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Viva la madness, p.38
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       Viva La Madness, p.38

           J. J. Connolly
 

  If Miguel wanted me dead he’d send one of his Americans. They’d know how to do a wet one … I’d be dead and buried. So who? I think there’s something woven into the fabric of that memory stick that lets them know that it’s lit up, that it’s in use in London …

  Fact – someone followed me from Bridget’s dry cleaners. Someone’s trying to get at Ted? He thinks nobody knows he’s alive; maybe a little conceit on his part. Someone knows he’s alive … They don’t want him dead but they want to send him a message?

  Tossing and turning, legs still aching, blisters playing up … Speculation – the late Samuel Laniado was the evasive connection that Ted Granger was going into business with. The timing of Sammy’s disappearance would correspond; lots of heavy circumstantial evidence. Where’s the merchandise Ted said was on its way?

  And in the further speculation department – I think Sammy Laniado, although he didn’t know it, was Miguel Zambrano’s UK connection, the Anglophile, living down the country, who would organise the reward consignment of coke if we returned the gadget … That would mean that Ted Granger could be buying – indirectly – from the Zambrano Family.

  Small fuckin world we live in.

  CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

  WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

  I know this meet with Ted and Bridget’s going to go bad. Morty didn’t wanna come, didn’t like any of my speculative theories. If I could do it on the phone I would, but bad news needs to be delivered personally so I wait by the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park until Bridget speeds up in her Range Rover to collect me. I jump in. She seems unconcerned about being followed. Bridget is almost compassionate about me almost getting murdered twice, tells me she’ll have to find me a new suit. Morty told me the old one couldn’t be dry cleaned. She says it like someone’s died, sympathetically pats me on the thigh; bit over-friendly, to be honest.

  We take off. Bridget drives like a nutcase – it would be hard to keep up with her. She’s yawning at the traffic lights, like she’s had a late night. I make no mention of her sideline. She’s happy in her work – it’s not like she needs the money – come rain or shine people always need clean clothes.

  We weave through the back-doubles to Bridget’s apartment alongside Regent’s Canal, beyond Little Venice – the top two floors of an old converted factory with a private lift. Bridget leads me upstairs to the main living area. The whole top floor is massive, tastefully but minimally furnished. Down one side are sliding doors from floor to ceiling with a tint in the glass. The kitchen area is cleaner than an operating theatre, with a gentle waft of bleach in the air. It’s colour-supplement chic but beautifully done. I’m surprised for a minute, but then it makes sense; Bridget is extremely wealthy. The only pieces of the dream-lifestyle jigsaw that don’t quite fit are the lingering smell of fried bacon and the pint of milk sitting on the stainless steel worktop with the tinfoil top neither on nor off. Bridget would never allow such shoddiness but it tells me that Mister Ted Granger is now in residence. Bridget studies the milk through narrow eyes. She grinds coffee, slings a tea bag into a mug for Ted and accepts my compliments about her taste with calculated nonchalance.

  The canal is narrow at this point and Bridget’s apartment is overlooked on the other side by old industrial buildings. Down below, canal boats chug by, but heavy glass doors that lead out onto a deck insulate against noise, creating a tranquil cocoon.

  Ted appears, dressed in pressed slacks and polo shirt, trying to be relaxed, but his furrowed forehead betrays worry and foreboding – he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t bad news.

  ‘What the fuck have ya done to yourself?’ he says by way of greeting. ‘Dyed yer hair? Jesus wept!’

  Bridget hands Ted a mug of tea while the smell of brewing coffee begins to fill the apartment. Ted sits down on the sofa opposite me, sips his tea. ‘What’s it all about?’ he asks. ‘Yer man,’ I guess he means Morty, ‘wouldn’t say nish, just said you might have something to tell me.’

  Bridget hovers, her eyes locked on me.

  ‘Did you ever hear of a chap by the name of Samuel Laniado?’

  Ted leans forward. ‘Go on …’ he says.

  ‘Laniado’s dead.’

  Ted goes crazy, instantly. He turns red with rage, puts the mug down slowly. He’s breathing hard through his nostrils. Ted runs his hand down his face, wiping away frustration, then massages his temples.

  ‘You didn’t know he was dead?’

  Ted’s face answers my question … He didn’t.

  ‘No?’

  ‘Fuck off!’

