Viva la madness, p.12
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       Viva La Madness, p.12

           J. J. Connolly
 

  ‘Someone was following us,’ says Mort, still checking the rear-view.

  ‘How do you know?’

  ‘I just fuckin know,’ he shrugs.

  ‘How can you tell, it’s just one straight road? Everyone’s travelling in the same direction.’

  ‘Just believe me, I know.’

  ‘Who is it? The law?’

  ‘Don’t think it is.’

  ‘How can you tell?’

  ‘Law don’t rent motors. Can tell a rental with my eyes shut.’

  Morty pushes our rental through another roundabout. Immediately we’re on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, heading nowhere, with only cat’s eyes to guide us. I turn in my seat to see if anything is following but the road is empty.

  ‘What car was he driving?’ I ask.

  ‘Couldn’t tell.’

  ‘So how the fuck do you know we’re—’

  ‘Trust me,’ says Mort.

  ‘So where is he? Ain’t putting up much of an effort.’

  ‘That’s the problem. It’s like he’s letting us run.’

  ‘You’ve turned into Roy.’

  ‘Shut it, okay! Ain’t funny!’

  ‘Okay, Mort, do ya wanna slow down a bit, let him catch us up?’

  Morty slows right down – to sixty.

  ‘Fuck Ted … And fuck Sonny …’ says Mort, almost to himself. ‘Fuck ’em all.’

  The motor skids a little, back and forth across the white line. There hasn’t been a car in either direction for miles but he’s still caning it. Morty is muttering to himself, spitting angry. I wasn’t spooked before when he was throwing it around at a hundred miles an hour, the wrong way up a dual carriageway. Maybe I shoulda been. I’m thinking we’re gonna end doing a somersault into a fuckin ditch; some farmer’s gonna find us dead at dawn. We’re hurtling down an unlit and curvy country road.

  ‘What’s the fuckin hurry?’ I ask. ‘Pull over! We’ll see if anyone’s on us!’

  Morty’s either ignoring me or he doesn’t hear me. Then he abruptly pulls over into a lay-by. In one swift movement he pulls on the handbrake, throws open the door and jumps out into the chilly night air. He walks round the motor, through the skinny pampas grass, towards a wooden fence. I get out but don’t walk towards him. I lean against the car and wait. It’s almost completely silent except for some crows shrieking. In the tranquil countryside there appears to be a million stars in the cloudless sky. Morty is using all his energy to restrain his temper but his breathing is long and deep.

  ‘So, Mister Mortimer …’ I ask after a while, ‘where are we?’

  ‘I’m not sure …’ he says. And then he starts chuckling to himself. ‘In fact, I ain’t got a clue.’

  We found our way back, eventually, onto the dual carriageway. We drove a few miles south and stopped at the services. Morty completely ignored – like only Mister Morty can – my inquiries about his furious episode. Instead he said he wanted to check something out. But he’s alight, scanning the huge car park for anyone who could have us under surveillance. He’s got paranoid, double-quick.

  ‘Go in there and buy a torch. Don’t be a schnorrer, spend a few quid,’ says Morty, as I start walking towards the petrol station. ‘And don’t forget the fuckin batteries,’ he hollers after me.

  In the service station shop I find a big yellow plastic torch with a massive, reflective dish armed with a mean-looking halogen bulb. Could blind a man. It doubles up as a warning light, with a red dome that flashes to alert motorists in the case of traffic accidents. It’s a bargain at nineteen pounds and ninety-nine pence. I buy my flashlight and fuckin batteries and head back out to Morty. He’s still scanning the car park for our phantom pursuers. I hand the flashlight to Morty but he doesn’t take it.

  ‘Put it together, bruv,’ he tuts, ‘don’t be a lazybones.’

  I eventually pull the plastic packaging apart while Morty stands, studying the back end of the motor, concentrating hard, pacing backwards and forwards, dead pensive. ‘I think I saw two geezers sniffing around … back at the restaurant. Didn’t look like Old Bill …’

  ‘So what did they look like?’ I ask.

  ‘Like a coupla waiters, Spanish or Italian, but like heavy waiters.’

