Viva La Madness, p.1J. J. Connolly
ALSO BY J.J. CONNOLLY
This edition first published in the United States in 2012 by The Overlook Press, Peter
Mayer Publishers, Inc.
141 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012
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First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Gerald Duckworth & Co.
Copyright © 2011 J.J. Connolly
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.
Also by J.J. Connolly
What’s with the Big Q And A?
Shock and Awe
A Different Kinda Bank Job
Dropping off the Bagwash
Madheads, Melts, Mackerels and Headpeckers
Home Sweet Home
Lovely Day for It
Nut Down in Chelsea
You Like Riddles?
Uptown Belly Bumping
Cha - Cha with the Devil You Know
Lunch at Sonny’s Hideaway
No Mum – Dog Eat Mum
Jesus-Has-ooze-Aka Golden Goose
Made in China
Reading Between the Lines
Bad to Worse
Sonny – Santos – Santos – Sonny
Some Good News …
And Some Bad News …
Take Me to Your Leader
This Be Dark
Pure Toil and Trouble
Riddles and Fiddles
Another Time Another Place
A Dazzling Star Dies
Spick ’n’ Span
Safe Journey Home
Prelude to Madness
Who’s Sammy Laniado?
Patsy, Ya Gotta Love Him
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Juggling Big Time
What Is Madness?
The Brigadier’s Coup
Never Trust a Toff
Couple of Complications
Viva La Madness
‘YOU LIKE RIDDLES?’ HE SAYS.
‘NOT ESPECIALLY, NO.’
‘HERE’S ONE FOR YA,’ HE SAYS, IGNORING MY ANSWER.
‘WHY DO PEOPLE GO TO PRISON? THINK ABOUT IT.’
‘TRY HARDER,’ HE INSISTS STRAIGHT AWAY.
‘WHY DO PEOPLE GO TO PRISON?’
‘FOR COMMITTING CRIME?’ I SAY.
‘NO, NO,’ HE SAYS, SHAKING HIS HEAD, PRETENDING
TO BE DISAPPOINTED.
‘THINK AGAIN. YOU’LL KICK YOURSELF. IT’S NOT
FOR COMMITTIN’ CRIME.’
‘OH, I GET YA. IT’S FOR GETTIN’ CAUGHT.’
‘NOW YOU’VE GOT IT, SON. I KNEW YOU WAS A BRIGHT KID.
IT’S FOR GETTIN CAUGHT COMMITTING CRIME. SO BE LUCKY.’
WHAT’S WITH THE BIG Q AND A?
Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
Wednesday, 22nd August 2001
Q. Do you know who I am?
A. Are you having an identity crisis?
Q. Why are you here, at the airport, in Barbados?
A. I’m waiting … I hate waiting.
Q. What is your name?
A. My name’s unimportant. I am thirty-five years old. I own a hotel in a resort on the far west coast of Jamaica, that beautifully corrupt, sun-kissed lunatic asylum. The operation costs me money to run, it drains my resources because, basically, I ain’t about a lot of the time, ain’t one of nature’s hospitable hosts. In fact I find the guests a right pain in the arse.
Q. How’d I get the tank money?
A. I used to supply cocaine – multiples of kilos, back in London, back in the day. I served up a cross-section of London dealers. I had some customers who were ex-public school, polo-set, take five kilos on bail, credit, return me a hundred grand in large denominations forty-eight hours later – no sweaty fivers or tens, please – and at the other end of the scale we occasionally served full-blast lunatics. But everybody paid up. I spun the loot through various legitimate enterprises. I lived the colour-supplement lifestyle. But I had a spot of bother – another time, another story – so I had to ship out quick-sharp. I managed to go through the slips with about half what I’d accumulated, half a million in sterling, but I ended up with a metal plate in my head because some love-struck hero shot me.
I’m persona nongrata back in the UK. The law told me they’d convict me for anything, manufacture evidence if necessary, if I ever stepped back on British soil. I laid low in backwaters, scratching about, running a bar. I’d got people to check with bent cozzers back home to see if the police were actively looking for me. They drew a blank. I started to venture out.
Q. How do you sleep?
A. I have a recurring nightmare. Nothing about loud shooters going off in my face or bogeymen chasing me naked. My dream is old-school, Freudian in many ways. I dream a large powerful beast, a cross between a tiger and wolf, is savaging me. It’s in so close that if it wasn’t trying to rip me to pieces it would be trying to fuck me. That’s an image to spin the canister, even in sunlight. The beast’s long razor-sharp teeth are embedded in my flesh. It plays with me, crushes my exposed bones in its powerful jaws. My blood sprays everywhere, like a slaughterhouse wall. I always wake up suddenly, covered in a cold sweat, head to toe, breathing hard. I’m relieved but I can taste my own terror in my spit. It takes me till afternoon to slip the feeling, to properly lose it. Apparently fear is a pre-programmed, biophysical chemical reaction, but when I’m in fatal close quarter combat with the Bengal werewolf it’s incredibly real.
