Viva La Madness, p.2J. J. Connolly
A grand – seven hundred quid – and all he had to do was bend down and pick it up. But he couldn’t be bothered. He wasn’t showing off; he just saw a thousand dollars as an abstract thing. It no longer held any value, was simply a piece of paper blowing in the wind. It wasn’t wages for a week or a month; it’s how you score the game.
The note disappeared into the twilight. There was no shrug, no nothing. No emotion either way. The guy’s car arrived. He got in and drove away. Out of my life.
But later that evening I left a message for my friend Mister Mortimer in London using our primitive jungle telegraph. Due to a series of events that went down many moons ago it was always in our mutual best interests that we never got into the clutches of law enforcement. We had to look out for each other, same as when we shuffled kilos around town and both ended up with a tidy stash. When I had to get out Morty semi-retired because the law were convinced he’d killed some geezer who got battered to death in a café. Morty, heavy-duty black dude, a generation older, with genuine charm, had been responsible for protecting our firm. Mort would pop over to the Caribbean to see me. The last time he was over this side, a couple of months ago, I started to tentatively sound him out.
We’d set up a freebie email account where we both knew the address but more importantly the password. If I needed to contact Mort I would drive down the road to the cyber-café, open up the account and, avoiding the inbox altogether, go straight to the ‘drafts’ folder. I would find the draft of the last message that either Mort or myself had written. I would then alter it, letting him know in innocuous code what was required. I arranged a conversation between two call boxes using a pre-paid phone card.
I would save the draft and sign out. Most importantly I would not actually send the message so there was nothing to intercept on the very-much-monitored Internet. We would regularly check the drafts folder to see if there were any messages. I sent the message saying I needed a conversation on the weekend, five on a scale of ten for urgency. I suggested noon GMT Sunday, seven in the morning my time. He got back quick – no problem.
The essence of my conversation with Mort was I wanted to either sell the shares in the hotel on the quick and on the quiet, or, after much patient preparation, shift them into an impenetrable offshore holding company and disappear off the face of the earth. Relocate. What I told Morty was that I was in the market for a whole new profile – a couple of new passports, credit cards and a British driving licence. I had some photos taken in the shopping mall and had them FedExed over. I was open to ideas but I realised I would require tank money.
When we spoke again three days later Mister Mortimer told me to come over to Barbados, to rent a decent sized motor on a passable snide US licence, book myself into a quiet guesthouse. He gave me a flight number. He told me: ‘I might have a little something for ya. Someone’s been asking about you recently.’
Morty told me to meet him here, so I’m here. I let everybody know back in Jamaica that I was shipping out to Las Vegas – a conference on hotel management. My duplicitous management team doesn’t believe me for a minute.
Sitting here in another airport. I hate waiting.
SHOCK AND AWE
I’d got over to the airport early, parked up the rental motor in the parking lot, ate lunch across the road, then took a leisurely stroll back, retrieved the motor and moved it to outside the arrivals lounge ready for the quick getaway. I wandered inside the terminal building, bought an English newspaper and sat down to wait. I was looking forward to hanging with Morty and getting a plan together. It was good to hang with Mort in the Caribbean. People took to him. He liked to get outta London and relax, eat and drink well, switch off.
As I’m watching the holidaymakers come off the planes through customs and immigration, I do a slapstick double-take. I see two faces from London queuing for their luggage. I don’t believe it but it’s true. I don’t want them to see me if at all possible because they’re a right pair of lunatics. I can’t see Morty anywhere, but then, cool as ya like, he strolls out of the airside bathroom and wanders over to join them, laughing and joking. Maybe he’s met them on the flight, but it’s soon apparent they’re with Mort.
As soon as I saw Mister Mortimer walking over to Sonny King and Twitchy Roy Burns, I knew it was not gonna be a quiet rendezvous in Barbados. Burning, wrecking, destroying and even possibly killing, Sonny was capable of it all. He’s about five foot ten, bulked up from doing weights and ’roids, but carrying a bitova belly after too many rich takeaways. Sonny’s a gym bod but I doubt if he could run a hundred yards without keeling over. Make no mistake, he could battle for hours and enjoy every second, indulged in recreational violence as a leisure activity. I’d never really got on with Sonny. I’d always hoped it was because we were at opposite ends of the evolutionary scale, but when I was in London I always kept him sweet as syrup on a spoon because Sonny’s your worst nightmare.