  When the torch is assembled I hand it to Morty. He turns it on.

  ‘Fuckin ’ell!’ says Morty, dazzled by the intensity of the beam. Straightaway, Mort’s down on one knee, searching under the back of the motor.

  Next thing he’s unceremoniously on his back, crawling under the car, rolling around in all his dandy finery, on oil-stained tarmac, disappearing under the rear wheels, shining the light up into nooks and crannies. His Armani leather is ruined, torn by the gravel. I stand and watch. The torch throws out weird shadows and spooky shapes.

  ‘Naughty-naughty,’ I hear him say, like he’s spotted something untoward. Then he’s reaching in, stretching, trying to grab something with his fingertips, making grunting noises.

  ‘Oi! Here! Take this! Quick!’ Morty’s shouting. ‘Take the fuckin thing. Quick!’

  I take the object from him. It’s a tiny, two inches by three, heavy black plastic box with a tiny green light blinking slowly. The bottom is basically a magnet. It appears to be brand new. If he’d handed me a snake I couldn’t have been more concerned cos I know what it is straight away – a global positioning device – a tracker. Morty emerges squinting, trying to adjust to the car park floodlights.

  ‘Straight question,’ I say. ‘Who’s put this on the motor?’

  ‘Keep it dark, bruv, outta sight,’ he says, ludicrously lowering his voice.

  ‘There’s nobody fuckin here, Mort! Answer the question! Who?’

  ‘I dunno,’ he says, going to take the tracker but I hold it outta reach.

  ‘It’s Old Bill! Gotta be! You can drop me back at the airport! I’m gone!’

  I’ve got the serious zig now. A GPS tracker can deliver the exact whereabouts of a vehicle, a container or a human being onto a cell phone or laptop anywhere, gives the exact location, or map reference even, of where the target is. And that’s what we are, all of a sudden. Targets. Morty’s gone straight into defensive denial mode. He looks upon being followed as part of the game, is used to having the law on his arse.

  Mort and me are now instinctively covering our mouths with our hands. Old habits die hard. The customs and Old Bill have got directional microphones that can eavesdrop conversations from miles away. Are we being smudged up with a telephoto lens as we speak? Are we gonna end up in evidence booklets, with time and date captions neatly stuck in the bottom corner?

  Morty’s pacing when I came outta the petrol station shop was him working out how they placed the device. Whoever put it there crept up while we was eating.

  ‘You know what, Mort?’ I say. ‘He’s here, our new mate, somewhere out there.’ I nod at the colossal car park. ‘Watching us right now …’

  ‘You wanna go for a little walk?’ asks Mort. ‘See who’s about?’

  ‘Be pointless … unless you need the exercise.’

  I hand the tracker to Morty. He studies the device then he starts wiping it with a silk hanky, removing sticky fingerprints. He’s still polishing – about to fling it – as we go to get into the motor, but then walks over to a smelly lorry that’s got a massive cartoon of an upright dancing fish, smiling manically, like it can’t wait to have its head lopped off and dive into the deep fat fryer. It has the name of a Lowestoft fish wholesaler emblazoned on the side. It’s meandering, manoeuvring at walking pace. Morty coolly – using the pink silk hanky as protection – holds the device high in the air between his forefinger and thumb so anyone watching can see it. Then he swivels and places the tracker on the side of the metal container. Then Mort walks back towards our motor. The lorry starts to gather speed out of the car park.

  Morty gets in and is about to start the engine when my phone rings. I don’t recognise the number. I’m reluctant to answer it. Morty shrugs, pulls a quizzical face. The phone stops b
ut immediately starts ringing again. I answer it.

  ‘Hello?’ I say.

  ‘Hello.’ It’s Sonny.

  ‘Now’s not a good time, mate,’ I tell him. ‘We might have problems—’

  ‘Start again, bruv.’

  ‘There was an extra on our motor,’ I say. ‘To keep an eye … on our movements.’

  ‘You telling me you’ve found a tracker on your motor?’

  ‘Not saying anything.’

  ‘Listen, where’s it now?’

  ‘On a fish lorry.’

  ‘How did it get there?’

  ‘Got repositioned.’

  ‘Right, well go and get it,’ says Sonny, calm as ya like.

  ‘What?’

  ‘What don’t ya understand?’ he hisses. ‘The device, you stupid cunt, go and get it!’

  ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m a cunt!’

  ‘So stop talkin like one. Go and get it.’

  ‘Why? What the fuck—’

  ‘Don’t ask why. Just do as I say. Stop arguing. Go and get it. I need that kit.’

  ‘It’s gone already.’

  ‘Well, follow it! It’s a big fuckin lorry!’

  ‘Is it yours?’

  ‘Do you know how stupid that is?’ screams Sonny. ‘I can use it to work out—’

  ‘Use it?’

  ‘Do you know who put it there?’ he asks.

  ‘No—’

  ‘Exactly. Do you think it will be in our interests to find out?’

  ‘Yeah—’

  ‘Be a big clue, having the device,’ sneers Sonny in pure sarcasm. ‘I don’t know shit about trackers but you know who will know? Our twitchy friend …’

  ‘But the tracker will still be transmitting. I don’t wanna go near it.’

  ‘Follow this fuckin fish lorry, get the kit off it—’

  ‘Are you fuckin mad?’

  ‘I ain’t mad,’ he says dryly. ‘First sign of madness, you know that, don’t ya, calling people mad? Do as I say. You understand? And sling that trom – I’ll get you another one.’

  He’s gone. I put my phone away and give myself a quick situation report. Sonny wants the tracker, for his scrutiny, so he can narrow down who would be electronically following Morty and me. Morty’s lit a fag. ‘What was all that about?’ he asks a bit too calmly.

  ‘We need to follow that lorry and get that tracker—’

  ‘You fuckin mad?’ says Morty, incredulously.

  ‘First sign of madness, apparently, calling people mad.’

  After a mad dash to start with, we followed the lorry at a leisurely pace into London. It’s a hard thing to lose, a smelly juggernaut. We hung back, wanted to see if anyone else was following the lorry. Morty concluded – everyone’s a surveillance expert – that information was being relayed back, via satellite, to a static position, to some cat sat in front of a computer. No one was physically following the lorry down to the fish market, ’cept us. Once Morty had given them the slip back on the motorway, they have confidently – over-confidently as it had turned out – thought they could rely on the tracker to produce the information they wanted without risk of further compromising their cover. But all this idle chat about imagined tail cars and real electronic trackers was feeding a pull to Heathrow and a flight to Jamaica. Things had gone bandaloo very quickly.

  We pulled up behind the fish lorry at a set of traffic lights in Baron’s Court. There was nobody about, not a fuckin soul. I got out the motor, strolled up to the wagon and pulled off the tracker. It took quite a tug to get it off. I got swiftly back in the motor and put it in the plastic folder the rental documents came in. When the traffic light changed to green we did a right while the lorry headed straight on.

  We parked up by some secluded lock-up garages off the main road, then got the box spanner out of the spare-wheel kit. Morty hit the tracker a few times until the green light disappeared, then we headed for home.

  Morty held his index finger across his lips; we didn’t know if the motor was bugged. He tuned the radio to a classical music station – Bach and Chopin up real loud. It took hours of detours but nobody was following us. I studied the tracker all the way home, was worried that the tracking device looked too dead, that it was still pumping out its snide signal in spite of being apparently deaded. What little writing there was on the plastic casing was in Spanish but the product itself was, like my brand new flashlight, Hecho en China – Made in China. Why the fuck would anyone bother to import a Chinese-made GPS tracker from sunny Spain? It didn’t look like standard-issue British police equipment.

  As I’m getting out round the back of my hotel I ask Morty where he picked up the motor.

  ‘I didn’t,’ he replies, but something in his voice suggests he’s being evasive. ‘It’s one of Sonny’s. Rents ’em by the dozen. Wouldn’t worry about it, mate.’

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  LUNCH AT SONNY’S HIDEAWAY

  When Roy heard about the tracker, he went directly to Condition Red – a heady mixture of vindication and clear and present danger. He began thinking I was right all along – they, whoever the fuck they are, are out to get us.

  This morning Roy wouldn’t talk on the hotel hotline just arranged a meet in a primitive code – one click north of the fish tank, ASAP – the next station north from Bank station as soon as possible – then rang off.

  Before I went anywhere I rang the number that Ted gave me, chatted the bird up and ascertained that she was talking to me from a call centre just outside of Antwerp, Belgium – talking English with a slight Flemish accent – but per-fect-ly pro-noun-cing eve-ry syl-la-ble of eve-ry word.

  After going through a vigorous security procedure I transferred the funds to an account I hold in Jamaica, me looking out across London and the woman in a cubicle like a million and one others. If I’m shipping out, now’s the time to put the money beyond reach; let them ask for it back. Then I headed out to give Royski the tackle.

  The bad news is Morty is being evasive, rung to say it’ll only take one of us to deliver the thingy. I could hear a woman giggling in the background, then Morty started laughing as well. His delivery got a bit breathless. He clicked off abruptly. Then I riddled it out – he was getting huffy and puffy from an early morning blowjob. The next time I speak to Morty it might be to bid him adios from the airport.

  In contrast to Royski, Morty and Sonny don’t appear to be that fussed about the device – tracker, maraca, is their attitude. But Roy’s a different mindset, constantly on the lookout for something to spin out about. Sonny is, apparently, referring to Roy in phone calls as The Chief of Police.

  Overnight I’d hid the dead tracker in a carrier bag in a small park not far from the hotel. I wanted to swiftly hand it over to Roy when he came to meet me at Moorgate station, but he insisted I get in the motor and come with him to meet with Sonny.

  ‘He wants you to go over to his place and have some lunch with him, hang out.’

  ‘Hang out?’ I asked. ‘Are you sure about this, Roy?’

  ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Like hang out …’

  Someone has told Sonny to make the effort to be nice to me whether he fuckin likes it or not. Maybe Ted gave him the same symbiotic spiel before he died.

  Roy tells me, when I get in the motor, that it’s safe to talk, bruv – he’s swept it with a scanner that detects radio signals. He double-checks that I left the trombone at the hotel. I tell him I no longer possess a mobile phone, that I ditched it in a lay-by out near the M4 under direct orders from Sonny. Roy walks to the boot of the rental car, opens it, and hands me a brand new, but as yet unactivated one, from a collection.

  ‘The number’s on the box, okay,’ he points. ‘Don’t turn it on till later, okay?’

  ‘Okay, Roy. You wanna see this bitta kit?’

  ‘In a minute,’ he says, checking the skyline for snipers, covering his mouth. ‘Keep it dark.’

  We drove north for a while, then west. When Roy’s curiosity couldn’t stand it anymore we pul
led into an underground car park in Russell Square and Roy gets to have a good look at the tracker. His expression registered relief but then he immediately got all pensive, worried again straight away. The relief was from the fact that it wasn’t, definitely not, UK Old Bill issue. When I suggest the lettering on the casing was in Spanish and this might have something to do with Ted – maybe the Spanish police are following me? Maybe this is something Bridget needs to know – Roy got all stroppy and twitchy.

  ‘She ain’t to fuckin know, you get it? It’s all about containment.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘Yeah, containment, need-to-know …’ he says, embarrassed, twitch level rising.

  Then he goes strangely and overly calm. That’s spooky – Roy attempting to be some chilled-out individual when this development has clearly rattled him. Much as Royski tried to disguise it I was left with the impression that he didn’t want, under any circumstances, for reasons of his own, to let Auntie Bee know about the tracker. Roy’s attempted cover-up makes me think that he knows – or has a good idea – where the tracker came from. Any probing questions will send Twitchy over his tipping point. So I ignore the definite friction in the air, as Roy drives northwards to Sonny’s bijou slaughter.

  If a kid from our part of town makes a tub-full of money, legally or not, they decamp out to the far-flung suburbs where London peters out or into the countryside proper – Maidenhead or Chalfont St Giles – or they camouflage themselves in Marylebone or Hampstead. Sonny has gone for the Hampstead option. Royski is taking the long route and is, as ever, over-alert to surveillance, busy concentrating on who’s behind us. My concern is that he spends more time looking backwards than where he’s going.

 
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