Viva La Madness, p.19J. J. Connolly
Sonny tells Smiler to try and get into the untouched folder straight away.
Smiler ambles into the folder, goes through the security system like a knife through butter – like it wasn’t there – using a password-busting program. The screen fills with files – fifty-seven files in all – nice odd number, as Smiler puts it. Most of the files are systematically dated and titled. Always two names, always one called Miguel – Miguel y General, Miguel y Victor. Miguel and General, Miguel and Victor. Miguel y Jenna, Miguel y Raul. Always the date of the recording. There’s a few scattered, unnamed files at the end.
‘These are audio files – MP3s,’ says Smiler to Roy.
‘Recordings?’ asks Roy. ‘Not documents?’
‘Compressed digital recordings,’ says Smiler.
He downloads yet another program and waits patiently for it to install itself. When it’s ready Smiler clicks to play the first file, ‘Here we go,’ he says. The three of us lean into the laptop screen. Two voices are talking in Spanish.
‘They’re talking Spanish,’ says Smiler.
‘I can fuckin hear that, Smiler,’ screams Sonny, ‘I ain’t fuckin stupid.’
‘Next question,’ says Smiler. ‘Do you want me to translate it?’
‘You speak Spanish?’ asks Sonny, impressed.
‘No, I’ll send it to a translation service.’
‘I speak a bit of Spanish,’ I say, ‘but I think it’s a dialect. Play it for a minute, Smiler, see what we’ve got.’
Smiler shrugs and lets the recording play. It’s some gadget. He can drag the conversation along, fast-forward it or stop it dead with the mouse. Then Smiler starts jumping around – in and out of different conversations, different files – with five or six open at any one time or parked-up at the bottom of the screen. All the conversations feature one voice that’s consistently in all the recordings – Miguel. His name is in every conversation. Smiler finds a conversation in English – Miguel y Banquero – Miguel and Banker. They talk about the bank in the Caymans – simple schemes are the best – for us it’s a bridge-burning exercise. The essence of the deal is putting distance between us … Miguel’s telling the Banker don’t try to be to too clever with these people, they will not appreciate it. They might be wealthy but around money most of them are dumb as farm boys.
But who is Miguel? Seems young but really assertive, telling people exactly what he wants. It isn’t Slick from the Cosmo; he’s not American.
Smiler gives us the whirlwind tour. Some of the recordings are telephone conversations, some meetings in restaurants. All of them are clandestine, none consensual. All sound conspiratorial, talking in analogies and the third person; like guys aware of conspiracy laws, planning high-level projects, schemes, undertakings and endeavours. No doubt they were recorded with concealed listening devices.
Smiler clicks a random file. Two voices are speaking in Spanish – Miguel and some slightly camp, but somehow disturbed dude. I get a gentle slap on the arm from Roy. ‘That …’he says, ‘is the Jesus fella …’
Roy is spooked. Jesus’ voice echoes around the room, with shrieking seagulls and Latino hip-hop in the background, like the recording was done in Miami. We listen for a while, but you wouldn’t need to understand Spanish to grasp what’s going on.
Jesus is trying to skunk out Miguel, trying to get him to reveal information and incriminate himself. But it’s Miguel who’s leading Jesus into an ambush – the conversation sounds like a Q and A. Jesus asking plenty of leading Qs but getting no satisfactory As. Miguel is charming but telling nobody nothing, blatantly denying knowing people or being in certain locations.
Roy asks what they’re saying. ‘They’re talking plenty,’ I tell him, ‘but saying nothing.’
Their conversation ends abruptly, with Miguel trying to embrace Jesus – cousin, let me hug you. Jesus resists the attempt to check if he’s wearing a wire. Miguel knows he’s being recorded. Jesus knows Miguel knows. Jesus knows he’s fucked.
Miguel has tumbled that Jesus is, or has been, recording him. There’s a rustling – someone grabbing the microphone – then an exchange of Spanish insults. Miguel yells at Jesus No debería haber hecho caso a mi padre, debería haberte acabado contigo hace años! – roughly translated: I shouldn’t have listened to Father, I should have finished you years ago! Then the recording stops dead. End of story. Seems the whacked, neurotic Jesus was running a vendetta against the calm, unruffled Miguel.
