Viva La Madness, p.24J. J. Connolly
Next up – a conversation between Miguel and his father Papa Victor. Miguel is getting infuriated with Jesus. Jesus is the man in the middle, agitating, but ultimately, as Miguel points out only out for himself. Miguel wants to terminate Jesus, but the council’s edict won’t allow it. Miguel could actually be in big trouble if Jesus was to disappear. Pure Venezuelan Shakespeare.
When I get out of Liverpool Street Station I’ve got a text from Smiler – rng Indln ASAP. I find a payphone and ring him at the call centre in Acton. ‘Come back and bring the big fella back with you, if that’s okay,’ says Smiler. ‘He’s been here, the twitch, gone weird.’ Smiler’s didgy as fuck, ‘It’s not just … I’ll explain, when I see you, not on the hambone,’ he says, panicking, ending the call.
I ring Morty. He can’t see why I can’t pop over to see the queer fella on yer own but I arrange to meet him at Shepherd’s Bush. Morty will be driving – don’t like the Underground – like a lot of old cons, prefers to stay above ground. I jump on the tube and head back out to Acton.
I meet Morty up a sidestreet. We drive in circles till we’re both dizzy, then he parks up in a quiet leafy street. He commandeers all my loose change for the meter. We trot over a railway bridge and the atmosphere changes instantly from genteel residential to light industrial. Morty’s been waiting to have his say, ranting as we march, that if something don’t break in two days he’s letting Ted the Dead and Miss B know about this bollocks. What the fuck is Roy on about? Elvis has left the wigwam? Grimboat One is in situ? Who is Grimboat and what the fuck is ‘in situ’? The Raincoat is travelling west? You’re the Raincoat, right? Pure madness. The Raincoat has gone west? I said, dead? No, he says, gone to Acton. Roy’s talking in fuckin riddles, in fuckin tongues. His own mother wouldn’t understand him. He rung me earlier, chatting pure bollocks. Think he was talking about the Jesus fella but he didn’t make sense. Think you’re getting carried away, talking telephone numbers and seeing ghosts. You’re in London on serious business, not to go on manoeuvres with these two nuggets.
Morty has an ability to rewrite history, be smart in retrospect. One minute he’s rubbing his hands in anticipation of the tidy pension and the next blowing the enterprise out of the water. I decided not to tell Morty or Sonny or Royski about the telephone conversation I had with the Jenna woman. I’ll need to pick my moment.
I ring the number of the guy who’s keeping dog on the premises and keeping Smiler under manners. He appears, on the first ring, and shows us in through a side entrance. Me and Mort are climbing the stairs when my phone rings. I don’t recognise the number – number withheld. I let it ring.
‘Who the fuck is that, now?’ asks Morty, fuelling his bad temper.
‘Dunno,’ I reply truthfully. My phone bleeps; someone’s left a message.
Morty continues his tirade as we climb – If you get yourself killed by this Santos’ little firm where the fuck does that leave me? Fucked – that’s where – trying to explain this fuckabout to Bridget. God help us all if she finds out about this. You think these mugs Sonny’s got on the firm can keep their mouths shut? You were recruited for your level head, not cos you’re another fuckin idiot … And what’s this useless cunt Smiler getting a nosebleed about?
When we reach the second floor Mister Mortimer suddenly goes hysterical … with laughter. Smiler is self-consciously wearing a brand new white laboratory coat.
‘It’s not funny,’ says Smiler. When Morty has calmed down, Smiler explains that Roy turned up with the lab coat and insisted that he wear it at all times whilst on duty.
‘He came over here. Not long after you left.’ Smiler asks a leading question, ‘Is Roy okay?’
‘Combat fatigue,’ says Mort with a wink. ‘Keep that under yer hat.’
Smiler salutes. Nuff said. ‘Next item …’ he says, ‘Small problem … before we get to the big—’
‘A problem with Mister Burns?’ asks Mort.
Smiler nods. Roy has asked Smiler, as a favour, to find him something on the Internet. Roy wants sourced the exact same memory stick, with Spanish writing, identical make and size.
‘Smart move,’ says Morty. ‘Could come in handy.’
‘Exactly – could come in handy.’ parrots Smiler. ‘But he’s getting me to order two dozen gross,’ says Smiler.
Morty whistles, looks baffled.
‘How many is that, exactly?’ I ask.
‘Exactly?’ says Smiler. ‘Three thousand, four hundred and fifty-six.’
‘That’s a lot. Did he say why he wanted them?’ I ask.
‘To use as decoys, Roy said. Decoys? I said. He says can you fuckin get them or not? Started shouting. I can get ’em. Comes to over seven grand. Do I need a purchase order? I explained to Roy that the Spanish wholesaler wasn’t holding that amount in stock – they’d have to order them from the manufacturer in China. Roy told me to get on to the manufacturers direct and order from them, tell them they were for him, Mister Roy Burns.’
‘Was he fuckin about?’ asks Morty.
‘No, perfectly straight face,’ says Smiler.
‘What did you do?’ I ask.
‘Told him I’d get on it,’ says Smiler, pulling a resigned face. ‘Don’t wanna fall out with Roy …’
‘Three and half thousand of these memory sticks …?’ says Morty, with a frown. ‘Identical? It’s either genius or madness …’
‘Between ourselves …’ says Smiler, checking to make sure no one’s listening, ‘I think its madness.’
‘Is that why you got us up here?’ asks Morty. ‘To tell us that Roy’s gone heavy with the stationery order?’
‘I wish, mate …’ says Smiler, shaking his head, ‘but it’s rather bad news I’m afraid …’
As Smiler leads us over to his playpen I play back the message on my phone. It’s from Duppy, breaking criminal tradition and the habit of a lifetime by using the work of the devil to leave me a short but not sweet message – You was told to wait where we could fuckin find ya. Where the fuck are ya? I’m hoping Morty doesn’t ask who’s on the phone. Luckily Mort’s distracted – he shakes his head at Smiler’s montage of Jenna giving her boyfriend one.
‘That’s someone’s daughter,’ he says, looking at Smiler with narrow eyes.
‘I didn’t want to talk on the phone,’ says Smiler. ‘The reason will become obvious. If we’re eavesdropping them … they could be just as easily eavesdropping us.’
‘What’s happening, Smiler?’ I ask.
‘We’ve used the numbers on the hotel bill and the number you gave me, the Santos chap, and in spite of it being a non-contract, disposable phone, it’s a Judas phone. It betrays the people you’re talking to. I’ve used a program to identify frequently used numbers to build up a pattern. The program, developed for covert security agencies, automatically identifies configurations.’
‘Meaning?’ I ask, not liking the sound of it.
‘The program infiltrates the telecommunications network; a number rang from the Judas device automatically gets checked out. If I’m under surveillance, I ring you. The program checks your telecommunications history and reports any corresponding numbers. It builds up a spider’s web of data, a viral network.’
‘I didn’t come here for a lecture,’ says Morty, lighting a snout.
‘It’s very bad news,’ says Smiler. ‘We intercepted the numbers they ring. The Venezuelans keep ringing the same number, like they were checking in. I can’t listen in because they’ve got a scrambler on the system.’
‘The point is … ?’ I say, getting irritated. ‘Get to the fuckin point.’
‘They ring the married quarters on a military base,’ says Smiler sheepishly. ‘Santos’ guys are military personnel.’
‘Military?’ says Morty. ‘Fuckin soldiers!’
‘And it gets worse … We combined the numbers, the base, area codes and approximate location. We eventually got a name for the base … doesn’t officially exist … Then we came up with the name of a unit … It kept po
‘Who are they, Smiler, this outfit?’ I ask, not wanting to know the answer.
Smiler makes quotation marks, ‘military intelligence … heavyweights. If these civil rights people are to be believed … they’re an operational death squad.’
I feel out of my depth. I let go a nervous laugh. Morty rounds on me.
‘Don’t fuckin laugh! We’ve got enough going on without this!’
‘Will you promise not to hit me?’ asks Smiler, ‘Cos there’s more …’
‘Bad news?’ I ask.
‘Just real weird shit,’ shrugs Smiler.
