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       Layer Cake, p.1

           J. J. Connolly
Layer Cake

  Praise for Layer Cake:

  “A stunningly original debut . . . Connolly’s slice of low life is utterly mesmerizing. A two-thumbs-up effort by a talented British newcomer.”


  “Mission accomplished. One novel in, and Connolly has hit the jackpot, jump-started British crime fiction into the present. . . . Like good drug fiction, you’re given glamour and squalor, a voyeuristic thrill, and the bill.”

  —Uncut (five-star rating)

  “Funny, hectic, hard-hitting debut novel . . . Tart, tough and riveted at every juncture by unmistakable authenticity . . . sheer, unstoppable joy to read from the first page to the last.”

  —Philip Oakes, Literary Review

  “An immensely entertaining read.”

  —Philip MacCann, The Spectator

  “This year’s crime read should be J. J. Connolly’s Layer Cake.”

  —Mike Pattenden, The Times (UK)

  “By far and away the best piece of crime pulp fiction either side of the Atlantic since Seth Morgan’s Homeboy, and a Get Carter for the chemical generation.”

  —Paul Dale, The List

  “J. J. Connolly has created the caper of the year . . . it’s fantastic.”


  “A linguistic fairground, the characters chat with an authenticity that’s intoxicating. Wannabe geezers would look plumy next to these boys, and yet just a few pages in the language opens up like some forgotten playground.”




  J. J. Connolly

  Copyright © 2000 by J. J. Connolly

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

  First published in 2000 by Duckworth Literary

  Entertainments, Ltd., London, England

  Printed in the United States of America

  Published simultaneously in Canada

  Printed by special arrangement with

  Duckworth Literary Entertainment, Ltd.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance

  to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Connolly, J. J.

  Layer cake / J. J. Connolly.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 0-8021-4168-4 (pbk.)

  1. London (England)—Fiction. 2. Organized crime—Fiction. 3. Drug traffic—Fiction. 4. Criminals—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6053. O48644L39 2004



  Black Cat

  a paperback original imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

  841 Broadway

  New York, NY 10003

  04 05 06 07 08 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


  Hello, Hello, Hello

  April Fool’s Day 1997: Welcome to the Layer Cake

  Saturday: To Be in Loveland

  Strangers, Role Models and Heroes

  A Spot of Luncheon with Mister Price

  Big Jim’s Big Pal’s Big Problem

  Back to the Hacienda

  It’s Saturday Night

  Sunday: In the Rose Garden

  Monday: Tommy, AKA Cody, AKA Billy, AKA Hugo

  What’s the Big Deal?

  Tuesday: Oop North

  Quiet Night In

  Van Tuck’s Rude Awakening

  Wednesday: Dan Saff Again

  Tuna Can Be Life or Death

  Chance’d Be a Fine Thing


  Thursday? Not a Good Day for It

  Much Needed Rest and Recuperation

  Making New Friends All the Time

  Get the Atlas Out

  Shit in Your Eyes

  The Simple Life

  Friday: You Gotta Go

  Saturday, PM: Savoy for Drinkipoos?


  Dare, True, Kiss, Promise and Plot

  Sunday: Accident and Emergency

  Calling the Shots

  Monday: Bing Bong

  Take It Like a Man

  Tuesday: This Is a Raid

  The Clever Part

  Life Ain’t Fair

  Wednesday: At Your Own Risk

  How Does It Feel?

  The End of the Road

  Curaçao, Twenty Miles Off the Coast of Venezuela, 1 April 2000: Life Goes On

  Hello, Hello, Hello

  I parked the motor under a streetlight so there’s less chance of anyone breaking into it. I locked it up, got my briefcase outta the back and was walking towards my gaff. I’m preoccupied with my work. Suddenly a flashlight’s pointed straight in my face. I’ve squinted, I’m alarmed. The light’s gone down my body. It’s the law, I’ve thought. The game’s up cos I’ve got in the case two kilos of top quality, very pukka, recently imported, cocaine. It’s about forty kay or twelve years’ worth, depending how you look at it, what tariff you wanna use. I’ve got electronic jewellery scales and Manatol, Italian baby laxative, on board as well. I’m gutted cos I very, very rarely take my work home with me and to get nicked on this rare occasion would slaughter me. Don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything at all, take a deep breath and don’t even think about running. Relax, work it out, stop holding your breath, cos if they had come for you, you’d be on the deck now, cuffed up and getting the old ‘you do not have to say anything, blah blah blah’ routine.

  ‘Sorry, Sir, you okay?’ He’s genuinely apologetic. ‘Only we’ve had reports of a prowler in the area.’

  ‘A prowler, you say, well well. And there’s only the two of you? Maybe you should call for some assistance.’

  ‘We’re a bit stretched already tonight, Sir.’

  ‘That’s too bad. I’ll ring the station if I see or hear anything.’

  ‘Thank you, Sir. Good night. Be careful.’

  ‘Oh, I will be.’

  They carry on looking for the burglar in among the bushes and I go upstairs to weave that special kinda magic that turns two kilos into three.