‘What I’m going to do,’ says Smiler, ‘is run them in real-time, one-by-one, but send them through transcription software, then send the transcript to a translation service. Then you’ll have a transcript of the conversations. They may take a bit of deciphering – the program won’t know who’s talking – but you’ll know enough to work it out.’
‘Let’s print it up and drive it over to them,’ says Sonny, rubbing his hands.
Smiler laughs, a bit fearless now. ‘We send it over the net, Sonny,’ he says, pointing at the computer screen. ‘The Internet. I click a button and it’s gone.’
‘Comes back when? Tomorrow?’
‘About a minute.’
‘A minute!’ says Sonny, clapping his hands, doing a dance. ‘Brilliant. Right, let’s get going!’
Smiler starts typing in search engines, finds his way into a translation site then runs the recording. It begins to appear, in English, on the computer screen.
About a minute later he clicks on the print button and a transcript starts tumbling out the printer. There’s a lot of spelling mistakes, underlined in red like a schoolteacher’s biro.
‘Keep ’em coming,’ says Sonny.
Smiler keeps them coming all afternoon, feeding Roy and me more riddles and puzzles to be worked out. While we exchange transcripts, Sonny paces, Smiler fiddles with the final unopened folder and Morty sleeps on.
The first transcript, the one entitled Miguel and Papa Victor, a conversation between Miguel and his father, reads like gossip from the inner sanctum – two guys cosied-up in a study. Deals, offers, bargaining and negotiations. There’s talk of backhanders, politicos, high-ranking soldiers, who’s a greedy bastard, lawyers working as bag-men, corrupt bankers, even a cardinal providing false alibis.
There’s a character constantly referred to as the ‘dark one’ – el oscuro. It’s meant as ridicule and half as a warning. They’re referring to Jesus, name-checked as the Little Devil – El Pequeño Diablo and El Niño Diablo – the Child Devil. I knew he’d be putting in more than a cameo. Miguel is spitting angry and I think, reading between the lines, that Miguel wants to kill the devil. Something El Niño Diablo has done has genuinely shocked Miguel and his father, gents who accept murder and corruption as a business model. The father goes into a long rant about nepotism and fratricide, voodoo, and insanity, goes on for five pages. The dark one’s repulsive scheme will ruin everything. Throughout the transcripts Miguel is telling anyone who’ll listen not to tell that prick Jesus anything, nada – he’s up to something.
On another one Miguel and his father, Papa Victor, are talking about an incident at the University of Miami, someone getting killed. Jenna, Miguel’s sister, Victor’s daughter, is taking flak. Victor is asking Miguel as a favour to give Jesus, his younger brother’s wayward child, one last chance. Miguel isn’t keen, says it could jeopardise the big picture. The campus police are getting busy and the Miami police department have opened a missing persons file. The Zambrano’s name is getting bounced about. Miguel decides to move Jenna to Columbia – it will be safer there. We can keep an eye. And double her bodyguard. Safer in Columbia?
There are snide insults about powerful people, nicknames and in-jokes. Miguel’s side of the family, the sane side, led by the patriarch Papa Victor, is fiddling about in the neighbourhood where criminality bleeds into government. Jesus’ side are just fiddling about. Miguel calls them the deadwood.
I tell Smiler – who’s busy trying to open the third folder but getting frustrated – to print off a copy of the original Sp
Next instalment is interesting. This scheme involves the army, the Venezuelan one I guess, and a diplomatic bag operation into the States via various sleepy Caribbean islands. Maybe Jesus was shifting weight, moving his tackle, in a D-bag. The guy talking with Miguel – Raul, some kinda enforcer – says the people they work with in America, Switzerland, Uruguay and Argentina would be sickened by this ungodly behaviour – vendiendo corazones a los Americanos ricos – selling centres to rich Americans – obviously a mistranslation. Shopping malls?
Miguel appears pragmatic, nonchalant, about the long history of misdemeanours his clan has been involved with but is now worried that something Jesus is up to would finish them off, like there’s a limit to what even highly corruptible people will turn a blind eye to. Nothing must threaten the plan, he says repeatedly but doesn’t care to elaborate on what the plan might be. Raul and Miguel speculate about killing Jesus accidentally – without Papa’s permission. Raul laughs. Miguel doesn’t.