There’s no good way to deliver bad news about death squads but Sonny and Roy appear indifferent – almost doped-off – shrugging shoulders, blowing smoke rings and chewing gum without missing a beat. They both sit with their feet up on the office desk at the Monarch, seemingly unworried, but this is just a diversionary tactic. The major telltale sign that betrays their internal conflict is the fact that they’re wearing bulky, box-fresh, Kevlar bulletproof vests. The care labels gently swing as they move, not that they move much.
Sonny knows he can’t scream too much about Santos’ extracurricular activities cos it was his moonlighting that brought this mess down on everyone’s heads. Without Sonny getting busy we’d be quietly working Ted’s product, Roy would still be home in Spain, Jesus would be a million miles away and there’d be no sociopaths scouting around London, looking for dead chaps, ready to start hostilities when they can’t find them or their valuable cargo. Morty, without telling him, has barred Roy from receiving any more information about Jesus … especially Smiler’s last little postscript.
‘And, Roy, what’s all this business with Smiler,’ asks Mort. ‘Why are ya getting him wearing overalls and ordering lorryloads of memory sticks?’
‘Thought he should look smart,’ says Roy. ‘He’s a paraffin lamp, is Smiler.’
Morty takes a step closer to Roy. ‘Why do you want seven grand’s worth of memory sticks?’
Sonny’s eyes go wide. Roy says nothing but taps his temple with the tip of his index finger, his expression inscrutable.
‘You have a plan?’ Morty asks Roy. ‘You wanna tell us about it?’
Roy doesn’t reply but he shrugs – an exaggerated grimace – seems to be saying could have, Mister Mortimer … marinating nicely … You wouldn’t rush a surgeon …
‘Roy …’ says Morty, gently, ‘try not to get us all fuckin killed, okay, son?’
‘Do you have a plan, Mort?’ asks Sonny, his feet dropping to the floor, suddenly serious.
‘I think,’ says Morty, ‘we need to find Santos de Lucia, take no chances, but find out what he’s all about. Let the hounds go if necessary.’
‘You make it sound easy, Mort,’ says Sonny.
‘Listen, Sonny, whatever magic is on that memory stick has caused eruptions …’ Sonny nods. ‘And …’ Morty continues, ‘it’s all your fault. If you had kept your greedy fuckin paws off the Jesus fella and his cases, we’d be getting our heads into Ted’s thing. As it is I’m lying to Bridget, and she thinks I’m mugging her off, talking to her like a cunt. And she’s still in mourning. Maybe I’d better have a spin over and answer a few of her questions. Questions like why everyone’s suddenly gone fuckin mad.’
Sonny looks suitably chastised but Roy is staring off into space.
‘Roy …’ asks Morty, ‘are you listening to a fuckin word I’m saying?’
Roy snaps out of his trance. ‘Yeah, Mort. I’m just thinking …’
‘Thinking,’ replies Morty, ‘is what got you two in trouble in the first place.’
‘I was thinking,’ says Roy, ‘that maybe we should go and see a spiritualist and try and—’
‘A what?’ interrupts Morty. ‘A fuckin spiritualist? Are you taking the fuckin piss outta me, Roy?’
Sonny slowly runs his hand down his face, willing Roy to shut up, looking tired.
‘Listen, Roy,’ says Mort, regaining his composure, ‘it’s not a fuckabout. A joke’s a fuckin joke …’
‘I was just thinking,’ says Roy, ‘that we could—’
‘Listen, Roy,’ says Morty, interrupting him again, ‘you gotta work this Jesus thing out … go and have a holler at the moon, get lagging drunk. It’s gone inside yer nut and it needs to get out – quick …’
Roy gently nods his head, digesting what’s just been said to him, and then, ‘See, I was thinking of going to see a psychic, to get in touch—’
‘Fuck’s sake, Roy!’ says Mort, rolling his eyes. ‘Do you fuckin listen to a word anyone says to you?’
‘It’s you who ain’t listening, Morty,’ says Roy, like Mort’s the loon. ‘It’s you who’s not open-minded enough to accept the existence of forces beyond our understanding.’
‘Okay,’ says Mort, ‘who exactly did you wanna contact, over the other side? Don’t fuckin tell me …’
‘This Jee-zuss guy.’
‘Fuckin hell. This is too fuckin weird.’
‘To ask for forgiveness. He’ll be a restless spirit.’
‘Listen, Roy, you’ll be getting fuckin well nicked if you start telling some old trout down the funfair you’ve been murdering people and now you wanna ask their forgiveness.’ Morty turns to Sonny. ‘Who fills his head with magic, Sonny? Any ideas? Be ouija boards next!’
Sonny maintains a diplomatic silence. Roy looks benevolently at Mort but says nothing.
‘This finishes here,’ says Mort, with a sweep of the hand, ‘right now, okay, Roy? Maybe you wanna start thinking about dee-deeing back down to Spain. Let Sonny keep an eye on things.’
‘You’re gonna have to explain that to me, Mort,’ says Roy, looking at Morty intensely. Roy suspects the early rumbling of a swindle by his most trusted pals. To anyone else it would make sense to go under, but Roy can put two and two together and get a giraffe.
‘There’s too many cooks, Roy,’ says Mort. ‘You’ve already done stuff … over and above the call of duty—’
‘I’m going nowhere, Mort,’ says Roy, almost hurt. ‘I’m in this thing. I don’t wanna be down in Spain. I’ve got a share in this bitta work and I intend to hang around.’ Roy lights a snout and takes a long drag. ‘To be honest, I think it’s a lib to be even asking me to jog.’
Roy gets up, picks up a brand new, extra large sweatshirt, pulls off the labels and pulls it over his head. He now looks like a bulked-up bodybuilder who’s done too much bench pressing. ‘I’m going for a stroll,’ he says. ‘Feel a bit mugged off, as it goes.’
And with that he slides out the door.
‘Take someone with ya, Roy,’ Sonny shouts after him but Roy doesn’t respond. Sonny puts a finger over his lips. He opens the door to check that the corridor is empty. Without a word Sonny sits back down, head in hands. ‘Fuckin hell …’ he says. ‘Didn’t see that coming.’
‘So what do ya think?’ asks Morty.
‘I think yer right, Mort,’ replies Sonny, ‘he’d be better off back down in Spain, but you try and convince him. Roy lives for all this creeping about.’
‘Well, Sonny, you better keep a beady on him, every moment of the day. Damage limitation, you get it?’
Sonny King knows he’s got a dilemma – fucked if you do, fucked if you don’t. Can’t get Roy back in his box. ‘Roy just needs a couple of days,’ he tells Mort, ‘to sort his head out.’
‘This, Sonny,’ says Mort, getting up to leave, ‘is getting serious … deadly fuckin serious.’
TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
Last night, after I left Mister Mortimer in a drinking club in Paddington, I went home to read the latest instalment of the Zambrano Papers. Things were hotting up. Transpires Jesus had taken to recording himself killing unidentified individuals when business negotiations got out of hand or a bit shouty. Earlier Smiler had played Morty and me the original MP3 recor
From where I’m sitting right now I believe it could have saved my life, because I woke up with the point of a silencer sending me boss-eyed. The gent on the other end was sitting on the bed with a finger over his lips while one of his companions poured me a cup of coffee, asking me, in a languid southern accent – southern as in Alabama or Texas – how many sugars, if any, I required. Cream? His other pals were systematically, but neatly, searching the room like forensics officers. I knew they weren’t Old Bill, English or American – police don’t as a rule use silencers, and the law love to flash a badge by way of introduction. As for asking if they had a search warrant, I wasn’t going to waste my breath. They looked like law enforcement, or secret service – dark sunglasses, wingtip brogues and summer-weight raincoats – men after my own heart. I didn’t feel that scared, didn’t welcome their arrival either. If they wanted me dead, I’d be …
I cottoned on double-quick who they were, realised I’d been expecting a visit. Thinking about it further, I figured that Miguel’s Coca Cola Cowboys were overdue. Guerreros mercenarios de Miguel have understated class compared to Santos’ crew; no crashing about for this lot. You’d put your money on them if Santos and this crew started playing kiss-chase. It became apparent that their advanced guard – the ones who’d turned up at the Monarch the other night – had been in London doing their homework. I just couldn’t riddle out, at first, why they’d picked me.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes