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Viva la madness, p.27
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       Viva La Madness, p.27

           J. J. Connolly

  Human interest story – the Brothers Zambrano have decided to smoke Jesus out using Jenna as bait. Bad news for ghosts.

  Hot news – Miguel’s father, Victor, doesn’t know that sensitive information has been placed on the memory stick. Dynamite, and valuable leverage for later.

  Burning ears time … Raul asks Miguel – do these London guys know where the gadget is? We could go to work on them, Miguel …

  Luckily Miguel don’t fancy it and tells Raul that torture and bloodshed could send it where it don’t need to go … like straight into the hands of British law enforcement. Safety first, the prudent Miguel advises his sadistic elder brother. But these putas Inglesas – English whores – know more than they’re letting on. I can tell.

  ‘I had one of them sat right there earlier. You’ve got to give a little to get a little …’ We can hear Raul laughing, ‘You like that, Raul, I can tell.’

  ‘And?’ asks Raul.

  ‘Jesus is in London – dead or alive,’ says Miguel, among the white noise. ‘The London guy knew all about Jesus and Jenna. He pretended he didn’t but he knew more than I told him. He knew shit had gone down … like Jesus had told him … It was weird …’

  ‘Sure you aren’t just paranoid, Miguel?’ says Raul.

  ‘Trust me, Raul; I’ve a feeling … This outfit know something.’

  ‘How do we know Jesus didn’t use the information already?’

  ‘I think we would have heard, Raul, don’t you?’ says Miguel, loaded and condescending, a gnat’s from sarcasm. ‘Shit would be flying … The General would be … you know?’

  Raul grunts in agreement. Miguel starts getting animated. He reminds Raul that if certain information gets revealed we’re dead a hundred times over. These mothers will be looking for people to roast alive, starting with me, then you, Raul! Then Jenna!

  Very good news for us. Then Miguel is calm again. ‘But if we keep our nerve … get that gadget … no more delay … maybe this is a sign … we need to get it done …’

  Suddenly the line goes dead. Smiler shrugs. ‘Nothing lasts for ever.’

  ‘Do you think they’ve tumbled?’ asks Morty.

  ‘No rhyme or reason,’ says Smiler, getting up to make himself a cup of tea. ‘Could be good as gold later.’

  Sonny turns to me. ‘Did that make sense to you?’

  ‘Bits and pieces.’

  He turns to Smiler, ‘How are you getting on with that memory stick? We any the wiser?’

  ‘It’s interesting, the underlying framework employs Austrian German.’

  ‘Austrian?’ asks Sonny. ‘German?’

  Smiler marches on, ‘It’s ingenious what he’s done, the guy who wrote the program, but I don’t think he finished the program. I think there’s meant to be two memory sticks with different data. It ends prematurely, falls off a cliff.’

  Sonny turns to me but points at Smiler. ‘Do you know what he’s on about?’

  ‘Kinda,’ I reply. Sonny’s not happy with this answer.

  ‘But the good news is,’ says Smiler, stirring his tea with his pen, ‘we’ve got the fucker open and it’s starting to make sense. We’ve got two sets of figures, thousands of sixteen-digit passwords …’ Smiler is excited that he’s opened up the gadget but is trying desperately hard to be blasé.

  ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier?’ asks Sonny.

  ‘We was busy.’

  ‘Can you move money, Smiler?’ asks Sonny, like he’s exercising extreme self-control.

  ‘Not at the moment,’ says Smiler. ‘There’s a cipher involved, in this case an Austrian fairy story … a way of matching up the passwords …’ He walks to number one laptop and hits the print button. Immediately paper streams out the printer – electronic ledgers, miles of them. ‘It’s two sets of accounts, real and fraudulent. One for public consumption, one for those in the swindle.’

  Sonny starts clicking his fingers; like he’s just had an idea. ‘You know who’s the man for this?’ he says. ‘Giles. Crooked cunt’s a lawyer. He’ll know what they’re up to.’

  ‘I can tell you what they’re doing, Sonny,’ says Smiler.

  ‘Smiler, switch off,’ replies Sonny. ‘We’ve got our man – Mister Giles.’

  Smiler can’t make up his mind if he’s offended or hurt. He’s dying to tell someone.

  ‘See this, Sonny,’ says Smiler, pointing at a column of figures.

  ‘Smiler …’ says Sonny real slow, ‘you don’t get it, do you? I want Mister Urquhart, not you, to tell me. To tell me tomorrow.’

  ‘But … You don’t wanna know now?’

  ‘No, Smiler,’ says Sonny flatly.

  Smiler looks distraught, whereas me and Morty are just confused, looking at one another and shrugging.

  ‘We can’t exactly get Giles down here, can we now?’ says Roy, indicating Smiler’s humble abode. ‘It’s like a fuckin squat.’

  ‘You’re not wrong, Roy,’ says Sonny, pulling a face. ‘It’s a bit scruffy.’

  ‘I’m sure,’ says Morty, ‘Smiler can rustle up some Earl Grey and take down his pin-ups.’

  ‘I think, Mister Mortimer,’ says Sonny, voice of reason, ‘everyone’s getting a bit sarcastic.’

  ‘Sonny,’ says Morty, ‘it’s a fuckin warehouse. Giles won’t give a fuck.’ Morty flicks his cigarette butt across the floor. ‘And Smiler’s worked real hard – you might wanna try saying thanks. Been working day and night …’ Morty points at Smiler but zeroes in on Sonny, ‘never knowing if a team of Venezuelans ain’t gonna come steaming in and cut his bollocks off.’

  Smiler visibly gulps, Sonny crosses his arms in defiance. Roy raises the alert level – to state of emergency.

  ‘You’re right, Mister Mortimer!’ shouts Roy, pointing at the ceiling, big eyes, ‘Tonight, we double the guard!’

  ‘What a mad cunt,’ mutters Morty.



  Giles didn’t get his Earl Grey; didn’t want it. Thought Smiler was trying to be funny. I can smell jealousy on the wind, not class war, just simple jealousy. I get it now – Sonny wants top toff Giles, not round-the-flats Smiler, to tell him all about the Zambrano’s skullduggery, to get Giles colluding in the scheme. Sonny wants Mister Giles Urquhart on the firm.

  And Giles, being a Toffia Capo, and not some middle-class shitcunt, knows that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. He tucks into his bacon sandwiches, washed down with mugs of splosh, with prep-school gusto. Real toffs are taught the art of adaptability in drafty dormitories and cold baths; flexibility is intelligence and all that. Giles’ attitude appears to be when in Rome … or Acton …

  Formalities over, Smiler presents Giles with a hefty lump of printouts – page after page of transactions. Sonny’s briefing was just that, extremely brief. Giles implicitly doesn’t want to know the origin of the information – Giles has a code of conduct – but he’s in a warehouse, with a group of gentlemen who, if they weren’t here right now would either be shifting industrial amounts of cocaine or conspiring to shift it. I can’t believe that Giles doesn’t know that.

  And all the jumping about and chopping over cars to get here – Roy’s code double red – might have made Giles suspect that skull runnings was afoot. All that parking up around the back of garages, hiding the motors and then marching at a gentle trot might have got him wondering … During the journey Sonny asked me to provide Giles with a thumbnail sketch of the players. Again, at certain points, Giles halted the proceedings if he felt that his professional boundaries were being overrun, certain criminal enterprises alluded to.

  But now Giles sits pondering, turning the pages, absorbing every figure. The numbers, the ledgers, the credits and debits, are telling their story. At one point Giles discards the heavyweight staple holding a bundle of papers together and places sheets side by side on the dusty, grubby floor – so much for Giles being too effete. He sits on Smiler’s office chair, bent over double, wheeling himself backwards and forwards, while stu
dying the pages, making connections. I can only hear the hum of multiple hard drives, the traffic on the main road and Giles’ brain calculating.

  I’ve seen Giles’ breed of lawyer before – he loves criminals. Doesn’t find them a trifling bore or an occupational hazard. He actually likes, even identifies with, the criminal mindset. He thinks Sonny and Roy should have their own TV show – a double act worthy of the greats. He’s amused, flattered and intrigued by them.

  Smiler overcomes his envious streak and acts as Giles’ private secretary, and when Giles asks for a specific article of paperwork, Smiler has it to hand in seconds flat. They make a good team. Giles asks for ‘articles of incorporation’; Smiler whistles them up. Giles asks for a document isolating a certain account number from thousands; Smiler returns with a page of transactions in one neat row. When Giles asks Smiler if he happens to know where a sort code is located, he either knows off the top of his head – First Bank of Panama – or glances at a list and furnishes the answer in seconds. Giles, being a well dragged-up sort, doesn’t ask about Smiler’s lab coat.

  But Giles does ask Smiler about ciphers and codes, passwords and sinks, shadow accounts and phantom bottom lines. Smiler has been living behind the lines and knows the terrain, knows what’s what, and no mistake. Eventually Giles quietly asks Smiler if he knows what they’re up to; Smiler nods and shrugs – ’course I do.

  I’ve also done my homework – been up late reading transcripts and studying ledgers till the digits danced – and I’ve got a good idea of what they’re up to. I feel a presentation from Giles coming on. I think Giles spots what they’ve been doing straight away but lets Sonny roast.

  A gentle smile begins to appear around the corners of Giles’ mouth. Giles is deep in thought, hitting a few revelations and liking what he’s discovering. Giles is sniffing big readies down the pike. Giles knows why Sonny and co have sent for Mister Giles. Giles knows that Sonny knows, instinctively, that he’s out of his league with this financial voodoo. Giles starts to drum out a tattoo with his fingertips … but says nothing.

  Giles is trying to work out where the payday, the treasure, is in all Smiler’s neatly presented documentation. He’ll get there in the end because that’s what high-caste geezers like Giles do. We’re speaking historically – purebred Brahma is Giles Urquhart. He feels the answer is closer than a nose hair. He can smell big money like a sniffer dog smells skunk. If Giles had a tail he’d be wagging it because Mister Giles knows he’s looking at a fortune in those columns … and it’s of no fixed abode, homeless. Giles is getting hotted-up … he loosens his tie, undoes his top button.

  Sonny is being remarkably patient, flicking through a pile of tabloid newspapers, smoking one snout after the other. Morty looks ready to drop off and Roy is staring into the distance, spookily quiet after all the trouble he’s gone to to retrieve the gadget. Just when Sonny’s patience is about to snap, Giles suddenly jumps up, rubbing his hands.

  ‘It’s awfully clever what they’ve done.’

  The Zambrano Family have enterprisingly bought an off-the-shelf bank in the Cayman Islands, with operating bases in New York, Miami and Caracas. The transcripts start to make sense. But nobody from the family is on any of the paperwork. They are employing a thicket of front companies and nominee bankers, but the Zambrano Family are the controlling power. They sink all their dirty cash into the bank, and being generous people, they let other dark-side operators in on the secret. The Zambrano Family give a few dozen acquaintances the heads-up … then it goes criminally viral. It’s all good but …

  The Zambrano Family are operating what is called a Ponzi scheme – a criminal chain letter or pyramid-selling operation. First in – and out – gets the spoils. The bank is simply flipping new deposits back to initial investors as make-believe profit so more investors are beating a path to the bank. Depositors are begging to be accepted by the Cayman Island Bank. If something appears too good to be true, it usually is. It’s financial alchemy – turning digits into gold. Criminals are always looking to wash their black cash. This solves their problem and brings a tidy profit. It’s just a game to these guys – accumulating money. They don’t know how to spend it – most of them are dumb as farm boys.

  But the Zambrano Family have taken the swindle one stage further by being the clandestine instigators and Judas sheep in the swindle. They are secretly agenting their bank to international criminals. To encourage them in, the duplicitous nominee bankers, on instructions from their secret owners, are paying extraordinarily large returns. The bankers are talking the usual gibberish about High-Yield Investments and Equity Income Strategies to send their clients giddy, and get them salivating. It’s all based on exploiting the greed of the victims. In this case it also exploits the criminal vanity of the mark. I am an instigator of crime, not a victim.

