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Viva la madness, p.32
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       Viva La Madness, p.32

           J. J. Connolly

  ‘Do you mind if I ask a question?’ he asks gently. I nod. Sonny adopts a passive expression, an open posture, speaks slow, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I look over at Mort. ‘No good lookin at him,’ says Sonny. ‘Is he your brief? Do we need to play it one more time?’ He nods at the telly. ‘Need an encore?’

  ‘That’s unnecessary,’ says Morty.

  ‘See, that’s worldwide fame. Global human-interest story. Be on everywhere,’ says Sonny, buzzing on my misfortune. Your crisis, my victory. ‘And you got a tiddy-wink to blame.’

  ‘Japanese ain’t chinks, Sonny,’ says Morty.

  ‘Don’t fuckin care, Mort. That’s our kid here,’ nodding at me, ‘dipping the pocket of a dead man … And Roy’s got it into his head that that’s his raincoat … all covered in claret.’

  ‘Not a theory. That’s my coat,’ says Roy, starting to get twitchy, ‘the one I borrowed you in Barbados.’

  ‘So?’ says Sonny. ‘Are ya gonna tell us or what?’

  I tell Sonny and Roy, more or less, what happened, leaving out Jenna. That it was Stevie O’Malley, who crept my room, stole the raincoat, who got shot – make that assassinated.

  ‘Stevie O’Malley! That’s Special Needs Stevie on the deck, there, dead?’ says Sonny, pointing at the screen. ‘When was you gonna fuckin tell us, exactly? Was you gonna tell us?’

  ‘It was meant to be me.’

  ‘And is that my raincoat?’ asks Roy, pointing, childlike, at the screen.

  Before I can answer, Sonny’s turned to Roy, ‘Will you shut up about your fuckin raincoat!’

  ‘But it’s my property.’

  ‘Roy,’ says Mort, ‘someone’s trying to kill yer man here, and managed to kill Steve O’Malley instead. It’s about perspective.’

  Roy doesn’t like it but says nothing.

  ‘So who fuckin shot Stevie?’ asks Sonny, as his phone starts to ring. He studies it; the caller ID has him perplexed. ‘I’ve a feeling,’ he says, ‘that this might have something to do with it.’

  ‘Who is it?’ asks Morty.

  ‘Santos,’ says Sonny, as he answers it, puts it on speakerphone.

  ‘Mister King, good morning,’ says Santos, ‘or should I say good afternoon. You would have no doubt heard the bad news. I must apologise but we felt it was necessary, for you to take us seriously.’

  ‘Go on, Mister Santos.’

  ‘It’s Mister de Lucia, actually. We had the counsellor executed to show we mean business.’

  ‘I did hear. He was one of my closest friends.’

  ‘This is the nature of business we are engaged in, Sonny,’ says Santos, dead theatrical.

  ‘What exactly are you after, Santos?’

  ‘We would like Jesus Zambrano returned to us, dead or alive.’

  ‘I’m not sure I can oblige you.’

  ‘Or the memory stick he was transporting.’

  ‘Again, I can’t help.’

  ‘Jesus had come by a lot of money. We would like that money returned to us … for the inconvenience.’

  Sonny mimics Santos, ‘For the inconvenience? Well my buddy getting shot dead is an inconvenience to me.’

  ‘Please take us seriously, Mister King. We are hoping you are a reasonable man.’

  ‘Why does everyone think we had something to do with Jesus’ disappearance?’

  ‘The last time I spoke to Jesus, he told me that he suspected that he was being watched.’

  ‘By the police?’

  ‘By your organisation, Mister King. He feared having his funds stolen.’

  ‘Well,’ says Sonny, ‘he got it wrong.’

  ‘We will shoot another one of your team, Sonny, starting with your sidekick.’

  ‘Didn’t know I had a sidekick.’

  He describes Roy Burns – rather nervous, a paranoid, perhaps? They’ve obviously been baked-up outside the Monarch. ‘Is he your Head of Security, Sonny? He rather let your counsellor down, didn’t he?’ says Santos, with a melodramatic laugh. ‘Think about what I’ve said. The channels of communications are open.’

  Santos abruptly finishes the call. ‘That cunt’s dead,’ says Sonny, looking at the phone. ‘We get this cunt found and paid. You hear that, Roy. He’s coming after you next.’

  ‘Maybe, Sonny,’ says Morty, leaning forwards, ‘you’ll wanna start thinking about a deal with Miguel.’

  ‘Not for anything less than half,’ says Sonny, shaking his head. ‘Anyway, first things first.’

  So I’m right – it’s all a tragic-comic case of mistaken identity, Roy’s raincoat the misleading clue. I’m conflicted, but not that conflicted that I’d swap places. A man is dead, was meant to be me. I wonder how Santos found me. I can’t ask him; as far as he’s concerned I’m dead.

  ‘Listen,’ says Roy, looking hurt after being called a paranoid, ‘we should get the O’Malleys out looking for Santos.’

  ‘Good thinking, Roy,’ says Sonny, slapping his thigh.

  ‘I think we should keep quiet,’ says Morty.

  ‘Suddenly you two have got very secretive,’ says Sonny, nodding at me and Mort in turn, ‘all for keeping things to yourself.’

  ‘How well do you get on with the O’Malleys, Sonny?’ asks Morty, like it’s a loaded question.

  ‘I get on alright with ’em …’ shrugs Sonny, ‘considering they’re a load of lagging boats and smackheads.’

  ‘But who do we parley with?’ asks Roy.

  ‘He knows ’em,’ says Sonny, pointing at me.

  ‘I know Gerry, from time.’

  ‘Morty, could you talk to Patsy?’ Roy asks.

  ‘Patsy’s a drunk. Get more sense talking to his dog.’

  ‘Chip’s the one to talk to,’ I say. ‘He’s half sensible.’

  ‘They could find Santos in no time,’ says Sonny, rubbing his hands.

  ‘They couldn’t find a hooker in King’s Cross,’ says Mort.

  ‘I don’t think they’ve got the required aptitude to find death squads,’ I say.

  ‘Required aptitude?’ says Sonny, imitating me. ‘I was thinking along the lines of using them as attack dogs, knocking on doors, banging on dustbins, get Santos flushed out.’

  ‘They’d start a fuckin war,’ I say.

  ‘Right,’ says Mort, shaking his head. ‘Get Old Bill livened up. I don’t think this is a good idea. Could backfire. Badly.’

  ‘Nah, nah,’ says Sonny, wisely waving a finger. ‘Blessing in disguise, believe me.’

  Sonny – being an instinctive, survivalist little fucker – is looking for alliances. And now he’s recruiting the O’Malleys as his penal battalion, the shock troops. There is no question of where to find them – the Paddington Basin Members Club, the home from home for the O’Malley Clan.

  ‘Twelve o’clock on a Sunday?’ asks Sonny. ‘They’ll be there. Death in the family. Good excuse for a piss-up.’

  ‘Don’t think they need an excuse,’ says Morty. ‘I think we should let them know we’re coming.’

  ‘Do you think they’ll know yet?’ asks Roy.

  ‘Good question, Roy,’ says Mort. ‘The law might be reluctant to tell them, but I guess they watch television same as everyone else … Wouldn’t wanna be the one to tell Patsy.’

  ‘They’ll work out that it was Stevie who got shot,’ says Sonny. ‘Was their fuckin brother, after all.’

  ‘We wanna remember that their kid brother is dead … And Stevie was a …’ Morty searches for the right word …

  ‘A retard,’ says Sonny. ‘Let’s have it right, Mort.’

  ‘Feelings might be running high.’ Morty gets up leave, then sits back down. ‘You know what, I don’t think it’s a good idea … It’s a bit desperate.’

  ‘Wrong word, desperate,’ says Sonny, shaking his head. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

  Twenty minutes later we arrive at the drinking club, a converted coal barge that’s permanently moored on the canal in Paddington Basin. After our extensive detours Roy is satisfied but still double-checking
the locale as we walk along the towpath; he’s checking out the obvious sniping opportunities. Everyone is taking Roy’s security procedures seriously all of a sudden. Boats are slowly chugging up and down but most are tied up at anchor around the basin. There’s little movement. I don’t know if the O’Malley family will even remember me. I don’t know if I’m needed here. Morty leads the way up the gangplank. Above the door is a hand-painted ‘Members Only’ sign and a few bits of tattered bunting flutter in the gentle breeze. The atmosphere is more skull and crossbones than Royal Navy ensign.

  Inside it’s dusty and damp, a twilight zone after the sunshine outside. The nautical theme continues with ropes and knots, signals and flags, and the barman, a lump who looks like an off-duty wrestler, wears a tee shirt bearing the legend The beatings will continue until morale improves …

  Surrounding the bar, at the far end of the club, is a group of about twelve men. I recognise a few of the brothers and several of the darker madheads from the manor. Bad news travels fast. They put down their glasses and march towards us. It turns into a cavalry charge up the long, tight bar. They’ve spotted that cunt and immediately want to attack me, string me up … Transpires they have seen the footage; it’s playing on a TV above the bar. Morty and Roy block their way, as politely as present circumstances will allow. Sonny stands aside after a token effort, seems happy to let them rip me apart, but steps in at the last moment, tellingly – after the pushing and shoving, screaming and cunting, when the danger has passed – to calm things down. Never one not to exploit a situation, Sonny.

  Six of the O’Malley brothers are there – all except, thankfully, Patsy, the eldest, infamous drunkard and man mountain, the nutter’s nutter … And my old ally Gerry is absent. You are the company you keep, Missus Burns would suggest. The O’Malleys pull every hound and growler for miles into their orbit. Some of these disciples are buzzing on the drama of Steve’s death. Together they make up a scary posse, looking to get a rope around someone’s neck.

  The years have not been kind to the boys … There’s a strong whiff of stale sweat, A and E departments, custody suites, stinging medication and crack. They’re rashy and itchy in well-worn tracksuits and greasy overcoats. All of them are caned – pinned or bloodshot eyes. Half are clucking, the other pissed and gakked. The halfway sensible one, Chip – real name John, could be forty, fifty or sixty – shakes hands with Morty but deliberately ignores Sonny.

  So Sonny does his usual hearts-and-minds tactic – sets up a large round of brandies. When everyone’s got a half-pint tumbler Sonny herds the brothers into a corner, leaving behind the entourage. The brothers all know who, and what, Sonny King is. And the brothers know that this is not a courtesy call.

  Sonny gets straight to the point – he explains that a Venezuelan gentleman named Santos de Lucia killed their brother Stevie. ‘He was trying to kill him,’ says Sonny, nodding at me, ‘but shot Stevie instead …’

  ‘How do we know yer man, here,’ says Chip, ‘didn’t shoot Stevie?’

  ‘You gotta take our word for it, gents,’ says Sonny on my behalf.

  ‘He was stealing from Stevie,’ says Chip, pointing at me, talking to Sonny. ‘Saw it on telly.’

  ‘Don’t believe everything you see on television, Chip,’ says Roy, with a glint in his eye.

  ‘I promise ya,’ I say, hands raised, ‘I didn’t shoot your brother. Sonny’s telling the truth.’

  ‘See,’ says Sonny, ‘we need the geezer who’s doin all the shootin found.’

  Chip asks why Sonny would want that. And in a blatant display of self-important point-scoring, Sonny declares, patting me on the shoulder, ‘I need this man alive …’

  ‘Why was Stephen shot, then?’ asks Chip.

  ‘Simple case of mistaken identity,’ says Sonny, arms open, palms up. ‘They were both leaving a hotel at the same time. Stevie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This Santos fella sent a geezer to serve this one,’ meaning me, ‘but he shot Stevie instead.’

  Over the bar there’s a small, muted television playing the camcorder footage on a loop. I can’t take my eyes off it. I didn’t shoot anyone, but I’m suffering from survivor’s guilt. If I wasn’t here in London Stevie would still be alive. Stevie nicked Roy’s raincoat and the consequences were grave. I start to think about Jamaica – seems peaceful and safe – start getting homesick for Sundays, everyone dressed up in their best clothes, making their way to church, chubby mamas with flowery hats.

  Roy is now explaining to Chip that Stevie was stealing his raincoat, and that’s why he got shot. It’s simple karmic retribution, reaping what you sow. Chip is unimpressed. His brothers look increasingly quizzical. It’s a bit too esoteric for Chip but he’s starting to get his head around the idea that Roy is blatantly suggesting that Stevie was to blame for his own death. Morty is looking embarrassed while Sonny, seems to think it’s a bitova laugh – give Roy enough rope … ‘It’s fate, destiny, Chip. This life, a past life or the next life, there’s a price to be paid, see?’

  Morty interrupts Roy, shuts him down. Thank God.

  ‘Sonny has a proposal for yer, Chip,’ he says. ‘Ain’t yer, Sonny?’

  ‘Oh, yeah,’ says Sonny, ‘a proposal. We’ll pay you compensation, to find Santos—’

  ‘Compensation?’ asks Chip, eyes narrowing, ‘You mean blood money?’

  ‘No, no,’ says Sonny, shaking his head, ‘not blood money.’

  ‘Cos compensation would imply,’ Chip gets eye-to-eye contact with Sonny, fearless, ‘that you were somehow implicated, guilty of the boy’s death. Stevie didn’t deserve to get shot like a dog cos he got mixed up in one of your schemes. All this talk of the boy being in the wrong place at the wrong time …’

  Chip is capable of coming over the table and biting Sonny’s nose off. And Sonny’s looking at him like he picked on the wrong O’Malley to negotiate with, thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But Sonny offers a reward – make that finder’s fee and reasonable funeral expenses if they find Santos. Morty is resisting the urge to bury his head in his hands.

  It’s become apparent that the O’Malleys don’t like Sonny – too big-time – but they will cooperate with Morty to find this de Lucia.

  ‘If we find this Santos character,’ says Chip, turning deliberately to Morty and offering him his hand to shake, ‘we’ll call you, Mort, okay?’

  ‘Suppose it’s gotta be that way,’ says Morty.

  ‘That’s the way I’d prefer to do it,’ says Chip, ‘if that’s okay, Mister King?’

  Chip sends a brief glance in Sonny’s direction.

  Morty fills Chip and the boys in with the details and a few clues of where they might find the elusive Santos and his crew, then Mort gets up to leave. The boys can sniff readies; they’re pragmatists. ‘Has anyone seen Patsy?’ Mort asks. ‘Wouldn’t want him to get the news … out of the blue.’

  ‘We can’t find Pats at the moment …’ Chip says, ‘but thanks, Mister Mortimer, for your concern.’ He gives Mort a small, dignified nod.

  Just as I’m thinking that the O’Malley brothers have mellowed over the years, Chip calmly gets a knotted plastic bag out of his jacket – a couple of ounces – and begins to undo it with his teeth.

  ‘Rack ’em up, Chip,’ says one of the younger brothers hopefully.

  ‘Fuck off!’ snaps Chip. ‘Get yer own!’

  I look at the crew in front of me – there is no way this firm of headbangers will be able to find a clandestine, military-trained, operator like Santos de Lucia.

  We turn to leave, get halfway up the bar, and then Chip hollers after us, ‘Oi! Mister King!’ Sonny turns back to face him. Chip has a mad grin on his face. He’s pouring dangerous rails of cha-cha onto the table. ‘Any possibility of an advance, Mister King?’ asks Chip O’Malley with lashings of sarcasm. All the brothers laugh.



  Last night I hit the brandy and blanked calls from Jenna looking to hook up.
There’s a part of me that thinks Jenna is from a species that kills and eats their partners after sex. Could induce a degree of performance anxiety. Survival instinct, for once, won out over sexual desire. And I’m dog-tired. If all the television stations are rerunning the footage of Steve O’Malley’s assassination, so am I – the whole show on a loop – so I had disjointed sleep but I’m still up and out. Duty, or my employer, calls. First thing this morning Bridget rang and said Ted wanted to see me straight away. On my own. I told her I wanted to miss the rush hour for obvious reasons.

  It’s mid-morning and nobody’s looking at anybody. Weaving about on the tube is now second nature to me, I do it without thinking. I don’t feel like anyone’s gonna recognise me but I’ve bought a linen hat and a pair of lightly tinted shades. I’m hidden away behind The Times, reading about Stevie – a strange case of murder, victim still unnamed, police conspicuously quiet. Now I’m selling newspapers, I need to start seeing readies out of this. That might appeal to some criminals’ vanity, but not mine.

  Yesterday Morty was badgering Sonny but Sonny just got more entrenched – he won’t trade that memory stick until Miguel gets down on his knees and begs him. Sonny, as he’s fond of pointing out, is in no hurry, and it’s his property. Me and Morty were seriously in dispute with him. Sonny is proud of the fact that he doesn’t need the money. Let them cunts roast appears to be his attitude. Sonny hasn’t actually met Miguel but that doesn’t stop him disliking him. If you told Sonny not to sell the memory stick he’d wanna sell it, but it’s senseless having it if you’re not going to do anything with it. Morty suggested he might wanna think about being a bit more diplomatic. Sonny did not disappoint – ‘Fuck diplomacy!’ he told us. After Giles revealed the stick’s contents Miguel’s proposition of a couple of hundred kilos of cocaine does seem insulting, so Mort and me decided not to bother Sonny with it.

  The fact that Ted and Bridget have not been in contact has suited me up till now. I was told to hit the ground running but so far nobody’s come my way. If it wasn’t for this bitta mischief, I’d be in the City Hotel, waiting on phone calls and human contact, getting lonely.

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