Sonny King trades cocaine. Trades it very well, and has got very rich on the back of it because he serves every yard-dog and head-the-ball who can’t get served anywhere else. While me and Mort had the occasional lunatic in the Rolodex, Sonny had the complete A to Z of unstable criminality on his beat. In every walk of life there’s snobbery. Why should crims be any different? Sonny’s posse are the lottery winners of the criminal world. They give criminality a bad name. I know criminals who wouldn’t leave the house in the morning without doing the Daily Telegraph crossword, while Sonny’s guys would struggle with a colouring book. And hierarchies exist wherever you go. I made good money from dealing so it’s hypocritical of me to begrudge them their cash, but before powders came along this breed of guys were putting the grip on pub landlords, café owners, market traders for a drop of protection. Never had much in the way of imagination or talent. But times change.
And crime is like any other business these days; if it’s not organised its going outta business. The days of getting up at midday, scratching yer bollocks, trying to work out your next move are gone. Sonny, to his credit, could gun a crew, could certainly be the Bilko. Sonny was always a player, but the beautifully insane thing about the drugs business is that you can go from nowhere to stratospheric wealth in weeks and months rather than years. Percentage growth rates, future growth projections – the statistics corporations pride themselves on – couldn’t be worked out quick enough. If you drew a box two inches across by twelve high and then got a sharp pencil and drew a diagonal line from bottom to top, that would be Sonny’s trajectory. And his business rivals didn’t just step aside. Sonny is one of life’s assault tanks.
The thing to always remember in the crime game is that you can rapidly go from hero – in the penthouse suite overlooking the harbour at Monte Carlo, surrounded by two-grand-a-night hookers, swigging pints of D.P. and lighting fat cigars with a fifty – to zero, the defendant in the dock at the Old Bailey, surrounded by the Metropolitan Police’s paramilitary wing, getting a double-figure sentence.
Sonny was quite happy to swallow non-payment on occasion if it gave him an excuse to go to town on some poor defaulter, but I don’t think making money was the be-all-and-end-all. It’s more to do with having heavy geezers look down and check their shiny shoes to avoid your gaze, and having fit birds with short skirts, big eyes and gamey attitudes standing on tiptoes to get a glimpse of you in the VIP.
According to Morty, Sonny had upgraded his grandiose fantasies and bought the ultimate plaything – a nightclub in the West End that was nominally run by an upper-class loon called Dougie Nightingale. Sonny bought in when coke-addled Dougie was on his arse and desperately needed funds. So Sonny’s now hanging hard with the paparazzi fodder, skint-member-swells and the dubious chancers who inhabited that scene. Sonny should’ve been the silent partner but he couldn’t stay away. He was no doubt using the club to fire his coke profit through the books. This was a move, buying nightclubs, that was regarded by savvied crims nowadays as being far too obvious, bringing too much exposure. The
The guy with Sonny, Twitchy Roy Burns, is one of life’s professional sidekicks. Royski was called Twitchy cos he had a bad twitch that invaded his face at the first sign of threat, real or imagined. Back in London Roy had a reputation as a completely paranoid nut-nut who could get didgy if an unfamiliar milkman delivered his milk in the morning. Twitchy saw plain-clothes cozzers everywhere so he’d end up with a twitch, hence ‘Twitchy’ or ‘The Twitch’. Exhausting business, being Roy.
I thought Roy had gone into retirement after his near misses with the Old Bill – he was incredibly lucky on a few occasions. The Other People – the law – were a millimetre or a minute out a few times in their strenuous attempts to nick him, so Roy started to tell people, seriously straight-faced, that he was gifted, protected by the hand of fate. Because Roy Burns is a belligerent pothouse who would bite your nose off, people would agree to his face – yeah-yeah-yeah, Roy – but piss themselves behind his back. The Twitch was of a breed best avoided, a criminal who’s not as clever – or as lucky – as he thinks he is.
People in the past have looked at Royski, with his mad ginger hair and rake of freckles, and thought he was a lightweight, the court jester, but this is a geezer who plunges fellow motorists in the face, with chisels, if they take up too much of his road. Roy dresses like a slightly deranged golf pro, a straight-goer – consequently a few major dudes have come seriously unstuck by underestimating Royski. He was, back in the day, and probably still is, priceless and mad as cheese. I thought Roy had retired to the Costa del Sol to run a bar for ex-pat criminals so I’m surprised to see him reactivated and getting off the all-inclusive package-tour charter flight with Mister Mortimer, who’d never entertain these two unless it was serious business. This isn’t a jolly for Mister Mortimer, but our coded chat had made no mention of Twitchy or Sonny.
The flight’s luggage is starting to tip up on the baggage reclaim carousel. One after the other three massive, identical, brand new Samsonite cases appear. They’re shrink-wrapped in industrial cling film that makes them almost impossible to ransack. I know from intuition that those cases belong to Mister Mortimer and his travelling companions. I’m proved right. Sonny barges roughly through the waiting passengers and starts wrestling with the first case. It’s almost as wide as he is. Sonny pulls it off the carousel and starts wheeling it self-consciously across the arrivals lounge towards the customs and immigration. He sails through after a polite glance at his passport but now he’s telling the airport porters who hustle a few dollars by shifting luggage to fuck off.
Roy and Morty wait and then follow the same procedure, and now all three of them are heading across the stuffy arrivals lounge towards me and the exit. The lovely-northern-lass holiday rep, with her canary yellow uniform and clipboard, is trying to shepherd all her flock but this trio – fifty stone of London villain – marches straight past, eyes front, ignoring her. She looks at them anxiously – just once, a split-second, sniffs trouble, not wrong – and charges off in the other direction.
‘Give us a fuckin hand,’ Sonny says as he reaches me, ‘Standing there like some soppy cunt, fuckin watchin.’
‘Nice to see ya, Sonny,’ I say, ‘You should get one of those porters to schlep it for ya.’
‘I don’t want ’em near it, the thieving cunts,’ he says.
He’s sweating buckets cos he’s still dressed for windswept London, and it’s thirty-two degrees in the shade. Morty and Roy arrive with their cases.
‘It woulda cost ya three Bajan dollars,’ I say to Sonny. ‘’Bout a quid.’
‘Don’t be smart with me, cunt, okay, just don’t,’ he replies. ‘Where’s the fuckin motor?’
I nod at the non-descript Chrysler parked in the tow-away zone.
‘Fuckin hell! Is that it, Mort?’ screams Sonny, ‘Didn’t ya tell this cunt to get a big car?’
Mort just shrugs, ain’t worried either way. ‘You jump in there with him,’ he says to Sonny, ‘Roy and me’ll get a taxi. The driver’ll know the hotel. You tail us in, okay.’
Morty summons a cab, and him and Roy manhandle their massive suitcases into the boot while Sonny pushes his onto the back seat of the rental. So I get lumbered with Sonny, who’s now panting with the heat and furiously wiping his shaved head with an airline napkin. I would really like to be two-ed up with Morty so I could ask him what the fuck is going on but I follow Roy and Mort’s cab at a leisurely pace, taking in the scenery. Luckily Sonny was never much of a conversationalist. He says nothing, just munches gum menacingly.
The hotel they’re booked into is a collection of bungalows and three-storey blocks surrounding a lagoon-shaped swimming pool. It’s been landscaped with neat, clipped lawns, meandering paths and palm trees. There’s a quaint signpost made from pretend driftwood pointing to the reception – an open-air office with a counter, a veranda with chairs and sofas around bamboo tables.
As we park up, Morty and Roy are out of the cab and checking in. Sonny won’t let porters near his case but hollers at Mort and Twitchy to come and give him a fuckin hand – paira lazy cunts. Bajans don’t like people swearing in quiet conversation, let alone roaring across hotel lobbies. Other guests turn and give Sonny a funny look but he’s oblivious, telling the receptionist he wants three rooms in a row, peeling battered American dollars off a fat roll and throwing them at her. She gathers up the banknotes – because it’s a few weeks’ wages – then derisively hands them their keycards, still looking offended as we walk away.
We all troop up to the rooms on the third floor with a view over the rolling Atlantic Ocean, but instead of the three of them going into their own rooms they all march into Sonny’s. They haul the three suitcases onto the massive double bed. Sonny immediately takes off his Versace leather jacket and slings it into the corner, peels off his soaking sweatshirt and gym vest, then stands under the full-blast air con looking like a big, sweaty Buddha.
Morty sinks into a bamboo chair in the corner, lights a snout and opens some duty-free cognac, taking a long swig, straight from the bottle. Roy is trying to work out how the telly works with the remote control, pushing every button. Suddenly the room erupts with the deafening slapstick of cartoons. Royski is instantly captivated and enchanted. I feel spare.
‘Can I ask a question?’ I ask Sonny. ‘Two questions, actually.’
‘Go on,’ says Sonny, borrowing Roy’s twitch.
‘First, what am I doing here?’
‘You’re here to give us a hand with something. Next question?’ says Sonny, starting to laugh real sinister.
‘What are you two doing here?’
‘All in good time.’
‘Sonny,’ says Morty, a tiny wink in Sonny’s direction, ‘stop fuckin about and show the man. Let the dog see the rabbit.’
‘Roy, fuck’s sake,’ says Sonny, suddenly playing the Don. ‘Turn that fuckin racket off and show the geezer here the you-know-what.’
Roy gets up, flicks the telly off, goes over to the cases, and begins to tear off the shrink-wrap covering each case. Neither Morty nor Sonny goes to help or offer any encouragement. Every time he tries to dispose of a solid ball of plastic it won’t leave his hands – it sticks, like it’s meant to.
‘It was your big idea, Roy,’ says Sonny dryly.
Roy cracks on with his battle with the shrink-wrap. I go to help but Sonny motions me not to. Every time I go to speak Sonny places his finger silently over his lips – shut up.
Eventually Roy gets all the wrap off. The cases are lying neatly in a row on the bed. One by one he begins to feed in the combinations and flicks back the locks, leaving them shut. When they’re all unlocked, Roy goes back to the first and – with a sense of drama that I never imagined he had – walks along flicking each one open in rapid succession to reveal bundles of fifty and twenty pound notes, some in bank-wraps, some in elasti
‘How much is there?’ I ask.
‘Two million, seven hundred and forty thousand,’ says Sonny with a shrug, ‘give or take a grand.’
‘That’s an awful lotta holiday money, chaps.’
Sonny’s suddenly angry, across the room in three strides, right in my face.
‘You know what you are, don’t ya?’ he says with a pointy finger under my nose. ‘You’re too smart for your own good.’
‘Oi, Sonny,’ says Morty, taking a swig on the brandy, ‘behave yourself, okay? Be nice.’
A DIFFERENT KINDA BANK JOB
‘Don’t get too cosy, you lot. We’re a bit early,’ says Sonny, tapping his watch. ‘You know what? We shoulda told that cab to wait.’
‘Ring the reception,’ I suggest. ‘They’ll ring one local.’
‘Don’t talk ’bout it! Do it!’ says Sonny, turning to them, pointing at me. ‘Listen to this cunt, givin out his orders.’
I ring for a cab and ten minutes later we’re on our way into Bridgetown, me and Sonny in the rental, Roy and Morty padded up together. I think maybe Morty’s deliberately swerving me, but I don’t know why.
It’s three o’clock and the temperature’s in the low nineties, hot for the time of the year, even by Barbados standards. Sonny wants all the windows open and the air con full on at the same time, won’t let me explain that the windows need to be shut for the AC to work. Sweat runs down my face and into my eyes. In the rear-view mirror I can see Sonny’s suitcase on the beat seat. It strikes me as bordering on reckless, checking in luggage to be fiddled about with at Heathrow, but then an enterprising gent like Sonny would have people straightened out all over. Sonny’s suitcases, wrapped in their cocoon, would be the last thing to get loaded onto the plane before it took off.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes