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Viva la madness, p.36
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       Viva La Madness, p.36

           J. J. Connolly

  And Jesus wants cash – bundles. He doesn’t understand – that’s a lot of paper – three bags full, sir. He doesn’t want an attaché case of five hundred Euro notes, he wants sterling. If you gave him a letter of credit, drawn on a Zurich bank and a complimentary first-class Swissair ticket, he’d wanna cut your face open.

  The kid’s a throwback, thought Sammy Boy, all the way back home to Berkshire, like all those Zambrano bastards … with their air of superiority. As Sammy pulled up at his front gate – if this isn’t a trap, it’s a wet dream …

  Sammy could just sell the bonds but he has a good night’s sleep and decides no, this is all mine. Samuel goes to work rounding up readies – three million in high denominations. Cash is king again. He buys from his clients with cash-intensive industries – industries like drug dealing, trafficking and smuggling. Sammy spends his mornings parcelling up chunks of a hundred grand, packing them in shrink-wrapped plastic. Sammy’s busy in Berkshire but Jesus is happy in the Golden Triangle – the Monarch Club, Cosmopolitan Hotel and Bond Street.

  With one bit of business in motion Jesus contacted the Zambrano Clan – re: Blackmail Attempt. Jesus sent tasters – attachments speeding across the Atlantic, snatches of conversations and indiscreet smudges – no demands as yet. Getting them off-balance with snippets and snapshots. Placing untraceable follow-up calls, pretending to be in Hawaii. Jenna got her email, called Miguel straight away on the hotline, had a screaming match. Jenna wants Jesus sorted once and for all …

  Miguel passed the file to Raul. He responded by rounding up Jesus’ immediate family and starting a campaign of ‘proxy torture’ – torturing relatives to ascertain Jesus’ whereabouts. Raul let Jesus know; Jesus couldn’t give a fuck. People are pliable if their kin are suffering but it didn’t work with Jesus. Plus torturing Jesus’ folks meant torturing Auntie and Uncle, who Raul was incredibly fond of. Someone suggested torturing someone Jesus has an emotional attachment to. They couldn’t think of anyone, except Jenna.

  But Jesus is tubbed-up at the Cosmo, drinking and sniffing, getting more deluded and lovesick for his fiancé. Jesus is caning the trombone while the hooker or the new squeeze – or both – sleep restlessly on. But Jesus is getting no response, no grovelling or pleading from Jenna or Miguel. Jesus needs a reaction, so he’s on the phone to Santos, bragging, but won’t tell him where he is – I could be anywhere, fuckhead. Fuck body parts, we shoulda boosted bearer bonds. Dead. Fucking. Easy. I’ve got three million in sterling on the way.

  Santos does the math. Santos ridicules Jesus – you are one fuckin asshole, Jesus! Bonds! He should be paying you, ya prick! He’s dumping all his green on you, sucker!

  Santos signed Sammy’s death warrant for him. Jesus puts down the phone … and flips, raging against that bastard Sammy fuckin Laniado. He almost had to beg him to buy the bonds. Suddenly Jesus is listening, and he’s being swindled. Massacres and murders are forgotten. He’s being made a fool of. And he is not a victim, no, sir.

  Jesus begins to make amendments to the arrangement, recalls the humorous story of the gent who sold his dog over the other side of town. When he got back home the dog was there to greet him, wagging its tail and licking his master’s face. The guy sold the dog many times.

  Samuel knew that story too … Samuel had sold many dogs, many times. He hires a pair of bodyguards – great big ’roidheads, all muscle, dense as poured concrete. Old wisdom – you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Sammy didn’t wanna frighten Jesus off, didn’t want him thinking the thicknecks were going to turn him over. And he didn’t want these fuckers getting ideas when they heard seven-figure sums. So he has them keep their distance, tells them to keep the show under surveillance. They shadow Sammy on the meets, and take his money – piss-easy, this body-guarding lark.

  Samuel tells Jesus that for a consideration he’ll get him a home for his readies, a personal introduction at the premier VIP account at a compliant bank in Brussels. That’s in Belgium—

  ‘I know where fuckin Brussels is, you—’

  ‘You drop what money you don’t need that day in the bank, all neat and tidy.’

  Samuel don’t wanna properly explain money laundering, not that Jesus would listen – attention span of a fruit fly – too busy thinking about flash clobber, wet pussy and getting his ticket punched down the Monarch.

  But now Jesus was ringing Santos back in Miami – drunk, coked to the gills – oscillating between smug dude and dumb bastard. Jesus was uncontained, he couldn’t keep himself to himself. Jesus tells Santos – it’s been a mistake, Santos, fly in and meet me. I’m in London. I’ll go down Piccadilly in the morning and buy you flight tickets. Jesus tells Santos he has a feeling that he’s being followed in London, that the room safe has been opened but nothing taken. His paranoia tells him that the slick concierge is feeding information to a nightclub owner.

  Then Jesus passes out, wakes up at midday, puts the phantom pursuers down to paranoia, and regrets the things, if he can remember, he did eight hours ago. What was I thinking of? Getting that meathead Santos over here. He’ll go ruining my spot, man.

  But there’s no stopping Santos now. London, England, was Santos’ spiritual and sartorial home – pack the fuckin tweeds, men! Santos was getting ready to ship out while Jesus was down Piccadilly buying even more tickets to leave. So that’s how the Santos fella arrived in London. No time to check out Buckingham Palace or the Changing of the Guard – too busy chasing ghosts.

  Ironically the problem started on the day of the trade. Sammy was delivering the money – three suitcases, one hired car – to Jesus at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, as per arrangement. The money was in the hired car in the underground car park. Sammy opened the case Jesus selected, pulled out a package at random, counted it and, satisfied, they told hotel security to watch the motor and headed upstairs to the breakfast room for tea. The bonds were in a copy of the Herald Tribune. Both of them arrived with a copy under their arm; both of them left with the one they didn’t arrive with.

  Meanwhile Sammy’s bodyguards spotted Roy and his men, whispering into radios, creeping up stairwells, making surreptitious signals to the concierge. Then they spotted Sonny King, obviously the Gov’nor, sitting in an anonymous motor, eating a corned-beef sandwich, drinking from a polystyrene cup, like cozzers on the telly. They assumed they were heavyweight detectives baking-up on Jesus and Sammy, ready-eyeing them, getting ready for the flop. The bodyguards fled – weren’t getting nicked for monkey nuts.

  Roy didn’t want to take out Jesus at the Cosmo, didn’t wanna bring attention on Flavio, didn’t want cozzers quizzing him. Needed distance between the hotel and the ambush. Roy pointed out that Flavio was not trained in counter-interrogation. And it could go bandaloo with people ending up dead on the premises.

  So Sammy does the trade but can’t find the bodyguards. He gets didgy thinking that Jesus has got some back-shooters himself but why should he worry, he’s got the bonds. Sammy insists he keeps the hired car to schlep the cases to where they need to go. Sammy, keen to get gone, jumps in a taxi to Paddington.

  Sammy’s got a train to catch but he stops at a public phone on the concourse, heaps bundles of change into the slot, and punches in an international number. He lets one of Miguel’s Yanks know that Jesus is leaving tomorrow morning on the Eurostar out of Waterloo, bound for Paris. Tells the guy he’ll be in touch – to accept his reward … hope it goes well.

  Sammy’s hedging his bets. That’s what smart operators do.



  Samuel Laniado heads west on the fast service to Reading. His head’s spun. All he knows is he’s got the genuine bonds; he was half expecting a switch, a conjurer’s sleight of hand. It’s what he woulda done. He changes trains at Reading, gets the local shunter along to Goring and Streatley, where he gets the local cab driver to drive him home to his secluded house up on the Downs.

  Jesus meanwhile, sits in the Cosmo Bar, getting seen. He waits until things
have settled down for the night. No Monarch Club tonight, Mister Zambrano?

  ‘No, no, I leave in the morning.’

  ‘You’ll be missed, sir, if I may say so.’

  Jesus doesn’t trust any of the hotel staff. He orders up room service, eats in his suite, leaves the tray outside the room and hangs the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the doorknob. Roy’s crew were still in situ, but they had stopped paying attention, been taken in by Jesus’ simple deceit; if they had known the prize was three million they might have been more alert.

  Jesus wanted to smoke out Sonny and Roy, weigh up the enemy’s strength, and assess intelligence, before proceeding. He, one by one, rolled the suitcases into a cleaning cupboard he’d acquired a key for, then crept back to his room. Risky? The cases were empty, a decoy; Jesus had removed all the bundles of cash and carefully hidden them in the false ceiling of his room – like paper bricks, the weight evenly distributed. Jesus patiently waited another two hours! But nothing happened, no robbery; he was half hoping he was right. Then he slipped out of his room, down the back stairs to the car park and into the rental motor. He drove up the ramp, into Park Lane – surprised that nobody was following – and headed into the west himself, just as a light drizzle started.

  Soon he’s out in the country, driving fast down a dark road, on the wrong side, in the torrential rain, the windscreen wipers going full blast, trying to light another cigarette and tune in the radio to a news station. And the gas station map is upside down.

  Up on the Downs? What kinda English bullshit is this?

  Q. How did Jesus know where Sammy lived?

  A. The Zambrano Clan always knew his whereabouts and had pragmatically put him on ice, never knowing if they’d need him to do trades. They didn’t like one another, but that never got in the way of business. In happier times, Jesus was going to go to England and kill Sammy, to court favour, but Papa Victor graciously declined his kind offer.

  Eventually Jesus finds the house up on the Downs, the Laniado Residencia. It’s proper, genuine Georgian – all belled up, alarmed, of course, and CCTVed-up. But as luck would have it – lucky for Jesus, but definitely not for Sammy – the alarm was not actually on. Sammy’s wife was out for the evening with her girlfriends down the local tease-spot. She had never really got the hang of setting it and was forever sending false alarms. The police thought it was a joke, were always ringing up to ask if they should send a patrol car. Jesus parked the rental down the lane, nicely outta sight.

  Cut to – Sammy upstairs, lying in bed, silk robe on, feeling horny, like he always did after he’d had a touch, flicking through the television stations, trying to find something to catch his imagination. Sammy’s telling himself that everything’s locked up or nailed down, that nobody could find him here; even his dozy missus can’t find her way home half the time.

  Ironically, just as Jesus crept through the undergrowth with his improvised bag of tricks and surprises, Sammy was considering putting the alarm on and calling the missus to tell her that she’d better ring him when she got home. Sammy wasn’t the type of guy who was weirded right out by every inconsistency, but there was a nagging feeling … Fuck those bodyguards – paira apes ain’t getting shit. Sammy carried on flicking through the TV stations.

  Meanwhile the rain has stopped. Jesus is creeping through the wet garden in his Bond Street finery, dodging the discreetly placed cameras. There’s dry lightning over the hills in the distance. It’s that horrible British summer damp, followed by sticky humidity. Reminds Jesus of being up in the jungle, deep in the hinterland, border country, while he was overseeing his last ambitious, but doomed, project.

  Jesus slips in through the corrugated plastic skylight on the roof of the garage – the coach house, Samuel would insist. Jesus flicks open the lock on the connecting door into the house using a room service fork from the Cosmo.

  Maybe I should have a look round, maybe get my Beretta from the you-know-what, thinks Sammy, just as Jesus is creeping up the stairs towards the sound of the television.

  Sammy goes for a piss in the en-suite bathroom. Jesus enters the bedroom; no Sammy. Jesus hears sounds from the bathroom. Jesus creeps up, throws a nylon garrote around Sammy’s neck and drags him back into the room and onto the bed. Sammy’s tongue is sticking out and turning blue. Jesus has to check himself to stop from killing Sammy. He might be a compulsive murderer, but he knows a dead Sammy Laniado is no good to anyone. The bonds could be in a million and one places but they’re probably in the wall safe, and Jesus is no safecracker. Jesus has Sammy standing on tiptoes, fighting for air. Jesus is taking time out to enjoy the moment, breathing long and hard.

  Sammy, meanwhile, has soiled himself, which Jesus finds absolutely fuckin disgusting. Jesus can’t acknowledge that he’s actually the cause of Sammy’s severe distress. All he knows is that he’s offended. He curses Sammy for a whore. Sammy knows he’s in trouble. He wants to tell Jesus where the bonds are – he’s choking and fighting for breath – and is seriously regretting not pulling the same stunt on Jesus.

  Jesus lets Sammy drop, then drags him out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Whether Sammy knew he was dying or not is debatable but the odds weren’t looking good. Jesus appeared to be mucho happy in his work. Torturing information out of victims was Jesus’ new hobby – I’m getting good at this, he’s thinking.

  Jesus has a plan for Sammy … Jesus needs to shift an uncomfortable nagging feeling that just won’t go away … That horrid feeling of being ridiculed and laughed at, by all those people, over all those years … Sammy is symbolic.