There are obviously a lot of references to Perico – literally parrot, cocaine, because of the brainless, repetitive chatter it induces. The parrot went via Cuba. They got paid. The government seized their parrot and sold it to us. Perico disappeared. We knew our friend The General wouldn’t let us down. He kept the parrot safe. It’s full of riddles – the circus won’t be coming to town. The funds we received from the parrot went straight to Zurich. They appear to be pragmatic about any law enforcement they can’t buy off or kill, like it’s a game.
It would be a major embarrassment to Miguel if the contents of the memory stick were exposed because it’s all information that only an insider would know – times, places, tax havens, banks, accounts, frivolous gossip, who’s got multiple mistresses, including a general with a tits-and-dick transsexual tucked away. The source would be easy to prove. The information concerning payments to military personnel could get you killed. The files are a complete blackmail package, assembled by someone with more than a grudge – a seething, slow-burn resentment – but also access to the family hacienda.
Maybe Jesus and this Miguel fella are both dead. Jesus was a blackmailer, blackmailing his own family, but never got the chance to spend the loot before Roy tore him in half. Alive or dead, there’s not a lot of love for Jesus. I think the three million Sonny and his merry men intercepted was the pay-off … or the first instalment.
After reading the transcripts it becomes apparent that Roy and Sonny were holding out. Surprise, surprise. The Zambrano Family aren’t some nutty South American firm but a powerful organisation. Roy gives Sonny an outline of what’s on the recordings.
‘Could we sell this back to them?’ asks Sonny.
‘Could be tricky,’ says Roy.
‘Extremely fuckin dangerous,’ I say. ‘What exactly was you expecting, Sonny?’
‘Something better than chit-chat and dirty pictures.’
‘This information is extremely valuable. They’ve written off three million pounds.’
‘All these folders are connected,’ says Roy calmly.
‘Here ya go,’ says Smiler. He stands up, punches the air. ‘Cracked it!’
The screen is full – top to bottom, left to right – of neat columns, figures and numbers, squiggles and hieroglyphics. Smiler scrolls down the page. It’s endless.
‘What the fuck is that?’ asks Sonny, pointing.
‘The last folder – financial accounts, two sets, shadow accounts,’ says Smiler. ‘Two of everything – ledgers, credit and debit.’
‘You can tell just by looking?’ asks Sonny.
‘Trust me – that’s the cumshot,’ says Smiler. ‘Those columns are figures. This is bespoke kit, designed to be impenetrable.’
‘Can you encrypt it?’ asks Roy.
‘You mean decrypt it,’ says Smiler smugly. ‘Given time. It’s like code-breaking.’
‘How long?’ asks Sonny.
‘Fuck knows,’ replies Smiler. ‘This program could have tripwires. Work it out – if someone gets a unique bit of software, they’re gonna make sure it’s protected. There are different levels of encryption. I can tell it’s hardcore. Actually, it might be mad but …’ Smiler reaches around the back of the laptop and tugs at the memory stick. The figures disappear.
‘You ain’t lost it, have ya?’ says Sonny taking a step nearer to Smiler.
Smiler shakes his head then pushes the stick back in. The program reappears. He clicks to save it but a dialogue box appears saying the action is not permitted. Smiler is beguiled and impressed. ‘Half the information is on the stick and half is on the net. The memory stick, Sonny, is the modern day equivalent of a treasure map … But one half of the treasure map.’
‘Where’s the rest?’ asks Sonny.
Smiler takes a deep breath and exhales. ‘Somewhere,’ he says at last. ‘Somewhere out in cyberspace is the other half of the program, its twin … It’s a file-sharing program, nicking bits of other programs and creating a new facilitating host. But some extremely clever data burnt deep into that gadget pulls it all together and allows you access to the prize. You want a piece of advice, gents? I’d say keep that memory stick where the sun don’t shine.’
Roy lunges at Smiler, ‘You trying to be funny, you cunt!’ Sonny jumps in between them. Roy tries to get at Smiler, to seriously hurt him. Sonny holds him back, tells Roy to calm down.
Morty wakes up, sits bolt upright. ‘What’s with the fuckin noise?’ he roars. ‘Can’t a man get his head down without you cunts screaming?’
Sonny and Roy immediately come under manners, stop pushing and shoving. Smiler is startled. He’d forgotten all about Morty.
Sonny turns to Smiler, ‘Well?’
‘There’s nothing I can do, not right now,’ he says awkwardly. ‘I need time, and equipment.’
‘Have I got this right?’ says Sonny, ‘That stick is a one-and-only?’
‘Correct. I mean, yes.’ Smiler’s nodding his head off.
‘I need you to stay here,’ says Sonny, ‘and work on this, for as long as it takes.’
Sonny pulls out a brick of notes that’s broken into thousand-pound chunks. He peels off three and slings them on the table. ‘Now, here’s an advance, for services rendered, not bad for an afternoon’s work. I’ll be very generous if that …’ he nods at the computer, ‘turns up trumps.’
Smiler nods and takes the money. ‘Now I need a chat with my colleagues …’ Sonny points at the door.
Smiler goes to leave, then something occurs to Sonny. ‘Oi! Smiler, I’d be upset if I thought you were chatting my business. You gonna keep quiet?’ Smiler nods his head and slips out the door. The very next moment Sonny’s phone rings. He looks at it and decides to answer it. ‘Hello, Flavio, how goes it?’
I can make out someone telling Sonny some bad news in a high-pitched voice. ‘Calm down, Flavio, for fuck’s sake! Flavio, stop screaming! When was this?’
An anxious look passes between Sonny and Roy. ‘How many?’ Sonny asks, looking concerned. ‘Whaddya mean, not the first lot? Where are you now? Are you sure they didn’t follow you? Stay there. No, meet me at Dollis Hill tube. Fuck’s sake! Just get on a train! Duck about! Lose them! Give me twenty minutes!’
Sonny puts his phone away, kicks a box, and looks perplexed. ‘We gotta go see someone.’
‘What’s happening, Sonny?’ asks Morty, getting up, lighting a snout.
‘There’s been a …’ says Sonny, ‘strange devolvement.’
Missus Burns would suggest that the phone call from Flavio about some Venezuelans turning up at the Cosmo was God paying you back, for being wicked to that nice Mister Smiler. And Twitchy would agree with Mum that there’s a funny karmic thing going on.
Roy’s driving along the North Circular Road to find Young Flavio, as Sonny calls him, with me, Morty and Sonny, all buckled up and trying to look inconspicuous. The sit-rep is as follo
‘Why Dollis Hill, Sonny?’ asks Morty. ‘Couldn’t you just meet him in some boozer?’
‘Trust me on this one, Mort,’ replies Sonny, animal instincts alight.
We arrive at Dollis Hill station, after getting lost coming off the dual carriageway. Flavio’s been waiting, feeling exposed. It shows in his face. We swag him away. Now it’s a tight squeeze with three of us in the back.
Flavio’s a good-looking kid of about twenty. He’s still dressed in his black suit jacket but wearing brand new jeans that don’t look right – too big. His shirt and tie, both black, are in disarray. He has the aura of a geezer who’s strayed too far from the paddling pool. I think the reason he’s wearing new jeans, instead of his suit trousers, is that he’s either pissed or shit himself or both. And right on cue Sonny pulls a face …
‘Can you smell shit?’ asks Sonny. ‘There’s a smell of shit, right?’
‘No, there isn’t,’ says Roy categorically. He means, you’re crucifying the kid, but Sonny don’t get it.
‘Maybe someone’s stood in dogshit,’ says Sonny.
‘Forget it, Sonny,’ says Mort. ‘Okay?’
Flavio looks uncomfortable, while I feel embarrassed, because there is a naughty whiff coming off him.
‘Where are we headed for?’ Morty asks Sonny, ‘Flavio here could use a wash and brush up.’
‘Let’s head for the AKQ,’ says Sonny.
AKQ club is a clubhouse for desperados and loons housed in a corner shop in Cricklewood – all the usual fixtures, blacked-out windows, basement card-schools, hidden back rooms where a fugitive might get his head down, CCTV cameras above the door, banks of monitors over the jump. The owner lives in a barricaded flat on the top floor, comes and goes via a fire escape at the back. There were rumours of secret escape passages, and the club was regularly checked for bugging devices, just to keep the paranoia levels nicely bubbling.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes