Viva la madness, p.34
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       Viva La Madness, p.34

           J. J. Connolly

  His pal has also pulled a gun – same make and model, with a silencer. He begins to walk towards me. I back off down the platform, away from the exits. He’s worked it that way. He’s cornering me, in no hurry. I have nowhere to go, only to retreat further down the platform.

  The younger guy is screaming, wants to be pulled up out of the track. He’s scrambled up the side of the suicide pit, has his arm outstretched waiting for a hand up. The older fella is wondering whether to shoot me dead first then tug his protégé out of the track or … He compromises. He lets go three shots in my direction – droff-droff-droff, chipping tiles, ricocheting off the walls – to keep me on the back foot, away from the exits.

  The young guy’s shouting – I think it’s Portuguese. But you can guess what’s being said. The older dude is coolly telling him to retrieve the gun from the pit. I’m retreating, running backwards, along the platform, towards the tunnel, where he wants me.

  The young guy disappears then reappears, waving the gun. The older guy quick as a flash reaches down, arm extended, one foot on the running rail, and hauls him clear.

  I’ve sprinted up the platform – away from the exit. The board says two minutes till the next train. I spot the older gunman taking proper aim. I dodge backwards and forwards – zigzagging, no static target. I hear bullets hitting fire buckets, whizzing above my head, round my ears. I hear their curses. It’s all going wrong, it was going to be easy. He’s going to find his range. And soon there’ll be two guns firing. There’s no alternative – I jump down onto the track, carrying Bridget’s bags, and dart into the tunnel.

  I’m running down a gradient, further into the darkness, back the way I came. Picking up momentum, slipping in my loose loafers, leather soles ain’t right. I can’t stop. I’m laughing nervously. It’s not the ballast that’s the problem, it’s the loose pebbles on the concrete floor between the sleepers – subtle mantraps, out to twist my ankle, to send me flying. It’s tight – no room – that’s why it’s called the tube. If I go over here I’m fucked. I carry on sprinting, bobbing and weaving, skipping over cables and rails. Every noise, every metallic crash, is amplified. There’s a rumble of a train in the far distance, maybe miles away. There’s weak tunnel lights – hundred watt bulbs every few yards – fighting a losing battle against the dark.

  I look back and see the silhouettes of the assassins trotting after me. I keep running, jumping from one side to the other, so the old fella can’t take aim. He’s the specialist. One of them is limping, but limping real fast, stopping to take aim. Bullets thud into cables, little deadly missiles. Sparks fly. Something’s whistling past my head – very close. Too close. Keep moving. I can still hear their curses – hear every-fuckin-thing echoing and crashing.

  Away from the station now, up by a junction lit by dim lights. Don’t be a silhouette. The air is full of soot. I’m covered in sweat. Still got the bags. A train rattles by on the next track, losing speed, coming into the station, blue sparks flying as its conductors pick up the current. It’s deafening.

  I run, adrenalin pumping into every capillary, heartbeat punching behind my eyeballs, legs getting tired. To stop is to die – no room for negotiations. You see what happened to Stevie – no mercy. Two in the can. Steve’s coming back to me, giving me a tailwind. Bullets skim through the tunnel – like kids throwing stones, ricocheting off walls.

  Should I try to hide in the darkness? Double back? Not a good idea.

  I run into a cavern, like a junction, damp creeping down the walls. Fat drops of dirty water – dripping, creepy but regular. Dead fat rat, on the track, tail as long as yer arm. Keep on fuckin moving! More bullets whistling by …

  A sudden points change. Hissing as the rails shift. Mechanical efficiency – red turns to green. The train’s on its way. That’s me fucked – crushed to death or shot dead.

  I jump on the rails and dance over. Wouldn’t wanna fall now, get flattened by a hundred-ton train, mangled in the points or fried to charcoal by the juice pumping through the skinny rails – no doubt lethal, judging by the chunky cables.

  My shoe slips off. Forget it, don’t even think about … I hear a train arrive at Holborn Station. Got hearing like a bat – hear train doors open and then shut, hear the train leaving the station. Fucked.

  I spot a bolthole – a coffin-sized gap – room for one but snug for two. The cables flow up and over. The edges are painted with a luminous paint to make them stand out in the gloom. Some comic’s painted a skull and crossbones above. I dodge in, breathing hard. This could be good, a break – if those two don’t find a bolthole. I’m peeking around the edge. The train is approaching. Huge fucker, scarier from the front. Lights like monster’s eyes.

  The train is on top of me, the noise deafening. Wind gale-force, throwing around litter – cans and paper cups. Carriage lights illuminate the tunnel, every nut and bolt, blinding light that leaves me squinting.

  I glimpse passengers in a blur, snapshots – strap-hanging, reading papers, bored, tired, faraway eyes, not focused, some in snooze mode. The train passes, the roar fades. I wait for a count of five, poking my head out … hoping they got hit.

  I hear the two shooters screaming and cursing – something about the younger one getting his clothes dirty. Fuck it! Musta found a bolthole …

  I see two shadows begin to creep up the tunnel, hoping to find me smashed to pieces. I dash out, begin running all over again.

  I’m making ground, getting further away, spinning around to catch a glimpse of them. The younger guy’s limping, dragging his leg. Being economic with ammunition, less scattergun. Waiting their time?

  I keep on running for another couple of hundred yards. The track is full of bends and gradients. Now I can hear another train coming, the noise growing louder. I need to time this right – can’t hide too early, give them time to catch up. I carry on running till I find a bolthole. I jump in. Clearance is minimal. I peek around the corner …

  The train is getting even louder. They’re still fifty yards back. The shooters have started panicking – running backwards, forwards, tripping and slipping, bumping into each other – evil slapstick. They find what they’re looking for – both run for the same bolthole. There’s a scuffle, seems there’s something stored in there. Only room for one, at a squeeze. It’s a deadly, primitive battle – wrestling each other, pushing and punching with their free hands. The old boy is coming off worse. As the train rounds the corner, comes into sight, he tumbles over the rails. The train’s still twenty yards away, bearing down on him – its brakes full on, skidding. There’s a screeching whistle. And grinding, steel against steel.

  The old guy is lying over the rails. He raises his weapon and shoots back into the bolthole. I can see the shots but can’t hear them. Huge flashes of orange and red flame. He’s screaming curses – Filho da puta! Son of a bitch! Desgragado! You disgrace! More flashes. He empties his gun then throws it at his ungrateful protégé. The train is skidding towards him – slowing … but not enough.

  The old fella struggles to get up, but falls over again. He bounces up but there’s nowhere to go, no room – it’s why it’s called the tube. He tries to press himself against the tunnel wall, make himself small. It’s no good. I hear a sickening thud – a skull hitting a train. He tumbles and bounces – spinning between the tunnel wall and the train – then he disappears, under the first carriage.

  The train halts, stopping twenty feet from where I’m hiding. It’s silent, except for horrific screams. He’s alive but dying horribly. The driver climbs down through a door in the front of his cab. He peers down the tiny gap between the train and the wall. I can hear radio traffic.

  I creep out of my hole, trying to be quiet, surreally tiptoeing along. I can hear the protégé now as well, dying in his bolthole. Crying, screaming – Mae! Mae! Mama! Mama! Same in any language. A dozen shots at point-blank range – won’t be surviving. Won’t be able to find him, to get him out. Entombed by the train.

  The driver suddenly shouts
– must have spotted me. I run though a cross-passage onto the parallel track, away from the carnage. I’m sweating like a miner, covered in soot. Running hard uphill now – could that be right? My throat’s dry, too painful to swallow. I’m overheating, dehydrated. My shins are killing me. I’m fuckin crippled – need oxygen – feel like throwing up. But then I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  I emerge on the platform, up a ramp – at Russell Square Station. The waiting passengers are shocked, frightened by my appearance. They jump out of my way. Got my head down cos of the CCTV; no busy station staff, I ain’t in the mood. Passengers looking curiously down the tunnel, wondering where the train is. They don’t know if I’m a victim or a perpetrator. Not hanging around to explain. There’s a mess back there – firearms, mangled torsos, buckets of blood, foreign nationals bleeding to death. But I’m still moving up the platform, looking for the exit sign.

  Off the platform. Another lift. Too claustrophobic in a lift, taking no chances. Up the stairs – more fuckin stairs – hundred and seventy-five, two at a time, then three, breathing hard but slowing down at the top, trying to appear like I ain’t got a care in the world … I jump through the automatic barriers like shit through a goose, then out into the midday sun. I pull on my buckled sunglasses, making me look more manic. Think I hear sirens – but I hear sirens in my sleep nowadays.

  I hit the backstreet and head north, keep going till I fall in a heap round the back of a university building, still, miraculously, with both Gucci bags and suit. Snot coming out my nose, my lungs fit to burst. Gonna get a nosebleed, or a heart attack, real soon.

  I wait a coupla minutes, catch my breath, then walk for a while, walk fast till I find what I’m looking for – a pub khazi with an entrance on the street. I dodge inside and clean myself up – just my face and hands, smooth my hair out. Then I jump into a cubicle and put on the Gucci outfit. I pack my soot-covered clothes and one shoe into the Gucci bags, then cut out.

  I bob and weave through the tight backstreets and lanes, looking respectable now, a pinstriped city banker. I cut across the Marylebone Road round the back of Great Portland Street and head into Regent’s Park where there’s hopefully no CCTV. I head for Swiss Cottage, across the park, dumping the grubby clothes, one by one, in waste bins as I go, then the Gucci bag. I get to the apartment, check the gaff out thoroughly, then slip in through the underground car park.

  I double-lock the door, drink a gallon of water, cough up soot, then fall asleep on the sofa, in my two thousand-pound suit, exhausted and paranoid, sweating buckets. Wondering … how the fuck did Santos find me again? I was careful … But as I drop off …

  Unless someone’s trying to send a message to Bridget … or Ted … cos … fuck’s sake, who’d wanna keep trying to shoot a nice guy like me?



  I wake up on the leatherette sofa, suit damp with sweat. The mobile’s ringing. It rings twice then stops, then starts again straight away. It’s spooky, glowing in the twilight. I was having strange dreams – the Bengal werewolf is back.

  I press the green button. It’s Morty, calling from a payphone. He’s on his way up, has seen the fuckin news. There’s something accusing in his tone, like I bring this shit on myself. The phone goes dead.

  I find the remote for the television and try to find a news channel … then I wish I hadn’t …

  The ten o’clock news is showing grainy CCTV pictures of me leaving the tube, walking fast, head down, across the lobby of Russell Square station, and the aftermath of the shooting of Stevie – they’re linking the two events. So will the law.

  Apparently, I’m now an unnamed, but highly wanted, fugitive. I ache all over and I’m still thirsty as fuck but glasses of water don’t touch the sides – I need salt tablets, vitamins and minerals. I’ve got blisters on the foot that the shoe stayed on and small cuts and abrasions on the one that I was running on barefoot. I’m still coughing and spitting soot. I’m starving but I ain’t hungry, got a dull ache in my guts.

  Ten minutes later Morty arrives, all coded knocks and sunglasses. He’s got some Indian food that smells delicious and repulsive at the same time. I just shake my head, ain’t interested.

  He lays out his wares; he’s been to the chemist, a few different ones by the looks of things, and bought hair dye, electric clippers and nerdy, chunky glasses. And bought some new clothes, nondescript – white and khaki, no labels or logos, no identifying markings.

  ‘They’re talking dissident IRA factions. You haven’t joined the IRA, have you?’ asks Mort with a straight face.

  ‘Twice in two days,’ I say. ‘Can’t work out how Santos found me.’

  ‘You can ask him yourself,’ says Morty, ‘if you want … in a while.’

  The O’Malleys have sent word – they have pinned the tail on the donkey.

  ‘You know they’re insane, don’t you?’ I say. Morty shrugs – tell me something I don’t know.

  Turns out they found Santos’ death squad in a holiday rental flat in, ironically, Paddington, the happy hunting ground of the O’Malley tribe, and from where the Zambrano Family got the tip-off call about the whereabouts of Jesus. They strangled all the crew … except Santos.

  ‘Strangled?’ I say, incredulously. ‘Strangled?’

  ‘I fuckin know, mate,’ says Mort, surreally, ‘who strangles people anymore? In this day and age?’ He answers his own question, ‘The O’Malleys, that’s who.’

  ‘They didn’t do Santos?’

  Real-time sit-rep – the O’Malleys have taken Santos and, bizarrely, the bodies, to a disused factory in Wembley, out by the North Circular Road. Santos insists he has valuable information to trade, has explained to the O’Malleys that he has had communications with Mister Sonny King. Didn’t go down well. The O’Malleys don’t like Sonny. Roy they don’t mind – Roy’s a turn. Santos has kept his nerve and told them he has also had dealings with el hombre negro grande, Sonny’s counsellor.

  So now he wants to speak to – the big black gent. They have had a previous acquaintance. The O’Malleys have told Santos that Jesus is dead, he’s on his own. No problemo – Santos is prepared to take his chances.

  So after demanding the Geneva Convention to protect his human rights, Santos is ready to happily trade-off his unit, no concern for anyone but himself. True sociopathic behaviour is, by its very nature, extremely hard to diagnose in oneself. This example of restraint is out of character for the O’Malleys; Chip must have the stripes. I would have thought they’d have ripped him apart by now.

  ‘So, we’re going to Wembley?’ I ask.

  ‘Before we go anywhere,’ says Morty, ‘we need to sort you out. Go and have a shower. Give me a shout when you’re done.’

  Morty goes in his magic bags and pulls out a bin liner.

  ‘All the clobber, in there. Every bit.’

  ‘Bridget Granger bought me this suit …’ I say. ‘She told me to—’

  ‘Let’s not worry about Bridget,’ shrugs Mort. ‘One crisis at a time, okay?’

  As I turn to leave Morty tells me to have a shave – get rid of that poncey stubble and take your sideburns up to the top of your ears.

  When I’m done Morty finds me a towelling robe and brings a chair into the bathroom. He sits me down and competently clippers my longish hair down to a neat number four crop – apparently he was the barber among the chaps while serving his birdlime. Then he leans me over the bath and dyes the remaining blonde, sun-bleached hair a very convincing chestnut brown. Then he produces the chunky glasses, puts them carefully on my face. He then nods gently, like he’s completed his masterpiece, declares himself satisfied. He tells me to check myself in the mirror. The guy looking back is totally unrecognisable – short, brown hair, side parting, clean-shaven and – the pièce de résistance – nerdy, slightly tinted spectacles.

  I dress in the gear Morty brought – white tee shirt and linen strides, white Converse. Essentially nondescript, definit
ely no raincoat. I look like a million other bods.

  It’s eleven o’clock. I feel better, not great. Just as we’re about to leave, my mobile starts to ring.

  ‘It’s Sonny,’ I whisper unnecessarily.

  Morty shakes his head. I let it ring.

  ‘Oh, by the way,’ says Morty, unlocking the door, checking the corridor, ‘Ted says you’re to stop getting in trouble.’

  Morty’s car is a few streets away. It’s a hot summer’s night. Now I’m out in the open I feel understandably exposed. We zigzag our way to Wembley – let the fucker roast. The Stadium and its twin towers – instantly recognisable and foreboding on the skyline – is waiting to be demolished. We park up and march for five minutes, then Morty makes a call. One of the O’Malley boys, Thomas, comes to meet us outside the factory. He leads us through the labyrinth of corridors, up stairs, through rickety swing doors, into a large factory floor where the rest of the O’Malley boys are eating buckets of fried chicken, washing it down with brandy. There’s puddles of stagnant water and broken windows, a smell of shit, stale piss and blocked-up toilets. The electricity supply remains connected; the room is dimly lit by the few remaining strip neon lights, some of them flickering on and off like ice-blue dry lightning, and a couple make an intrusive, dangerous crackling noise.

  In the middle of the room Santos is strapped into a metal chair with about sixty heavy-duty cable ties. His clothes are dishevelled, bloodstained. I’m guessing it’s Santos because he has a plastic bag placed over his head – more as a makeshift hood than a suffocation device. Santos would miss the irony – Flavio would pull it tight, till his sphincter went.

  Chip gets up to greet us, the others remain sat on battered office furniture. The boys, six of them – still no Pats – look strangely contented, feasting after their hard work.

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