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Authors: Marty Wingate

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BOOK: The Rhyme of the Magpie
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“They came into the village with your hat,” I said. “That's the first I knew.”

“He tied my wrists and told me to get in the boot.” Dad passed a hand over his eyes as if to wipe away the memory. “We stopped after an hour or so, he took me from the car to a plain room in some industrial area. Concrete floor, no windows, two chairs, and a small table. And there I sat.”

“He never phoned with a ransom demand,” I said. “What did he want?”

Dad shrugged. “I believe Carl realized his mistake quickly. I heard him on the phone, arguing. Then it was quiet until this morning, when Bertie walked in.”

“Bertie?” I asked in amazement. “Carl and Bertie? They sound like a music hall act.”

Dad grinned, and relief spread over his face. “Bertie took one look at me and said, ‘Bloody hell,' and walked out again. I heard their voices outside the door. ‘And what did you think you would do with him?' Bertie said. ‘That's why I rang you, Bertie,' Carl replied, ‘I knew you would take care of it.' And Bertie said, ‘I'm finished cleaning up your messes, Carl—I told you that.' ”

“How did you escape?” Flint asked.

“That was no escape—Bertie released me. I think you'll find, Sergeant, that Bertie's quite willing to give you all the information you need to put Carl away. He'll probably ring the station himself. I know he's been involved in
some…questionable
activities in the past, but I hope you'll go easy on him—Bertie has a kind heart.”

“Dad.” I stood up, indignant. “He kidnapped you.”

“Carl kidnapped me—Bertie let me go. Especially after my mobile phone began to ring. Bertie had put it on the charger, although Carl took exception to that and pulled it out of the wall after a few minutes. Still, it had enough power to ring—all afternoon it rang. Bertie showed me the number. ‘That's my daughter,' I said.”

“I thought it couldn't hurt to try.”

Dad beamed. “ ‘You know how daughters worry about their dads, Bertie,' I said. He does know, as it turns out—has a daughter himself who's a big fan of the program. So he let me go, dropping me on the A1065. ‘You'll find a lift from here, won't you?' he asked. But it was a fine evening. I knew my way and I was happy to be free and walk. Bertie sent you that text with the last bit of battery power. RL @ ME. I knew you would recognize it.” He turned to Flint. “It's how I keep my field
notebook—you've
got to have a system so that when you go back to read it, it's all quite clear.”

Flint had been attending to the story as avidly as any fan. I hid my smile. Yeah, that's my dad. Kidnapped, tied up, talking himself out of the entire situation—and getting a good story out of it.

“And they said nothing about why Carl took you?” Flint asked.

“Just this—the last thing Bertie said to me was ‘You wouldn't think birds would cause this much of a stir, now would you? Not even those rare ones.' ”

Gavin,
I thought. I looked over at Michael and knew he thought the same.

“Now, sir,” Flint said, “we don't have any photos of these two, so we'll get a sketch artist for you to talk with at the station.”

“Not a bit of it,” Rupert said. “I can draw them—let me fetch a notebook from my study.”

“No, Dad, here,” I said, pulling his notebook from my bag.

“Ah, there it is. I was sorry to leave that behind at the camp,” Dad said.

Flint's gaze went from the notebook to me. I kept my eyes on my dad, although I could feel my cheeks growing warm. Now that Rupert was with us again, Flint could have the notebook—I didn't care.

Dad opened his notebook, flipping through for a blank page. Both Flint and Michael looked over his shoulder, and soon Dad was explaining his shorthand technique for remembering where he was and what he saw. “It's simple, but it suits me well. And I don't mind sharing it with others.”

He got to work. But he was more accustomed to sketching birds than people, and so it was no wonder Bertie—the bigger of the two—ended up looking a bit like a partridge, and Carl—shorter, but with a round middle—took on the appearance of a moorhen fledgling, a ball on tiny sticks.

“What about Kersey?” I asked Flint. “Do Bertie and Carl have something to do with him?” I turned to Rupert. “Dad, had Kersey said anything before to you about Oscar Woodcock?”

Rupert shrugged one shoulder. “He had asked me about birds recently, as if he really wanted to know. I thought Kersey was going to tell me Power to the People were about to make a move on that new wind-farm project, and he wanted to warn me—that would've put Woodcock in his place. They've a powerful PR and lobbying firm behind them now.” Rupert's eyes flickered to Michael and away.

“How would you describe your exchanges with Oscar Woodcock?” Flint asked. “Did he ever mention Kersey directly to you?”

“I believe Woodcock was losing faith in Kersey's ability to present the best face of the company to the public and the government—and that's why he hired HMS.”

“HMS, Ltd.,” I said in a rush. “I came across their offices in Cambridge. It was where that video was taken. They're the PR firm? Dad, do you want me to research them, find out just what they're up to? Those people are using deceptive practices to force through Woodcock's agenda. How can they live with themselves?”

I saw Rupert's eyebrows lift as he looked at Michael, who sat with his elbows resting on his knees, looking at the floor. “Julia doesn't know about your project, Michael?” Michael shook his head slowly. “It's all right, Jools, Michael's taking care of that. He'll have something for us soon, won't you? And he'll tell you all about it?”

Michael sat up, inhaled deeply, and said, “Yes, sir, I'll take care of it.”

“I'd say you'd best do that.”

Michael must've been researching HMS at that news conference.
Right, not your job, Julia, not any longer.
That thought caused a momentary pang. What was my job? I'd almost lost sight of it, but then, with a burst of longing, I remembered my Pipit Cottage, the village, and the TIC. And now that Dad was safe and all was well, I wanted to go home.

Chapter 28

Flint stood, signaling an end to the late evening at Marshy End. He suggested to Rupert that perhaps he'd like to put off signing his statement at the Mildenhall station until after he'd rested a day or so.

“No, I'll go with you now—I'd like this all put behind me.” Dad glanced my way. “Sergeant, do you mind if I have a word with my daughter before we leave?”

Flint didn't mind and left us. Michael said, “I'll wait for you at the car,” and shook hands again with Rupert.

We both leaned against the counter, silent for a moment. But I knew who should begin.

“I'm sorry,” I whispered. “For the things I said.”

Dad shook his head. “No, you don't need to be. It still hurts, I know it does. It hurts me, too. I miss your mother, Julia—I miss her every single day.” He ran his hand through his hair, leaving some of it sticking straight up. “I've had a great deal of time to think and—maybe you were right. Maybe I made a mistake.” His voice broke, and he took a deep breath.

“With Beryl?”

He didn't answer, but I saw the doubt in his eyes.

“No, Dad, no. You care for Beryl, I know you do. Of course, she's no substitute for Mum—but she shouldn't need to be. It may appear to some people”—all right, to me—“that your marriage was too soon, but what you and Beryl have…it in no way detracts from your life with Mum.” I seemed to be running out of steam, but wasn't sure if I'd made my point yet. “My point is that I was wrong for saying you were wrong. We miss Mum, but that doesn't mean you and Beryl can't be happy. But you must understand that Beryl is her own woman, and appreciate her for herself.” There. I exhaled.

“Does Beryl think I don't appreciate her? Because I do, truly.” He frowned and rubbed his forehead. “Although it's quite likely I haven't exactly been the best…” He eyed me as his voice petered out.

“Husband. It's okay, you can say it.” He smiled at the milestone I'd hit—really, I wouldn't've been able to hear the word a week before. I felt strong enough to go further. “Dad, did you and Beryl date before you left for California, where you met Mum?”

I caught him unawares, and he blinked at me twice before giving me an almost imperceptible nod. “We went out a couple of times.”

“Is that why Fenny urged you to leave when you almost didn't? Because he didn't want any competition?”

“Julia, I don't think you need to…”

“Was it?”

He conceded with a shrug. “Possibly. Probably. And it was the best thing he ever did—he gave me my life sending me off to where I met Anne.”

“Yes, I know. It's all right.” But it would take me a while to reshuffle my view of my family and its history. I kept trying to put life in a proper order—like setting the table. Too bad it didn't work that way. “I came across the magpie collage Mum made for you all those years ago. Beryl said Mum made it to celebrate the research paper you and Fenny worked on. What happened to it—the paper? I asked Fenny, but he wouldn't say.”

Dad heaved a huge sigh. “It all seemed to happen at once—we were polishing the paper just as Giles's penchant for married women came to light. Their husbands practically demanded blood, Giles was abject in his apologies, and I tried to step in and prevent them stripping him of all his teaching credentials. They didn't leave him with much.”

“But the article about the magpies'
intelligence—you
both wrote it?”

“Yes, but the university owned it—we carried out the research while we worked there. The president demanded that Giles's name be taken off the research or the paper would never be published.” Dad crossed his arms. “I couldn't do that to him. I told them they could bury it if they liked—that I was leaving the university regardless. And so they did—but it didn't matter, because other studies came out after ours. A study just a few years ago found that magpies could recognize themselves in a mirror.”

“All because of your work—weren't you sorry not to get the credit?”

With a smile, he looked around the kitchen and back at me. “Leaving Cambridge was the best move I ever made. Next to marrying your mum. Look what I got in return—the opportunity to teach everyone, not just natter on to other academics.”

“And Fenny—did he send you that crank letter?”

Dad's face lost all humor. “It seems likely. Giles and Drabwell were asked to write letters of support for the birthday honors—I believe it didn't sit well with either of them.”

I grabbed his hand. “Dad, Beryl told us about the honors list—I think it's fantastic.”

Rupert blushed. “I don't need all that, you know—it seems a bit excessive to me.”

“It's quite appropriate. You stand for something, and people admire you for your work and your…friendly approach to science.”

He laughed. “That quality is not high up on Peter Drabwell's list, I can tell you. And I know Giles wasn't best pleased about the
idea—especially
coming on the heels of the news about Beryl and me. Seems he's never given up the idea that he'd get her back, even after all these years.” He shook his head. “I've allowed him the benefit of the doubt over and over again—but no longer.”

—

The last two PCs waited in the yard for their sergeant to tell them to leave. I heard one say, “A bit too early in the morning for a pint at the WC, I suppose,” and the other laughed quietly. It took me a moment, but then the penny dropped and I laughed, too. The WC—the Wheaten Cairn, not a loo.

Michael and Dad had a word together as I sat in the car. They ended with a handshake and we all drove off—Michael and I followed Flint and Dad out the drive. They turned toward Mildenhall Constabulary, and we turned toward Cambridge, where my car awaited me. Barely four o'clock in the morning and still dark; we were practically alone on the road except for huge lorries that rumbled past.

“Oscar Woodcock could've done it, you know—arranged for Carl to kidnap Rupert. He could be behind
this—kidnapping,
Kersey's murder.”

“He isn't the warmest personality,” Michael said, “but I don't see him as a murderer.”

“Well, he wouldn't do it himself, of course—he'd order it. Put out a hit.”

Michael frowned, but I saw him smile, too. “Mafia?”

Right, well.

“Has Rupert always used a shorthand in his field notes?” he asked.

“Yes, it's an easy system once you know it. The bird names are just initials—CC for carrion crow, RB for reed bunting.”

“BB for blackbird?” Michael asked. As a newly fledged birdwatcher, he seemed eager to be educated. Well, all right—I could help.

“Yeah. And place-names, too—just as he had Bertie use ME for Marshy End. Mildenhall would be MH. Rosemere, the fen near the pub, would be RM.”

“SL for Smeaton-under-Lyme,” Michael offered. “SH for the Stoat and Hare?”

“NT for Nuala's Tea Room.” We smiled. I could just do with a piece of Nuala's chocolate cake right now.

“What if this whole business has nothing to do with birds?” Michael asked. “At least, not the way we think. Who knows Rupert and would want to use him in this way?”

“Everyone knows Rupert,” I replied. “That's the trouble. He's generous with his time. Everyone is important to him, and people take advantage of that. Mostly it's harmless, like Val always talking about Rupert as his ‘great friend.' But occasionally it gets a bit worrisome, like Mad Maddie.”

“And use his name for their own purposes—like Val at the WC,” Michael said, continuing the theme.

“Mmm.” I inhaled and exhaled deeply, trying to stay focused on the conversation.

Michael glanced over at me. “Why don't you sleep?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I'm not tired. I'll keep you company.”

For about one minute. The next thing I knew, Michael was kissing my eyelids and whispering, “Julia?”

We had made it back to Cambridge, and he had parked behind my car. I tried to rub the sleep from my eyes. My teeth felt fuzzy, and I had a kink in my neck.

“You shouldn't have let me sleep,” I said.

“You needed rest—don't you have to work today?”

I nodded. I was alone in the TIC on Sundays, and I would have the afternoon to catch up with work.

Michael got out of the car with me. There was a pale glow of sunrise low in the sky. We both stretched, breathed deeply, and stood on the pavement, looking at each other. Like magnets, we moved
together—comfortable,
close, quiet.

“We missed our dinner date,” he said. “How about a picnic instead?”

“A picnic?” I looked up at him with delight. I must've sounded like a five-year-old, although the images that came to mind were totally inappropriate for a child.

“Tomorrow's your day off? We'll go to the
coast—Lowestoft.”

Hmm, sandy beach—revising images.

“That sounds lovely. I could roast a chicken.”

“I'll sort out the food,” Michael said.

“I'll bring a blanket,” I offered.

He laughed. “I've a blanket and everything,” he said. “All I need is you.”

God, what a line. I loved it.

“Yeah, all right.”

We were well into a long goodbye when an early dog walker tried to squeeze by us on the narrow pavement.

“Right, well,” I said, “I'll go gather my things from the house and head home. I've got the morning for laundry and cleaning before I need to be at the TIC.”

“I'll see you
tomorrow—midday?”

I nodded. I watched him drive away. I really would ring my sister now that there was good news.

BOOK: The Rhyme of the Magpie
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