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Viva la madness, p.25
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       Viva La Madness, p.25

           J. J. Connolly
 

  They weren’t very talkative; every time I asked a question they smiled like rattlesnakes, told me to hush your noise and drink your coffee.

  After a minute or so one of them pulled up a chair and handed me three pieces of A4 paper. He let me digest the contents – a copy of my hotel registration with credit card details, the itinerary of the flight in from Barbados and a photocopy of my snide passport. They’ve cyber-crept into the hotel computer and got my assumed name. Then they’ve run checks and seen when and where I’ve entered the country. These are guys who can do that as easily as boiling an egg.

  Next he hands me a telephoto lens shot of me leaving the Monarch. I was with Morty, so it was last night. Then he hands me a photograph of me coming out of Liverpool Street Station. They’ve made their point – they can keep up. The chap has the expression of the poker player who’s just laid the nuts.

  ‘And?’ I shrug – what’s your fuckin point?

  ‘Why are you always flitting around on the metro?’ he asks.

  ‘The tube, you mean? I always flit around. Doesn’t everyone?’

  ‘You’re very evasive. Why’s that?’

  ‘I just don’t like being followed. Who are you, exactly?’

  ‘Where’s your computer?’

  ‘Do you always answer a question with a question?’

  ‘Who told you that?’ he says, straight-faced. ‘Where’s your computer?’

  ‘I don’t own a computer.’

  ‘Why are you in London?’

  ‘I’m here because I’m here. A law-abiding citizen. I ain’t pointing guns at people.’

  ‘Don’t be smart,’ he says.

  ‘What is it with you – you and your mate Santos de Lucia? Think you can come over here and start bullying everyone?’

  He doesn’t like Santos de Lucia, or being lumped in with him. Meanwhile his chums are still searching – everywhere except under the bed, where they might just spot a raised carpet tile. Eventually they run out of road, don’t find anything useful – no computers or memory sticks, transcripts or photos.

  ‘I have no computer,’ I say, feeling cocky. ‘I can barely open an email.’

  ‘See, we think you’ve been brought in special, to help your friends tackle a software problem.’

  ‘I am here on business but it has nothing to do with any magic wands or memory sticks … Nobody was interested … not until you lot started intimidating the staff at the Cosmopolitan and your posse turned up at my associate’s club, waving assault rifles.’

  ‘They were pointed at the ceiling, with the safety on.’

  ‘That’s all right then. Please forgive me, Mister … ?’ I extend my hand but he doesn’t respond. ‘Can you see, Tex, how people could get curious?’ He’s dying to point out he’s not from Texas. I continue. ‘Specially, Tex, when Mister de Lucia came to my friend’s club and offered him a million dollars for some gadget.’ Tex whistles low and shakes his head – experts at pretending to be dumb these southern boys, booby-trap you by slowtalking ya. But he betrays nothing. ‘But we,’ I tell him, ‘don’t think Mister de Lucia has a pot to piss in …’ He guffaws in spite of himself, then checks, deadpan again, ‘… or a window to throw it outta.’

  ‘Would you say you were connected?’ asks Tex, grinning. ‘Around town? In London?’

  ‘There you go with all the questions again.’

  He smiles and winks. ‘Someone wants to meet you. I’d be obliged if you’d come along quiet.’

  ‘Are we talking about a party by the name of Miguel Zambrano?’

  He ignores my question, and asks, ‘You like a deal?’

  ‘Who doesn’t?’ I reply.

  Tex gets up. ‘Come on, get dressed, let’s go,’ he says, and then to himself, loud enough for me to hear, ‘Santos … one million … What a cheap bastard.’

  If ever a remark was calculated to get in my nut it was that one.

  We leave the hotel by the back entrance, load up into two nondescript cars and head off. All the time these guys are checking to see they’re being followed. We pass along the Embankment in complete silence then up towards Westminster then into Belgravia. The driver pulls into a small mews and stops. We get out and Tex leads us though a garage. Then through tight corridors that eventually open up into a large London townhouse that’s full of genuine antiques and bookshelves heaving with leather volumes. I’ve been kidnapped before – didn’t enjoy it – but this time I could almost appreciate their grace. Tex shows me into a reception room, and sitting on a sofa drinking coffee from fine china and talking textbook English into a cell phone is a man I know without introduction is Miguel Zambrano.

  Miguel has the vibe of the executive sent over from headquarters to sort out a local difficulty, seems capable of ruthless man-management and extreme prejudice. I know he’s twenty-one but he has the assertiveness of a man three times his age. Not flash, but bordering on arrogant. Miguel is handsome, immaculately groomed, and wearing a neat suit, collar and tie first thing in the morning. His call is to an attorney – he’s firmly telling them, to do as we instructed and let us know if anything changes. He’s extremely courteous but the lawyer would be left in no doubt who was in charge. He’s no kid. Miguel pours me a coffee without asking if I want one then finishes the conversation – right now, there’s someone I have to talk to. Adios. He flicks the phone shut and turns to me.

  ‘Do you believe in coincidence?’ he asks. But, without waiting for an answer, ‘Someone rang my sister from London, or at least it was a Londoner. She got “mixed messages”. They had a contradictory accent; they’d spent time abroad and they spoke a bit of Spanish. Habla usted español?

  ‘Sorry, mate?’ I say, acting confused.

  ‘Linguistics and demographics is her specialty. She speaks a dozen languages.’

  ‘You speak very good English yourself.’

  ‘Who could have been ringing my sister? Any ideas?’

  ‘Rare bird, an Englishman who speaks Spanish. Is she at university?’

  ‘Final year. Any other questions?’ Miguel asks sarcastically.

  ‘She got a name?’ I ask.

  ‘Now you’re getting … too curious,’ he says. ‘How could anyone in London get her number?’

  ‘From your cousin? Apparently he created quite a commotion.’

  ‘Always does, Cousin Jesus,’ he says dry as sand.

  ‘What did they want? Any threats or ransom demands? Just rung to say hello?’

  ‘To check out who she was.’

  ‘But you said they knew already.’

  ‘I didn’t – they called her to sound her out.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘My fuckin sister!’ he snaps, losing his temper. ‘Who the fuck would we be talking about?’

  ‘See you’ve mastered the native vernacular.’

  ‘Excuse me,’ he says, polite as you like. ‘She did say the guy was very articulate, but blue collar. Would you say you were blue collar?’

  ‘A lot of my blue collar friends are articulate, much more so than toffs.’

  ‘Toffs?’ asks Miguel. ‘Toffs are aristocrats, right?’

  ‘Right. Watch yourself with them.’

  ‘That’s an English joke?’

  ‘Best bitta advice you’ll get all day.’

  I ask, in all innocence, ‘Who is this elusive Jesus chap?’

  ‘My cousin.’ He laughs to himself. ‘Jenna’s unrequited love …’

  ‘Jenna?’ I ask. This is falling nicely into place. ‘Who is Jenna?’

  ‘My sister …’he says. ‘My twin sister, in fact.’

  I put down my coffee on the table and pull my chair towards Miguel.

  ‘Look, Miguel—’

  ‘How do you know my name?’

  ‘Jesus slung it around, like confetti.’ Miguel shakes his head. ‘It’s like this, Miguel, we – my associates – were just doing our business when out of nowhere appears your cousin … like a hurricane blowing through, but … he comes, and he goes.’ I take a sip
of coffee – delicious. ‘But next thing, there’s two teams of Latin Americans in London making threats and disturbing our serenity … waving firearms and calling people liars …’

  ‘We’ll deal with Santos when we find him again—’

  ‘If you find him, same as if you find your cousin. My good friend Sonny King is upset.’

  ‘I don’t give a fuck about this King Sonny, or whether he’s upset.’

  ‘It’s Sonny King, not King Sonny … Your man mentioned a deal.’

  ‘These security people …’he nods out towards the door, ‘think you were brought in to deal with this, that you’re a computer expert. But I don’t.’

  ‘That’s good.’

  ‘I believe you and your associates are drug suppliers. Don’t look offended – my family’s made their fortune out of supplying narcotics,’ he says with a regal wave. ‘But I think you’re more like a negotiator. You’re the dealmaker. Am I right?’

  I say nothing – shrug my shoulders – you’re-not-wrong. He carries on.

  ‘There is no point having product if you can’t bring it to market. A good salesman is worth his weight in gold, more valuable than a million gunmen. I grew up surrounded by gentlemen like you.’ His face breaks into a sly smile. ‘No te gusta ensuciarte las manos.’

  I shrug again – no comprende. But I do – he’s not wrong. I wait for Miguel to tell me …

  ‘You don’t like to get your hands dirty.’

  ‘And neither do you, Miguel.’

  He laughs. Another time and place, Miguel would be good company, and the ideal connection who could drop consignments of cha-cha on your toes – price on application, cheaper by the ton – sorted with a ten-second call.

  ‘With whom do you do business?’ he asks. ‘Anyone we know?’

  ‘I would not come to Miami and start asking questions.’

  Miguel suddenly makes eye contact, leans forward. ‘Is Jesus Zambrano alive or dead?’

  ‘How would I know?’

  ‘Is Jesus in London?’

  He’s studying my reaction, looking for a chink. I remember Roy’s tutorial. I stay still and return his glare.

  ‘What’s with the big Q and A?’ I say, like I’m offended.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ he says graciously. ‘It’s just …’

  ‘Fraternal concern?’

  Miguel laughs – he recognises and appreciates sarcasm. He carries on, ‘Jesus went missing in England. We have established that he didn’t catch his train but he had three suitcases when he left the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Do you know anything about those cases?’

  ‘I don’t know nothing.’

  ‘That’s a double negative – like saying you do know something.’

  ‘I wasn’t in London when Jesus disappeared. You’ve got the documentation.’

  ‘If you helped us we would not be ungenerous.’

  ‘Another double negative. How not ungenerous?’

  He holds up two fingers. ‘A two-part deal. Could you and your associates use a large quantity of grade-one cocaine in return for information on the whereabouts of Jesus Zambrano?’

  ‘You two have got the same surname? Unfortunate.’

  ‘Extremely unfortunate, yes.’ Said like he means it.

  ‘How much?’ I ask.

  ‘That depends on where you take delivery. We have a gent living down the country here who could help out, organise the shipment.’

  ‘Interesting,’ I say, nodding my head.

  ‘I’ll supply the goods, if you pay the shipping fees to the chap. He’ll facilitate everything. He’s an Anglophile – English wife – a good man to know. You juice him.’

  ‘Why are you so convinced that Jesus is still alive in England?’

  ‘If not England, where? This is where the trail goes cold.’ I wish I could just tell him to pack and go home, that Jesus is dead and buried in deepest Kent. ‘Jesus was meant to be on a Eurostar train but he went missing between the hotel and Waterloo Station.’

  Something in the way Miguel is slicing an orange with a sharp knife suggests that great harm was waiting for Jesus on that train.

  ‘What kinda figures we talking here, Miguel?’

  ‘Part two of our little deal – I’ll supply you with one hundred kilos for the return of that memory stick. Same for Jesus. That’s two hundred kilos in total.’

  ‘What’s so important with this memory stick?’

  ‘It’s a generous offer. But every deal has terms and conditions, my friend. The one condition is that you don’t ask questions. Safe delivery of Jesus or the memory stick – that’s the deal.’

  ‘Any word,’ I ask, ‘on this Santos dude?’

  Miguel pushes a large slice of orange into his mouth. ‘Take a bit of advice?’ he asks. I nod. ‘If I were you, I’d find Santos … and kill him …’ Miguel’s eyes zero in on mine. ‘He’s a dangerous dog … with or without Jesus yanking his chain.’

  ‘Duly noted.’

  ‘Let me run something by you …’ says Miguel, getting up, starting to pace. ‘A scenario … Someone kills Jesus, they dispose of the body, but then they receive information that a reward is being offered. Would it not be worthwhile for certain persons of influence, in London, to begin to investigate the circumstances of the death with a view to returning the body? We need a go-between … to our mutual benefit. What you decide to do to with the persons who return the body is up to you … If they didn’t wake up tomorrow, would anyone care? It’s worth that merchandise to me, but it’s nothing that’s of any value to anyone … It’s a family thing, you understand?’

  ‘I don’t think I can help.’

  ‘There’s no harm in looking, is there?’ says Miguel, CEO of the Zambrano Family Corporation. ‘Anyway, I’m a pragmatist who likes to use local talent.’

  ‘That’s sweet, Miguel.’

  ‘I need Jesus back in his cage.’

  ‘Nobody has a good word to say about the Jesus fella.’

  ‘I’ll take Jesus alive or dead. But I will want the whole body …’

  ‘The corpse? Returned?’

  Miguel nods calmly. ‘We’re Catholics, we need to give Jesus a Christian burial.’

  He’s had two already, neither of them very Christian. Jesus’ body could be worth a few million. Can’t see Roy digging it up again. Miguel’s worked out what Mort worked out – the zip drive was secreted up …

  ‘I’ll tell you a little Jesus story,’ says Miguel. ‘You don’t know the half of it – that’s an English expression, right?’

  He laughs while I nod. Bits of this tale I know from the transcripts and the recordings. But Miguel is telling me, in his calculated way, for his own reasons, just enough to get me onside; to get me hating Jesus as much as he does. Miguel wouldn’t tell me the correct time if he didn’t have an ulterior motive.

  It’s funny … you nod your head, make all the right noises, when someone tells you a story, for the first time, that you already know …

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  THIS BE DARK

  Or fuckin thought I did … Miguel told me some, then the transcripts and recordings told me the rest. Like Smiler’s file-sharing program – nicking bits of other software and creating a new facilitating host … things came into sharp, crisp focus.

  Result: the shocking insight into the dark mind of Jesus Zambrano.

  Q. Why has Miguel dropped this information on me?

  A. To get the London Hounds on his side, to encourage local assistance.

  Kids, see … Miguel knows that one thing that’s global is nobody – no matter how criminally immoral – doesn’t get angry where kids are concerned. The slightest whiff of kiddie nonsense sends London criminals into a homicidal rage.

  Smiler was right. Jesus had an obsessive fixation on his cousin Jenna since she was seven years old and he was twenty. Fourteen years ago he told her in all seriousness he was gonna marry her; she found him creepy and never allowed herself to be left alone in the same room. Where Jesus was sexually was an
yone’s guess, and my guess was that sex was simply an extension of his all-devouring sociopathic behaviour. Jesus woulda fucked the hole in a doughnut. He fucked mostly girls, the younger the better, the dumber the better, but every now and then he’d do the business on a guy, willing or unwilling – a power mechanism rather than sexual gratification. Miguel wanted to pull the trigger on his older cousin five years ago, didn’t like this nonsense with his sister. Really regrets not doing it now.

  The family joke about them one day being an item stopped being funny as Jenna got older. It seems Jesus had seriously thought that he and His Princess would get it together. But she was repelled by the thought – and sight – of Jesus. Papa Vic told Jesus it was a sin in the eyes of God and man. Jesus went to see a sympathetic Catholic clergyman and asked under what circumstances could first cousins be married – under no circumstances, you sick fuck, replied the priest.

  Jesus decided to ignore the priest, to ignore everyone. He formally asked for her hand at a large family dinner on the candlelit veranda of the Zambrano villa in the hills above Caracas. Jenna was embarrassed. Papa Victor and Miguel said nothing for a good five seconds …

  They looked at one another … Then they laughed till the tears rolled down their faces, slapped their thighs and held their stomachs. The more they laughed the hotter Jesus burnt. When they wiped away the tears, Miguel asked Jesus to repeat the question. But Jesus was deadly silent. He bubbled with humiliation and rage.

  They impolitely declined; they had bigger plans for Jenna. Jenna was an asset, not to be wasted on that prize prick. Her marriage was an opportunity to make an alliance – The Plan discussed in the conversations of Miguel and Papa Vic. Not such an archaic attitude; a lot of people are in arranged marriages, whether they know it or not. Jenna talked to Grandma Zambrano, who explained the family’s long history of sacrifice and struggle. Jenna began to accept the inevitable.

  In the next few months, Jenna made a mistake – she tried to pacify Jesus and bring him down without a nasty bump. She petted the devil dog. Jesus misinterpreted the signals, because he wanted to. He thought she really did love him but was being groomed for higher things against her will. Jesus wouldn’t take no for an answer, and started driving her mad. Jesus, volatile and disturbed, became her drug-crazed stalker. He travelled to her university in Miami. Threats were made, then local police got involved; they tried to arrest him but he escaped. They asked Jenna who he was, so now she had to lie – family loyalty – just some guy from downtown, don’t know his name. Students pointed her out like she was a witch – these Venezuelan Demedos can’t behave. Victor gave Jenna a bodyguard but he disappeared; Jesus’ involvement couldn’t be proved.

 
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