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Viva la madness, p.18
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       Viva La Madness, p.18

           J. J. Connolly
 

  ‘Roy,’ says Morty, ‘I want you to swear on your mother’s life.’

  ‘Are you taking the piss, Mort?’ says Sonny, leaning forward. His chair hits the floor, hands slap the tabletop.

  ‘Yeah, Mort, mate,’ asks Roy, ‘is this some kinda joke?’

  ‘Would make me feel a lot better,’ says Morty, dryly, ‘if you swore on your mother’s life.’

  ‘Swore on me mother’s life?’ asks Roy.

  ‘Yeah, Roy,’ says Morty, impatiently. ‘Swear on your mother’s life.’

  ‘Okay,’ says Roy flippantly, ‘I swear on my mother’s life.’

  ‘No, Roy,’ says Morty. ‘Say it properly.’

  ‘This is bollocks, Mort,’ says Sonny like he can’t believe it.

  Morty turns to Sonny threateningly, ‘Shut the fuck up, Sonny.’ Then he turns back to Roy. ‘I ain’t fuckin joking. Say, I swear on my mother’s life I will bring back the memory stick if it’s there to be brought back. Repeat that.’

  Roy repeats it, slowly, word for word, like it’s the most solemn oath he’s ever taken. Morty nods sternly along. Now Roy’s spooked. Morty looks suddenly like he could go over the table and obliterate Sonny. The waitress brings the two cups of coffee just as Morty gets up to leave. He nods at me to follow.

  ‘Don’t you want these now?’ asks the waitress.

  ‘No worries, honey, my associates will pay for them.’ he says to her, then turning to Sonny, ‘Take it outta my whack, mate. Give me a shout when you’ve got …’ Morty gives Sonny a wink, not a friendly one. ‘See yous two later.’

  We walk out the café and across the park. Morty doesn’t say anything, just marches on. He got angry with Sonny for no reason. I don’t pry. I speculate. It’s all this talk of mothers.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  MADE IN CHINA

  ‘I was right,’ says Mort, looking out at the slow-moving Wednesday morning traffic. ‘Knew I was.’

  Last night the memory stick had been retrieved. Morty’s speculation about its whereabouts proved correct. ‘Don’t fuckin bear thinking about,’ continues Morty, ‘down a hole, dead of night … don’t bear thinking about. I told them, the dynamic duo, do not, under any circumstances, do anything without us.’

  ‘And how were they with that?’ I ask.

  ‘Not best pleased.’

  ‘How are you so certain they ain’t switched it?’ I ask.

  ‘I know … Trust me on this one.’ Then he shakes his head again, repeats his mantra. ‘Don’t bear thinking about.’

  ‘Could Giles come in handy?’ I ask.

  ‘All in good time,’ he says. ‘Let’s see what’s on the magic gadget first.’

  Sonny and Roy have temporarily relocated their slaughter to genteel Highgate, a large five-bedroom house up a long concealed driveway with privet hedges on either side. Morty drives by the address, finds a spike, borrows all my change, pays for two hours, and we walk back. Those two can’t do inconspicuous if they tried but Sonny’s Range Rover appears to be in dry dock.

  When we arrive neither of them look good but Roy especially looks paler than ghost’s shit. He’s got dark bags under his eyes like he’s been on the brandy; there’s a bottle of five-star sitting on the coffee table. The house is sparsely furnished, giving Sonny and his close crew the appearance of squatters. The chaps have taken on a siege mentality. Looks like they’ve been up all night hitting the booze and having a council of war. The whole gaff stinks of smoke and is scattered with full ashtrays – half full Marlboro Red packets are slung around.

  Sonny asks us, quite surreally, while pulling hard on a snout, if we’d like a slice of pizza. He leads us to the fridge but his phone begins to ring in the next room and he goes to answer it. The fridge is full of booze and pizza boxes, stacked one on top of the other. They’ve had dozens delivered but hardly any have been eaten. Morty opens a box, tears off two slices of congealed pizza and hands me one, along with a napkin from a pile that are, oddly, stacked in the fridge. I have a couple of bites of pizza while Morty fishes around trying to find the makings of a cup of tea.

  When I go to throw away the remains of the pizza in the pedal bin I spot a strange telltale sign. A whole giant-sized, thin-crust pizza – Roy’s favourite, olive and anchovy – has been discarded with only a single mouthful out of it, leaving a crescent of teeth marks. And a ball of what looks like chewed pizza spat on top of it. It’s like someone sat down to eat it, chewed and chewed at the first bite but couldn’t bring themselves to swallow it. It looks like modern art. I nod into the bin; Morty looks but fails to see any relevance. He shrugs with indifference.

  In the living room the memory stick sits ceremonially on the mantelpiece, clean as a whistle, with nothing to betray its recent hiding place – a stainless steel rectangle an inch and a half long, covered in a chunky plastic that snaps apart to reveal a computer input, nothing written on it to betray its importance except 128MB and Hecho en China – Made in China.

  ‘So?’ says Morty.

  ‘So, you was right, Mort,’ says Sonny, drinking a bottle of beer.

  ‘Sorry, Sonny,’ says Morty, ‘come again, only I’m a bit hard of hearing—’

  ‘Fuck off,’ says Sonny with a contented smile.

  Morty picks up the memory stick, ‘Is this what all the fuss has been about then?’

  Sonny shrugs, ‘Mad, ain’t it?’

  It transpires that Sonny had volunteered his crew to return to the scene of the interment, in the dead of night, with Roy, full moon high in the clear sky, owls howling. They managed to find the hole again and started digging down. Roy’s gone dressed for the job – full protective clothing, charcoal masks, latex gloves, like a proper scenes of crime officer but no doubt massively fortified by a bottle of Napoleon brandy. It doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s got to physically start poking around inside a corpse, a dead guy. It’s not like he’s simply got to retrieve the gadget outta Jesus’ shirt pocket. He’s got some seriously macabre messing around to do down that hole. Sonny’s crew dig and they finally come across Jesus, covered in lime and stinking worse than a sack of dead rats.

  Sonny’s crew left Roy down the hole to do his thing. But one by one they got weirded and fled. Roy, having finally found what he came for, but alone, realised he couldn’t leave Jesus uninterred. In fact it was the reburial that really done his head in because he was doing it all by himself … except for Jesus, the geezer he’s murdered. Proper Edgar Allan Poe routine. Seems Roy’s getting the karmic consequences for killing the flash cunt sooner than he thought, and Royski believes all that cosmic retribution shit. No wonder Roy looks drained. Sonny was smart enough to delegate, wasn’t down that hole in any show of solidarity with Roy Very Twitchy Burns.

  To stop Roy from battering them – for running away like little girls – Sonny has sent two of his crew to buy two computers as soon as the shops open. Roy wants clean kit so briefed them to buy both a Mac and a PC, but to buy them from different shops. Roy told them to buy the upgraded operating system, the one with the most programs preinstalled. The new slaughter has been selected because it has a modem and high-speed Internet connection. Sonny explains that he’s already sent for an expert in the field all the way from Brighton just in case Roy gets stuck – little wink – this Smiler kiddie is the nuts.

  The two guys arrive back with the computer gear. Sonny sends them next door, out of the way – help yourself to pizza. The two guys don’t like it but they go. Roy sets up the laptops while Sonny paces impatiently, telling him to hurry up, open the fuckin memory stick, but Roy plods along. This will save us a lot of time later, Sonny. He connects the laptop up to the modem, plugs in a mouse and installs a printer. Seems strange that Roy, a certified nutcase, would know the ins and outs but it’s his field – cyberspace, where dark arts and conspiracy theories dwell. Sonny would have strolled into a cyber café and opened up the memory stick but Roy has counselled Sonny that it’s far more professional to open it in laboratory conditions, we have no idea what ele
ctronic sorcery could be unleashed from that innocent-looking device.

  When he’s ready Roy places the memory stick in the back of the laptop. Three folders appear on the screen. Roy clicks on the first folder and two unnamed files appear. Roy’s face is now like a wide-eyed boy opening presents at Christmas, delaying the gratification. He clicks on the first file but it won’t open.

  A dialogue box keeps jumping up to tell him that he doesn’t have the correct software installed. Maybe the program has been written especially for the client. Sonny starts kicking empty boxes, frustrated because there’s resistance, but Roy is calm. ‘I half expected that,’ he says. ‘That’s why we’ve got Smiler on the way up. Be patient, Sonny.’

  Morty laughs at the absurdity of Roy’s request while Roy tries the second file. No joy – won’t open. Sonny’s shaking his head. It’s a fuckin waste of time.

  Roy clicks on the second folder but it requires a password. He shrugs, double-clicks on the third and last folder. This time things begin to happen – a photography program opens but with one file on it. ‘This file has been added later,’ says Roy pointing at the file created date. A digital contact sheet of photographs appears on screen. He immediately clicks on the ‘slideshow’ feature and the pictures begin appearing, one after the one other, a couple of seconds on each.

  The first photographs – some would say they were pornographic – show a very fit, tanned Latino girl, about twenty-one or two, giving her blonde boyfriend, an athletic, Americano-looking, surfer dude, a first-class blow job. He’s almost doing a crab in one shot – who’s a lucky boy? – arching his back. In the next couple she’s grinning up at her spent, exhausted lover. Then there’s some shots of them tumbling and turning, him on top, then her on top. Then some shots of them laughing because they’re performing for each other in front of a hotel mirror – him sat behind her cupping her beautiful tits with large erect bullet nipples in both his hands and kissing her neck while she melts. The breasts are the real thing – no surgery, no taut skin exposing the rib cage – not veined sacks or absurd balloons.

  The photos are a memento of a particularly energetic session, but you get the impression that they weren’t intended for happy reminiscence. The sex appears to be incredibly consensual but the pictures don’t. Neither of them has had a go with the camera. All the pictures are taken from the same place, as if a tiny device has been placed in a corner of the room. There’s a date stamp in the corner of the photos – a little over two months ago. These aren’t porn photos; they look like they’re genuinely having a good time. Porn stars look bored or overact like mad.

  She ain’t no hooker either. Guys don’t, as a rule, slide two pillows under hookers’ arses and go down on them. If this is blackmail material, she’s the mark. All the photos show her face full on wherever possible. In some of the shots the guy’s face is half-obscured or his head is completely cut off. Some of the photos have been blown up to show her face more clearly, giving them a pixellated effect. There could be no denying who the lovers were – they’re certainly up to the job of compromising the woman.

  It’s definitely a hotel in an upmarket resort – white towelling bathrobes, reading lights on the headboard, stationery on the writing table, designer phones on both nightstands, huge bed, room service menu. I’m trying to work out where it would be. My hunch would be Miami or the Keys. Looking hard, I work out that there’s a wrap of coke open on the bedside table. In the later pictures I’m proved right – she’s sitting cross-legged on the bed, sniffing a line of zip off a CD cover. A line after the main event, a post-charver pick-me-up. The shots click on. They share a cigarette, she laughs, her head thrown backwards. She’s very attractive, more attractive when she laughs, but who isn’t?

  Why would the pictures of her sniffing cocaine be on the memory stick unless she was some important woman? Someone’s thinking of blackmail?

  Q. Her perceived crime?

  A. Doing drugs and fucking.

  Worse. Fucking with expertise.

  Does anyone care about drugs these days? Could cause you problems if your position depended on having a lily-white image. It would be problematic for anyone connected with politics, law enforcement, religion or sport.

  Roy says that you could easily buy a pinhole camera, invisible to the naked eye, to take the photos. You’d just need to slip into the room, set it up, and have a room nearby. I ask Roy if that’s Jesus in the photos. He shakes his head.

  ‘Any idea who it might be?’

  Roy shrugs.

  ‘Know something?’ I say to nobody in particular. ‘It got personal between this bird and Jesus.’

  ‘How do you know?’ asks Roy.

  My turn to shrug. ‘I don’t. Just a feeling …’

  I think Jesus had an extremely dark side and he was very in touch with it.

  The slideshow finishes. I sit down and click on the first photo, zoom in, so it almost becomes pixellated. There’s a hotel crest and name on the menu that I’m trying to move into position so I can read it. Sonny thinks I’m just having a perv.

  ‘What a fuckin slag,’ says Sonny, nodding at the screen.

  I feel strangely protective of her. Sonny doesn’t like her – she’s out of his league and he knows it. I ask Roy to print the photos.

  ‘Why’s that then?’ Sonny asks. ‘You gonna knock one out later?’

  The photos begin tumbling out of the printer.

  ‘What do we do now?’ asks Sonny, getting bored.

  Roy shrugs. ‘We wait for Smiler to open those files.’

  ‘I hope this whole fuckabout wasn’t just about some dirty pictures,’ says Sonny. He rubs his hands together. ‘You know what, I’m a bit peckish. Anyone hungry?’ he asks.

  ‘There’s plenty of pizza,’ says Roy.

  ‘Fuck pizza!’ says Sonny, rolling his eyes. ‘I’m gonna order a curry. From Edgware Road, for everyone. Get them to stick it in a cab.’

  ‘It’s still morning,’ says Roy hopefully. ‘They won’t be open.’

  ‘Oh, yes, they fuckin will,’ replies Sonny.

  Half an hour later enough curry arrives to feed an infantry regiment. Sonny – in some officers-serving-the-enlisted-men-at-Christmas way – dishes up large potions for everyone, whether they want curry for breakfast or not. Roy sits by the coffee table, lights yet another snout, with a heaving plate full of lamb Madras, rice and peshawari naan in front of him. But he can’t eat, seems revolted by the smell, looks about to dry heave. He’s got a trainer wedged against the table leg, pulsating with nervous energy. And he can’t, through strength of will or prayer, make it stop. But he doesn’t want anyone to see, either.

  Sonny can eat though, enough for ten, shovelling king prawn vindaloo curry, rice and Bombay potato like a stoker and swigging vodka and coke, pausing only to catch his breath, his nose beginning to drip. ‘Where’s that soppy cunt, Smiler?’ he says between mouthfuls.

  Sonny picks up his phone and pushes the speed dial number for the driver they’ve sent to collect the computer expert. He puts it on loudspeaker and then carries on eating. The driver answers – the geezer won’t stop moaning, keeps insisting on stopping for food and cups of tea. Subsistence, he calls it. Sonny asks the driver where is Smiler right fuckin now?

  ‘In some bushes, having a gypsy’s kiss. Reckons he’s got a weak bladder.’

  ‘Stop giving him tea,’ snaps Sonny. ‘Won’t need to be pissing, will he? No more tea!’

  Sonny tells the driver to put the Smiler fella on the trombone when he gets back. There’s a pause. Sonny carries on eating. We can hear traffic. Smiler comes on the phone.

  ‘Alright, Sonny?’ says the voice of doom. ‘It’s me, Smiler.’

  Sonny wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and says hello, Mister Smiler, how-ya-doing, you sweet? But without waiting for an answer he threatens to break his fingers with a club hammer if he’s not here in one hour. No tea.

  ‘That should liven him up,’ says Sonny. Then he abruptly jumps up and mar
ches across the room, bearing down on Roy. Roy looks up, frightened.

  ‘You eating that bitta tucker, Roy?’ says Sonny. ‘Only, be a shame to waste it.’

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  READING BETWEEN THE LINES

  Another forty minutes later and enter the legendary Smiler who never smiles, the Internet crim par-excellence, who makes his money stealing from bank accounts, jamming the servers of gambling sites, using everyday computers as zombies, unknowingly pumping out spam. It’s a game to Smiler, a world of spyware and phishing; emails demanding bank details to deposit winnings from Spanish lotteries, addressed to bods who don’t own passports. In another life Smiler used to procure the best counterfeit documentation but now finds fiddling about on the net much more lucrative.

  Smiler’s day: sits in front of his battalion of computers, tucked away in Brighton, looking out on the Channel from his Regency apartment, acquiring more wealth, getting more cynical, complaining about grockles staggering drunkenly down the front. Now Sonny’s summoned him to assist on a special mission but Smiler would do well to remember that around volatile people it’s like playing a pinball machine – one nudge too many … tilt … game over.

  When the driver walks in behind Smiler you can tell he’s taken an ear-bashing all the way up. Smiler – a pale, stringy grimace on legs, mid-forties but looks older, millions squirrelled away but dressed like a schlepper – runs the sceptical rule over the set-up that Roy has put together and begrudgingly nods his approval. No intros for me or Morty, who’s sitting reading the paper on the sofa, smoking and drinking coffee. Roy begins to give Smiler a sit-rep – can’t get these two folders open. We’ve tried getting …

  Smiler holds up his hand to silence Roy. He sits down, starts typing, cutting and pasting, downloading software, opening up accountancy files. He’s swearing under his breath, writing down passwords on manuals, cursor flying round the screen, a dozen programs open at once. Smiler is airborne.

  Morty meanwhile flicks off his shoes, manoeuvres himself horizontal, shuffles the pillows and goes to sleep. Roy and Sonny look at one another with raised eyebrows. Smiler looks over his shoulder. ‘Excitement must be too much,’ he says sardonically.

 
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