Q. Can anything be done?
A. Someone suggested I get my head totally checked out, tests and scans – the mad dreams could be pressure on the brain. So I did. And they were right. I’ve recently come back from Florida where I’ve had the National Health Service tin can replaced with the titanium private-enterprise model. Apparently the old one had been causing the problem. Some days I couldn’t think straight, and I was getting excruciating headaches. Two hundred and thirty grand – US dollars – in cold blood it cost me, with no medical insurance to take the sting outta it. Complex seven-hour brain operations don’t come cheap. My memory is slowly returning. Can be a good or bad thing. I can remember some parts of my life in infinite micro-detail and whole chunks I have no recollection of at all.
Wanna tip? Forget crime. Become a brain surgeon. Crime may pay, but there’s a price to be paid.
Q. Do you think you’re really suited to the hotel and catering business?
A. My thinking has changed. Some guys don’t really mind indulging fuckwits, pandering to their every need. It’s not that I ain’t got the humility, and I’m not a violent man, it’s just I wanna head-butt certain punters when they look down their noses like I’m Joe the Go. When it comes to humility I like people to meet me halfway.
Q. So how did you get into the business?
A. Through a series of defaults. It seemed like a good idea at the time
Q. Do you regret it?
A. I regretted it as I signed my name. Sometimes you regret things in life as you’re doing them – like an outta body experience. There was a chance – a slim one – that I was getting a bargain but in retrospect I was found, as they say in London. I’ve gotta wipe my mouth, crack on, and start looking for someone to sell it to. I could blame my health condition or the strong prescribed medication I was gulping at the time but that would be an excuse.
Q. Have you ever thought about, you know, a happy accident?
A. What, burn the fuckin gaff down? I’d burn the fucker to the ground in a heartbeat if I could get some cover but they’re ahead of me, the insurance salesmen. I’ve tried talking to them in the bar about getting a policy and they laugh. If I could get insured, I’d check the fine print, make sure I was paid up to date then call in a specialist.
I’ve tried but I completely miss the point of being an hotelier so I keep a low profile, a shadowy presence and an office on the property. I leave the everyday running to managers, ambitious hotel-school graduates who you know one day will open up the rival hotel or even stage their own petit coup d’état. The rot at the hotel had set in deep, and trying to turn it round was never going to be easy or quick. The kitchen staff were taking liberties left, right and centre, and sirloin steaks home with them. The front desk staff were blatantly dipping the till. The concierge service could provide the best flake cocaine on that whole bit of coast, delivered by the gamiest hookers, who rinsed out the punters till they were praying to the lord, so I had to pay off the local constabulary. All the decent bartenders and waiters were hunting for sugar mamas – who they’d fuck delirious, who’d buy them tickets to Montreal or Chicago, leaving me with the schlumps.
The whole gaff was a free-for-all that I was paying for. I skimmed my whack off the top, obviously pulled rank and dipped the till myself to a greater degree. Couldn’t help myself. My partners in the hotel don’t really need the money. Give it time, they were saying, but I was running outta time. One day the gaff might even be worth selling but if I knew then what I know now I woulda kept my readies under my mattress and eked out a living from the bar I owned back on Curaçao.
I realise now – now the mist is clearing and the thinking is getting sharper – that I’ve been sitting out here in the Carib waiting for my wake-up call, like those Cold War sleepers, but absorbing shit I wasn’t even aware of. For a while, after getting outta London alive I was content to just plod on, keep my nut down, and not get mixed up in any shenanigans. My heart certainly wasn’t in the crime swindle any more.
But one day I woke up and a red light in the cockpit was flashing. Every single day you’re observing guys with serious wealth and stunning women and it’s going in under the radar without you realising. You start to see ugly guys with no talent or style turning up with the kinda woman kings fought battles over in ancient times. I’m not saying these women only go for seriously caked dudes, but it certainly helps.
Money is sexy. Money is power. Power is sexy. I wonder what would happen if they woke up one morning and a big storm had blown all their money away. How would the lady friend be then? Devoted? It’s only money, darling, we can get some more. Or out the door sharpish to hook up with the next dude?
You’re peeping into a world of perma-tanned middle-aged guys, looking leaner than a pikey’s dog, muscles toned from sea swimming, salt and pepper hair, and dressed in that disposable luxury attire they wear once then leave in a hotel suite someplace.
You realise that you’re peeking into a world from the outside where the smell of Cuban cigar smoke mixes with aviation fuel on private runways, where gorgeous, lithe, tanned women swim naked in cliff-top infinity pools. Let’s play a little game, dearheart. Can you spot my two-hundred-foot schooner moored in the far-away distance?
