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Viva la madness, p.17
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       Viva La Madness, p.17

           J. J. Connolly

  Mister Jesus Zambrano had ordered a taxi to take him to Waterloo. Must have been catching the train to Paris. Mister Jesus Zambrano did get in the taxi – with three large suitcases – and then completely disappeared. In fact, the receptionist told the Venezuelans – funny, really – that morning two taxis had shown up at the hotel to take Mister Zambrano. The Venezuelans smelt something très fish – a set-up perhaps?

  So while Sonny and Royski were relaxing in sun-drenched Barbados, getting toasted to a crisp, they started getting calls – from Dougie the Nightingale, Flavio the Concierge, from members of Sonny’s close crew. The gist was that a pair of smooth but heavy dudes – Venezuelan for fuck’s sake – had turned up, first at the Cosmo P. Hotel, then at the Monarch, looking for any information about some kid called Jesus. They’re dropping readies, wanting to search the room, looking for phone bills and copies of his itemised hotel bills. The hotel manager won’t play ball, threatens police. So they go back to the Monarch and collar Dougie in a nice, flattering way and quiz him. Dougie, being a coke-addled ziphead don’t remember anything, let alone some dude in a golden silk suit – called what, darling? Buying bottles of sha-sha? For everyone? Happens all the time, darling. Douglas tells them he seriously can’t remember, darling. Dougie has the memory of a goldfish but the Venezuelans think he’s being dismissive. The numero uno Venezuelan doesn’t like being called darling but he lets it go … for the time being, Dougie, darling.

  Sonny and Roy are getting real-time sit-reps, five hours behind London time. They’re preoccupied, forgetting to reapply their sun tan lotion. This possible crisis in London, as well Roy’s severe case of sunburn, gets them heading for home – couldn’t leave it to Dougie, could fuck up boiling a kettle.

  Sonny, diplomatic as ever, goes to find the holiday rep, dragging Red Roy along as evidence, Exhibit A. They track her down at Cobbler’s Rock where she’s overseeing the Buccaneers’ Banquet and Barbecue. Ironically, all the mums, dads, god-forbids and holiday reps were dressed up as ruffians, pirates and ne’er-do-wells. Sonny loudly demands repatriation to the UK on the grounds of Mister Roy Burns’ life-threatening sunburn. She tells them, politely but assertively, that to cover this kind of eventuality they should have bought holiday insurance. Sonny tells her fuck yer holiday insurance! The optional yer bollocks! Don’t talk to me like I’m some ’obbit! She asks him where the third member of their party is. Morty had left and was attending Duppy’s funeral. Sonny tells the holiday rep he’s black! How the fuck is he gonna get sunburnt? That’s fuckin racist, that is! I wanna make a complaint!

  They flew them home pure freebie, swagged them out of there quicker than you could say public relations disaster. This is a geezer who’s just deposited two-point-seven million plus for overseeing a glorified street robbery, screaming and shouting about a couple of airfares.

  The day they arrived back Flavio was straight on the phone, panicking. He’d spotted another posse of Venezuelan guys – all false smiles, shades and raincoats, trying to look inconspicuous – hanging around the hotel, trying to bribe the chambermaids to be let into Jesus’ old room. The advance guard had got no joy so the Air Cavalry had arrived. Flavio was awaiting orders. Sonny, totally ignoring Flavio’s protestations, told him to offer to help them in exchange for money, otherwise they won’t trust you. Control the situation, and see what they’re about.

  Flavio the Concierge worked out who the point man was – only he’s not Venezuelan but some slick American. You’re Flavio, is that right? You wanna speak English or Spanish? My Portuguese is rusty. Any illusions Flavio had about controlling the situation vanished; the Yank was running the show. Flavio was just the conduit between Slick and the hotel staff. The Yank, with a small team of Americans and Venezuelans, paid to secretly, but systematically, search Jesus’ room – in the back of the television, behind bathroom panels, up in the false ceiling – but only got frustrated when they found nothing. Flavio’s reported everything back to Sonny. Roy’s twitching, Sonny’s pacing – thinking overtime … And he’s riddled something out – they wouldn’t be trying to find a hundredweight of banknotes stuck down the back of one of those flat-screen televisions. Or under the carpet. What the fuck are they looking for?

  Flavio’s soon back on the mobile – they’re dismantling the fucking room! With electric screwdrivers! Removing light fittings! The phones by the bed! Unscrewing bathroom panels! Someone on Sonny’s crew – Benny the Ball, Brains or Choo-Choo – has a brainwave. Why don’t we get Flavio to ask them nicely what they’re looking for? Tell them, maybe it’s down lost property. Not a bad idea …

  The Yank listens to Flavio’s suggestion – maybe someone found it, the thing you’re looking for … and took it home. This here’s a minimum wage environment …

  Yank thinks for a second, weighs things up, hands Flavio two hundred quid – have some of these monkey English dollars … Now go look in the lost property …

  Transpires they’re looking for a memory stick, a digital storage device, with a few files, personal pictures – could be compromising, you understand? No sentimental value but its disappearance could be embarrassing to the family I work for … Then, menacingly – Do you have family, Flavio?

  Flavio reports this development back to Sonny – very curious now.

  Q. Whatssa memory stick?

  A. You put it in the back of a computer, you click on the information you wanna save and it zaps it up – now everything’s on the memory stick. You wanna read what’s on the memory stick? Put it in a computer, anywhere in the world, and, hey presto, it’s back. Fuckin magic! Fuck me, what will they think of next?

  But Sonny starts to feel mugged-off. It’s grown to a feeling of being obviously blatantly swindled with only three million in sterling. They ain’t mentioned the cash, only this gadget. Like they’ve written it off … Do they think I’m some sorta cunt? We’re gonna find this thing, you fuckin hear? Before any other cunt!



  Back on the South Bank, Morty is clinically, meticulously pulling his polystyrene cup to pieces.

  ‘We’re in …’ I tell him, ‘whether we like it or not. These Venezuelans are sticking trackers on motors, ready-eying us. They’ve worked out that Sonny’s got something to do with Jesus, and we’re with Sonny …’

  Morty flicks his snout away. Sonny, I’ve realised, being pragmatic, is letting me tell Morty rather than doing it himself, now it’s become inevitable. Morty’s not as annoyed as I thought. Think he saw something like this coming.

  ‘The Jesus fella was definitely on the rob,’ he says, looking out over the river. ‘You don’t come to London to collect three mill on your own … Not unless you’re skanking someone, or you’re mad, or both.’

  ‘Sounds mad – was gonna cut them a deal … tied to a chair, shooters at his head. So …’ I ask, ‘what do you think? Do Bridget and Ted need to know?’

  ‘Not for the time being,’ says Mort, shaking his head. ‘Ted’d go spare. Three mill is chicken feed to what they’re dealing with …’ He lights another snout. ‘Ted would want that memory stick as compensation.’

  ‘Compensation?’ I ask. ‘For what?’

  ‘Venezuelans …’ says Mort, shaking his head. ‘Why can’t they rob Japs or Yanks like everybody else?’ We walk back towards London Bridge. ‘The memory stick would be about how big?’ he asks. ‘Smaller than a pack of chewing gum?’ I nod. ‘And he’s travelling across borders, through airports, past metal detectors?’ He stops walking. ‘If you had something small but valuable, you wanted to keep safe, you’re about to get on a Eurostar train, where would you hide it about your person?’

  ‘I’d bottle it,’ I say.

  ‘Exactly,’ says Mort. ‘You’d stick it up your arse. I think he’s flown into Heathrow with this gadget up there and it was going out the same way.’ Then he claps his hands and breathes in deep. ‘Someone’s got a nasty job to do. I’m wide awake now—’

  ‘You’re electric, Mo

  ‘And I think that memory stick is half ours, through default,’ he shrugs. ‘Sonny shouldn’t be such a deceitful cunt.’

  ‘Shall we go and find Sonny and Roy?’ I ask. ‘Let them know your theory?’

  ‘No rush,’ Mort shrugs. ‘The Jesus kid’s down his hole. He’s going nowhere.’

  I couldn’t sleep last night. I got back to the hotel late after Mort and me had a mooch about a few bars. My insomnia might have been connected to Mort’s coffee or rampant speculation.

  Q. Speculation?

  A. A conclusion, theory or opinion based on incomplete information or evidence.

  What could be on that memory stick?

  First thing this morning Morty rung to say he’s made a meet with Sonny and Roy but not told them the reason. Let their heads do a number on them. An hour later I cut out of the hotel, did my usual ducking and diving on the tube, then Morty picked me up from around the back of Finchley Road station. Sonny wanted the meet in the same place as we came yesterday for the big confessional – a café right in the middle of a park – the kinda gaff you can get sandwiches and cakes, nothing fancy, but you can see anyone approaching because there’s precious few trees and little cover. It was, originally, Royski’s choice of venue.

  Me and Mort take a leisurely walk across the park; it’s not us who has the guilty conscience. Sonny and Roy are waiting when we arrive, sitting at a corner table, both facing the door. Sonny’s demolishing a sausage sandwich but Roy looks vacant, picking rather than eating. The café is quiet, mostly dog-walkers. Morty orders two cups of coffee from the waitress without asking me what I want. We both sit. Morty has his raincoat buttoned up and driving gloves still on.

  ‘To business, gents,’ says Morty. ‘I think you’ve been greedy and brought trouble down on us at a difficult time. You thought it would be simple, easy readies, but it’s turned out to be more complicated. Now, in an atmosphere of mutual forgiveness, we, my colleague and I,’ he nods at me, ‘are prepared to let you know where the memory stick is.’

  ‘You know where it is?’ blurts out Roy as Sonny leans forward.

  ‘You think or you know?’ asks Sonny.

  ‘We know,’ says Morty firmly. ‘Listen, Sonny, you ain’t out of the woods so don’t be acting the smart cunt. I’m going to tell you where to find it and you’re going to go and get it, okay? And we’re in this thing four ways.’

  ‘How do you work that out?’ asks Sonny with a shrug.

  ‘Because you seriously fucked me, and him, about with all that malarkey over in Bridgetown,’ says Mort. ‘I was led to believe that money was something to do with the thing we do …’ Sonny nods. He’s taking it on the chin. ‘I didn’t know it was some robbery.’

  ‘But I still don’t think that’s right,’ says Sonny.

  ‘Sonny,’ interrupts Morty, ‘I don’t fuckin care what you think. You’ve made a mess. You’re in danger of dragging us all down.’

  Sonny’s wishing he’d stayed in bed, knows he’s getting overrun. Morty looks around – there’s nobody there – before carrying on.

  ‘When Bridget asks me where that two point seven four million suddenly fuckin appeared from, what the fuck am I meant to say? I don’t know, Bridget? Are they swindling me, Mort? Dunno Bridget. Well I do fuckin know and I don’t like lying.’

  Morty’s eyes are alight, zeroed in on Sonny. Sonny’s stopped eating his sandwich. Roy’s observing Sonny’s rucking in a detached way until …

  ‘And you, Roy,’ says Morty, turning to Roy, ‘what the fuck was you thinking of, shooting people just cos they say nasty things about your old dear? You need to grow up a bit.’

  Roy looks reprimanded, bashful. The pair of them are off-balance. Morty marches on. ‘This is the story,’ Morty tells them, ‘we own that memory stick four ways, or we carve that two point seven.’

  ‘What?’ splutters Sonny, hadn’t seen that coming. Neither had I.

  ‘It’s easy. Either we own half the gadget or half the money you swagged off this Jesus.’

  Morty pronounces ‘Jesus’ like Jesus Christ. Sonny leans forward, elbows on the table, palms together in front of his nose, like he’s sending up a prayer. Sonny certainly doesn’t like what he’s hearing, doesn’t wanna give up a cent. His meanness is playing havoc …

  ‘Win or lose,’ says Mort, ‘you’re already well ahead. If all that’s on that gadget is a few embarrassing smudges you get to keep the money. Some might say that I should be looking to claim a bigger whack … I’m entitled—’

  ‘Okay,’ says Sonny, holding a hand up for Morty to stop, ‘we agree. You tell us where it is, we go and get it. It’s a deal, okay?’

  ‘Okay,’ says Morty.

  ‘So?’ says Sonny, ‘Where is it?’

  ‘The memory stick got buried with Jesus.’

  ‘What?’ says Sonny, shaking his head. ‘Couldn’t have, didn’t have a stitch on …’

  Morty leans forward, beckoning them ever closer. ‘I know,’ says Mort, ‘it was up his arse.’

  Sonny gets it straight away. Now it’s obvious. He rubs both temples. Roy starts nodding, the realisation sinking in. Sonny slowly turns to Roy and looks at him like he should have known. Sonny whispers to Roy, ‘You didn’t check his bottle?’

  Roy shrugs his shoulders, palms up, puzzled expression on his face. Then Sonny goes into a bizarre whispered rant at Roy, like it’s standard procedure to be hunting around up someone’s rectum after you’ve killed them. Roy, in his madness, is trying to justify the omission. The conversation is becoming weird, Sonny prosecuting his argument and Roy desperately trying to defend himself against the million to one chance of burying someone – after first tearing them apart – with a valuable computer accessory secreted up … Roy stands accused of negligence. Morty brings them down with a bump.

  ‘You realise that someone’s going to have to go and dig him up … if you want that memory stick. If you’re gonna hold up your side of the bargain … if you wanna keep the readies.’

  ‘This is all speculation,’ snarls Sonny. ‘What if it’s not up there … or down there?’

  ‘You get to keep the funny money, Sonny,’ shrugs Morty, stating the obvious.

  ‘How long ago did you bury him?’ I ask.

  ‘’Bout ten days ago,’ replies Sonny.

  ‘I think you’re gonna be all right. I don’t think he woulda decomposed.’

  ‘So you’re volunteering to give us a hand?’ Sonny asks me. I shrug. ‘Oh, right, leave the dirty work to us—’

  ‘We did a deal, Sonny,’ says Mort, ‘two minutes ago.’ Sonny grimaces and shrugs. ‘You two didn’t riddle out where the gadget was.’

  ‘We would have,’ says Sonny, ‘eventually.’

  ‘When the body was a putrid mess,’ says Mort, leaning across the table. Everyone else has cleared out of the café leaving us conspiratorially in the corner. Morty gestures to the waitress, with a smile, for two more coffees; the first are untouched.

  ‘We want that memory chip,’ says Morty with an edge. ‘I suggest tonight you get your merry men together, you tell Old McDonald you’re coming back down his farm, and get digging.’

  ‘Then when we get him up again,’ says Roy with a growing frown, ‘someone’s got to go poking around to get the memory stick—’

  ‘This is all theory,’ says Sonny. ‘He might have had a safe deposit box somewhere—’

  ‘Then everybody’s seriously fucked,’ I tell Sonny. ‘Whatever’s on that thing is worth these Venezuelans coming over here, breaking cover, risking getting nicked, or killed. And they’re a man down already.’

  ‘If you’ve got a problem,’ says Sonny, with a fuck-off smile, ‘go see the welfare officer.’

  ‘They believe that we’re somehow involved,’ I tell him. ‘We could claim a finder’s fee but that could be tricky. Depends on how much they liked their cousin.’

  ‘Jesus is as dead as Elvis,’ says Roy, half to himself.

  ‘Very droll, Roy,’ says Morty,

  ‘We’re ahead of you,’ says Sonny using his posh voice, ‘we already have a financial infrastructure in place to exploit to the maximum any resources contained on that piece of hardware.’

  Sonny is repeating parrot-fashion something he’s been told, maybe by Giles. He’s run this by someone with some financial expertise.

  ‘Sonny,’ replies Morty, annoyed, ‘what the fuck do you think I do with my money, put it in a piggy bank? You only have financial facilities because of that toff lawyer—’

  ‘Whatever, but it’s obviously financial data …’ says Sonny, still in his posh voice. ‘What else is there to fall out over?’ he adds, again repeating someone verbatim.

  ‘True,’ I say to Sonny. ‘Very true.’

  Sonny’s getting his swagger back. He leans back in his plastic chair, puts both hands behind his head and says to me, ‘You know, as much as you get on my nerves, most of the time, you’re a good skin to have on the firm.’ This is what passes for a compliment. Then Sonny turns to Roy and beckons him closer. ‘Now listen, Roy. You got us into this – no one told you to shoot the cunt – so you better start thinking about how you’re gonna get us out of it.’

  Roy doesn’t say anything but he blows out hard. He’s fucked and he knows it, stuck with the messy job. Sonny gives Roy a look – you fuckin got us into this … No appeals will be heard.

  ‘One thing, gents,’ says Morty, ‘I don’t want that memory stick going missing. I wouldn’t want you to dig him up and deliberately find nothing.’

  Sonny looks affronted. ‘Mort,’ he says, ‘what do you take me for?’

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