  Q. Why didn’t Jesus just turn over Samuel Laniado somewhere between Park Lane and Paddington … or on the train to Reading?

  A. Because it wasn’t in Jesus’ plan for Sammy.

  Jesus’ plan amounted to what psychiatrists call ‘annihilation’ – mastery through destruction, control through obliteration. Sammy, and Jesus’ other victims, were taking the blame for the other’s misdemeanours and general fuckery, and he was gonna wipe them off the face of the earth, remove all evidence of his perceived humiliation.

  Retrieving the bonds was relatively simple; Sammy knew when to offer resistance and when to comply. Sammy had a decoy safe full of bogus paperwork, ready for getting turned over by bogeymen or law enforcement, an occupational hazard. But Sammy, knowing he was dealing with an inept criminal, and possibly someone who killed for pleasure, quickly bypassed the decoy safe, all the time trying to pacify Jesus, telling him he could sort him out proper money, sackfulls, in the morning, trying to cut a deal …

  ‘In case you haven’t noticed …’ Jesus told Sammy with a twisted smile. ‘You are in no position to negotiate.’

  Maybe Samuel, in his wildest dreams, thought that Jesus would just cut and run once he got the bonds. Sammy opened his real safe – outside in the barred gazebo, behind a double-locked gate, away from the elements, hidden under an artfully disguised flagstone, in-fuckin-genious, surprisingly big, for plugging up all that bulky cash, but now it was very empty. A small strongbox sat in the corner. Sammy, under Jesus’ watchful eye, unlocked it, opened it and returned the bearer bonds to Jesus. There was no cash – Jesus had already cleared him out – hence all the space in the safe. There were a few other bits and pieces – false passports and open business-class plane tickets, coded address books and a Beretta pistol – but nothing of value to a hothead like Jesus. Jesus wanted to take the pistol, but thought better of it. He was crossing international borders tomorrow. He was home free and nothing was standing in his way. What the fuck did he need a weapon for? Little did Jesus know what Royski had in store.

  Jesus dragged Samuel back inside the house. Sammy was dragging his heels so Jesus pulled the nylon noose even tighter. Samuel kept begging and screaming, getting on his nerves, so Jesus pushed a crushed velvet scarf in his mouth and knotted it hard at the back. Sammy carried on groaning and begging, but muffled now. Sammy looked ridiculous – regal purple scarf in his mouth, noose round his neck, blood dripping
from his nose, split lip, elegant silk robe hanging open, shit down his leg, dick shrunk to nothing.

  ‘We’re going on a little trip …’ Jesus Zambrano tells Samuel Laniado, dragging him down the hall. ‘Just me and you.’

  Just as Jesus was about to open the big heavy front door he heard a key in the lock …

  Jesus motioned to Sammy to remain quiet, like it’s a surprise party, but kicked Sammy hard across the jaw anyway … Jesus tiptoed, like a pantomime cat, behind the door. Missus Laniado didn’t stand a chance. Another glass of Chardonnay, one for the road, darling, would have saved her life.

  Jesus dragged her body down the cellar stairs while Sammy screamed and wriggled in torment upstairs because he knew he was going to die.

  Then Jesus had a brainwave. He hauled the wife’s heavy body – it’s not called deadweight for nothing – back upstairs, out to the gazebo and put her in the empty safe. She’s still gotta be there, poor dear. Jesus shut the door and spun the dials, dropped down the flagstone, double-locked the gate and congratulated himself on his ability to improvise.

  Jesus drags Sammy out into the garden, down the lane to the car. He throws Sammy in the boot and jiggles a plastic petrol can under his nose. Sammy starts crying – no más, no más – weeping like a child. Jesus starts laughing, sniggering like a maniac. He shuts the boot on Sammy.

  Jesus drives back towards the motorway, finds the junction he needs but turns right instead of left, heading, unknowingly, in the wrong direction, towards Rural Fuckin Wiltshire instead of London. Through the whole drive, Sammy is banging, begging, crying, gasping for air, wriggling and screaming, and all this muffled agony floats Jesus’ boat … for a little while … Then his tolerance increases and Sam’s humiliation isn’t enough anymore.

  Then Jesus starts seeing old faces in the lights of the motorway, the condescending faces of the people who did him down. I’ll show them, he tells himself, I’ll come for you … In the dead of night. And you’ll all fuckin beg like Sammy fuckin Laniado …

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