Viva la madness, p.35
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       Viva La Madness, p.35

           J. J. Connolly
 

  ‘Where’s the rest of this mob?’ Morty asks Chip in a half whisper.

  ‘Downstairs in the wagon,’ replies Chip taking a bite out of a chicken drumstick.

  ‘They gonna be okay?’

  ‘They’re going no place, Mister Mortimer.’

  Maybe to hell. Chip strolls over to Santos and pulls off the bag. Santos is bruised and bloody. His lip is split, his eye purple and half-shut. Around his neck he has a dog collar and lead, the end wrapped around an iron column. He’s dragged bolt upright and looks like he’s in some mad gimp scene that got out of hand. Chip holds the chicken leg to Santos’ mouth.

  ‘Wanna bitta chicken, soldier?’ he says.

  Santos doesn’t answer. He spots Mister Mortimer, graciously nods in greeting, trying to retain what’s left of his dignity. The brothers get up and start to form a semi-circle around him, but Santos is studying me, trying to disguise his curiosity and his I-know-you expression. Santos doesn’t quite recognise me … he’s confused.

  ‘Buenas noches, Señor de Lucia,’ I say. ‘You don’t remember me?’

  Santos riddles it out, suddenly gets it. He’s shocked to see me alive.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ asks Morty. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost. You wondering who you shot?’ Santos looks worried. ‘Haven’t you told him, Chip?’

  ‘You know …’ says Chip, swigging from the brandy, ‘we hadn’t got round to it …’

  ‘You’re joking?’ says Mort dryly, then seeing Chip’s shrug, ‘You’re not kidding, are ya?’

  ‘No,’ says Chip. ‘Was waiting for you.’

  ‘Do you know who you shot?’ says Morty, in close. Santos says nothing, but looks like he doesn’t wanna know.

  ‘Was their little brother,’ says Morty, nodding towards the O’Malleys. ‘Case of mistaken identity.’

  Santos looks worried. ‘I am of no value to you dead,’ he declares.

  ‘You are of no value to me alive,’ replies Morty. ‘You idiot, you shot the wrong person.’

  ‘Shot my little baby brother,’ says Chip, zeroing in on Santos.

  ‘An error,’ says Santos without a hint of remorse. ‘My apologies, sir.’

  ‘Apologies?’ asks Chip. ‘Did you say apologies?’

  ‘Please, let me explain,’ says Santos. ‘One of the men you killed earlier … he killed your brother. He was a hothead. I didn’t tell him to do it … but once he did, to my shame, I tried to use it to my advantage.’

  ‘You’re lying now,’ says Mort, nodding at me. ‘Twice you’ve tried to kill this geezer.’

  ‘Once,’ says Santos. ‘One time. An error.’

  ‘What did you say?’ asks Mort.

  ‘One time we tried,’ says Santos. ‘If we thought we had succeeded, why would we try again?’

  ‘Once?’ asks Morty.

  ‘I told Mister King. The counsellor is dead. Why would I lie? They persuaded me – I ordered the assassination of the gentleman in the raincoat – him,’ says Santos, nodding at me. ‘We found his hotel—’

  ‘So who tried to shoot me today?’ I ask Santos. Funny but I believe him.

  ‘I do not know,’ says Santos, all indignant. ‘Why ask me?’

  ‘What time did they try to shoot you?’ asks Chip, sucking his chicken bone.

  ‘Around midday,’ I tell him.

  ‘Well, in that case,’ says Chip, ‘I can provide him …’ he tosses the bone at Santos’ head, ‘with an alibi. They were out looking for you …’ Chip nods at Mort. ‘To kill you, no doubt.’

  Morty waves a finger under Santos’ nose. ‘There’s two rewards out for you,’ he tells him, ‘One from Mister King and one from Mister Zambrano. Must be nice to be popular.’

  ‘You will need me,’ says Santos, smug, like he’s got a hidden ace, ‘I promise you.’

  Morty turns to me, ‘Tell him he’s a dog. Tell him in Spanish – nothing but a lowlife dog and a child killer.’

  ‘It doesn’t translate—’

  ‘Just tell him!’ snaps Morty.

  ‘My colleague says to tell you that …’ I’m fishing for the words, ‘Alguien que mata a niños no es más que fuckin perro.’

  ‘But without the fuckin dog,’ says Santos, ‘you won’t get the information you need.’