You’re peeking into a world where guys collect, for fun, fleets of vintage motors, misplaced national treasures, artworks that belong in museums, antiques with stories to tell of murdered czars, deposed princes or star-crossed abdicated kings, or antiquities that cost as much as a street of detached houses in a comfortable part of London.
You’re routinely rubbing shoulders with gents in the cocktail lounge who are stepping out of limos after dropping into resorts in helicopters, after stepping off private jets, and block-booking whole floors of the hotel. And they’re renting thirty-berth yachts in the harbour, but only using them as floating base-camps while they’re fuckin about in speedboats, swagging barracuda a few clicks off the cape. These dudes are keeping the kitchens in Michelin-star restaurants open all night cos they’re busy partying with Brazilian models. Ain’t got a care in the world. They’re dropping bellboys, concierges and barmen obscene amounts of cash. They’re parading round like they own the gaff. And I’m thinking I own the fuckin gaff!
Q. Would you describe yourself as an angry man?
A. I do get angry. I’ve got waiters who are buying lucrative jobs from maître d’s, making bundles while I pay the rent. I had more control of my world when I was a drug dealer.
The Caribbean isn’t the place to come if you’ve come looking for equal distribution of wealth. It’s the most unequal carve-up in the history of the world. Some people live in shacks, work hard, go to church, have no known vices, while others live in palaces, do nothing but laze around and come nightfall feast on rich foods and wines, stick powders up their snouts and act like debauched fuck-pigs. Euro-trash, newly rich Russian looters, Columbian commodities brokers, the flash-but-gormless sons of Third World dictators – but these people ain’t so silly. People might think they’re vulgar, they might look down on these hideously affluent brothers and sisters, but they ain’t on the tube on a Monday morning, skint till payday, rushing to punch the clock, wondering what to do with a damp brolly.
Q. What shall I do with my wet umbrella?
A. Stick it up your fuckin arse.
Life is just one long holiday for some people. They follow the sun, follow the seasons and explore the world.
‘See you at the Rio carnival?’
‘Let’s rendezvous in Colorado.’
‘Maybe we’ll hook up in Monaco? At the Grand Prix?’
Money’s no object to some people. The young pups will always live beyond their means but mama and papa always bail them out. These are heirs and heiresses who’ve had money in their families for as long as anyone can remember, household names, trust fund bubbers, who take it all for granted. These are folks who are so fabulously wealthy they couldn’t even begin to count it, have crafty accountants to bury their wealth far from sunlight, on dots on the map that nobody’s ever heard of, known only to the razor-sharp bankers. There are islands that only exist to aid and abet tax evasion, with polished brass plaques plastered from floor to ceiling on wooden shacks, safe havens beyond the reach of the inquisitive taxman.
Temptation and envy start to become scheming and plotting. I look at wealth and realise my problem is that I want not a little but a lot. My problem with the rich is I’m more than a tad jealous. I need to make moves that settle me for life. I need to get my money pot brimming. Money goes to money. It’s no good letting my mind wander back to London, how I really put in the shovel work to set myself up nicely, earned over a million and a half in businesses and property – taxes paid, no mortgages – but it wasn’t to be. I have to look forward. It’s time to start making moves again. I’ve seen opulence with my own eyes; you can never creep back to blissful ignorance.
Q. Do I wanna be seriously rich?
A. Are you fuckin serious?
Q. How would a chap like me accumulate some serious currency?
A. I could sit and be patient, work hard, like a navvy down a hole, legit, year after year, accumulating stock and assets or I could go sniffing around for a shortcut. Life, I’ve worked out, is about being in the right place at the right time. Or, on the other hand, the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q. Why are you here, at the airport, in Barbados?
A. Sometimes our minds are made up for us.
One evening I was stood outside my own hotel waiting, with great humility, in the line for a taxi. A gent, my age, tanned and handsome, strolled outta the hotel and gave the car valet a wink and a green dollar bill, of what denomination I don’t know but the kid dashed off to fetch his motor. The guy was trying to relight his cigar and still had his wedge in his hand, held together with a chunky silver bill-clip. A thousand-dollar bill had somehow managed to separate itself from the herd and was hanging half out of the clip. I thought the note was going to catch fire because the gent was holding his lighter so close to it. But instead it detached itself from the clip, fluttered to the floor and caught the lively wind. The G-note spun in tight circles like it was chasing its own tail. I watched it with interest, and the guy watched me watching the thousand-dollar bill doing its spinning dervish dance but neither of us moved. The wind vanished suddenly. For a second the note drifted to the floor and remained motionless but then the wind snatched it up again. The gent watched, more curious than bothered, neither smiling nor frowning. But I could tell he was intrigued; it was the finest distraction he’d had for a while. He didn’t want it to stop. The note made its way along a row of privets then went out of sight, was lost. But then it reappeared, skipping along the floor, back towards where we stood. It rushed in front of the guy. He could have stamped on it. But he didn’t.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes