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Viva la madness, p.28
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       Viva La Madness, p.28

           J. J. Connolly

  It’s Giles and Smiler’s turn to pull the puzzled faces. Neither of them can work out how headbanger Jesus got the three mill – that ended up in Barbados – out of the accounts. Maybe the mystery guy Jesus met at the Cosmo, who ended up deaded, was the computer genius? But why did Jesus want bulky cash? Why was he jumping across borders with suitcases when he was in touching distance of billions? Nobody can work out why Jesus Zambrano was even in the UK. To rinse out the buckshee accounts it would make more sense to head straight for New York.

  Q. How will all these double dodgy financial shenanigans end?

  A. In tears.

  When the scheme runs out of new investors, and old depositors start to realise that their money isn’t really in the bank, it’s evaporated, it becomes a fast, messy, violent implosion.

  Come the meltdown the Zambrano Family will be indignant, screaming they’ve been swindled. I’m sure Miguel can be convincing when he’s pretending to be betrayed. There’ll be a firestorm, but the “straight” game is far more dishonest than the crooked one. The nominee bankers can hide behind accountants, lawyers, police, heavy muscle, legal anonymity and governments. They can utilise the secrecy laws that protected the scheme in the first place, and the corruption that oiled its wheels.

  And the criminal factions that co-existed relatively peacefully will quickly, in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, go into internecine combat, maybe wipe each other out. Maybe Miguel planned it that way. Culls are good for business.

  They’ll need scapegoats come the endgame – someone to catch the blame when it all goes bandaloo. The Zambrano Family, under Papa Victor, Big Raul, with their own private armies, will be strong enough to withstand any onslaught. They’ll need to keep their nerve and hope the other investors don’t tumble that they’re the cause of all the aggravation. They need the information contained. Jesus, alive or dead, could get them all killed; funny, but one prick like Jesus can send a billion-dollar swindle haywire.

  The Family are running a game on some very heavy guys. If they get tumbled, no acts of contrition will absolve them. They’ve robbed criminals who can’t be seen to be being turned over. It could ignite a sequence of events that sees the Zambrano Family consigned to history. This isn’t about the Zambrano Family looking bad; it’s about survival. It’s the crime and the getting caught. If Giles was privy to the full contents of the Zambrano Papers, he’d realise that the scheme is part, along with Jenna’s arranged marriage, of the family’s drive towards respectability, a burnt-bridges, scorched-earth exit strategy. Done right, the Zambrano Family will end up with a laundered fortune to rival the great dynasties. And they’ll have access to the political power to consolidate it. Solid – the meaning is in the word – firm it up. They will be respectable. Respectability can be bought. Miguel will push on to make them genuine multi-billionaires. And with that they’ll be untouchable.

  But the best-laid plans … Jesus gets found by Sonny King and sawn in half by that well-known magician Roy Twitchy Burns … and Miguel has to have a major rethink. And bide his time.

  ‘So, Giles …’ says Sonny, holding up the memory stick, ‘what do we do with it now we’ve got it?’

  ‘Good question, Sonny,’ replies Giles thoughtfully, ‘good fucking question … I believe you’ve reached an impasse, a stalemate … but in this instance, you both need one another.’

  ‘So what do we do?’ asks Sonny. ‘Blackmail them?’

  ‘Strong word, that,’ says Giles with a chuckle. ‘What you call blackmail I’d call compromise – a nicer word altogether. Maybe you’re going to have to learn to love one another. He’s an adult, this Miguel Zambrano chap, I’m sure he likes a deal.’

  You like a deal, Mister Giles. Two peas out the same pod.

  ‘So what are ya sayin, Giles?’ asks Royski. ‘We just roll over after all—’

  ‘Don’t do anything hasty. At some point you’ll need to begin a dialogue with Zambrano.’

  ‘Are you fuckin mad, Giles?’ asks Sonny.

  ‘No,’ says Giles dryly. ‘You ask Zambrano for a share of the money that he has embezzled but cannot access without the equipment that you have in your possession … and possession is one hundred percent of everything.’

  ‘He’d kill us all,’ says Morty.

  ‘And risk losing a billion dollars? No,’ says Giles, ‘he has to come to the negotiating table. He pays you with stolen funds … They walk away with the majority of the money.’ Giles gets up and begins to tidy himself up, redoing his shirt buttons, straightening his cufflinks. He looks at his watch. ‘It’s time I wasn’t here, chaps.’

  ‘Where you going?’ snaps Sonny.

  ‘Got to go see another client. No peace for the wicked.’

  ‘On a Saturday?’

  ‘Piece of advice, Mister King – don’t be greedy,’ says Giles, showing a little steel. ‘Think about it over the weekend and come back to me. I’d like to be involved, for a consideration …’

  ‘How would we do it?’ asks Sonny, looking at Giles through narrowing eyes. Giles is preoccupied, brushing imaginary breadcrumbs off the front of his cords.

  ‘You put me, and this man here …’ Giles nods in my direction but talks to Sonny, ‘in a room with Miguel and see what we arrive at. And we have complete authority to do a deal—’

  ‘Why him?’ asks Sonny.

  ‘Because Miguel likes him.’

  ‘How do you know?’

  ‘Because he hasn’t killed him,’ says Giles, drier all the time. ‘We offer Miguel the deal in such a way that he believes he’s retaining ninety percent of the concealed balances—’

  ‘What?’ shouts Sonny. ‘We only get ten percent!’

  ‘Of a billion, Sonny – that’s one hundred million dollars. That’s a lot of washed up funds for returning some lost property—’

  ‘No way,’ says Sonny, shaking his head and his hands. ‘Fuck ten points! I should give him the fuckin ten points! He’s the fuckin kid!’

  ‘Alexander the Great,’ says Giles, with a shrug, ‘was twenty when he conquered the known world.’

  ‘This kid’s got backup,’ says Morty. ‘Serious fuckin backup.’

  ‘No, fuck that, Giles,’ screams Sonny. ‘I’d want at least half—’

  ‘Half?’ Giles is getting irritated now. ‘Sonny, you asked my advice. These are Latinos. I know what they’re like. Trust me. Let them think they’ve won. If you drive them into the ground, they’ll do the deal—’

  ‘Too fuckin right they will—’

  ‘And kill you after …’

  ‘How are you gonna spend your poshes if you’re dead, Sonny?’ says Morty. ‘Listen to the man.’

  Sonny says nothing. I ask Giles a question. I’ve decided I quite like Giles.

  ‘Who put all this information on a memory stick?’

  He thinks about the question, buttoning up his jacket, and then unbuttoning it again.

  ‘There’s a degree of vanity in putting that data on that stick … It’s backfired badly.’

  ‘You think it was Miguel who put it there?’

  ‘Who else?’ says Giles. ‘If you’ve got a theory, let us have it.’

  ‘One of these banker fellers he was working with.’

  ‘That’s a good shout,’ says Giles, nodding.

  ‘The photos and recordings of the conversations were put on after the account details.’

  ‘I wish you’d told me that sooner.’

  ‘It’s about time,’ I tell him, ‘we gave you a more rounded picture of the situation …’ Giles nods, winks, then heads for the exit. ‘But Giles, I wouldn’t wanna violate your code of conduct.’

  ‘What code of conduct, was that, bud?’ quips Giles, over his shoulder.

  I cut out a little after Giles. Smiler slipped me a brand new transcript. Giles’ analysis had got my nut and I wanted to check out some things. I went back to the hotel in the late afternoon, took a bottle of wine from the mini-bar and went up on the roof away from everything and everyone. Twenty-e
ight floors up, the sun slowly heading towards the horizon in the west and, out to the east, a stunning view out to Kent and Essex. But my thoughts wandered across the Atlantic to Miami, and Jesus and murder. Curiosity has got the better of me. The banker Jesus killed before he left Miami thought Miguel had sent Jesus to kill him? It’s a theory – I won’t talk; tell him I won’t talk, he repeats over and over. Tell him I’ll go away, I won’t say anything. He can trust me. Take them and go! Just go!

  Maybe the dead guy was one of the nominee bankers who helped Miguel Zambrano put the Ponzi thing together. Jesus lucked out – the Banker was covering his back or was going to double-cross Miguel, skim out some funds. I think the guy handed the memory stick over to Jesus; only then did Jesus begin to realise it had real value. He bottled the gadget and headed out to Miami International Airport, on his way to London.

  My phone rings. It’s an unknown London number. I answer it. It’s a woman’s voice.

  ‘Good evening,’ she says, with a slight Spanish accent.

  ‘Good evening,’ I reply. ‘Who is this?’ I know the voice from somewhere.

  ‘This is Jenna Zambrano. I’m in London. I wondered if you’d like to meet for a drink?’



  This is where the head chess starts, gathers a momentum of its own … Can’t argue with the venue. I can see Jesus’ ghost haunting this place … loving every nook and cranny … Jesus’ home from home, the Cosmopolitan bar, long and narrow with huge mirrors to make it look larger, but dark and plush, with high stools, and a million backlit bottles of exotic spirits, gold and rich and enticing. There’s a scattering of early evening drinkers. I sit, perched on a stool, at the far end to see who’s coming, to cover the exits.

  Jenna wants to do the Jesus Zambrano Heritage Tour – the Cosmo, the Monarch and Bond Street – the Golden Triangle. Miguel gave her my number, said I’d make a good native guide. They’re skunking me out into the open – deliberately provocative with a veneer of innocence. I can’t not meet her. Everything I told Sonny about appearing to be innocent is winging back to me. I’m double fucked because I can’t tell Sonny and Roy that I made the call to Jenna.

  I rang Smiler – my co-defendant – had a surreal conversation.

  ‘She’ll know it was me, Smiler, who …’

  ‘So change your voice—’

  ‘Don’t be a cunt, she’s a linguist—’

  ‘Isn’t that pasta, thin stuff? Or is that linguine?’

  ‘Don’t even try and be funny, Smiler. You bring out the bully in people.’

  ‘So don’t be getting irritated.’

  ‘Smiler, you’ve grown balls. Anything on your listening device?’

  ‘Nothing. Only Raul eating what he calls chips – what we call crisps. Try not to talk too much … like your swell pal said, if they was gonna kill ya, they would’ve done it by now.’

  ‘It could be an ambush … Could have handed the job to Big Raul …’

  There was silence on the other end for five seconds, then Smiler played his trump card, knowing full well the suggestion was absurd. ‘I’ll tell ya what …’ he says, droll, bordering on sarcastic. ‘Just don’t go. Dead simple. Stay home. Turn the phone off. Watch a blue movie.’

  He knew I was going. A switch had been flicked.

  ‘Did you read that transcript I gave you?’ he asks nonchalantly.

  ‘Some of it.’

  ‘Read it all before you go anywhere, boss. That’s what yer dealing with. It’s the Has-Oose fella in London.’

  ‘What’s the gist?’ I ask.

  ‘Yer gotta read it, mate. Was dictating his memoirs. Thought he was famous, fuckin loon. It’s the blow by blow, “for the record”. Poor dear’s worried about who’s gonna play him in the movie, whether they’ll do him justice. Any thoughts?’

  ‘On Jesus?’

  ‘On actors.’

  ‘Listen, Smiler, something’s been bothering me.’

  ‘Oh, yeah? You surprise me.’

  ‘Has Sonny ever showed any interest in reading those transcripts?’

  ‘Sonny can’t read,’ says Smiler, dry as a biscuit, ‘not proper … skims the papers, I’ve watched him, never stops to read anything. Maybe Roy Burns reads him the juicy bits.’

  Makes perfect sense in a mad way – Sonny King, multi-millionaire, criminal businessman being illiterate, being more a weights and measures man. I put the phone down on Smiler and made my way over to the Cosmo P.

  And the head chess continues … One thing I know for certain, Jenna’s going to be late …

  Riddle me this: is Jenna bait to smoke out Jesus? They still believe he is alive, they think Jesus will break cover for Jenna.

  Or maybe you’re the bait, sunshine, dangling temptingly for Jesus. Maybe you’re being sold as the new focus of Jenna’s affection. But I know something they don’t know – Royski killed Jesus once and buried him twice.

  Maybe Jenna and Miguel are colluding to retrieve the memory stick; Miguel doesn’t want Papa finding out about the possible scrutiny he’s exposed the family to, and Jenna doesn’t want him finding out about the sexual liaisons that could put her marriage in jeopardy. Should I sound out Jenna about having a meet with Miguel? And what would Brother Mortimer say if he knew I was here?

  ‘Don’t fuck her whatever you do, okay? This is business. This is not a fuckabout, you get it?’

  ‘Mort, it wouldn’t look good if I didn’t show.’

  ‘Tell her your missus wouldn’t like it.’

  ‘I couldn’t lie, Mort.’

  ‘You’re one big walking, talking lie. And why haven’t you told anyone – not me, not Sonny, not Twitchy, that you’re here? Aye! Nobody except that gobshite Smiler. What’s all that about?’

  ‘I dunno, Mort. What you driving at?’

  ‘You fucking know, you horny little cunt! It’s you getting hotted-up by some saucy photos—’

  ‘Behave, Mort!’

  ‘Don’t tell me to behave, pal! It’s you gonna get us all killed with that fuckin dick of yours—’

  ‘Switch off, Mort. You ain’t exactly a fuckin monk.’

  ‘I. Fuck. Civilians. She’s the daughter of a South American warlord, who will—’

  ‘Warlord! You’re being dramatic now, Mort.’

  ‘ … take a dim view of you having liaisons with his daughter.’

  ‘Liaisons? I never realised you were so morally upstanding—’

  ‘Who promised her to some senator—’

  ‘She’s an adult—’

  ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m a cunt, you hear?’

  ‘Oh, look, Mort, would you believe it, that’s Jenna Zambrano just walked in, fuck-in-a-maz-ing figure, curves in all the right places, a dream in a spray-on dress, maybe no underwear—’

  ‘You’re getting ahead of yourself now, pal.’

  ‘Certainly no Miguel. Or Raul. She must have one of those nasty subconscious desires to slip the leash, to get fucked senseless all night long. A rampant harlot on the loose! Run for a constable! Oh, look; she’s walking this way. Nice and slow, no rush. And you know what, I think she’s hoping that I’m the gent she’s come to meet.’

  ‘Tell her it isn’t you!’

  ‘See ya later, Mister Mortimer. Don’t wait up.’

  I pretend not to recognise her … never seen her before.

  Jenna is far better looking in reality, sexier in the flesh, the kind of woman you’d call handsome rather than pretty – stunning rather than simply attractive. Sometimes beautiful woman aren’t that overtly sexy. Sometimes women can be incredibly sexy – stop you in your tracks – without being especially beautiful. But Jenna is both, striking and intensely sexual. Her photo doesn’t do her justice. Jenna has an aura. Other guys in the bar get on it too.

  I imagined Jenna as a girl but here she is fully-grown up and looking to see what’s on offer. The diplomatic marriage makes sense now. I imagined her as some passive participant in the tra
nsaction but I get – in a flash – that Jenna is doing it because it takes her, Jenna, where she needs to go.

  I can see how a loose screw like Jesus would have been driven mad by her shows of affection and then blatant rejection. A lot of relatively sane men would lose all sanity around Jenna. Jenna is walking directly towards me. Maybe she’s seen Miguel’s spooks’ photos of me.

  Her hazel coloured eyes zero in on mine. She’s assertive beyond her years, but there’s something unspecified in the eyes – maybe it’s mischief, maybe it’s lust, maybe it’s my imagination playing tricks.

  ‘Hello, Mister English,’ she says.

  ‘Sorry?’ I reply. ‘I believe you must have the wrong person.’

  ‘No,’ she says, slipping onto a bar stool, and getting comfortable, ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘You’re Jenna, right?’ I ask. ‘Jenna Zambrano?’

  ‘Dead right, Mister English.’

  ‘Who is this Mister English chap?’

  ‘I think we know,’ she says with a wink.

  The barman appears and she orders a spritzer. I order another vodka and tonic. I realise I’m doing a Sonny King – talking in a posh voice.

  ‘I needed to clear something up, about your cousin.’

  ‘Let’s not talk about Jesus. Everyone’s chasing around after Jesus, the little …’

  ‘Little what?’

  ‘It’s funny, your voice is different but the syntax is exactly the same – ex-act-ly. Entiende usted? You understand?’ I shrug. She continues. ‘I think we’re acquainted already, Mister English. You called me in Miami.’

  Jenna looks for a reaction. Roy’s ‘How Not To Lie’ tutorial is getting replayed – resist the temptation to look over her shoulder – eyes straight ahead – look straight into hers, her dark eyes. She has one eyebrow raised, dead cocky, waiting for an answer, like she’s used to getting answers.

  ‘So,’ she asks, ‘if English isn’t your name, what is your real name?’

  I tell her my name. She slowly, and with great care, licks her top lip – just the tip of her tongue on the edge, taking longer than it should … considering something. Her lipstick is glossy, dark scarlet. Then she begins to betray the barest hint of a smile.

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