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Viva la madness, p.21
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       Viva La Madness, p.21

           J. J. Connolly

  ‘He should have checked the call history,’ says Roy, ‘to see if Flavio was calling you. We give Santos’ mobile number to Smiler, see what he can come up with, who this Santos rings.’

  ‘Fuckin brilliant, Roy,’ says Sonny, rubbing his hands together. ‘Blinding. I feel better now. You know what, Roy? You’ve just earned yourself a whole page in my memoirs.’

  Sonny roars at his joke. Roy looks hurt as he turns to speak to me.

  ‘When we go to meet these guys, they’re gonna speak Spanish. We don’t, at least they think we don’t, so when they ask us if any of us speaks Es-pan-yola, we say no. What’s “do you speak Spanish?” in Spanish?’

  ‘Habla usted español?’ I say.

  ‘There you go. You do speak Spanish. We shrug our shoulders and say no. So then when they speak amongst themselves, we, or more precisely, you,’ he says, nodding at me, ‘will understand them. Understand?’

  ‘Kinda,’ I say.

  ‘They’ll say stuff they don’t want us to know, so when we get there—’

  ‘The thing is, Roy,’ says Sonny, interrupting, ‘we was having a chat … See what I was thinking was to ask this Santos over to the club.’

  ‘That’s good,’ says Roy, nodding, ‘plenty of bods around. When, tonight?’

  ‘No, in the morning, ten-ish,’ says Sonny. ‘But we was thinking that just me and Mort, and yer man here, would go on the meet.’

  ‘Why’s that then?’ asks Roy, like he’s upset.

  ‘Roy, brother, you ain’t in there because you’re watching my back.’

  Any sane person would be relieved but Roy’s not any sane person. Sonny spots it, he opens his arms wide and gives Roy a bear hug, giving Mort a wink on Roy’s blindside. ‘I need someone I can trust making sure everything’s sweet,’ says Sonny.

  And before Roy has time to think Sonny’s out the door, leading us up the tight corridor, towards a fire door. He pushes it open and steps out into the street, motioning us to hurry the fuck up.

  Morty whispers to me, sounding ominous, ‘One day Sonny’s gonna take the piss outta Roy once too often.’

  ‘Dot on the fuckin card, Mort.’

  Roy drives us back along the North Circular. I want them to drop me at a tube station, wanna get back to the hotel. I fancy a bath, a large brandy and a read of the transcripts. But then Sonny’s phone rings with its Another One Bites the Dust ringtone. Sonny looks at the call display, rolls his eyes, answers and listens to a high-pitched voice at the other end, nodding his head slowly.

  ‘Why didn’t you call me earlier?’ he asks after a minute.

  The caller goes off into a long explanation until Sonny interrupts.

  ‘Where’s that tosser Dougie?’

  You get the impression that things are not hunky dory down the Monarch. Eventually Sonny snaps the phone shut.

  ‘That was the Acting Head of Security at the Monarch Club …’

  A bouncer, by any other name. This is a real-time situation report. The Head of Security had left the back door open so the bar staff, bouncers and various members of Sonny’s crew could slip in without going through the front door. Suddenly, amongst the hustle and bustle that precedes opening time, the Head of Security turned around and four well-dressed geezers had appeared outta nowhere, and were stood in a neat line in front of the bar, with the lump he’d left guarding the back door under heavy manners. The bouncer tells them that the club isn’t open for another couple of hours, but one of them – young, almost a boy – replies in perfect but accented English they are aware of that. The bouncer thinks he’s maybe Spanish or some fuckin thing but then he works out he’s with some of the Venezuelans who came by before. They ask for Sonny – no joy. Then ask some questions about the Jesus geezer, who had apparently gone missing after spending a few nights down the Monarch. They told the Acting Head of Security that Jesus never got that train to Paris, ’cause they went and checked …

  Ironically, it was the one time that Dougie the Nightingale had turned up early for work, part a of no-booze-no-drugs, new-leaf-turned-over offensive suggested by a life coach cum eastern mystic – eastern, as in Aldgate East. As Dougie enters he bumps straight into the four dudes stood in their neat row. He thinks it might be some hoods trying to muscle in on his lucrative gig, so he does his ex-public school routine that works so well for repelling bullies and cads – gets high and mighty, pompous and lispy. They don’t understand him but they start laughing.

