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Viva la madness, p.22
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       Viva La Madness, p.22

           J. J. Connolly

  ‘Oh, good, you found us okay,’ shouts Sonny across the club. ‘Please, come in.’

  Santos and his three amigos walk over.

  ‘Please, sit down,’ says Sonny, offering them a seat in the booth.

  ‘We’d prefer to stand, if it’s all the same to you,’ replies Santos on their behalf.

  ‘Whatever,’ says Sonny. Neither moves to shake hands. ‘Can I get you something to eat?’ asks Sonny, nodding at the debris of breakfast.

  ‘We’ve eaten already, Mister King,’ says the Santos fella dryly.

  Santos looks towards me and Morty as if to say who are these two? Don’t look like bodyguards, lounging around … Sonny nods at us. ‘Couple of associates, hope you don’t mind.’ Santos shrugs. He does mind but isn’t gonna make it an issue.

  ‘My counsellor,’ Sonny says, nodding towards Morty, ‘and his counsellor,’ he says, nodding at me. ‘You wanted to ask a few questions? I hope I don’t need a lawyer.’ Sonny laughs but Santos doesn’t.

  ‘That will not be necessary, my friend,’ he says, none too friendly.

  ‘I don’t know why,’ says Sonny, ‘you’re so insistent that I meet with you …’ Santos goes to interrupt, ‘But here we are, Santos, so fire away, sir, be my guest, ask me anything …’

  ‘Do you mind if my associate has a look round?’ asks Santos.

  ‘Well, I do actually …’ says Sonny, leaning forward, lighting a cigarette. ‘What do you think you’re gonna find?’

  ‘One never knows, does one?’ says Santos, like he was dropping a killer line.

  ‘Whatever it is, buddy,’ says Sonny, impatiently, ‘hurry up and find it cos I’ve got places to go, people to see.’

  Santos nods to one of the three amigos, then points at the area around us. I think Santos de Lucia fancies himself as a bit of a strategist. Sonny watches carefully as the guy takes off and has a cursory look behind the curtain that our Roy just disappeared behind. After walking the length of the bar, nutting into a few booths, and not finding anything, he nods back to Santos. Sonny watches all this. ‘You a happy boy, now?’ he asks Santos. Santos nods.

  ‘I hope you don’t mind but …’ says Sonny. He winks at the firm member stood by the stairs who approaches Santos and the amigos with a handheld metal detector – please, raise your arms. He runs it over them, finishing with Santos, who appears to be mightily indignant. The crew member nods to Sonny then disappears.

  ‘So, tell me, firstly, who are you?’ asks Sonny, ‘And, secondly, what’s all this fuss about?’

  ‘Who I am is not the issue,’ says Santos arrogantly. ‘But to answer your second question, we’re making inquires into the disappearance of Jesus Zambrano—’

  Sonny interrupts him immediately, holds up his hand, ‘I don’t wish to be rude, pal, but you’re barking up the wrong tree.’

  ‘Are you deliberately trying to confuse me, Mister King,’ says Santos, ‘with your use of colloquial English?’

  ‘Hang on,’ says Sonny bluntly. ‘What’s colloquial?’

  ‘Would you speak correct Queen’s English, Mister King?’ says Santos, rolling his eyes.

  ‘I think you’re being fuckin rude now,’ says Sonny, genuinely angry, ‘telling me how to talk in my own club.’

  ‘Your club?’ asks Santos, like he’s scored a point.

  ‘I’m a sleeping partner,’ says Sonny. ‘It’s an investment.’

  ‘A plaything, perhaps, Mister King?’ asks Santos.

  Sonny takes a breath before continuing, ‘Look, I don’t know what’s happened between you and this Jesus geezer but I just own this club. If you have a beef with Jesus, it’s none of my business, same as if Jesus came to me about you … Jesus will turn up, these guys always do. I know nothing about where he went after leaving here.’ He holds a hand over his heart, ‘I swear on the lives of my children …’

  ‘In ancient Rome …’ says Santos, checking his manicure, ‘to testify would mean to swear an oath on your testicles.’

  ‘Oh, yeah …?’ enquires Sonny. ‘And if you got caught out lying?’

  ‘Well, Mister King, you work it out.’

  ‘Ouch!’ says Sonny, laughing.

  ‘Now,’ says Santos, ‘you were telling me about Jesus.’

  ‘Was I?’ says Sonny with a shrug. ‘There’s not much to tell. Try being here at three in the morning when we chuck out. It’s chaos, everyone outta their nut, shitfaced. Jesus meets a girl; they end up moving on to somewhere else. They go home with a few grams of malarkey, turn the phones off. Modern romance.’

  Santos can’t work out if he’s having the piss taken outta him. Sonny’s getting hotted-up, his liar’s imagination kicking in … He’s thinking – this is going well, better than expected …

  Sonny continues, moving forward in his seat. ‘Maybe yer man Jesus really lucked out, got lucky. Might be on a private jet, off to somewhere real cool, Ibiza or Monte Carlo, two girls in the back cabin! And he’s got them performing … for his pleasure. You know exactly what I mean. I can tell you do.’

  Morty is sitting up, taking notice now. Santos does understand, but only just – he’s an hombre del mundo. But Sonny’s one-man show is confusing Los Amigos. Sonny gives Santos a man-to-man wink. ‘Maybe your buddy Jesus has got the Isley Brothers playing on the sound system.’ Sonny starts singing Who’s That Lady. ‘And Jesus is swaying to the music, watching the girl-on-girl go down. You know the score?’ Now Sonny’s buzzing on his imaginary scenario. ‘You know something? I’m jealous. When did your friend go missing?’

  ‘Eleven days since!’ snaps Santos, ‘I told you!’

  ‘No, you didn’t, but if you did, tell me again,’ says Sonny, taken aback. ‘And watch your manners. I’m helping you out here. If I wasn’t such a nice guy, I’d be telling you, and yer band …’ he nods at the three amigos, ‘to fuck off.’

  Santos has hatred in his eyes; he’d really like to go to town on Sonny. Sonny spots this – this could go either way. He puts his hands up in mock surrender.

  ‘Okay, let’s start again,’ Sonny says, ‘I’m really sorry if I’ve offended you. I came here today to help. I think your friend will turn up but in the meantime …’ Sonny leans back, arms across the booth, ‘if you fancy a night out – on the house – let me know.’

  Santos seems unimpressed, even insulted, with Sonny’s offer. ‘Jesus was a regular here, then he disappeared.’

  ‘What is your point exactly, Santos?’ Sonny pulls a bemused face. ‘Maybe he was mugged. London’s getting dangerous. A lot of people don’t feel safe walking the streets. I wish I could help but we’re running a nightclub, not an orphanage. I don’t know where he went after he left the club. People get into all sorts of mischief …’

  ‘You personally saw Jesus in your club?’ asks Santos, dryly.

  ‘Yes. Briefly. Here, in the VIP.’

  ‘And was Jesus having a good time?’

  ‘Was like a paedophile at a funfair,’ Sonny replies real droll, then bursts out laughing. Sonny’s in danger of fuckin this up. Santos ain’t laughing. He steps forward, zeroes in on Sonny.

  ‘What do you know about other Venezuelan gentlemen inquiring about Jesus?’ he asks.

  ‘Only what people tell me … like the kid you scared half to death,’ says Sonny, locking on, eyeball-to-eyeball. ‘That was unnecessary. You’re a guest in this country …’ Santos won’t break eye contact but Sonny, remembering his brief, lights another cigarette. He takes a long drag. ‘What do you think happened to your friend Jesus?’ he asks innocently.

  ‘We believe he was kidnapped.’

  ‘Kidnapped! In London? It’s not a very London thing, kidnapping. Where in London?’

  ‘Outside his hotel, in a trick taxi cab.’

  ‘So why are you here, quizzing me?’ asks Sonny. ‘Why don’t you call the police?’

  Masterful, Sonny. Santos looks like he wants to spit out a nasty taste.

  ‘Has anyone else come here,’ he asks instead, ‘to your club, to enquir
e about Jesus?’

  ‘Maybe,’ says Sonny with a big shrug, ‘I ain’t here every night. You mean these other Venezuelan gentlemen?’

  Santos nods, knows he has to give a little to get a little. Sonny, as nonchalant as his nature will allow, asks, ‘Why, are these guys friends of yours?’

  ‘Acquaintances,’ Santos replies wryly, then aping Sonny, ‘they’re fuckin acquaintances.’

  Sonny don’t have time to be angry because Santos then turns to his companions and adds sarcastically, ‘Amigos ausentes.’ Absent friends. And then, full of contempt, ‘Los mercenarios de Miguel.’ Miguel’s mercenaries. ‘Miguel’s Coca Cola cowboys,’ sneers Santos. No translation necessary.

  His amigos laugh at Santos’ wee jest. Sonny pretends to be more confused that he is, shaking his head, looking from Santos to his three pals, to me, to Mort.

