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Viva la madness, p.15
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       Viva La Madness, p.15

           J. J. Connolly

  ‘It would be quite a major omission,’ I say.

  ‘Mort don’t need to know—’

  ‘But it ain’t an issue anymore—’

  ‘Do what?’ he asks with a grimace.

  ‘I’m shipping out. You just made my mind up for me.’

  ‘Whaddya mean?’

  ‘It’s simple, this conversation is the final straw. I’ll ring Mort and tell him—’

  ‘Tell him what?’

  ‘I’m going back to Jamaica.’

  ‘You can’t just fuck off—’

  ‘Just fuckin watch me. Everyone’s didgy, there’s trackers on motors, people telling me don’t tell this one that, don’t tell that one this.’

  ‘Mort’ll blame me—’

  ‘And he’ll be right.’

  ‘It ain’t the law who put that tracker on the motor …’

  ‘Tells me nothing. Mort’ll be disappointed,’ I tell him, ‘but he’ll get over it.’

  ‘What do you need to know?’ asks Sonny, uncharacteristically desperate.

  ‘A few answers,’ I tell him.

  ‘I need a word with Roy. This is about him …’he says, getting angry. ‘It’s more about Roy than it is about me.’

  ‘Drop me at the tube, Sonny. I’ll make my own way out to the airport.’

  ‘I think …’ he says, ‘you’re overreacting.’

  ‘There’s a lot of it about.’

  When we return to the front room Missus Burns has laid out slabs of Battenberg cake on a Wedgewood dining plate. Roy is preoccupied with tuning in the scanner, checking police activity. Missus Burns doesn’t seem to be at all put out by this.

  ‘Have a wee bit of cake, boys,’ says Missus Burns. ‘I’ll put some hot water in the pot …’

  ‘We better be going, Missus Bee,’ says Sonny, rolling his eyes towards the door, back in control now. ‘Roy, we’ve got to tell our chum here … that story …’

  ‘The whole story?’ asks Roy.

  ‘Yeah, the whole story,’ nods Sonny.

  ‘Oh, right, yeah,’ says Roy getting up. He goes in his kick, pulls out a chunk of notes, peels some off, and puts them behind the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘Here, Mum,’ he says. ‘Can’t have you, a pensioner, feeding us working men.’

  ‘You’re never a pensioner, Missus Burns!’ jokes Sonny, full of mock surprise, ‘I’m not having that!’

  ‘You’re making fun now, Sonny,’ she laughs, enjoying the flattery. She takes the notes from behind the clock as Roy picks up his tool bag, ‘Roy gives me money every time he comes, posts it back from Spain, but I put it in a post office account for him.’

  ‘Very wise, Missus Bee,’ says Sonny. ‘Thinking of the future.’

  Missus Bee walks us to the front door, fag in hand, cardigan pulled tight against imaginary cold. It’s still bright sunshine but she looks cautiously along the landing.

  ‘You boys be careful …’ she says lovingly, ‘and remember it’s the braver man who walks away from the argument. No matter how tough you think you are, there’s always someone tougher.’

  ‘I like that, Missus Bee. Come on you two!’ says Sonny as he takes off down the landing. ‘A brave man walks away from the fight. Let me know about that dog, Missus Bee,’ he shouts over his shoulder, ‘I know a fella who’s got some Ridgeback puppies.’

  Roy shifts his heavy bag from shoulder to shoulder as we trot down the stairs, Sonny taking point with me and Roy behind. I stop, almost causing a pile-up.

  ‘Sonny, you left ya briefcase in Roy’s mum’s,’ I say. ‘You musta forgotten it—’

  ‘Didn’t forget anything.’ he replies with a snarl. ‘Told yer before, mind yer business—’

  They stop at the bottom of the stairs. Roy burrows about in his bag, pulls out a pistol, stuffs it in the raincoat pocket then pokes his head round the corner into the courtyard.

  ‘Are you two in some kinda trouble?’ I ask, aware it’s a stupid question. Sonny and Roy look at one another. A quick shrug and a manic chuckle.

  ‘Are we in some kinda trouble, Roy?’ says Sonny, pondering the question. ‘We kinda could be.’

  We retrace our steps to the motor, drive to the park, sit in the café and drink tins of Coke, watching the sun go down. I spend an enlightening couple of hours, the extended Q and A, head-in-hands stuff for them, full disclosure or it’s next stop Heathrow for me, gentlemen! I wish I’d given them the ultimatum earlier.

  Sitting in the cab back into town, I was still alone, digesting their confession and Missus Burns’ breakfast, doing some daydreaming of my own. When I was a kid around the flats, about ten years of age, there was an urban myth that used to do the rounds … A guy walks into a Chinese restaurant with a Fucking Big Alsatian. He wants to eat dinner but he realises that he can’t keep his dog in the restaurant so he asks the inscrutable Chinaman to take the dog to the kitchen, maybe give the thirsty hound a drink of water, whilst he eats. The Chinaman nods, bows low, and in a mixture of Chinese and English tells the customer – no problem, sir.

  The Chinaman takes the dog away as the customer sits down. Nobody comes to take his order or give him a menu. Every time a waiter or waitress walks past they just nod enigmatically and smile thinly. The man is just about to leave when, as if by magic, waiters descend on his table with an emperor’s feast – five different dishes, steaming and looking delicious. Being famished, and not wanting to get into the hassle of explaining he has yet to order, the man tucks in. He eats till he’s fit to burst. The food is scrumptious; he clears the plates, leaves not a morsel. He’s licking his fingers one by one, loosening his belt and patting his belly.

  The Chinaman who owns the restaurant is no longer inscrutable but beaming with pride at his customer’s contentment. He presents the bill. The customer pays, leaves a huge tip, compliments his host, and tells him he will be returning very soon, bringing all his friends. He gets up and asks for the return of his dog. This is where the trouble starts.

  ‘No-no,’ says the Chinaman, waving a finger, shaking his head. ‘No dog. You eat dog.’

  Even squatting in a school playground, being told the tale, I knew Big Fucking Alsatian wasn’t coming outta that kitchen, not alive. I didn’t believe it, but a lotta kids did. I knew that the lesson of the story had nothing to do with stir-fried Shih Tzu or sautéed Chihuahua. It was a good example of people believing what they want to believe. They wanted to believe that the guy ate his dog.

  Missus Burns and a fully grown Rhodesian Ridgeback, twice her bodyweight, is an awesome combination – handy for the lion hunt down Kilburn High Road – until one day she’s not nippy enough with his dinner or the tin opener snaps on impact, chunk-chunk-chunk-ping – and the dog eats Mum. No Mum – Dog Eat Mum.

  Sonny and Roy want believe that if we all keep quiet about certain developments everything will go back to normal – shifting loads of drugs without a care. Sonny and Roy want me to play the inscrutable Chinaman, but we cut a deal.

  So as soon as I get back to the hotel I call Morty from a payphone. He doesn’t answer so I leave a message – need a meet, Condition Rojo – and wait for him to ring. An hour later, as I’m eating – not Chinese – my phone rings. It’s Morty.

  ‘I hope this is important,’ he said.

  ‘Trust me,’ I replied.

  I arrange to meet Morty over by the Festival Hall. I jump on the tube for a while – till I’m back at Bank station – then slip out and get a taxi to London Bridge. I walk along the river. There’s nobody about, just some skateboarders doing tricks under a bridge. I sit on a bench in the dark till Morty noiselessly appears behind me holding two polystyrene cups – a real Morty manoeuvre.

  ‘I bought you a cup of coffee, young sir.’ He hands it to me. ‘What’s happening?’

  ‘Sonny and Roy have been withholding information.’

  ‘You got me here to tell me that squirrels like nuts?’

  ‘The trackers – plural,’ I tell him, ‘are not yours, or mine, they are theirs, Sonny and Roy’s, a
nd it’s not the law who’s on their haystack.’

  ‘Knew it wasn’t Old Bill,’ he says. ‘Didn’t smell right.’

  ‘There’s terms and conditions involved,’ I say. He pulls his curious face. ‘The deal I done—’

  ‘Never make promises you can’t keep, mate—’

  ‘… is that I tell you, out of courtesy—’

  ‘Or make promises on my behalf—’

  ‘But Bridget Granger doesn’t need to know.’

  ‘We’ll see about that …’ says Mort. ‘I’ve not promised anybody anything. Now, what’s the story?’




  Approximately two weeks ago a courier arrived in London from Miami to collect a parcel. His name was Jesus, as in Little Baby Jesus – but pronounced Has-oose – rhymes with golden goose. And his surname was Zambrano – simply pronounced Zam-bra-no.

  Q. What South American country was Jesus from?

  Clue. This country is often overshadowed by its more illustrious, headline-grabbing and apropiado loco – proper crazy – neighbour, Columbia.

  A. Venezuela. Jesus was a Venezuelan.

  Jesus was meant to fly into London from Miami, scratch about in a five-star hotel, wait for the parcel to be dropped off and, on delivery, ship out to mainland Europe and a less security-conscious airport than the London ones and fly west, back to the hacienda and the welcoming committee. But Jesus went off-reservation …

  Sonny and Roy, doing things arse-about-face, as per their usual operating procedure, decided to really check him out, using all their nefarious contacts, after he became a problem. Jesus the Courier, it transpired, was the livewire nephew in a notorious Venezuelan outfit working out of Caracas but with branch offices in Florida. He’s creeping towards his mid-thirties but everyone treats him like a junior. The leader of the clan – his uncle, commuting between Biscayne Bay and his villa high above his home city – did good business arranging trades with European and American smugglers. They’d also shrewdly purchased a string of legit businesses to hide cosily behind.

  I’ve met some Venezuelan criminals working over in the Caribbean – going to collect money, work out a transportation problem or sort out disputes – and they’d grill you and eat you for a bet, or shoot someone in the temple to test a firearm. They were a heady mixture of psychopathic and hideously wealthy. A few settled in Jamaica but it’s strictly business. I don’t think they liked Jamaicans very much. And the Jamaicans hated them. They believed that the English police and criminals are a soft touch. The British crims have no mandatory shooters, are not ruthless enough, and simply can’t get law enforcement straightened out, try as they might.

  The Venezuelans believed the Anglos had lost all contact with the street. Nunca pierda el olor del barrio – never lose the smell of the street. Anyone who’s got any sense is scared of Venezuelan crims. They’re wired in all that macho shit. It’s not simply about making readies and living the vita bella, it’s far too much about face and reputation – shit that’ll get you killed for zero profit.

  What the Venezuelans did like was their home-from-home – Miami, Florida. Every single thing about it; they were made for one another. The other inhabitants of that region call them Demedos – meaning quite literally, bring me two. It started with the rich oil folk but spread to mean all Venezuelans. Soon after they started exploiting the oil reserves the whole country was flush with money. They’d think nothing of organising weekend shopping trips to Miami via private jet, importing gold-plated Rolls Royces, swagging every designer label. They got unapologetically flash. They wouldn’t buy something if it was too cheap. Then they started doing that thing that the newly rich do – despising the poor.

  Imagine a country that’s corrupted by petroleum and cocaine – Texas meets Medellin, traffickers and miners, smugglers and wildcatters, crooked politicos and the powerless masses. There’s lots of cowboys yahooing down there, working the oil and gas fields. And lots of black gold and schwarzgeld floating around, plus literally lorryloads of coke, crossing the porous borders with Columbia and Brazil. There’s huge profits to be made by getting product into profitable territories like the States or Europe.

  And these traffickers are capable of sinister but artful murders. Organisations would leave bodies hanging off bridges at intersections – the populace seemed to appreciate their flair. They’d get reviews in newspapers, complete with photos. Folks got blasé; crucifixions only made page seven. Kidnapping – both of other criminals and law-abiding individuals – was popular. Ransoms get paid out; foreign companies buy insurance policies to protect themselves. There was a big craze for insuring the mother-in-law, then having her murdered. It’s a real big status symbol to have bodyguards. Always thought it was bad policy to employ lunatics with an obsession with firearms to protect you from lunatics with firearms. One look at these bodyguards told you they were duplicitous, kidnapping their own charges.

  So Jesus, número uno demedos, arrives in London during a heatwave and Jesus knows best. No sitting around in a sterile hotel room. He checks into the Inn on the Park but doesn’t like it – full of rich but wrinkled Yanks on whirlwind tours of Europe, and dull businessmen, so he slips the bellboy a hundred bucks and asks him where the action is – the beautiful people, you know what I mean? He tells him he should be at the hipper-than-hip Cosmopolitan Hotel, a hundred yards down the road. A cab drops Jesus at the Cosmo P.

  Jesus keeps the cab waiting outside while he checks in, and then it takes him to Bond Street. He goes and gets all dressed up – God bless Johnnie Versace, the Dee and the Gee and the Goo-chee. Jesus Zambrano – a proper shitkicker born in the arse-end of Caracas, who upgraded to the more salubrious suburbs, via troubled stints in fee-paying private schools, via spells in Biscayne Bay, Miami and Caracas, then a drop of jailtime in Tallahassee, Florida, for pistol-whipping some poor fucker – found his El Dorado in New Bond Street. Can’t decide which colour silk suit he prefers? White or gold? Demedos! Give me both! Shoes to go with the new silk suit? Croc or snake? What’s the magic word? Demedos! Demedos! Demedos!

  Back at the Cosmopolitan Hotel he’s meant to be inconspicuous. He’s thinking of ringing an escort agency to get them to send a girl, or two – demedos! But as he admires himself in the mirror he decides it’s a crying shame to get all dressed up and sit about a hotel room.

  So he heads out. He wants to experience the jolly old nightclubs of Mayfair and by some mischievous synchronicity, he asks the junior concierge where the local hotspot is. Sonny’s crew have this Portuguese kid, Flavio, straightened right out with top quality cha-cha and a few quid. He’s a corruptible chap who gives them the heads-up on who’s staying at the hotel – makes his proper money by being wired in with gaffs like the Monarch, lap dancing clubs, paparazzi, grand-an-hour hookers, room creepers and dial-an-ounce gak dealers.

  So Flavio sticks Jesus the Courier in a taxi to the Monarch Club and then – this is where fate plays its hand – texts his connection to let them know they’ve got ripe punter on way – gold suit – look after – DEFINITELY not short of £$£$. When Jesus arrives the bouncers welcome him through the red rope and point him up the stairs. In the hustle and bustle Jesus collides with some fella who appears to be drunk – swaying, barely keeping his drink in his glass. Jesus delivers a Venezuelan version of Do you want a fat lip? Followed by that evergreen chestnut – Do you know who I am?

  The drunk who literally bumped into Jesus gets bounced straight out. And don’t fuckin come back … But it’s a get-up. The gent was an acquaintance of Mister Sonny. Jesus gets given a humble apology and comped-up with a real, not fake, bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Jesus is getting grafted by Sonny’s Uptown Crew …

  He’s meant to be keeping a low but it’s becoming a struggle. The ego is roaring. Instead of sitting in a corner booth being unobtrusive he totally grasses himself off. He’s dropping the girl running the VIP – minimum spend a grand – mucho casho to sort
him out a booth – then clicking his fingers, calling on more champagne, waving and calling across to posses of girls to come over. Have a little drink! Help me drink this bottle! Pleeeeese, ladies!

  A few ladies, who like a chap who slings his money around, join Jesus. He leaves his credit card behind the bar – gold American Express – impressive if that’s your intention; looking for trouble, some might say. Sonny’s firm knew he was bona fide – not a joker – but it did occur to them, what’s he doing in London, on his Jack Jones, a long way from home? Sonny – getting more interested by the minute and with the instincts of a hyena downwind of a fresh carcass – had the punters in the next booth to Jesus bounced out. He then slipped a couple in, snogging each other’s faces off – no talking but plenty listening – next to Jesus. Maybe Jesus had a few lines of gak before he left the Cosmo – he’s chatting like a monkey …

  Miami – All expenses paid – Consignments – Acquaintances – Me? – Jesus! – Zam! Bra! No! – Paris! – Cargo! – Delivery! – Schedule! – Uncles! Mother! Fuckers! More champagne, ladies? Waitress! Demedos!

  This Jesus guy is the criminal equivalent of the poor little rich kid – one generation removed from the gents who had the meteoric rise from the barras to the gated mansion. Jesus is the spoilt kid walking into the family business who can’t think why his folks can’t just send money. But there’s a charisma about a kid who can land in London, alone, and be embedded in the VIP, arms around a couple of posh slaps come nightfall, after almost starting a fight. It suggests that Jesus was fearless to the point of reckless. Both Sonny and Roy agree that he was not right in the canister – and, coming from those legends, I get the impression that Jesus was bordering on insane. Transpires that Jesus had done his jailtime, and maybe a killing or two – the ritualistic welcome to the clan – so Junior knows the feeling of getting a splash of blood on his boots.

  While Jesus was chatting his business in the VIP area at the Monarch, getting on famously with his stable of up-for-it birds, who loved his sexy accent and gold suit, members of Sonny’s team, with the cooperation of Flavio the Concierge – who can get duplicate key cards and slip in after the housekeepers turn over the top sheet – spun his room at the Cosmo P.

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