  ‘Don’t shoot the messenger, Ted.’

  Bridget – pure poker face, inscrutable – turns and goes to see how the coffee’s doing.

  ‘What happened?’ Ted asks. ‘Tell me.’

  I tell them how Jesus killed Laniado. Ted explodes at the end. ‘This is all Sonny King’s fault! That Fuckin Sonny King!’

  ‘He didn’t kill Laniado,’ I say, but Ted ignores me.

  ‘I want that fuckin gadget everyone’s getting sticky knickers about – as compo.’

  ‘You didn’t wanna know.’

  ‘That was when I thought I had a bona fide supplier, ready to go to work.’

  ‘I don’t think Sonny will want to put you in it … not without some persuasion.’

  ‘Fuck Sonny King!’ says Ted, ‘He’ll get some fuckin persuasion, all right!’

  Ted isn’t thinking right. If he wants to take it … could be a big problem. Could get fuckin ugly, fuckin quick. Small-scale civil war. This requires diplomacy.

  ‘If I might make a suggestion, Ted,’ I say. ‘Giles Urquhart is the key. Get him over here, explain the problem. Get him to work Sonny.’

  ‘This is what we’re gonna do,’ says Ted with a degree of finality.

  And this is Ted’s initiative – arrange a meeting with Roy, get him to convince Sonny to do a deal with Miguel, create a united front in negotiations. Ted believes he can manipulate Roy because Roy believes in the code-of-the-road and all that old bollocks.

  I suggest, as tactfully as I can, that, ‘This might not be such a good idea. I don’t wanna talk ill of Roy’s mental state but … Sonny told Morty that Roy’s screaming in the night, having nightmares, more paranoid than usual.’

  ‘No, no, Roy’s cool,’ says Ted, believing what he wants to believe. ‘He’s a soldier, is Roy.’

  ‘See, you’re meant to be dead, Ted.’

  ‘And?’ he says, with a shrug. ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’

  ‘It’s easy to put ideas into Roy’s head, but it’s a lot harder to get them out again.’

  ‘What the fuck you on about?’ Ted asks.

  ‘It’ll spook him. He’s just got his head round the fact you’re dead,’ I say. ‘Giles is your man, Ted. Sonny respects him.’

  ‘We’re gonna do a pincer movement on Sonny King,’ says Ted, with a trace of a smile, ‘come at him from both directions.’

  Ted laughs, coughs. Drinks his tea.

  ‘Can I tell you something?’ I say. He nods. ‘You don’t need to turn over Sonny for the money he’s got plugged in that bank.’

  ‘Turn over?’ says Ted, all offended. ‘Since when do you have the gall to tell me what to do?’

  ‘Listen, Ted,’ I say, starting to lose patience, ‘I need this fuckin deal. I need away. I’m wanted, remember. There’s a settlement to be negotiated with Miguel Zambrano.’

  Something moves out of the corner of my eye. I look around; someone’s creeping along the corridor, heading towards the stairs. I do a double-take and see an apparition, a face from the past – older, more malnourished than when I last saw her. Evey, the volatile ex-girlfriend of Sonny King is stood in the hall, looking dazed and confused, pale as a ghost.

  ‘Is that Evey, Ted?’ I ask, surprised, pointing back into the hall.

  ‘Yeah, right fuckin string vest ’n’ all she is,’ he says. ‘Come in a taxi, potless. No fuckin money. Bridge has to go down to pay the fare. Liberty. Parks her up
detoxifying, ain’t she?’

  ‘Oh, yeah?’ I say. ‘Detoxing, you say?’

  ‘Offa drugs,’ he says.

  ‘To be honest, Ted, I wouldn’t want Evey to see me here, you know what I mean?’

  ‘You’re not wrong. Got a big mouth that one. I’ve tried telling Bridge … but she says Eve’s so whacked …’ He points at his temple, makes a circle, as if to say she’s too shot-away.

  ‘All the same,’ I nod towards the decking. ‘Shall we?’

  Ted gets up, wanders over, fiddles with the catch on the window and slides it open.

  ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘And bring that phone – you’re gonna ring Roy Burns.’

  Ted leads us out onto the deck. It’s like something from an upmarket resort, with chairs and sun umbrellas, loungers and tasteful wooden furniture. The view is across the rooftops of west London but it’s a sheer drop six floors down to the canal below. There’s a large brick barbecue against one wall, and running along the edge of the decking there’s waist-high boxy privet hedges, watered and lush, in heavy aluminium planters. They look like they’ve been clipped only this morning with nail scissors and a set square, not a little leaf out of place.

  Ted sits us down under a large sunshade. Ted lights up – Bridge don’t allow smoking in the house. Once he’s settled and sparked up, Ted half-orders me to call Roy – prime him for a surprise, then hand the phone to me, okay?

  I ring Roy’s number. He answers, sounding dead suspicious.

  ‘Are you with our royal friend? No? Okay. Calm down, mate, it was only a question. You’re alone? Now someone needs to talk to you, on the QT. But here’s the thing, Roy, this might be a bit of a shock.’

  Ted is bristling with impatience, gesturing for me to hand him the phone.

  ‘Hiya, mate,’ says Ted with far too much bonhomie, ‘this is your old mucker from over there, you know who I mean? Good … Now I know what you heard, mate. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.’ There’s a brief pause. ‘No, no, I’m in the best of health … Now, listen, mate, I need to have a meet with you, yeah? But nobody’s to know – not your pal, not anyone. Good, no problem. Need-to-know, mate,’ Ted gives me a little wink. ‘I’m gonna get my man here to sort it. We’ll speak later but it’s very important that you don’t tell the other fella. He’ll be told in time, but not now … You getting it? Sweet. See ya later, fella.’

  Ted hands me back the phone. I push the red button to finish the call. ‘I still think you getting Giles to graft Sonny would be a better idea.’

  ‘Shut up, will ya, please,’ says Ted, suddenly looking tired. ‘Give it a rest … Divide and rule …’

  ‘Meaning?’

  Before I can get my, no doubt ambiguous, answer, Bridget walks out onto the decking with coffee cups and a cafetière on a tray. She trips, falls forward, curses – cunt! She recovers her footing but simultaneously the enormous windowpane behind her disintegrates with an almighty crash, as if by magic, leaving shards of razor-sharp glass swinging from the plastic sun-protection film. Bridget drops the tray. I’m gone like a whippet, instinctively back inside, over the glass, straight through the space where the window was. I know it was a bullet that did the damage.

  Ted and Bridget both hit the floor immediately and roll over to the planters on the edge of the decking. They huddle up behind it like two children playing hide-and-seek. I peek back around the corner.

  More shots are coming in, but silent, skipping across the deck. A gunman is firing with a silencer; a professional with a high-powered rifle. Bullets begin to clunk into the steel kick plate, pass through them with ease and ricochet, hitting the wall behind, huge chips of brick flying. The sniper’s laying down a steady hail – got his rhythm now – a second between shots. The bullets are coming in almost level, a position slightly higher than the decking. Bridget crawls one way, Ted the other. Shots begin to rip up the planters where they’ve just been. The soil absorbs the impact, but holes the size of sausages are getting punched in them.

  I can’t hear the shots; only see the bullets hitting targets. The sniper’s keeping a rhythm going, skunking them out – trying to coax Ted and Bridget out into the open – but they’re edging along the planters. The shots are calculated and accurate. The rounds are big; I know from the ricochet. The sniper hasn’t worked out where they’re hiding. But he’s still accurately placing rounds into all the places they could be.

  The firing appears to be coming from a disused factory over to the right. To their credit, neither of them is scared. In fact I think they’re enjoying it. I swear I heard Ted giggling but he has more sense than to get up and make a run for it.

  The shooting suddenly stops. I creep along inside, flick the locks on the door at the far end, and in one fast movement push the door open so Ted can jump in quick. I can see both Ted and Bridget breathing heavy. Ted’s inching slowly over towards the open sliding door, using his toes to propel himself along, slithering like a python – looking like a snake, but thinking like a sniper. What would he do?

  Go quiet, that’s what. Wait. Let the targets think you’ve fled. When they get up to brush themselves down – whack! One to the canister!

  It’s too fuckin quiet now. I can hear my heart pumping. My mouth’s dry again.

  ‘Maybe they’ve gone, Ted,’ shouts Bridget from the far end of the decking.

  Right on cue Bridget gets her answer. Bullets – a silent hail – immediately impact against the walls, clunking into the steel railing, bouncing off the barbecue, thudding through the metal base plate, ripping up the planters, sending privet leaves everywhere. The shooter has put his weapon on automatic mode and a full clip in, and is letting go, looking to create carnage. Now it’s a free-fire zone. The shooter has moved position; the bullets are coming in from a different angle. Ted and Bridget are dead still, every part of them pressed into the wood. Bullets smash into the decking, turning the furniture to matchwood. Lamps above the barbecue explode. A bullet flies through another window, leaving a perfectly round hole in the shattered pane. The bullet ricochets across the room inside, zinging around the corners. Then thumb-sized holes get poked in a sweeping row across the plasterboard wall at the far end of the room. The plasma telly takes a direct hit. I hunch down lower. Suddenly a shattered windowpane drops away into a neat pile, leaving only its tattered film of plastic and glass. Windows have taken shots; only the plastic coating is holding them together. The barrage stops as suddenly as it began.

  ‘He’s changing the magazine!’ shouts Bridget. ‘Quick, Ted, get inside!’

  Ted shouts back, ‘Stay fuckin down, Bridget!’

  But Bridget makes a run, almost doubled-over, towards the door, the length of the decking. As soon as she breaks cover the firing starts again. RIP Bridget. But like the war hero charging the machine gun, bullets are hammering around her head, behind her, in front, and where she’s been the split-second before. It’s a miracle. A window gets blasted, the glass drops away and Bridget – like she’d anticipated it – jumps through the space where the glass was. She rolls, then lies flat on the floor, desperately trying to catch her breath. The firing stops again. She crawls over to me.

  ‘Thought he was changing the clip,’ she says calmly. ‘Where’re they firing from?’

  ‘It’s the red-brick building, deffo, up to the right,’ I say, pointing. ‘Don’t know what window. They changed places.’

  ‘Need to know if the law are comin,’ she says, crawling over to the decking, towards Ted, still cowering beneath the planters.

  ‘Where’s the scanner?’ Bridget shouts over to Ted.

  ‘In the tool box under the sink,’ Ted shouts in reply.

  Bridget ducks low, makes her way over to the kitchen. She finds what she’s looking for – a gadget like a cell phone with a sturdy antenna. The police frequencies have been pre-programmed in. Bridget listens for a second to mundane radio traffic – suspected prowler, message timed at … – then pushes a search button. The scanner dances around till it finds ano
ther frequency. Bridget’s concentrating hard, listening for any mention of a firearms incident, anything code red. All appears quiet on the airwaves and outside.

  Ted begins crawling towards us to safety, staying low the whole time. Suddenly Ted leaps up and runs for the open window. He does a little zigzag but then heads straight for us. There’s no firing. But he stumbles and falls. He’s gotta be dead. But he bounces up, sprints through the doors, without any shots being fired.

  ‘Do you think they’re gonna storm the gaff?’ he asks Bridget breathlessly.

  ‘How the fuck would I know, Ted?’ replies Bridget, real droll, like he’d asked if it’s gonna rain.

  Bridget keeps pressing buttons, sending the scanner onto different police frequencies.

  ‘No police,’ says Bridget. ‘Nothing on the normal bands … Don’t mean to say …’ her voice peters out. She holds up her hand, motions to us to be quiet. Bridget has tuned into voices talking on two-way radios somewhere nearby, talking in an odd dialect of Spanish.

  ‘It’s Spanish! These cunts are fuckin Spanish!’ screams Ted.

  ‘It’s fucking Italian!’ counters Bridget.

  ‘No, it’s South American Spanish!’ says Ted, ‘Listen!’

  ‘Italian!’ spits Bridget.

  ‘Do you understand that?’ says Ted, turning to me, but shouts, ‘You Spanish cunts!’ at the scanner before getting an answer.

  It’s neither. I’ve riddled it out. It’s Portuguese, with a brutal South American inflection – same as the geezers on the tube. There’s two shooters, and they’re Brazilian.

  Ted desperately wants me to translate but they’re talking too fast, the accents too heavy. One is the shooter, the other the spotter. They’re wired up, got earpieces and stick mics, like airline pilots … or professional snipers.

  They’re quarrelling about not getting paid – no kill, no money. One’s mocking the other for ridiculing the pair who got killed in the metro tunnel – now you’ve made a mess yourself.

 
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