Viva la madness, p.29
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       Viva La Madness, p.29

           J. J. Connolly
 

  ‘You know,’ she says, ‘I don’t wish to offend, but I prefer Mister English … suits you better.’

  Jenna goes into her handbag and pulls out some American cigarettes. She puts one in her mouth, the barman rushes to light it for her. She pulls on her cigarette and lets the smoke waft up to her nose before she draws it in – effortlessly seductive. She understands sex is power, this woman. My eyes can’t help but drop down to her cleavage, her tanned breasts filling her dress with ease. She’s faultless. She’s class. I’m breathing through my nostrils.

  ‘Does your brother know you’re here?’

  ‘I think he might suspect.’

  ‘That’s an ambiguous answer.’

  ‘To a strange question,’ she shrugs. ‘I’m a big girl now. Mister English, it’s not a problem if you called me, you just got me curious …’

  ‘Curious enough to come to London?’

  ‘Tell me.’ She sips her drink. ‘You’re only telling me something we both already know …’

  What the fuck. ‘Okay, I was told to check out certain people, entiendes?’

  ‘English, please, Mister English.’ She laughs at her own joke.

  ‘It’s interfering with the smooth running of business over here – Venezuelans making threats. They’ve got curious.’

  ‘Who’s they?’ she asks with an edge.

  ‘My bosses.’

  ‘This club owner?’

  I laugh, shake my head, ‘No, not the club owner. I’m talking about bosses, high up, connected people. They do big business, can’t have attention … The British police can’t be bought …’ Jenna looks sceptical. ‘Santos started terrorising the staff here,’ I say, meaning the Cosmopolitan. ‘Came to the club, and caused murders – that’s an English saying.’

  ‘Santos is a rabid dog,’ says Jenna, looking almost undignified.

  ‘Miguel told me about their escapades – the organs … the kids …’ Jenna shakes her head. ‘My bosses didn’t like it … not kids … So now we’re looking for Santos and Jesus. And you’re looking—’

  ‘Miguel is not me. Miguel is looking for them—’

  ‘We got Jesus’ phone bills from the reception��’

  ‘How enterprising.’

  ‘Not difficult,’ I shrug. ‘And we checked out who Jesus was calling – you. A great deal. A name and number are very easily married up.’

  ‘Showing plenty of initiative, Mister English.’

  ‘We can’t have gents turning up and threatening people on the payroll, can we now Ms Zambrano? Where would that leave us? In a state of anarchy …’

  She laughs. ‘A state of anarchy? If you think this is anarchy, you should come to Venezuela.’

  I didn’t notice it before – wasn’t paying attention – but Jenna has two bodyguards sitting by the door drinking club sodas, trying to look inconspicuous. Bodyguards are not unusual in this neck of the woods.

  ‘Are those two with you?’ I ask.

  ‘My family worry about me,’ she says, knowing what I’m looking at. ‘Especially Miguel, with Jesus on the loose.’

  She orders two more drinks without asking if I want one. They’ve doubled the guard. Jesus disappeared one bodyguard to show her how much he loved her. Miguel got it covered up; bet he regrets it now. For the next half hour Jenna’s kicking back, relaxing. She’s telling me stuff I know from the transcripts. I realise that the bodyguards are gone.

  ‘Jenna, your guys have gone.’

  ‘I know,’ she says, ‘I sent them away.’

  ‘I didn’t notice.’

  ‘I told them if I was still here in twenty minutes to wait outside.’

  Jenna gets me talking about myself, telling her more than I should. She tells me about her studies in New York, her love of America. London? Business or pleasure?

  A bit of both, I hope, she says with a tiny wink but a very straight face. Suddenly she leans forward, her face close to mine, studying a point just below my right eye.

  ‘You have a stray eyelash on your cheek,’ she says.

  I go to brush it away. She shakes her head. ‘It’s still there. I think you just rolled it along … maybe … perhaps …’

  She comes closer, delicately licks the end of her little finger and tries to remove the eyelash.

  ‘Is it gone?’ I ask.

  ‘It doesn’t want to go.’

  I can smell cigarettes, wine, her body smell, her perfume, her hair, hear her breathing. She licks her lips, slowly, like an old-school film starlet, then puckers them into a perfect ring and blows the eyelash off my cheek.

  ‘There,’ she says. ‘Gone away.’

  I feel self-conscious; it shows. She laughs. Jenna’s still in close. Her hand is planted on the top of my thigh.

  ‘I’ve embarrassed you, Mister English. I’m sorry.’

  My dick’s getting interested now, attention seeking. She spots it.

  ‘I’ve been keeping too much male company lately,’ I say.

  She laughs again. ‘Do you know what a French date is, Mister English?’

  ‘No,’ I say, ‘but I’ve got a pretty good idea, the French being the French.’

  ‘A man and woman come together, no flowers, no candles, no dinner, no pretence, and pleasure one another, because they like one another, have lust for one another.’

  She looks down at my crotch, pats the side of my thigh, stubs out her cigarette, sits back on her stool.

  ‘I’m flattered,’ I say.

  ‘I wanted to check you out. I liked your voice, Mister English.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘I could have easily pretended I wasn’t Jenna Zambrano, left you hanging …’

  ‘Could have done.’

  ‘But I quite liked what I saw.’

  ‘So did I, Miss Zambrano.’

  ‘Come on, Mister English,’ says Jenna, getting up to leave, ‘we might have to leave the Monarch Club for another night. Let’s get a room.’

  ‘I’ve got a room – across town, away from prying eyes, and bodyguards.’

  Jenna hums salsa rhythms – clicks her fingers, teases and dances – as she gets undressed, making me watch from the bed. As she strips I feel like howling. The image of her stepping out of her dress, to reveal her black lace underwear, will stay with me forever. She likes to be in control; no harm in that. I like Jenna. She’s a giggle, fun. Says she used to be a tomboy, definitely isn’t anymore. Jenna’s full of tricks she didn’t learn in the Girl Guides.

  Jenna puts the condom on with her mouth, then gets on top, straddling me, then fucks me fast, then slow, stops as I’m about to come … She remains still as a statue, blowing on me, gently caressing me, whispering to me, comportese, behave, kissing my neck, calming me … Then after about half a minute she starts rolling her hips again, rhythmical, like there’s music playing. She’s licking my fingers and getting me to work her clit ever so gently with my thumb, telling me exactly what she needs.

  And she’s talking to me the whole time, in a mixture of English and Spanish, giving instructions, coaxing me, always stopping and starting, driving me mad. But in the end she times it so we both come at the same time – screaming and tearing at each other, ecstasy and relief. The best sex I’ve had since … I don’t know … I could be happy here …

  After a minute she rolls off, still breathing hard, her hair stuck to her head, salty sweat dripping off her, staring up at the whirling ceiling fan, mesmerised.

  ‘I needed that,’ she says with a laugh. ‘It’s been a little while.’

  I catch a sad look in her eyes – but only a glimpse – then it vanishes.

  ‘Muy bueno, Mister English, very good … but I have a confession.’

  ‘Confession is good for the soul.’

  ‘There was no eyelash on your cheek.’ She laughs. ‘What do you do, Mister English? For your bosses, that they would accommodate you in such a fine room?’

  ‘I’m a broker,’ I say, ‘I have come to London to broker commodities.’

 
Commodities from South America?’

  I nod. ‘But I’ve been diverted.’

  ‘By Jesus and Santos?’

  ‘Correct … and by Miguel and his generous offer,’ I reply. ‘If we were to find that memory stick, what would we find?’

  ‘Information. And Miguel would pay you well.’

  ‘Is that why you—’

  ‘Hey! Back up,’ she says, jumping up, slapping my thigh, ‘I’m not a whore.’ Her eyes are full of anger. ‘Do not offend me now.’ But as fast as she gets angry, she calms down again. Jenna kisses me on the lips, by way of apology.

  ‘Tell me about Jesus,’ I say. ‘Won’t be able to find him if we don’t know about him.’

  Jenna looks apprehensive but begins to talk, slowly at first, then gathering momentum, about her deranged cousin. At times she gets animated, at others sad, angry, even scared. I wanna tell her she’s scared of a ghost. But after twenty minutes her eyelids get heavy; Jenna suddenly looks like she’s stoned. She puts a finger over my lips – no more talking. She puts her head on my chest. After a couple of minutes Jenna’s breathing has become deep and steady. She’s fast asleep …

  But I’m wide awake – electric. The head chess started again … This was a ceasefire, not a truce. I give it a few more minutes, and then, as Jenna sleeps, I slip next door to read all about her. If it feels like deception and betrayal, it’s because it is. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m behaving like Jesus, like Jenna’s number one stalker. But I reach into my hidey-hole and pull out the next instalment – Jesus’ memoirs.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

  A DAZZLING STAR DIES

  Makes you wonder why Jesus Zambrano didn’t eliminate Cousin Miguel while he was still in Miami. Jesus’ memoirs are chock full of venom and extreme vitriol – a coke-fuelled, self-absorbed tirade against Miguel, who he sees as the cause of all his problems. Through the transcript Jesus’ bitterness grows in intensity – hours of hatred, spat out onto his tape recorder. In an insane way it pulls together the loose threads from the previous transcripts; throwaway lines and off-hand comments suddenly make sense. And Smiler’s right, it was recorded in Jesus’ room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Jesus Zambrano, live and direct from London Town.

  Jenna had spent a lot of time in the US; too much time, her grandparents would have said. She’d learnt bad habits – good habits, any boyfriend would have told her. If they knew how Jenna behaved they would have swagged her off to a nunnery. Jenna is sexually proactive rather than waiting to be asked – she likes to have her tummy tickled.

  She’d come back to Miami from Columbia University one weekend and bumped into Miguel and his cohorts. She developed the roaring hots for this Austrian guy who was hanging with Miguel, some computer wunderkind. Miguel and him were doing some massive venture together. But Jenna didn’t like her brother knowing too much of her business, and one of Miguel’s little maxims was that business and pleasure should never mix.

  On the QT Jenna and The Wunderkind got acquainted, got revved up, hung out in South Beach. She introduced him to the strictly-invite-only parties in the poolside bungalows at the Delano or the Shore Club, kept him away from the spring break shitkickers from Kentucky State, or slimy, lecherous lawyers from Texas Tech who seemed to think they knew her.

  All the surreptitious creeping about suited The Wunderkind. He didn’t need anyone telling tales about his sexual liaisons with Jenna, liaisons that could see him deaded or enrolling in his own version of the Witness Protection Program. He knew these Latinos were funny about their daughters’, or sisters’, reputations. Jenna sure didn’t want her father to know she and IT Kid had been fucking each other senseless. Miguel she could deal with; he was a pragmatist. And she knew enough dirt on Miguel …

  A few people had given The Wunderkind the heads-up that Jenna had this weirdy-freak cousin who was obsessed with her – be fucking careful … They weren’t joking …

  Jenna had told Jesus she was marrying the Senator’s son to get him off her back. Marrying Jenna into the legit élite was planting the flag, making a statement; herding the waifs and strays of the Zambrano Extended Clan onto a lifeboat and calling in the airstrike. It was about permanent severance. Miguel, meanwhile, did a smart thing – he stuck a trio of his top bodyguards on Jenna’s fiancée; it wouldn’t do to have him getting killed. The guy’s father, The Senator, didn’t care who Jenna slept with – either now or in future – but he didn’t need it in his face. The Senator needed the deal as much as the Zambrano Family, but for different reasons. He’d worked out that his son and heir was a galloping homosexual. He didn’t want it becoming common knowledge in case people suspected something fishy in the gene pool. He’d given up conspiring to kill him – committing filicide – and come around to thinking the marriage was the answer. An eight-figure dowry, paid into a Panama City bank account, and an alliance with an ambitious criminal family wasn’t such a bad thing.

  Jesus obviously wasn’t privy to the internal business of the family. They thought he was just a volatile liability to be kept pacified and watched closely. Someone took their eye off the ball and Jesus went bandaloo – macabre bodysnatching expeditions down the jungle. Papa Victor wanted a word, but Jesus was not answering his pager …

  One weekend, feeling the heat and the humidity of Miami, IT Kid and Jenna drove down the Keys. But they were being followed, by Jesus, who was on a mission; part jealous admirer and apprentice blackmailer. Jesus was fucking raging – Jenna was a woman who liked to do her own thing and had rejected his overtures.

  She’s obviously a woman who likes a bit of rough and tumble in a hotel room but sadly not with poor Jesus. He was embedded nearby, plugged into his snide photographic equipment, getting self-righteous and hypocritical, taking his compromising smudges, sucking his thumb, while Jenna was enthusiastically sucking his rival’s dick.

  After their fuckfest Jenna shipped back to New York leaving The Wunderkind down in the Keys. He liked to have peace and quiet to do his calculations – the logarithm of twelve-digit numbers, in his head, for fun. Didn’t need paper, let alone a calculator. He was listening to the waves gently lapping along the shore. This kid could one day send shockwaves around the world with his innovations – you’d like to buy start-up stock or futures in this guy – but for the time being he lived well, travelling the world, whistling up software programs for whoever was prepared to pay his sizeable per diem. This was a guy who had good looks, a thoroughbred’s physique, talent, charm and dignity – everything that Jesus Zambrano lacked. And Jesus knew it.

  The Wunderkind had an agent of sorts – a godfather – a friend of his late father’s, who kept a parental eye on him and connected him with borderline organisations who could use his talents. Pop’s old mate was a traditional money launderer and tax-evasion specialist. He knew the future was electronic and passed the baton to his godson. This old generation of Swiss, German and Austrian bankers didn’t think of their clients as strictly criminal. These moneymen were gents who knew it was a game – obviously you cheated. But you didn’t get caught. The law was the law. They were above it. If it wasn’t illegal everyone would be at it.

  So The Kid was sitting on the private deck of the bungalow at the end of the pier in the five-star resort hotel drinking a Martini, no landmass between him and Mexico. Jenna had deliberately asked for the most secluded bungalow – actually over the water, out to sea, a long schlep for busboys or maids, away from eavesdroppers – so she could holler if she felt like it. The Wunderkind was gazing out as the sun was disappearing magnificently into the sea when there was a polite tap at the door.

  When he opened the door Jesus was stood there dressed in brand new, brilliant white tennis gear. He was practising forehands and backhands with an equally new tennis racket, returning imaginary balls, deftly dropping shots over the net. The Kid interrupted and asked how he could help.

  ‘I’m the tennis coach,’ replied Jesus.

  ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ said The Kid, trying to be an Am
erican.

  ‘It’s time for your lesson, sir.’

  ‘I’ve got no lesson booked,’ said the Austrian. ‘I don’t play tennis.’

  ‘Someone’s obviously made a mistake,’ said Jesus, playing a drop shot.

  ‘Obviously,’ echoed The Kid.

  ‘Can I use your house phone?’ Jesus asked The Kid.

  ‘Come in, please do,’ he said, holding the door open.

  As Jesus skipped inside, the Austrian genius had a rethink.

  He asked, ‘Isn’t it getting too dark for tennis?’

  ‘Floodlights, sir.’

  ‘If I was having a tennis lesson,’ asks Wunderkind, ‘wouldn’t I meet you at the court?’

  Jesus didn’t like his tone. The Wunderkind got posted missing. Over the next week sections of the body washed up along the coast. Everything except the head – the head that was going to revolutionise the world. Miguel was getting late-night updates from his various connections giving him the sweet and low … funny, he was paid for his head.

  Q. Jesus’ motive?

  A. Jealousy – personal and professional. The kid was a genius with a computer. It was him who wrote the software that took Smiler days to decipher. The saving grace was that the memory stick was locked in a banker’s safe in Miami and not about his person.

  Meanwhile back at the Zambrano Palazzo in downtown Miami, The Kid’s Official Guardian was cursing the Zambrano Family. He’d flown in from New York City especially to abuse them. Young Genius had gone missing while under their protection; they were responsible. Papa Victor suspected that Jesus was somehow involved but had a loyalty to the family. To Miguel – who just knew Jesus was involved but couldn’t prove it – his cousin was becoming a dangerous liability. This latest business was more than an embarrassment. All the chit-chat about respectability seemed delusional while they had to contend with a livewire like Jesus.

  As much as they insisted that they knew nothing about the disappearance and that Florida was a dangerous place, their protestations didn’t ring true. The Austrian starts maligning them in just the circles that they want to move into, all because Jesus couldn’t get his own way …

 
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