  ‘And Jesus Zambrano,’ asks Sonny innocently, genuinely curious, ‘is he just a friend, or someone you work with? You’re obviously concerned …’

  ‘Jesus?’ says Santos with a sardonic smile, half over his shoulder, ‘Es una mierda … una mierda difunta debo suponer.’ Jesus is a piece of shit … a dead piece of shit, we can assume. We all look confused while Santos’ crew laugh.

  ‘Sorry?’ says Sonny, ‘I didn’t comprehendo – no understando la Spanish.’

  ‘I’m sorry too,’ says Santos with a snide wink at Sonny. ‘My turn to apologise.’

  ‘I hope you’re not making fun of us, gentlemen,’ says Sonny. ‘That would be rude.’

  ‘Sorry, Mister King, it’s just a joke at the expense of an absent friend.’

  Santos appears to have tickled himself. But what they seem to be saying is that they don’t really give a fuck. And they know Jesus is dead. But how? He would not have abandoned his mission unless he was dead? It strikes me that this lot are very blasé about their fallen comrade. They’re not exactly grief-stricken and weeping; in fact, Santos is still grinning.

  ‘I have a proposition for you, Mister King,’ he says at last.

  ‘Oh, good,’ says Sonny, rubbing his hands, sensing the beginning of the end of the Q. and A., ‘we all like a proposition. Fire away, Mister Santos.’

  ‘I will give you one million dollars … today, cash, after one hour’s notice …’ says Santos, like a melodramatic game show host, holding up his index finger. ‘And all I want … in return …’ he’s smiling at Sonny totally insincerely, ‘is that piece of computer equipment that Zambrano was travelling with … or information as to where I might find it.’

  Sonny looks quite taken aback, silenced for once. Was expecting hostility.

  Santos continues his pitch. ‘If cash is a problem, I can authorise the funds to be transferred into an account anywhere. I assume you have offshore accounts, being in the precarious business you’re in. And I don’t mean your nocturnal diversion …’ Santos gives a regal wave, indicating the Monarch. ‘The distraction that every successful Englishman must have …’

  Mister de Lucia is marking Mister King’s card that he knows what he gets up to when he isn’t lording it in the VIP area. Sonny pulls a quizzical expression, eyes narrowing. He turns to Mister Mortimer, shrugs, and says silently a million dollars. Then turns to me, and does the same, one million dollars …

  ‘I have,’ Santos announces, ‘absolutely no concern for how you came by the equipment or whether Jesus Zambrano is alive or dead …’

  There’s a long pause while Sonny appears to thinking hard. Sonny might go for the bait but I know, ipso facto, that once these Venezuelans know that we definitely know the whereabouts of that memory stick we’d be signing our own death warrants. They’ll torture us till they get what they want, because under all of Santos’ urbane delivery there’s a strong odour of condescension and contempt. He wouldn’t part with ten bucks if he could get the same results by sending the Three Amigos to work. He thinks Sonny is a pedazo de mierda.

  And all the time I’ve got the translation and the full set of photos tucked in my inside pocket. I’ve got a sneaky that if they knew, there’d be carnage; they wouldn’t stop until they’d killed everyone who was contaminated, and the gadget was returned to South America.

  And Santos hovers and watches, like a snake. His eyes flick from Sonny to Morty, to me, back to Sonny, looking for a clue.

  ‘A million dollars?’ asks Sonny. ‘Nice … Best offer I’ve had today.’

  Sonny steps forward with his hand out, like he’s going to shake Santos’ hand, but instead he slaps Santos on the shoulder and bursts out laughing. It unnerves Santos.

  ‘I would dearly love to take your money,’ says Sonny. ‘Fuck me, would I? A million dollars for a two-bob gadget!’ Sonny turns to me and Morty, still laughing. ‘You hear that? A million fuckin dollars! Let’s start looking! Right now!’

  ‘I do not like to be laughed at, Mister King,’ says Santos, leaking indignity.

  ‘Who fuckin does, pal?’ snaps Sonny, not laughing, dead serious.

  ‘Thank you for your precious time, Mister King,’ says Santos, with a click of the heels. Then after a nod from Santos, he and the Three Amigos file out without a sound.

  Sonny shouts after them, grinning like a mad thing, ‘But, hey, Santos, I’m gonna keep my ear to the ground. I’ve got yer number! Maybe claim the reward!’ And then an afterthought, ‘Oh, yeah, I hope you find your acquaintance, Mister Jesus!’

