Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World (9 page)

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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‘Hmm, a financial inducement backed up by the threat of violence. It's always the same. These people show no imagination because they themselves would find the cash impossible to resist. Naturally he was also told not to contact the police,' said Wilf.


‘Which was why you called me.'

‘Not my idea. It was Bertie's suggestion.'

They both turned to stare at the macaw. ‘Guilty,' he said in a sonorous Highland accent immediately identifiable as Mr Justice Alistair Cruikshank's.

‘Bloody hell, he's as sharp as ever, isn't he?'

‘Yes he is,' said Celeste, with conviction. ‘You have no idea.'

‘I have, actually. I'm really rather fond of him, you know.' Wilf gently stroked Bertie's neck, then smoothed down the feathers along his broad back. ‘So, back to your problem. Do you still have the money?'


‘Of course you don't,' said Wilf, rolling his eyes with professional weariness. ‘What happened?'

‘James was taking it back to his office in Westminster when he stopped to help out a beggar.'

‘Let me guess.' His tone expressed sarcasm on a truly biblical scale.

‘It was only when he got back to his office he found he'd forgotten to pick up the cash.'

‘And you believe that?'

‘Of course I don't,' retorted Celeste with a sunny smile. ‘My husband is a qualified accountant. From Gloucester. He is not the sort of man who idly leaves a quarter of a million pounds with a bag lady by mistake, but he is the sort of man who would help someone less fortunate than himself with a generous act of kindness, regardless of the consequences. This is one of the reasons I love him so much.'

Wilf sighed. ‘That could have been a major error. Evidence like that is a forensic dream and can often lead to a conviction. Also, and I'm going out on a limb here, those masterminding the attack just might be a tad upset he's given the lot away.'

‘Tough. Too late now. I completely support my husband's actions.'

‘So you're worried about possible repercussions. What do you want me to do?'

‘I'm not an expert in these matters, but it seems to me we have two alternatives.'

‘Next Wednesday figures significantly in one of these alternatives, doesn't it?'

‘Detective Sergeant, I've always been most impressed with your perspicacity,' purred Celeste. Wilf liked it when she purred. He rather liked it when Bertie purred as well. This was a family that had been working diligently on its purring. ‘Firstly, do you think we should report the incident and get the police officially involved?'

Wilf gazed into the distance again, eyes narrowed in thought. ‘Chances are, of course, that the brains behind these thugs are in unassailable positions of power. Only those in power would be worried about the waves your husband's making – or have the resources to fill that holdall.'

‘Makes sense.'

‘Such people will certainly have influence in the higher ranks of the Met.' People like Hugo Chaplain, for instance. Wilf made a mental note to check up on Chaplain when he got back to London. Make sure he's behaving himself. ‘They would know immediately if you told the police. Defying those specific instructions would certainly expose you and Bertie to the danger James is so keen to avoid.'

‘My thoughts exactly. Besides, if we take that course then it's out of your hands. You would have to go back to London and do whatever it is you're planning to do in retirement while the police investigate. Sound attractive?' Celeste knew her man. ‘Or, and this is my second alternative, you stay as our guest for as long as you like and keep an eye on things here at home. I've never felt vulnerable before, what with Bertie always on hand and my own particular skills with weapons of defence, but this is a fairly secluded location and the men James described were pretty hefty guys. I'd feel happier if you'd stay as my muscle.'

‘I've been called many things in my life, but never “muscle”,' chuckled Wilf. ‘I'm rather flattered.'

‘Obviously, I prefer James to be here as well, but he feels he can't deviate from his normal routine. He's under almost constant press scrutiny at the best of times so they'd soon notice his absence at Westminster and start digging. I'm sure you'll agree it's best if he carries on as normal, show these people he's not intimidated, even if this does provoke a response. The threats made to him were very clear. Bertie and I have almost certainly moved up to target status, and that's a worrying thought.'

‘I can understand that, Celeste, but having someone here will greatly reduce the chance of something unpleasant happening. Any policeman will tell you these characters always prefer to wait for the moment when you're at your most vulnerable, and that's when you're on your own. Why do you think they nabbed James in the loo? Still, we can take some simple but effective measures to beef up security. I'll have to accompany you wherever you go, of course.'

‘No you won't. You'll stay with Bertie. He's more vulnerable.'

‘There's two scarred ex-cons who'd disagree with that.'

‘I don't care, Wilf.' Celeste's tone brooked no argument. ‘I can look after myself.'

‘Previous experience tells me he can as well,' observed Wilf dryly. ‘Do you have an alarm?'

‘Don't be ridiculous. I don't even lock the doors.'

‘Right, well, that's going to change, starting now. What's in your appointments book for the next week?'

‘I have an appointment at the hairdressers in Tewkesbury on Friday, and I'm sure I can handle that on my own. You can stay with Bertie and spend your time making preparations, laying the groundwork so to speak, for a smooth transition from serving officer in the Metropolitan Police to your new career as a concerned citizen privately engaged in solving our problem.'

Wilf ruminated. Like Buttercup. Then she farted. Wilf didn't follow her lead. He could have sworn a contented grin spread across her vacant bovine features.

Celeste Timbrill was a difficult woman to resist. On every level. He had to admit, of all the cases he'd handled in his long and largely undistinguished career, he'd never had so much fun as he'd had with her, despite the ever present risk of severe testicular damage, and the thought of just fading away into obscurity filled him with dismay. They both knew she was throwing him a lifeline. ‘All right, I'll do it,' he said finally. ‘For old times' sake.' The alternative was another Pie Dilemma.

‘Now we're cooking,' said Bertie.


Doreen looked at her watch. Not long to go now. She checked the salon diary for the following morning. Blast! Her first appointment was Seraphina Truscott. Old Snotty Totty herself. The damned woman was never satisfied. Thought she was better than everyone in town since she snagged Sir Gerald last year. Gerry was the local aristocrat who lived up at Sodbury Grange. Seraphina went for the title, but didn't do her research – Gerry was boracic. Snotty found out soon enough once they were married and was not at all impressed. She'd carried a face like a spanked arse ever since. Still, Doreen was confident she'd have no trouble handling Snotty after her recent conversations with Moaning Maria. Now, there was a woman who could effortlessly grumble her way to an Olympic final.

The day had been busy and all three of them were tired. Sandra, her assistant stylist, and Maggie, the apprentice, made up Doreen's modest staff. Both revered their Gaia. In fact, both were absolutely essential in helping her juggle her twin careers of popular provincial hairdresser and Ruler of the World. Now, that was an odd mix, but whereas one of her roles was shrouded in absolute secrecy, Doreen's hairdressing history was well known.

After studying at Gloucestershire College and serving an apprenticeship in Thornbury, Doreen had saved her pennies and opened her salon in Chipping Sodbury – and things hadn't exactly got off to an auspicious start. Her choice of name,
, needed to be painted above the front window, but unable to afford a proper signwriter she'd engaged Bernie's brother. This was an unfortunate choice because Doug was dyslexic – and he'd also been out on the cider the night before, so the salon became
. And it stayed that way. Doreen was genuinely surprised how few people noticed.

The salon struggled at first, as all new businesses do, but she was a determined woman and not afraid of hard work. Her little empire grew slowly and on occasion took priority over motherhood; Bernie often had to mind the kids in the evening while she made home visits, but her reputation spread and Pancake transformed itself into a little pot of gold, after all, she'd tapped into an inexhaustible market – hair is always growing!

came – and brought Sandra with her to help out.

Although possessing one of the three classical names forever associated with hairdressing, Sandra proved universally abysmal at her new job. Customers avoided her if they could and Doreen often had to step in to save a cut which was heading off the rails at terrifying speed. Sandra's approach was more akin to logging, as Maggie once observed. Despite numerous complaints, Doreen always stoutly defended Sandra. Her talents lay elsewhere. Her colouring may have been questionable, but she was a first-class political analyst. Her poodle perming was once likened to coiled barbed wire clogged with tufts of windswept lambswool, but she was an incisive and talented administrator, fully justifying her position as Doreen's Number Two, a sort of Assistant Goddess. But for all those incredible talents, a razor-sharp mind, long auburn hair, warm brown eyes, a great figure and lively personality, she was miserably unlucky in love. Popes put on the Fisherman's Ring more often than Sandra had sex. She was well known in the Sisterhood for the paucity of her love life and its associated frustration, and this resulted in much good-natured ribbing. She needed a right old rogering, but somehow, bizarrely, there were never any takers. The eligible of Chipping Sodbury were, to a man, intimidated by her fearsome intellect, but for all that, she devoted herself to the Sisterhood and worshipped Doreen.

Doreen looked up from the diary. The last customer had professed herself happy and paid. ‘Thanks, Julie, see you in six weeks. Don't forget to try that new conditioner!' The front door was closed and locked, the Open/Closed sign turned appropriately. Maggie emerged from the kitchenette with coffees and started to sweep the floor.

‘So, have you sorted the Paraguayan debacle?' asked Sandra.

‘Hope so. Maria wasn't too happy.'

‘Sod her. She's quick to enjoy the benefits of being a President's shag basket. Make her work for the privilege. Sexual denial is just about as potent a weapon as you can get. Got to be careful with the Bolivians, mind you. They've always been a bit twitchy.'

‘I don't anticipate any real problems. We'll see how it goes. Maria's got a real incentive to pull it off – I've offered her a day's shoe shopping in London.'

‘Christ, expect peace to break out all over South America.'

‘For all her complaints, she is
good at her job.'

Sandra consulted the diary. ‘I see you've got Snotty first thing tomorrow.'

‘It's an exercise in patience.'

‘Want me to have a go at her?'


The phone rang. ‘Panache, Sandra speaking, can I help?' She listened for a moment, then beckoned furiously to Doreen. ‘You'll never guess who's on the line,' she whispered, covering the mouthpiece.

Doreen shrugged. ‘Sixty-odd million people live in this country. You'll have to give me a bit more of a clue.'

‘It's the Ginger Ninja!'

Instantly alert, Doreen took the receiver from Sandra and composed herself with a deep breath. ‘Hello, Alice, this is a rare treat,' she said carefully.

‘Gaia. Not much time. Agnes needs feeding.'

‘How is she?'

‘She's a pigeon, Gaia. She doesn't talk much,' came the testy reply.

‘And you? Are you looking after yourself?'

‘Life is hard, Gaia.'

‘You make it hard, Alice. You could come home to us. There's always a welcome for you here. You can rest, perhaps.'

‘Impossible. Too much to do.'

‘Still worried about those pesky mobile phones?'

‘Yes, but that's not why I'm calling.'

‘Oh?' Doreen's heart sank. Poor Alice Prothero. The Ginger Ninja. Once so intimately involved with the Sisterhood, she had suffered a major mental episode and taken to the streets of London, living under the radar and a large red bobble hat, convinced of a colossal global conspiracy to cover up the fact that global warming was caused by microwave emissions from mobile phone networks. This obsession had driven a schism between her and the few friends who still cared. Now it seemed there was something else to fret that extraordinary mind. ‘What's bothering you this time?'

‘James Timbrill.'

Doreen froze, unable to say anything. Alice cackled. Not a good sound over the phone. ‘There, I thought that might catch your attention.'

‘What about him?' asked Doreen carefully. The subject of James Timbrill – and his wife – was very close to her heart.

‘I've been keeping an unofficial eye on him. You know, when I can spare the time from my research.'

‘Thank you, Alice. I didn't know that. I do appreciate your concern.'

‘I remember his potential importance. I haven't forgotten everything,' she added peevishly.

‘Of course not. So what's happened?'

‘He's been attacked.'

‘Is he injured?' asked Doreen. ‘No, of course he isn't,' she added, ‘otherwise it would have been on the news.'

‘Oh, he was hurt all right. Nasty testicular damage, by the looks of it, but nothing lasting, nothing that should worry his wife. It took three men to injure him. Professionals. Real nasty sods. Odd sort of a mugging, though. Nothing was stolen, but they left him a gift. A very generous gift, actually.'

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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