  April Fool’s Day 1997 Welcome to the Layer Cake

  ‘Well, where the fuck is he?’

  ‘I don’t know, Morty. I really can’t answer that question. Ask me one on sport.’

  ‘Fuck off. What time does your watch say?’

  ‘Probably the same as yours, exactly two minutes past four.’

  ‘And he said he’d be here at four?’


  ‘On the dot?’


  ‘And he’s usually on time?’

  ‘Yeah. He’s usually very punctual.’

  ‘So where the fuck is he?’

  I’m waiting and I fuckin hate waiting. A guy’s meant to be turning up to buy from myself and Mister Mortimer a half-kilo of the finest, purest cocaine this side of the River Thames for twenty thousand pounds cash sterling. If you were an alien looking down on this little scene, one earthling giving another earthling the year’s earnings of most people for a bag of white powder that started life growing on a tree, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all a little bit strange. I must admit that some days I still, after all this time, find it a tad surreal. Thank fuck it’s illegal, I say.

  So now it’s Friday afternoon and me and Mort are waiting for a party by the name of Jeremy to turn up and collect the half-kilo that we
ve put aside for him. It’s gonna cost him the twenty thou and we’re making out we’re gonna be doing him a big favour cos we’ll have to find other people to take the rest of the key. We usually try to move only whole kilos. Sometimes it’s a problem, but then again, sometimes it’s really handy to have half a kilo knocking around. We always make out it’s big probs for us to be chopping kilos about. We always make a bitova fuss but we always do it. Business is business. This particular half-key is just pure bunce cos it’s the result of us chopping and cutting a little bit more than usual over the last couple of weeks, so Jeremy’s twenty can be carved up between us cos we don’t owe anything or anybody for it.

  I’ve got my Gucci loafers off, my feet up on the desk in the back office of the letting agency I’ve got a stake in. The April sun’s blasting through the window and I’ve got a slight breeze blowing through my toes. We’ve just had a nice bit of lunch in an Italian gaff offa Marylebone High Street where they do some very sexy things with chickens and tomato sauces, the weekend is upon us, and Terry and Clarkie, the kids, as Morty calls our junior partners when they’re outta earshot, are out and about running errands. Things are very sweet and I’m as content as my nature will allow. I just wish that Jeremy would hurry the fuck up because I’m starting to get a little bit anxious, I always do when people are running late. I get a wee bit twitchy.

  The Golden Rule: Stay as far away from the end-user as humanly possible otherwise it’s gimme a freebie, gimme a clue, gimme a move, gimme shelter, gimme a bitta bail chief, gimme a drop of unsecured credit and I say gimme a fuckin break, gimme a day off, gimme fuckin strength. Some days in this line of work you can be left thinking, Is there civilised life anywhere in this whole fuckin universe? In this whole fuckin solar system? Sometimes I doubt it but all this insanity’s good for business. We’re making so much money playing neat and tidy that we’re running outta places to plug the loot. Life is so fuckin good I can taste it in my spit. Demand is high and so is supply but I just wish to fuck that la-dee-da Jeremy would hurry the fuck up.

  We always work neat and tidy, we always work as a small team. I try and turn away people who are messy, who are noisy, who’ll get us nicked big time, who have to be seen as players, the loud-mouths and braggers. People who are neat and tidy like ourselves we can do business with. All that being flash with racy motors, wearing gaudy diamonds and gold trinkets, the big fuck-off attitude, is just begging to get yourself nicked. No point rubbing the law’s noses in your success. What’s called for is some peace and quiet, discretion, a low profile so you can crack on uninterrupted and let the Other People go after the noisy, boisterous folk. Some people will say you’ve got no business being in the game if you ain’t double flash with your ill-gotten gains, really upping the old bill with ’em. Why have big dollar if you can’t let people know you got big dollar? In this game it often helps if you can agree to disagree with some people, but it ain’t always possible.

  Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t saying we live like monks or anything and we ain’t exactly on our bellies chipping away at the coalface of life either. On the face of things I run a very successful lettings agency but my legit partner takes care of that on a day-to-day basis. It gives me a bit of income and the pick of some very creamy gaffs to plot up in for six months at a time, but most important it provides a very tidy front to lose myself behind. I’ve always said I wanna be outta this game by the time I’m thirty. I’m twenty-nine now so this year’s gonna be all about getting all my shit together in the one pile. I’ve seen guys hang around too long in the game until they either get themselves nicked or they simply lose the plot, start doing far too much of the product, get weak or paranoid or both and end up losing everything, become sad cases. Some guys are just too fuckin greedy.

  A lot of operators in this powders game only know this swindle, it’s their whole fuckin life. They don’t know anything else so if they did manage to get out they’d be fucked for something else to do with their time. Everyone, even dealers, needs a sense of purpose. It’s not about the money anymore either cos they got as much as you can spend in a lifetime anyway so it’s become a fuckin powder power trip for them. Year after year they plod on, some of them don’t even get to see the stuff, just take the prime cut on pay day and how bad’s that, but that was never my plan cos you still gotta watch your back twenty-four-seven. In and out before I’m thirty but set up for life, a gentleman of leisure. All my moneys spun and back in the system clean as a whistle. I wanna be nicely set up with legit business interests spread all around, a portfolio, a bit here, a bit over there and that’ll do nicely thank you very much. I wanna be un-fuckin-touchable.