  Giles is trying to explain a Ponzi scheme to Sonny, who ain’t getting it. Investors speculate on large profits; the bank has suggested that they have schemes, not strictly legal, that will make large but very quick returns on their investment. The involvement of the Zambrano Family is all the recommendation some folks need. Little do they know …

  Any bank works on the principle that all the money doesn’t have to be in the one place at the one time; if it did, they’d be bankrupt. That’s why banks can loan out other people’s money, charge interest and make a profit. The deposits are represented by digits on a computer screen, as opposed to bullion in vaults. This bank’s assets are in two, or twenty-two, places at the one time. All banks spin money but the Zambrano’s scheme is pure robbery.

  Sonny still doesn’t get it. Investors invest, with the promise of a quick, high return. And they get it, too. The second lot of investors pays the first round of investors’ profit. And the second lot get paid out by the next investors who tail them in … and so on and on.

  Q. Like a pension scheme?

  A. Exactly! Like a pension scheme! Pure fucking robbery!

  Then it goes into the stratosphere. Eventually all the investors feel so confident, get so greedy, they begin to bring even more cash and leave their imaginary profits in the bank to turn over again – be silly not to. Soon they aren’t receiving cash plus twenty percent, they’re receiving statements. Statements with increasingly large balances. Statements are just figures. You can manipulate figures.

  The Ponzi scheme is booming. They are gleefully stealing – more or less with their consent – from thieves and drug traffickers, arms dealers, corrupt government officials, canny but cash-rich individuals who simply want to evade punitive taxation. This bank prefers the criminally inclined. Word has hit the jungle tom-toms and the nominee bankers are working their way down the criminal totem pole, towards bottom feeders who still have tens of millions of grubby dollars to wash …

  This is where Giles Urquhart reveals how sly he is, by spotting how crafty Miguel has been. The Zambrano Family have employed a clever tactic. The guys near the top of the criminal food chain are getting massive genuine profits – so much so they’re bragging – but they’re being incriminated. They don’t know it. They’re deliberately being made to look like they’re implicated in the swindle. The blame is shifting further away from the Zambrano Clan. It’s clever – playing people off one another, creating suspicion for later …

  Come Big Meltdown Day … Chaos is your friend …

  Q. And who do we think thought this up?

  A. It’s obviously the kind of thing that happens if you parachute a gentleman like Miguel Zambrano, who’s grown up at the knee of serious international criminals, into a respectable business school – he starts to see opportunities. Miguel’s attitude is that checks and balances are only in place so the gentleman of superior intelligence can circumnavigate, or exploit, them.

  Miguel has created a merry-go-round, deliberately designed to send you dizzy – to throw pursuers off the scent. Giles estimates that only about twenty-five percent of the financial traffic flowing around the bank is real. The rest, he surmises, is to gi
ve the illusion of weight going through the coffers – same way you’d ramp up accounts to get a mortgage. It’s not real; it’s the same funds recycled. But a cool two billion dollars in cold cash has been dropped into his Cayman Island Bank.

  Giles has also worked out that every time the carousel goes round a large drop of change spins off into bank accounts in New York City. This is one-way traffic – funds go in and never come out. Smiler had spotted it too because these were the files that he found the hardest to crack. They show numerous shadow destination accounts with very healthy credit balances with New York BICs – Bank Identification Codes. You wouldn’t wanna risk your swindled funds in some banana republic, muses Giles. So the money drops out of sight into secure banks in a stable part of the world. Giles suggests that these New York City accounts combined contain, appropriately enough, an American billion – one thousand million dollars. Access to these accounts, Giles surmises, is tonight’s star prize. But the passwords on the flash drive – sixteen figure combinations of letters and digits, upper and lower case, like Chinese algebra – can’t be married up to the right accounts. Not without a cipher, a codebook, and the knowledge of how to apply it. Match the right passwords to the right accounts and you end up fantastically rich, but there are thousands of passwords for a dozen accounts. You might get lucky but you might alert the banking authorities or worse, Miguel, that someone’s knocking on the door.

  Yet another smart move by Miguel: steal a billion … and leave a billion in the jug … for everyone else to rip each other to pieces over.

  ‘So … tell me …’ asks Sonny, with one eye shut and furrowed brow, ‘how did the Jee-zuss kid get the three million quid out?’

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