London day before yesterday. This was no ordinary random assault. He was targeted because of who he is and what he's doing at Westminster. Three men roughed him up a bit, told him he would be contacted from time to time with specific instructions, that he would be required to comply with these instructions and that Bertie and I would be in danger if he didn't toe the line. As an indication of their goodwill, they left a holdall containing a large amount of money. Actually, a very large amount indeed.'

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
11.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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