  ‘Oh, won’t we?’ says Morty, suddenly angry. He pulls a gun that’s been hidden in his belt and pushes it hard into Santos’ forehead, as much to my surprise as Santos’. ‘I don’t care what you’ve got for me, you hear?’

  ‘He knew,’ Santos screams. ‘Jesus knew!’

  ‘Knew what?’ asks Morty.

  ‘That they were following him. Mister King and his acolytes, your gang.’

  ‘Acolytes?’ says Morty. ‘Anyone ever tell you your English is too good?’

  ‘There’s money!’ screams Santos.

  ‘Give me one good reason not to blow your head off.’

  ‘I’ll tell you where he got the money in the suitcases.’

  ‘Ain’t interested, don’t care. I came here to do a job.’

  Morty moves the gun, quick as flash, from Santos’ forehead to his mouth. Santos resists. Morty pushes hard. A horrible sound of gunmetal on teeth. Morty cocks the gun and looks Santos in the eye. Santos is begging, mumbling – bloody spittle and white froth running down onto his chin.

  ‘What are you saying, man?’ asks Mort. ‘You’re not making any sense at all.’

  More incoherent gibberish. Morty pulls the gun out of Santos’ mouth and pushes it under his chin.

  ‘There’s more!’ Santos is screaming. ‘Trust me, hear me out! There’s money! As good as money!’

  ‘What are you saying?’ says Morty, with malice.

  ‘I beseech you! It’s why Jesus came to London!’

  ‘Go on.’

  ‘The bonds,’ screams Santos, ‘they didn’t know about the bonds!’

  ‘What fuckin bonds?’

  ‘The bearer bonds!’ screams Santos. ‘The ones Jesus boosted in Miami!’

  ‘Speak fuckin English, man!’

  ‘Stole! Stole!’ screams Santos.

  ‘So tell me … Mister de Lucia … you fuckin dog,’ says Morty, taking the gun from his chin, wiping blood and spittle on Santos’ jacket, ‘why did Jesus come to London?’

  ‘I tell you – you let me go?’ begs Santos. ‘Please, I just wanna go home.’

  Morty spins round, winks at Chip. ‘We’ll consider it …’ he says, places a chair in front of Santos, ‘but we want the truth …’ Santos is nodding. ‘Remember, hombre, you’re a long way from Caracas.’

  CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

  WHO’S SAMMY LANIADO?

  Nine months ago, around Christmas 2000 – Jesus had found out about Miguel’s plan to marry off Jenna to the Brigadier General’s son. He also found out that Miguel had set up, one year before that, strictly on a need-to-know basis, a bank, one of those offshore outfits where you could effectively do as you pleased. And he riddled out, correctly, that it was très fish.

  A few months later, after the shambles with the organs – and other assorted hijinks – an elusive Jesus was trying to lay low, but Santos tracked him down in Miami, looking for money to pay the boys. Jesus thought Santos was there to kill him and was relieved when he only demanded money. Jesus told him to fuck off, said the racket was a busted flush, gonna get them all pinched, get them life plus thirty up in Florida State or extradited back to Brazil, or Columbia to be roasted. Told him about the dead lawyer and his deadly new hobby. Santos didn’t react kindly to the news but they got drunk together. Jesus told Santos he could always use a military man, for the next project. He told him about his scheme to blackmail the Zambrano Family, revealed more than he should. Jesus figured Santos was useless without him – Jesus – pulling his strings, don’t know shit from chocolate chip.

  So Jesus enlisted Santos, the man with the intelligence expertise to bug Miguel, but Jesus would take the incriminating photographs of Jenna personally.

  Santos requisitioned the ki
t from the Venezuelan Army, and they set to work eavesdropping Miguel and planting bugs to record his telephone conversations. Santos thought there was a payday in it somewhere. Jesus headed off down to the Keys to smudge up Jenna and kill The Wunderkind, while Santos kept Miguel, who he had, like Jesus, grown to hate with a passion, under observation. Jesus got his photos and accomplished his mission. Together they built their case against Miguel, the antichrist. Jesus was geeing up the troops, but knew he was going to abscond before pay-off time.

  We’ll hit the road. Bring the boys, can always use bodyguards – we’ll go underground. Jesus filled Santos’ head with magic – London, Paris, Zurich! We’ll show those motherfuckers!

  Jesus would come to the next day in the early afternoon, have a brief recollection of the previous night, punch the mirror, call himself a bigmouth.