  When they stop laughing, the young guy asks him if he remembers anything about Jesus, who was a customer a couple of weeks ago but has since gone AWOL. He’s extremely courteous, apologising for the rude laughter. Nobody gets half-suffocated with plastic bags or feels it necessary to shit themselves. But Dougie does not consider these gentlemen worthy of his time. He orders a gaggle of the bouncers who are loitering nearby to show these gents out. Pleasure, boss. As the bouncers push their chests out and pull out baseball bats, one of these dudes has the downright audacity and dreadful manners to pull out an Uzi submachine gun. He nonchalantly locks and loads; points it, quite casually, at the ceiling.

  ‘Mister Nightingale, can we start this conversation again …?’ asks the young pup, ‘And could you remember your manners, please? Let me tell you … In my country I am also a chief …’

  The Venezuelans chuckle at this witty repartee but Dougie is now shaking like a park bench alkie. All the bouncers instinctively raise their hands and look to Mister Nightingale. Dougie’s no longer listening. He knows one thing for sure – he won’t be turning up early for work again in a hurry … And he’s gonna shoot that fuckin life coach stone fuckin dead.

  Suddenly Dougie, true to form, bolts – across the dance floor and out through the back door, like a fox with hounds up its arse. They can hear him clattering and tumbling down the back stairs. Dougie, according to the Acting Head of Security, is now, as we speak, incommunicado – not answering either mobile or landline. The speculation is that he’s barricaded himself into his Marylebone apartment with an ounce of zip and his latest highly neurotic girlfriend.

  Meanwhile, back at the hacienda, the Venezuelans work out that Dougie isn’t their man; he’s a drip who couldn’t hold up a wet handkerchief, let alone a deranged mummyfucker like Jesus Zambrano. But they do spot, wandering out of their VIP enclosure to see what all the fuckin noise is about, members of Sonny’s Uptown Crew. Their eyes meet across an empty dance floor. Each recognises the other crew as big trouble.

  They’re here because they’ve done their homework on Mister Sonny and know instinctively that Señor King, and his collection of ne’er-do-wells, are somehow involved …

  They also know they’re outnumbered, and possibly outgunned. They know that slaughtering everybody gets you nowhere, so they slowly, keeping their smiling faces pointed to the front and their backs to where they’re headed, slip out the back door. As they disappear the Acting Head of Security walks behind the bar, hits the brandy optic. Treats himself to a quadruple.

  Now Sonny’s puzzled. Who the fuck were they? Which fuckin lot?

  Morty turns to Sonny, ‘You gotta sort this out, now. Damage limitation, Sonny. It’s got out of hand. You’ll have no club left …’

  Sonny reluctantly gets his phone back out.

  ‘Try and find out,’ says Roy, ‘without being obvious, who they were.’

  ‘I fuckin know that!’ snaps Sonny.

  But Roy is relentless. ‘This Santos is gonna want an answer about Jesus—’

  ‘I’ll tell him you killed him, will I, Roy? Send him round your house?’

  ‘That’s not funny, Sonny,’ says Roy, starting to twitch.

  Morty loads the pressure on, ‘He needs to be satisfied that you know nothing.’

  ‘Oh, right, it’s that fuckin easy, is it?’ says Sonny, getting sarcastic. ‘Let’s hope he’s a bit backward, shall we?’

  ‘Sonny, mate,’ says Morty, rolling his eyes, ‘let’s cut the chat and make the call.’

  ‘Pull the motor over
, Roy!’ screams Sonny. ‘For fuck’s sake, pull over!’

  Roy spots a convenient turning, turns hard left off the dual carriageway, hits the gas, up a hill, does a right, pulls over and stops. Deep in pebbledash country.

  ‘You wanna calm down, pal,’ says Roy, screwing Sonny hard.

  ‘Don’t fuckin call me pal, okay?’ snaps Sonny.

  ‘Okay! Enough!’ shouts Morty, occupying the space between the two front seats, ‘Now, Sonny, don’t be talking to this fella with an angry head.’

  ‘Okay, Morty …’ says Sonny.

  ‘Been a long day …’ says Mort, pacifying now. ‘Make the call, put it on speakerphone, so everybody … nice and quiet …’

  The phone is answered on the third ring.

  ‘Hola, buenas noches,’ says a sharp voice.

  ‘Hello. Good evening. Am I speaking to Santos?’

  Sonny, alas, is using his posh voice – trying to sound classy but sounding deranged.

  ‘Yes, it is,’ says Santos, dryly.

  ‘This is Mister King. I received your message. Bit heavy-handed, your method of delivery, if I may say so, and I’ve just received a rather alarming telephone call from my club.’

  ‘Oh, yes, Mister King? Tell me all about it … please,’ says a polite and curious voice with a South American accent.

  ‘Yes,’ continues Sonny, ‘a little disappointing it was, to be honest …’

  Sonny trails off – Morty has gently tapped him on the forearm. Mort is shaking his head, placed an index finger over his lips. Sonny beckons him close; Morty talks in his ear.

  ‘Hello? Are you still there, Mister King …?’ says Santos. ‘Is there a problem?’

  ‘Don’t mention the geezers at the club,’ Morty whispers to Sonny. ‘Just make the meet.’

  ‘Are you there? Mister King …?’ asks Santos.

  ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m very fuckin here, pal,’ says Sonny, returning to snappy voice, giving Morty a wink. ‘We had a burst pipe. That’s why I didn’t ring you … till now …’

  ‘I’m awfully glad you did, Mister King. I was beginning to wonder …’ Santos spits Mister King like it’s a lesson in patronising.

  ‘I think the best thing to do, Mister Santos …’ says Sonny, rising to the bait, ‘This is Santos isn’t it?’

  ‘That’s correct, sir,’ says Santos firmly, ‘Santos de Lucia.’

  ‘The best thing to do, to clear up these misunderstandings, is for us to meet up at the Monarch Club, my club, tomorrow morning, about ten? Do you know—’

  ‘I’m sure I can find it again,’ snaps Santos derisively. ‘Thank you for getting back to me, Mister King.’

  ‘You’ve been there before?’ asks Sonny.

  ‘A few days since, but I believe you were out of the country, on business.’

  Mort was right – it wasn’t this guy who was in the Monarch earlier.

  ‘I’m not sure I can help you, sir,’ says Sonny, warming up. ‘I believe this is something—’

  Santos interrupts, blunt as a club. ‘Let’s talk in the a.m., Mister King … Thank you for your precious time,’ he adds patronisingly.

  There’s a click from the other end; the line is dead. Sonny looks at his phone murderously, like he’s about to crush it. ‘Let’s make one,’ he says to Roy, then to nobody in particular, more to himself, ‘got a feeling I ain’t gonna like this Santos cunt.’

  Roy starts the engine.

  ‘It wasn’t this Santos at your club earlier,’ says Morty. ‘There are two firms …’

  Nobody says anything. We don’t move. ‘Now, Roy,’ Sonny says at last, ‘are we gonna make a move, or are we gonna sit here like cunts all night?’

  Roy pulls away, slow-burn twitch building. We hit the dual carriageway again. Sonny gazes out the window. I can hear him breathing heavy through his nostrils. We get two minutes up the road. Suddenly Sonny slaps his hand down hard on the dashboard.

  ‘That cunt Jesus! Dead or alive, he’s a jinx!’

  Sonny’s found himself in that horrible place of having nobody to blame for his predicament but himself. It was meant to be easy; it’s a mess. He’s wishing he could just blame the dead cunt.



  I hardly get any sleep anymore. This speculation business is a killer. Tossing and turning, eyes tightly shut but electric under the eyelids, imagination chugg-chugg-chugging, flying off in a dozen different directions, till you’re telling your own head to shut the fuck up!

  Last night I fell asleep in an armchair, for ten minutes, with the transcript on my chest, so I got up and went to bed. That’s when all the speculation business really started.

  Not being able to sleep, I got the transcript out yet again. It’s a comically bad translation, pages missing or untouched, leaving chunks of gibberish where they drop into dialect. It confused me. I flicked through to see if I could find anyone called Santos. Everyone seemed to have either codes names or pseudonyms. I was looking for any indication of what could be on the other file, the one that, hopefully, Smiler was prising open.

  Seems there’s an internecine struggle within the Zambrano Clan – brothers and uncles falling out. It’s getting in the way of the serious shit – industrial-scale drug trafficking, corrupting high-level officials and making money. There’s a patchy recording of a family council, hosted by Papa Victor, and beginning with a tirade against El Niño del Diablo – his lack of morals and his effortless ability to commit sin without conscience – by his own father. Another uncle expresses disgust at the conducta of Jesus – Me da asco su conducta! I am disgusted by his behaviour! He argues they must sacrifice Jesus to save the family. Jesus is the tipping point for men who have lived immersed in criminality all their lives. After a vote the patriarchs refuse permission to erase the disgrace.

