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Viva la madness, p.39
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       Viva La Madness, p.39

           J. J. Connolly
 

  They have a scanner too, tuned to the police; we can hear it in the background. One’s talking about abandoning the mission at the first sign of policias. We could storm in and finish it. The other disagrees, it’s London not Sao Paulo. They’re cursing and arguing, in a calm but chilling way. They want someone alive? Vivo! Who the fuck do they want alive? They thought the sister would be there sozinha – alone. They were told just kill the sister – the woman. Don’t kill the guy, that’s what they said. Don’t kill the Duppy man or they’ll never get paid. Should pay his bills … pay what he owes … pay the bosses … not charity … good work for us … extra … want it done quick. He’s not meant to be here – shall I shoot him? No! More money for us – we come back again, stupid …to kill him. Want her dead, and him scared.

  ‘What are they saying?’ Ted shouts at me, ‘Tell me!’

  ‘I’m only getting the gist, Ted.’

  ‘What’s the fuckin gist?’ he says, regaining his belligerent attitude.

  ‘Stay down!’ screams Bridget. ‘For fuck’s sake, stay down, Ted!’

  ‘Don’t talk to me like a cunt, Bridget!’ shouts Ted, right in Bridget’s face.

  ‘Okay, Ted,’ says Bridget, strangely cool. ‘Get yourself fuckin shot if you like.’

  The spotter tells the shooter to retain his disciplina de rádio! Retain radio discipline! People could be listening! There’s rank involved, and one of them has just pulled it – they sound vaguely military. Let them think we’ve gone – then we kill her, not him, okay! Keep the doors and stairs covered. Should have killed her in the street.

  The gist is that the two guys have been sent to kill Bridget to frighten Ted because he owes money, but their boss won’t get paid if Ted is dead. It explains why they didn’t shoot Ted when they could.

  ‘Fuck this,’ says Bridget, dodging into a blind spot in the kitchen, ‘I’m not waiting around to get …’

  Bridget grabs a claw hammer from the toolbox and starts to smash a hole in an innocuous plasterboard panel. She reaches in and pulls out an ugly, short machine gun wrapped in greasy canvas. She hunts around the hole, pulls out an oily bag and brings out three clips of ammunition, then a naughty-looking silencer. She assembles and loads the weapon in double-quick time, shouting to me and Ted to keep our eyes on the building across the way, for signs of movement. The scanner is spookily quiet. Bridget creeps back over to us. ‘Might have another team out the front,’ she says. ‘It’s what I’d do.’

  ‘They ain’t talking to anyone else, Bridget,’ I say.

  ‘We could break out,’ says Ted.

  ‘They have the stairwell covered,’ I tell Bridget. ‘They’re regretting not shooting you on the street.’

  ‘Me?’

  ‘It’s you they’re trying to kill … to scare Ted … I’ll explain later …we all need to explain a few things.’

  Bridget appears very comfortable with her machine gun nestled in her shoulder. For once she’s not worried about the mess. For the time being it’s stalemate – just gotta hold yer nerve and keep your eyes wide open. So we wait … I almost feel like putting the kettle on.

  But then I catch the tiniest glint of light in the darkness of one of the windows in the building opposite – a flash, a watch face or sunglasses. I count the windows in from the side of the building then point it out to Bridget – four windows in, top floor. We’re ducked down low, peeking around corners. Trying to not present a target. Bridget studies the window hard but does nothing.

  ‘We just sit here and wait?’ asks Ted.

  ‘What do you fuckin suggest?’ replies Bridget.

  ‘We need a decoy,’ says Ted. ‘For them to show themselves—’

  Bridget quickly interrupts. ‘What, you want me to fuckin go out there again?’

  ‘That’s not what I said.’

  ‘Sounded like it, Ted,’ says Bridget. ‘First chance I get I’m going to rip those fuckers apart. Italian cunts.’

  ‘Bridget,’ I say, ‘they’re Brazilian.’

  ‘Shut the fuck up!’ replies Bridget. ‘They won’t know what’s hit ’em. Gonna get a dose of my naughty-naughties.’

  Hollow-tipped bullets, filed flat – against the rules of war – expand on impact. Bridget would like a rocket launcher. I feel strangely protected by her; she won’t go down without a fight, our Bridge.

  I look down the room, through the wreckage. At the far end, Evey is wandering ghost-like towards the decking, over the glass and debris, floating on a cloud of heavy lockdown medication. Evey looks with childlike curiosity at the devastation as she meanders out onto the deck.

  Bullets start thudding into brickwork behind her head. She looks open-mouthed at the dents in the wall. Bridget jumps out onto the decking and begins firing, fearlessly, aiming at the building opposite. A chain of tracer rounds zero in on her target – the sniper’s window. Rounds bounce and crash around their hidey hole. Then Bridget’s naughty specials ricochet around inside. She empties the whole clip in seconds.

  Too late. Evey gets hit in the head – killed instantly. Head flies one way, feet the other. Lands in a heap. Lifeless.

  Bridget jumps back inside. She lets the empty clip drop to the floor and grabs another one. She’s raging, screaming angry, struggling to get the clip in the slot. I grab her arm – hold on tight – and shake my head. I nod at the scanner. Bridget’s hit one of the snipers. There’s screams coming from the scanner – no radio discipline.

  The spotter has a shattered shoulder – losing blood – crying for morphine, for his mother. The wounded man is already in deep shock. Aborto, aborto! He’s screeching, in agony. The shooter is distressed by his comrade’s wounds. Sounds like the shoulder is completely gone – no artery, no tourniquet, no chance – caught the full impact. We can hear gurgling sounds, and the wounded man fighting for breath, both of them crying.

  The scanner goes silent, abruptly – their radios turned off. Bridget pushes the search button again. It scans the airwaves – mundane police radio traffic, no sirens or flashing blue lights. She turns down the volume switch, rolls backwards, lies on the floor, her eyes closed, the fresh clip still in her hand. Her old pal Evey is rapidly making a dark puddle on the decking. Bridget opens her eyes, stares at the ceiling, at something far away, or long ago. I see a side of her I’m sure she wouldn’t like me to see – her bottom lip quivering, eyes watering, close to tears.

  CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

  JUGGLING BIG TIME

  We went to the park. It was full of nannies and kids on summer holidays. Sandpits and face paint – a long way from gunfire and corpses. We sat in the cafeteria. I was a regular here, on nodding acquaintance with the staff, winking terms with the waitresses. We felt the need to clear out for a while, to let the smoke settle, clean up later. Evey was left on the decking, with a tarpaulin thrown over her. Can’t stay there forever, of course … but you never know who might be in the vicinity.

  The snipers had troubles of their own. Bridget wanted to chase them down, get revenge for Eve, but I couldn’t see the point – accelerating a slow death at much risk to ourselves was futile and dangerous. Following blood trails to find them could be like cornering a couple of extremely desperate rats. Maybe his buddy administered the coup de grâce before heading back to Brazil. Taking a dying man to hospital and risking getting police involved was, to the survivor, pointless. The wounded man was on the way out – trauma was gonna kill him before blood poisoning. He might be dead in that building across the canal. Bridget insists that she’ll check it out after dark – corpses littering the neighbourhood, in high summer, isn’t good.

  Bridget is understandably gutted about Evey, someone she’d taken under her wing when Bridget was in big school and Eve still in the juniors. And now she’s invited her in, to look after her, and a gun battle’s broken out. These things happen in Evey and Bridget’s world. She ain’t handling it too well … giving Ted a hard time, maybe thinks Ted wasn’t pulling his weight back there. It’s also time to fess-up – get a con
fessional as to why two geezers are trying to kill Sister Bridget – to fill in the blanks. I know bits but not details. The geezers were sent to frighten Ted into paying for some cargo that he’s already had. They couldn’t kill Ted or they would never get paid; it’s that South American proxy intimidation again.

  And me? I’m extremely alert, frightened after the event. Only after a genuinely life-threatening experience do you feel just how good it is to be alive, same as only after your liberty is threatened do you find your sense of freedom. The other irony is how getting shot at, repeatedly, with a high-calibre assault rifle, and escaping alive, is a bonding experience for the three of us, but especially me and Bridge. I’m trying to work out who’d wanna shoot Bridget Granger. Who exactly isn’t trying to kill Already Dead Ted? Can’t be the dead Santos. And Miguel doesn’t know Ted Granger exists … unless Miguel blames Ted for the death of Laniado. Could it be Sonny’s manoeuvre? Could Sonny rustle up Brazilian shooters? Has he got a sniff about their little scheme?

  And I’ve got the raging zig with Ted – I’ve put part of the jigsaw together. The monkeys on the tube were shooting at me because they figured I was part of Duppy’s organisation; understandable after I walked into his sister’s dry cleaners with only a folded newspaper and reappeared, half an hour later, carrying the Gucci bags. Maybe they thought I was carrying either cha-cha or mucho readies and they’d be in for a hefty payday, a bonus. The attempt was a memo to Ted, but he kept it under his hat. My hunch is that the firm he owes big money to have lines of communication open with Ted; they’re calculated enough to know a dead Ted is a worthless Ted.

  ‘This is getting too heavy for me,’ I say, ‘assassination attempts, machine guns, Eve dead back there.’

  ‘What ya saying?’ snaps Ted.

  ‘Might just head off back to Jamaica—’

  ‘Bollocks,’ he says. ‘Yer bluffing.’

  ‘Might be. Try me.’

  ‘What, walk away from that gadget?’

  ‘No good to me dead.’

  ‘I might be able to help you there,’ says Ted. ‘Could work on Sonny.’

  ‘I think it’s you rather than me who needs the help.’

  ‘You cheeky cunt!’ roars Ted, but Bridget, seething, hisses at him – to tell me the whole fuckin story, now!

  What emerges is a sad story – not a tearjerker but a sobering, cautionary tale – and it makes Ted Granger appear even more like a throwback to another time. Like those eighteenth-century wastrels and spendthrift ruffians, united in a mad punt, doing their bollocks at the racetrack, or the smoky card saloon.

  Ted The Duppy Granger is a skint member – not a fuckin penny to his name, except for a couple of properties in Spain that will need taxes paid on them before Bridget can inherit, sell them, and move the money over to Ted.

  Being boracic is hard to stomach after watching millions go through his muckies over the years. Where’s Ted’s accumulated funds? His lifetime’s work?

  He never really got ahead; betting all his money on unreliable gee-gees – that’s where the millions went. When Ted wanted a punt the bookies would be laying-off all along the Costa del Sol. If he lost tens of thousands he’d be chasing it with hundreds of thousands. This was a man who did mega bets – hundred kay on a four-horse accumulator – but now he’s down to borrowed tenners and looking for shrapnel down the back of the sofa.

  Will that be on the nose or each way, Mister Granger, sir?

  What do you think I am, pal, a fuckin deadbeat?

  Ted was like the junkie who hated the dealer while begging to be served; Ted detested and resented the bookies who took his millions.

  Ted had also given away millions to friends and family, operating like a one-man charitable organisation – from hospital bills to four-bedroom houses in Willesden Green, to taking planeloads to Florida Disneyland. Ted’s heart was in the right place and people appreciated his generosity but now he was starting to think about all the beneficiaries who perhaps hadn’t fully valued his gifts, and who had the audacity to stop saying thank you, Uncle Ted after a few years. The criminal trust fund was empty.

  But Ted was a proud man, so he let the antipathy fester … He needed to get to work … That Sonny King was shifting untold product and the warehouses were beginning to look threadbare, in need of replenishment. Not having liquid assets was not a problem for a man with a reputation like Duppy.

  Everything is bail or mace – credit – in the wholesale game; everything is done on good faith. Ted’s credit rating was good. He’d shifted a lot of gear over the years so he didn’t need capital. He ordered the gear, down there, at approximately fifteen hundred dollars a kilo, arranged delivery to a small port in eastern Brazil, and got it on its way across the Atlantic on a trawler that had its own onboard canning plant so it could be at sea for months without attracting attention. It was going to be Ted’s last mission; the consignment would keep them going for years. Most of it was going into deep freeze, to be brought out when required. Bridget, in charge of the family piggy bank now, was going to invest his share in a dozen buy-to-let apartments in Docklands to provide a pension for Ted’s senior years. His whack would be enough to retire on.

  The Atlantic crossing was a breeze, but as they prepared the cargo to be landed in Kerry, Southern Ireland, fate, and inclement weather, were waiting to play a hand.

  The picturesque but remote southwestern coast would be, in normal conditions, an ideal place for a peaceful motoring holiday or to smuggle ashore a large consignment of cocaine under the harvest moon. They have a long history of smuggling in that part of the world, be it Libyan arms or French brandy. But beware; the undercurrents along that seemingly calm stretch of coastline can be extremely treacherous, even at the best of times, and the weather susceptible to rapid change.

  While unloading the consignment from the mothership onto an ocean-going yacht – to ferry the gear ashore – the wind started getting up, getting blustery, but the cargo was safely stowed onboard the yacht behind specially constructed bulkheads. As they waved the trawler goodbye and it headed back to Brazil, Ted turned down the wireless on the bridge, decided to ignore the incredibly pessimistic weather forecast.

  They were heading straight into the heaviest storms in County Kerry in forty years! Hundred mile-an-hour winds! Flooding everywhere! Rivers breaking banks! Gardai out in force but seriously distracted … in normal circumstances a Godsend. Bridges washed away – fuckin biblical!

  On the storm-lashed high seas, as they tumbled and rolled, Captain Granger cried, Break out a double ration of valium and rum! Then the overloaded craft began to sink. They couldn’t exactly call the lifeboat, send up a flare or a mayday signal – not without getting banged-up in Portlaoise, Ireland’s premier double-A-cat jail, for double figures. Meanwhile the Coastguard had called upon the Customs and the Irish Navy to help; the emergency services were fully mobilised – getting fuckin busy. Everyone put to sea to help boats in distress.

  In a room in a cliff-top hotel, as the merciless gales lashed the coastline, Bridget was watching the chaos on television, thinking about those cunts in peril on the seas, waiting for the one-word call sign on the two-way radio to head to the rendezvous, to load the cargo into freezer lorries. A bad feeling was growing in her guts, just as the massive consignment of coca was hitting the seabed with a glug-glug-glug … Bridget’s instinct was right. The cargo was ruined – washed up on the rocks, smashed to pieces in the waves.

  The crew didn’t give a fuck about product any more. They were lucky to get ashore in rubber dinghies – almost drowned – wouldn’t be attempting a lunatic stunt like that again in a hurry. One guy got both legs shattered after getting repeatedly smashed against the rocks before his pals managed to drag him onto the sand. If the crew had been observed landing, if a passer-by had quite innocently called the police, intending to help, they could have been in severe trouble; Kerry’s remoteness makes it a hard place to get out of if you’re a fugitive.

  After the yacht sank it l
eft Ted owing money to the cartel who had supplied the goods, in good faith. Ted and Bridget had fucked up big time, lost a consignment – enough to keep Sonny King going for years to come, no excuses. That’s why they’re playing catch-up.

  ‘How much we talking, Ted?’

  ‘Thirty million.’

  ‘Oh, dear. Dollars or pounds?’

  ‘Dollars.’

  ‘How much was there, on the yacht?’

  ‘Twenty tonnes.’

  ‘Tonnes? Twenty tonnes!’

  ‘Sounds more than it is. That’s metric tonnes – twenty thousand kilos.’

  Worth a lot more than thirty million dollars landed on UK soil; stick a couple of zeros on the end of that. Ambitious or not, it’s still got to be paid for. The supplier’s agent expressed their disappointment. Señor Ted, Mister Amigo, it’s unfortunate, a force majeure, an act of God, but now it’s the silver or the bullet – which you gonna take? You’ve a big family and these devils don’t care – it’s how it works with these people. Ruthless isn’t the word. They will find a way … I’ll let them know … See what we can do …

  They weren’t sympathetic but they would take instalments. Ted had missed a payment. He was juggling, robbing Peter and Paul.

  Bridget was in charge now. They pulled together what they could – a couple of million assorted pounds, dollars and euros. If they ever got out of this, Bridget told him, she was going to look after his money, pay him an allowance and keep him away from the bookmakers, card schools and hard-luck stories.

  Yeah, I know, Ted – all this fuckin palaver over a poxy thirty million.

  You’re right, Bridget, so fuckin right.

  I was being fuckin sarcastic, Ted.

  Ted needed to get back in the game with new suppliers – cue Sammy Laniado – to repay the money. Ted had a comeback strategy – orders, contacts and a dynamic sales force, had Sonny King all revved up. All he needed was product, before word crept back to his creditors. Things needed to happen quickly. Desperation was the wind in Ted’s sails.

 
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