  Jesus was in Miguel and Papa Victor’s bad books after they found out about the trade in organs and the dead lawyer. Now there was heavy circumstantial evidence surrounding the disappearance of Das Wunderkind. They sent for Jesus. He thought they’d found out about Project Miguel and the photographs of Jenna. He got paranoid, panicked, broke cover. He kept a rendezvous in Daytona – some slippery bookkeeper who had ideas about how to get money, but it wasn’t instant enough. Jesus needed tank money, to travel first-class, like he’s accustomed to. He’s holed-up with various desperados and misfits – the kind who might kill and eat him – overstaying his welcome every time.

  Fate played its joker. Jesus had his brainwave. He trotted down to see Miguel’s NYC banker at his South Beach condo. The Banker was by chance holding the memory stick. He thought when Jesus arrived unannounced that he had been sent to retrieve it, or was there – acting on Miguel’s orders – to kill him. But Jesus tells him about the incriminating information and photos he has squirrelled away, asks him if he wants to become his partner in blackmail. The banker is baffled, thinks it’s a trap and tells Jesus – ain’t interested. Jesus changes tack and asks, in his madness, for a loan. The banker is confused – is this a bad fucking joke? Not if you can’t collateralise. Do you have any tangible assets, Jesus?

  Jesus felt slighted. He began to feel the vicious compulsion rise, then snap like a plastic spoon. This was the end of Jesus’ very short-lived attempt at diplomacy.

  The banker was also holding some US government bearer bonds – nine million dollars – for personal use. Jesus found them in his wall safe while he was torturing him – standard operating procedure. He tied him up and battered him, half-strangled him, to soften him up. Tried being nice … and it just don’t work with some people.

  Jesus interrogated the Banker to find out what the bonds were exactly. The banker delivered a tutorial about how the bonds were as good as money – negotiable, convertible. That’s the beauty, man – they were already laundered, the hard work done. But alas, the tutorial went over Jesus’ head. Like most sociopaths and other borderline narcissists, Jesus just don’t listen – after ten seconds it became pure static. Doesn’t pay attention, even when it might be incredibly financially advantageous.

  ‘Can I get cash on these?’ asks Jesus.

  ‘They fuckin are cash, you asshole!’ screams the Banker in frustration.

  ‘Don’t be smart,’ Jesus tells him. ‘You are not in any position to be smart.’

  Bearer bonds are king; more elaborate than any banknote and worth a whole lot more. You don’t sell bearer bonds, you hang on to them. Bonds are money. Bearer means owner. Bond means obligation. Bearer Bond means obligation to owner. Whoever owns them owns the obligation. You slide them across the desk of the privacy suite and the amount is credited on your account – flushed money, ready to spend. The irony is that if Jesus had a compliant chap like Mister Curtis at the CBB, he could have tipped up and done the business over a cup of Earl Grey and Sonny and Roy would never have got involved. But Jesus completely misses the point, thinks he has to creep around and sell these on the QT. The banker is begging Jesus to take the memory stick and go – this memory stick seemed to be incredibly important … so what the fuck …

  Then Jesus killed him, and left with the bearer bonds, the memory stick and twenty gee in thousand-dollar bills. Jesus thought the cash was the prize. But he didn’t head straight for Miami International – he was on a roll.

  Instead he took the memory stick to Santos’ resident IT genius Little Pedro – Smiler’s soul brother – to see what the fuss was about. Without telling Santos. But Pedro couldn’t get it decrypted. Jesus thought he was stalling. Jesus also wanted all the negatives of the Jenna photos plus the tapes of Miguel’s conversations, to decamp with, but Pedro explained it’s all digital. He could download the data onto the memory stick – there’s plenty of room. Travel light, hombre, just find a compatible computer the other end.

  Jesus wasn’t convinced – the gadget was smaller than his pinkie – until Pedro gave him the demonstration, showed him the photos and replayed, pitch-perfect, the exchanges between Miguel and his bankers, relatives and connections. All off that? So now it was all in the one place – the memory stick.

  Jesus was going kill Little Pedro because he thought he was a bit too tricky. Jesus hated duplicity in others. He thought the ironically named Little Pedro – twenty-four stone – would tell Santos all his business. But suddenly Pedro, sensing what was coming – Jesus was innocently winding a printer cable around both hands – sprinted for the window, jumped on a stool, crashed straight through the glass, fell two floors, rolled down a veranda roof and landed with a bellyflop on the roof of a stationary taxi cab, breaking his neck but saving his life, doing the driver serious physical and mental damage. Jesus watched them struggle to carry Pedro into an ambulance then got a cab out to Miami International.