  Am I getting there? Very much so I’m getting there. We place a lotta stuff with a lotta people. We’re very close to the top of our particular pyramid, to guys who actually bring the goods onto British soil, the importers, the real big-time money-men, the vicious international players. We get our supply at a price that’s right. When these guys start talking they’re talking in millions of pounds, hundreds of kilos. Maybe some of the guys I work with will make the leap up into the big leagues and manage to stay there, but I won’t be going along with them. Thirty and I’m out. Have a plan and stick to it.

  A kilo of very high-grade snorting cocaine, even with the very top, the very very best stuff, skimmed offa the top to make crack, is gonna cost the guy I sell it to twenty-seven and a half grand at today’s market price. We, obviously, get it for a lot less than that from the guy who deals with the international players, an old-school Don, name of Jimmy Price, gawd bless him. We work with his blessing and protection but at a price. Jimmy will allow us bail, or credit, up to half a million pounds because over the time we’ve worked through him we’ve built up a very good credit rating, so now we just call on what we need and it ain’t a problem. Jimmy wouldn’t know whether to snort the coke or rub it on his genitals, it ain’t his thing, although some of his generation have been known to go totally wobbly with it. Jimmy has no fuckin interest in the effects of the stuff whatsoever, don’t like seeing people getting outta control. He’s probably very rarely laid eyes on the goods and he certainly don’t put his hands on the product. Sir James oversees, if you like, the sometimes messy business of getting it from A to Z. He gets his handling charge for handling something he doesn’t even touch. He’s a hands-off senior management executive. Having Mister Price’s protection is no guarantee of anything cos there’s too many hounds about, but I can tell you that it helps being connected. He trusts us to go to work with a high degree of tact and discretion. He knows we’re not sloppy wankers and it’s certainly in his interest for us to go to work unhindered.

  The funny thing is that I’ve only met Mister Price twice in my life. Once I shook his hand at some seriously moody boxing dinner and another time we were introduced at the wedding reception of Clarkie’s creamy younger sister, very briefly and with a minimum of fuss. Morty works with Gene McGuire, who’s what the Sunday papers would call an enforcer for Jimmy Price, but he’s more a bodyguard-cum-professional-best-mate. He does Jimmy’s bidding and Jimmy trusts him with his life. The money and goods go backwards and forwards through Morty and Gene and everyone gets fat together, very fat, baby-chubby.

  Morty looks after getting the supply and I look after the selling-on of the product. Having a geezer like Mort around means that nobody who’s got any sense is gonna fuck with us cos he’s a fearless and ruthless cunt is Morty and he’s got a squad of other ruthless and fearless cunts to call on if need be. There’s many myths and legends surrounding him and the gist of them all is that you’d have to be fuckin mad or suicidal or both to mess him about. He don’t suffer fools for a minute cos first they’re very irritating and second they can get you very seriously nicked in this game. I’ve never actually seen him perform but with guys like Morty you don’t have to have seen it to know it can be done. I’ve seen him warn some very fuckin heavy guys away from our drop of work and they’ve stayed warned for a long time after.

Morty looks like a cross between Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, taller, but maybe Morty would weigh in at light-heavy these days in spite of spending all those hours in the gym. He’s a class act. He likes his ladies, his clothes and a quarter mill a year in his kick. Mister Mortimer is a highly respected geezer and to a lot of firms around London it’s the one thing they have in common is a mutual respect for Morty. He’s even been asked to sort out disputes, but he don’t get involved cos he just don’t need the aggravation. He’s earned his respect across the board through a drop of charm and a dose of violence, but Morty will tell you it is sometimes necessary. Morty says he will explain but not justify.

  About fifteen years ago Morty was running around with a team of guys who were seriously spun out. The loonies’ loonies. Morty had known these guys through borstals and young prisoners’ nicks and although he was only a fringe member of the outfit he was, as ever, extremely loyal to them in that very fuckin weird way those guy are to one another, bordering on the insane I would say. They’re turning over any business that couldn’t go running back to the Other People, sex shops and massage parlours, doing blags long after they went outta fashion, doing loads of drugs and not giving a fuck about keeping a low profile. One night after a party with loads of booze, hookers and chemicals, one of this team, who was always regarded as severely unstable even by this wired crew, has, in a tearful and quite pathetic outburst, told all these geezers he loves them and then put a shooter in his mouth and shot himself dead in front of about ten witnesses. Now this is a dilemma cos this desperate posse can’t very well go calling an ambulance because they’re wanted all over London and the Home Counties. Even if they did explain the truth, all ten of them telling the exact same story, cozzers, the police, ain’t gonna believe a fuckin word of it.

  ‘What, he just decided to put the sawn-off in his mouth and pull the trigger?’

  ‘Yeah, that’s how it went down.’

  ‘Oh right, that’s all right then.’

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