  In another transcript, back in the study, Miguel is haranguing his father – Talk to them; get them to deal with their envy, but we need to keep this project from them. They are nothing to me! Nothing! Miguel tells Papa – The Plan and Jenna are our salvation … Do you understand what I’m trying to do? We must be bold! Your grandchildren will be royalty! Never talk to me of sacrifice, don’t dare! This is a vision, Papa. I love this country but it’s wayward!

  Enough to get a chap curious, so this morning I overslept – speculation mixed with brandy.

  There’s a lot of things I’d rather be doing right now than chasing across town and sitting down with this Santos, but Sonny made it clear that if we wanted to be in at the bust-up we had to provide immoral support. Sonny has told Santos to come by the club at ten. I woke up at nine. Sonny told me to meet him there at quarter past to sort the gaff out … I had a shower and slipped the porter a twenty to jump the cab queue. I hate to give Sonny reason to moan.

  In the cab, the driver had talk radio on – you may experience delays. Lecture from driver – horse and carts were quicker.

  We pull up outside the Monarch. I pay the driver, slip through the back exit, up the stairs, through the double doors at the top and out into the club. My host greets me.

  ‘Where the fuck you been?’ says Sonny, never missing an opportunity. ‘This ain’t a fuckabout, a bitta community service.’

  Instinct tells me that Sonny’s only looking for respite from Roy’s over-elaborate briefing. Roy – who wasn’t supposed to be here – is stood in front of Sonny with his index finger in mid-air – like someone’s pressed the pause button. Sonny is sat, seemingly relaxed, in a booth in the VIP surrounded by cups of takeaway coffee and half-eaten bacon sandwiches. Angled frosted mirrors and lashing of crimson velvet enhance the regal themes that run throughout the recently refurbished Monarch, but the gaff stinks of snout, disinfectant and stale booze.

  Morty sits next to Sonny like he hasn’t got a care in the world, flicking through newspapers. Ominously, cleaning gear and vacuum cleaners have been abandoned, in mid-sweep or wipe, no doubt after the cleaners received a hollered order from Mister Sonny to
vacate – fuck off for an hour! Go to the park! Comprehendi?

  Sonny suddenly looks at Roy like he’s just noticed him, puzzled by Roy’s finger pointing into space. ‘What was you saying, Roy? Before this one turned up, fuckin late …’

  The pause button is released. ‘Listen, Sonny,’ says Roy, ‘it’s gonna be alright. When you’re talking to this Santos guy, keep looking straight ahead. If yer lying you’ll look off up into the corners of the room. If he asks ya something, pick a spot between his eyes and zero in on it, don’t lift yer hands to cover yer face or mouth, that’s body language for lying like fuck – deceit, basically.’

  ‘Okay, I get it,’ nods Sonny.

  ‘He’ll be on it straight away, know you’re lying, but he won’t know how he knows, but he will, it’s instinctive, so relax, convince yourself that you’re telling the truth. Consider yourself lucky that you ain’t pumped full of sodium pentothal, then we’d be really fucked.’ Sonny is massaging his temples. ‘Maybe try and sow the seeds of doubt, like a decoy, a parallel theory, to where Jesus may have got to—’

  ‘Roy …’ Sonny interrupts, head in his hands, ‘could you please stop talking?’

  Roy looks offended. Morty looks over his newspaper, takes up the slack. ‘Your job, Sonny,’ says Mort, ‘is to convince them that we know nothing, okay? Don’t get flash. And don’t let it get personal.’

  Sonny peels the top off a coffee – it looks like brake fluid – just as his phone, lying on the table, rings twice then stops. ‘Showtime,’ he says. ‘Royski, you need to disappear, son.’

  Roy gives Sonny a wounded look and strolls, like a defiant kid, behind some drapes.

  ‘You,’ Sonny says to me, ‘sit down next to Mort.’

  We sit in silence. A minute later one of Sonny’s crew appears at the door. Behind him, four guys, Venezuelans, stroll in. They all look very smart, Flavio was right. Three of them are suited and booted like body builders dressed for a wedding. The remaining one – the guv’nor, Mister Santos de Lucia, I assume – is doing a South American Englishman number; light tweeds, gingham shirt, tartan necktie and heavy brogues. He’s a couple of years either side of forty, typical Latino, greased-back hair, so the attire looks at odds … He’s beefy rather than muscular and has the pinched nose of someone permanently encountering an unpleasant smell. Santos looks around, eyes adjusting to the light, assessing his surroundings.

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