  Instead of jumping on the shuttle flight down to the Caymans or Panama City, Jesus, thinking too fast, headed out to London, and the one person he knew could get him cash-money on these bits of paper, who had the expertise and was in the market for any financial hocus-pocus – Samuel Laniado, the low profile, ex-Venezuelan resident living in deep cover in the genteel Home Counties. Sammy was one of those geezers whose history was vague, to say the least. His appearance was deliberately unremarkable, best described as darkly dignified – anonymous tailored suits, bespoke shirts and tasteful ties. His age could be anything from fifty to sixty. He spoke a dozen languages like a native.

  The other advantage of dealing with Samuel was he was no friend of the Zambrano family, having had beefs with them over – no surprises – money. Sammy had relocated to help various European outfits clean up their schwarzgeld. Jesus could shift the bonds and later sound out Samuel about helping him decipher the gibberish on the memory stick. But first things first …

  Jesus arrives, resolved to keep a low profile. He hides the bearer bonds in the false ceiling of his room at the Cosmopolitan, the memory stick up his light and bitter and makes initial contact with Samuel. He wants to sell some merchandise that has come into his possession – can Sammy help? Samuel knows Jesus by reputation. He thinks it could be some trap, thinks Zambrano’s people are sending this buffoon to skunk him out.

  Sammy puts in a couple of discreet calls to Miami and Caracas, learns that Jesus is wanted dead or alive, by his own family, hears a whisper that Jesus is peddling stolen property. Sammy clarifies that Jesus is not an official fugitive; the law aren’t looking for him, only the Zambrano’s recovery crews.

  Samuel has a two-second crisis of professional conflict – Those Zambrano whores never did me any good. But The Loco Kid’s here in London, ready to do business. After our trade … if there’s a reward … It don’t smell right but he’s gotta take a chance.

  Jesus spent the rest of the day obsessively buying clobber on Bond Street and airline tickets on Piccadilly, before heading out to make his debut at the Monarch Club. Next afternoon Sammy and Jesus met at the Cosmopolitan. Jesus shows him the bonds. Samuel asks him what he wants. Cash. Three million pounds – this is fuckin England, Pops.

&nbs
p; Sammy can’t believe his eyes and ears. The paper is as good as gold, proper bona fide bearer bonds – that’s nine million dollars in your inside pocket, or in your wall safe for a rainy day – rare tackle these days. Sammy could sell them for a lot more than nine million.

  Jesus is trying to be cool, aloof, but he shoots his bolt like an anxious chimp. Sammy stays silent, lets his silence do his talking. Sammy stirs his Darjeeling – black with Sicilian lemon – eats his complimentary biscuit and thinks, maybe … this shlump might be for real.

  Then Sammy changes tack, jollies Jesus along, tells him about the need for strict confidentiality, even from your family – we’ve had our troubles in the past. He tells Jesus it’s all very doable, while all the time thinking knowledge of your whereabouts will do as token of my goodwill.

  Jesus wants and needs cash – rapido, you understand?

  Samuel barters for the sake of appearances, pours more tea, plays for time, surveys his elegant surroundings – the parrot flowers and the Art Deco vases, the minimalist temple that is the Cosmo P. – decides it’s some fruit hangout. You don’t have to be homosexual to be a fag these days.

  Sam’s thinking, these bonds are a gift from heaven, but Jesus is looking for, and settling for, less than half their value – in cash, big notes, understand, old man?

  Samuel nods slowly, eyes betraying defeat, like he’s saying you drive a hard bargain but he’s thinking you runt, they should have drowned you at birth.

  ‘Cash!’ says Jesus. ‘Fast!’

  ‘I’ll do what I can. That kinda money takes—’

  ‘Do what you can,’ says Jesus, ‘but do it quickly.’

  Neither of them can believe their luck. Jesus is a bad criminal – doesn’t really understand the game he’s in. He’s just swindled himself out of a few million dollars. Sammy has clients who need to spin out of readies, got more cash than they know what to do with. Cash is a nuisance, cluttering up the place. These geezers fantasise – shut their eyes tight and dream – about Negotiable American Government Bearer Bonds.

 
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