  ‘That went well,’ Morty says dryly to me.

  Well played, Sonny. I don’t think they believed you. A smidgen more sympathy and offers of assistance might have taken the day. The second Santos is off the premises, Sonny switches. He marches over to me, waving his finger under my nose.

  ‘I’m putting you in charge, okay?’ he says with an insane look. ‘Get Smiler working day and night! A million? As an opening punt! What do they think I am? Some pikey cunt?’

  Sonny kicks a chair. It tumbles across the floor. Then he begins raging, ‘I’ll bury him, the slimy cunt! I’ll put him down the hole with his bum chum! Think I’ve never seen a million?’

  It got personal. We couldn’t give them back their memory stick even if we wanted to, not if we wanted to stay alive. It’s funny how you can take an intense dislike to someone. For once me and Sonny agree. Sonny was being diplomatic – for Sonny. He kept his temper in check; otherwise Santos and his pals could have ended up getting reunited with Jesus.

  Roy casually appears, Sunday stroll style, trailing three cold-eyed soldiers. He’s calmly pointing his Skorpion submachine gun at the ceiling, its ugly silencer bigger than the weapon. Never be in the same room as a murder weapon. Roy and his pals begin to peel away handguns that had been taped under the tables – unbeknown to me – in case of grief. They were prepared for a battle. Is there a ‘borrowed’ freezer lorry driving in circles, around Mayfair, waiting for a call? Roy’s contingency plan in case it all went bandaloo?

  ‘Thought you played it well,’ Roy tells Sonny.

  ‘Cheers, Roy …’ says Sonny, acknowledging his praise. ‘Means a lot …’

  What’s Santos next move? Basically he’s got a million choices – go to war, serve everybody, kidnap someone, send body parts to the Monarch, start looking for Sonny’s nonexistent kids to use as hostages, indulge in proxy torture, inflict terror on Sonny’s nearest and dearest but risk cutting off the only existing, and realistic, chance of getting the memory stick back.

  Q. What would I do?

  A. First thing – I’d find out who the big, black fella was. And who the mute observer was – the consigliere’s counsellor, indeed – sitting there, smug, wrapped in his raincoat, saying nothing, only moving his eyes backwards and forwards, like he was watching ping-pong.



  ‘What’s stopping us giving them a snide memory stick?’ says Sonny, pacing.

  ‘Forget about giving them any memory stick, Sonny,’ says Morty. ‘You’ll get a bullet in the nut.’

  ‘Yer man, Santos,’ says Sonny,
‘has just told us what it’s worth.’

  ‘Yeah, a lot more than one mill,’ says Mort. ‘For all his airs, he’s a schnorrer.’

  ‘What do you think, Roy?’ says Sonny, looking for an ally.

  Roy is sweeping the VIP area for invisible micro-bugs. ‘I think …’ Roy says, preoccupied, ‘we let Smiler crack on.’

  Roy – no lie-in for him – has got himself up and out early to the spy equipment store, buying countersurveillance kit using counterfeit credentials. He now has an eavesdropping device to monitor phone calls within a fifty-yard radius, meaning he can listen in to Santos’ calls – if he can find him. He issues me and Mort with a device designed to detect minute surveillance devices. They can make bugs the size of a pinhead, Roy tells us.

  I get Roy’s gents to accompany me to the tube, do my habitual routine of jumping about underground, then head out to Shepherd’s Bush. My charge, Smiler, has been relocated. Meanwhile Sonny is trying to find Miguel’s Coca Cola Cowboys, the firm who did turn up at the Monarch last night. Roy’s firm are trying, without much success, to follow Santos on his fruitless hunt for Jesus. And Morty has gone to parlay with Bridget Granger.

  Roy’s Allocated Code Name for Smiler? Grimboat One. My ACN? – The Raincoat. I need to be away from Sonny and Royski; forty-eight hours hanging with the Weird Sisters, letting their paranoia seep into my bones, has got me twitchier than I should be.

  I don’t mind being detailed to look after Smiler – Smiler I can deal with. I find him in a faceless building on an Acton industrial estate. I have a vague recollection of being in this neck of the woods – I was getting rid of a shooter and some clothing – but I can’t for the life of me remember why. Outside the building I ring Smiler’s phone. One of Sonny’s firm appears and lets me into the building, checking the street as he does. It turns out that Smiler’s got a couple of geezers effectively keeping him under house arrest. Sonny doesn’t want him fuckin off with the memory stick and he’s under orders not to start fiddling about with the data – just get it decrypted.

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