Viva La Madness, p.20J. J. Connolly
Roy parks the rental up in the alley that runs the length of the row of shops and Sonny leads us into the club. As we enter it’s a spaghetti western moment – the clientele look up slowly from their evening breakfasts or papers to see who’s coming through the door. Most of them look like they haven’t slept for days; they’re pranged or pinned, edgy and paranoid.
The ground floor is, as always, furnished with worn lino and Formica tables, sells kebabs, sandwiches and bottled beer. Upstairs, card games go on non-stop, night and day, including Christmas Day. I hadn’t popped in for years but I know the only thing that’s changed is the light bulbs. It’s a total contrast to Flavio’s Cosmo P. The AKQ was minimalist in a different way – no Japanese spas in the basement or ylang-ylang scented candles. A few guys stood round a one-armed bandit nod over to Sonny and Roy. Sonny winks, tells them, ‘Just got a little sorting to do. Catch ya in a minute, gents.’
He asks the guy behind the ramp, slow, stoned and fearless, ‘Can I borrow a room? Need a chat with these gents.’
Without a word he beckons us to follow him. We pass through a narrow corridor and the guy opens a locked door. He gestures for us to enter while he stays outside. Sonny peels five twenty-pound notes off his brick and gives them to the guy. ‘Can we get a few beers and a bottle of brandy?’ he asks, then sticks a couple of twenties in his shirt pocket. ‘A good bottle, yeah?’ The barman nods. Not employed for his conversation skills.
Inside is a bare room, with a green baize card table, surrounded by six well-worn office chairs; the ideal place for a marathon card game, or an interrogation. The overhead light throws out a spooky glow. The barred window has been blacked out and an air conditioning unit hums and rattles. Flavio starts getting unnerved again.
‘These men, these Venezuelanos putos, they were going to kill me,’ he blurts out.
‘One second,’ says Sonny, holding up a hand, ‘let me think …’ He’s calculating whether it would be better if Flavio skipped town, or if he stayed put. It could look suspect if Flavio suddenly went missing – the hotel security manager might ring his CID contact down West End Central … Don’t wanna even think about …
There’s a knock on the door. Roy opens it. The guy is back with a battered tray – six bottles of beer, the brandy, glasses, no ice, no smile, no change.
‘Sit down, Flavio,’ says Roy, Sonny’s unofficial head of security, ‘make yourself comfortable.’
It would be impossible for Flavio to get comfortable but he sits. Roy sits opposite.
‘Is there anything you’d like?’ asks Roy, being so polite it’s chilling. It’s been a long and emotional twenty-four hours for Roy, what with all that digging.
Then Roy questions Flavio, gets him repeating the story, over and over, for the next half hour.
‘Again, from the beginning,’ says Roy, standing, his face in the shadows.
So Flavio relates the tale once again. The Venezuelans arrived, said they were acquaintances of Jesus. Flavio thought it was the first lot, or associates of the first lot, returning to ask more question so he managed to get them away from the reception area and swerve them into the bar. Flavio didn’t want management finding out that they’d already paid money to search Jesus’ room. Flavio told the Venezuelans he’d looked after Jesus while he was in town and he’d do the same for them. Then they asked to see Jesus’ old room. In the room they began asking questions about Jesus, exactly the same questions as the first group. It soon developed into the classic scenario – I told your colleagues everything I know, señor.
‘Excuse me, señor, I mean, sir,’ replied one of the group politely, ‘but what colleagues? Who are you referring to, please?’
Flavio told them that he’d told their colleagues everything he knew only a few days before. Flavio asked them if this was a joke, no? They asked for an explanation so Flavio gave them one – a team of Venezuelans came here last week, paid a consideration, and searched the room from top to bottom. When Flavio finished the Venezuelans started speaking Espanhol muito rapidamente – Spanish very fast – amongst themselves. They asked Flavio if he knew anything he wasn’t letting on …
Flavio tried to get cute. He shrugged his shoulders, pulled a charming, innocent cherub face, sensed another consideration could be forthcoming but unfortunately …
Without warning one of the Venezuelans delivered a short, sharp punch to his diaphragm, deliberately knocking him breathless, doubling him over. They exploded into a well-rehearsed routine, grabbed Flavio by the hair, dragged him screaming into an enclosed shower stall, forced a plastic freezer bag over his head, pulled it taut around his neck and began suffocating him. The more Flavio struggled, the harder he breathed, the faster his oxygen got exhausted till he started to slip out of consciousness. My theory about his soiled strides was correct. Through the plastic, which was stuck to his face like skin, they told him that they were going to kill him if he didn’t answer their questions – don’t be cute. But Flavio couldn’t breathe or speak so they contented themselves with bouncing his head off the tiles. The fact that there was another team of their compatriots asking questions about Jesus was a problem. It was only the intervention of the urbane and aloof head of the group, who up to that point in the interrogation had hovered like an observer, that stopped them from killing Flavio. He apologised for their conduct on their behalf. They left in an orderly fashion after giving Flavio five hundred pounds and asking him – with mucho menace – to keep quiet about their visit.
‘What did this lot look like?’ asks Roy. ‘Were they different from the first mob?’
‘They wore suits, but like bad suits, ill-fitting … didn’t look right, like a band on a cruise ship,’ says Flavio, bitching. ‘But the leader, man, he was dressed like an English gent … muito strange. Like he had bought his clothes on Jermyn Street – tweeds and gingham shirts.’
‘Did they ask about the memory stick?’ asks Roy.
‘Again and again! They asked about your club, Sonny,’ blurts out Flavio.
‘Oh, yeah, before or after they tried to suffocate you?’ asks Sonny, selfishly concerned.
‘During,’ says Flavio.
‘Did they … did they ask about me?’ asks Sonny like it was an innocuous question.
‘They asked if I knew you,’ replies Flavio. ‘I said I was sometimes paid to send customers to the Monarch – rich guests, with money, I could get them into the VIP.’
‘Why tell them anything?’ asks Sonny.
‘They had this Jesus Zambrano’s American Express statements! They showed them to me!’ Sonny shakes his head, disappointed. ‘They were going to kill me!’ screams Flavio. ‘I shouldn’t have got involved! I didn’t have to make the call to you, Mister King! I could have got on a plane, gone to Portugal!’
Sonny looks hurt, bottom lip sticking out, ‘And left me in the shit? That’s not nice, is it?’ He gives Flavio the burning eyes. Flavio looks straight down, ashamed and scared. Flavio begins to talk but can’t. He begins to melt. He gets a folded piece of hotel stationary out of the top pocket of his jacket and places it on the tabletop. ‘He told me …’ says Flavio in a whisper, ‘to give you this …’
‘Who?’ snaps Sonny.
‘The leader, the Venezuelan gentleman …’
Flavio goes to hand the paper to Sonny. ‘What the fuck is it?’ asks Sonny.
‘I haven’t looked, Sonny … it was meant for you.’
‘Why’d you only mention this now, you Portuguese cunt?’ growls Sonny.
‘I was …’ stammers Flavio. ‘I was scared.’
Sonny leaps forward, quick as a snake, his face in Flavio’s. ‘What the fuck,’ he roars, ‘have you got to be scared of?’
‘Nothing,’ replies Flavio, hoping it’s the right answer.
Sonny taps the paper. ‘Have a look now,’ he says, eyes drilling into Flavio.
He opens up the paper. ‘It’s a phone number, Mister King.’
‘Any name?’ Morty asks Flavio.
Flavio places the folded paper down and pushes it across the table. Roy picks up the paper, and reads aloud.
‘Mister King, please could you call me, AYC, on blah, blah, blah – that’s a UK pay as you go number. Yours faithfully, Santos de Lucia.’
‘What’s this AYC bollocks?’ asks Sonny, confused.
‘At your convenience,’ says Flavio. ‘It’s etiquette.’
‘Etiquette?’ hisses Sonny. ‘This is a new one … Fuckin etiquette!’
Sonny turns to Roy, issues an order, ‘Stick Flavio in a cab, park him up, we might need him to ready-eye this Santos later.’ Sonny turns to Flavio and pulls out cash. ‘You done well, son. Call in sick to work, call in everyday. Stay away from the Cosmopolitan, but stay in touch with Roy.’
He hands Flavio a neatly folded grand. Flavio’s having the worst day of his life but the most lucrative – fifteen hundred quid in his new jeans. Roy ushers him out while Sonny pours two brandies and places them in front of me and Morty.
‘We need a strategy,’ says Sonny when Flavio and Roy are gone.
‘I don’t want that kid hurt,’ says Morty, pointing out the door.
‘Thought never crossed my mind, Mort,’ says Sonny, the picture of innocence. ‘I’ve put you two in whatever’s on that memory thingy but I’m gonna need a bitta help …’ Neither of us says anything. ‘We need to get this Santos off my ‘ay.’
Morty drums his fingers on the tabletop but says nothing. ‘This is the plan of action,’ continues Sonny, getting desperate. ‘It’s simple, okay? Smiler cracks the codes. We get the info on those accounts. We talk to Giles. Move the operation to Barbados. Put Curtis on the payroll. We clear out the Venezuelans’ accounts, bust up and go our separate ways. There’s money on that thing – we just gotta get to it!’
Morty and me say nothing. Sonny’s selling us best-case scenario. He needs us; you’d be lucky to get a dirty look off Sonny if he didn’t have an ulterior motive.
‘The situation is different …’ says Mort. ‘It’s what Roy would call fluid.’
We pretend not to be convinced. It’s deceptive front. Sonny is pacing now, circling the table.
‘What’s Giles got to do with this?’ I ask.
‘I’ll level with ya,’ he says. ‘We have Giles right straightened out. He’s a school pal of Curtis’. And Curtis does what Giles tells him … It’s how these swells operate. But, first things first, we need to get these Venezuelans away from us.’
‘Not us, Sonny,’ I tell him. ‘It’s you they wanna talk to.’
Morty laughs, claps. Throws back his head, slaps Sonny’s shoulder.
‘It’s funny, Sonny,’ says Mort. ‘You gotta admit it.’
‘I never admit anything,’ says Sonny, deadly serious. ‘Nothing. Never. Not my style, mate.’
BAD TO WORSE
Sonny can be the most awkward cunt … Five minutes after agreeing it’s the only way, to meet with this Santos geezer, straighten out this misunderstanding … he’s changed his mind. He’s switched and decided that he doesn’t wanna meet this cunt after all. I suggest that Sonny should have a sit-down with the South Americans somewhere public, where they would both feel safe. He started getting defiant.
‘Can you believe this geezer?’ Sonny asks Morty. ‘Is he winding me up? He seriously wants me to sit down with this cunt.’
‘He’s right,’ shrugs Mort, ‘it makes sense. It’s deflecting suspicion. You ain’t on trial—’
‘Fuckin right, I ain’t!’
‘It’s not me you gotta convince. And he’s right,’ says Mort, meaning me, ‘you’re a sitting target, what with that club. If they wanna do a wet job on ya, they’ve only gotta plot up … Try and convince them on the phone they’re wasting their time.’
‘Could be good,’ says Sonny, seeing possibilities.
‘If there are two teams operating,’ says Morty, ‘we could use the intel. You could sniff them out, Sonny.’
‘Dead right …’ nods Sonny, ‘then straighten it out.’
‘So, you’ll meet them?’ asks Morty.
‘No! No fuckin way!’ snaps Sonny, like it’s a stupid question.
‘Sonny, if they were going to kill you,’ says Mort, ‘they’d have done it by now.’
‘You’re very reassuring, do you know that?’ says Sonny sarcastically, pouring himself a brandy, realising he’s in a corner, ‘This is all that cunt Jesus’ fault,’ he mutters, straight-faced.
The Venezuelans wanna ask him a few questions on behalf of the family back home, but the more Sonny evades them the more convinced they’ll become that he’s involved. And they’ll have criminal connections that can easily find out Sonny King’s pedigree.
Straight Q. – Is this Sonny King character a gentleman who could organise the robbing, and possible murder, of our courier carrying our dough back to our hacienda?
Straight A. – This Sonny King character could rob his own mother in her sleep. In his sleep.
Meanwhile Sonny’s pacing again, muttering about that cunt Jesus …
‘There’s obviously,’ I say to Sonny, ‘two teams of Venezuelans in London looking for that memory stick.’
Sonny sits down, drags his fingers through his hair, shakes his canister. I could almost feel sorry for him. ‘Two?’ he says at last. ‘Just what I fuckin don’t need.’
‘You need to think seriously,’ says Mort, ‘about getting these geezers to believe that Jesus shipped out to Paris.’
Sonny is only half convinced. ‘Why should I sit down with them?’
‘Because they might kill you if you don’t,’ Morty tells him.
‘They can’t fuckin kill everyone,’ says Sonny.
‘Oh, yes, they fuckin can,’ Morty replies. ‘They know you have a nightclub. If you leave London, where are you gonna go? You wanna be involved in a vendetta with a firm of South Americans?’
‘I know what I’ll do,’ says Sonny. ‘I’ll send Roy in there. Roy killed the cunt. I’ll let Roy sort it out.’
Morty pipes up. ‘Roy could get us all served-up, Sonny. I don’t think Roy’s all that tickety-boo at the moment, not since, you know …’ Morty mimes digging a hole.
‘You’re right, Mort, dead right …’ Sonny does a brutal impression of Roy, twitching and winking. ‘We should drop him out.’
‘So you’ll go on your own?’ I ask, trying to conceal my hope.
‘Fuck off! Don’t try and be funny!’ says Sonny, giving me the eyes. ‘You and Morty are comin with! If ya want a bit of what’s on that thing!’
‘We’re all talking,’ I say, ‘like there’s a prize on that stick.’
‘Trust me,’ says Sonny, tapping his nose. ‘I knew when they was fiddling about in that room at the Cosmo there was more to this – fuckin knew.’
‘So,’ says Morty, locking onto Sonny and downing his brandy, ‘you need to make the call.’
Sonny doesn’t want to make the call to Santos. You can tell that he’s gonna need another drink, and another one after that. The purpose of the operation is to pacify them into believing that we – and especially the extremely guilty-looking Sonny King – are complete innocents. I wouldn’t wanna end up in a situation where they decide to kill us all anyway because Sonny has incensed them or in what Roy would call an information containment exercise.
‘Ring that fuckin number, Sonny,’ says Morty, maybe enjoying his discomfort.
Sonny drums his fingers on his phone, frowning, like he’s thinking hard. ‘You know what, I’ll ring him tomorrow,’ he says. ‘It’s like ringing a bird, you don’t wanna appear too keen.’
Morty lets go a disappointed sigh. Sonny bursts out laughing, slapping the tabletop. ‘Look at his little face,’ says Sonny, pointing at Mort.
‘Fuckin ring it, Sonny,’ says Morty. ‘And remember, best innocent voice.’
Sonny King feeds the number into his phone
No answer. Sonny appears relieved. The number rings off the hook. Don’t mean we’re off the hook.
Sonny keeps asking Morty where Roy is – where the fuck is Roy, Mort? Just at the point where Morty’s about to tell Sonny to fuck off, in strolls Roy like he’s been to feed a meter.
‘Roy,’ says Sonny, ‘where you been? We thought the Apaches had got ya. I rung that number, no answer. Do you think I should ring it again?’
‘Definitely,’ replies Roy, dry as a bone.
‘I’m disappointed in ya, Roy. If I get killed, I’m coming back to haunt you.’
‘If they were going to kill you, Sonny,’ says Roy, ‘they’d have done it by now.’
‘We’ve had this conversation,’ says Sonny.
‘If you get given lemons,’ says Roy, ‘you make lemonade.’
‘What the fuck you on about?’ asks Sonny.
‘You don’t get it, do you, Sonny?’ says Roy, annoyed. ‘This is manna from heaven.’
Roy is now in his element. ‘We start listening in to that number, same as what the cozzers would do. We can track it, find out where they are at any given time, day or night. Smiler’ll know how to do it. I think he’s underestimated us, this Santos geezer, giving us that number.’
‘Underestimated you, Roy,’ says Sonny, slapping Roy on the back.
‘In the meantime,’ says Roy, ‘we bug that number and Smiler can translate what they say.’
‘Does this Santos have your number, Sonny?’ asks Morty.
‘I asked Flavio,’ says Roy. ‘Santos missed a trick – didn’t get yer number off his phone.’
Sonny grabs Roy and pinches a big handful of his cheek. ‘Look at that face,’ he’s saying, looking relieved, ‘got a face only a mother could love …’
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes