Viva La Madness, p.4J. J. Connolly
‘You don’t come back? Vee get to keep, yah? Wunderbar! Wundervoll!’
Simple Swiss genius.
What’s in it for the Conciliated Bank of Barbados? They will charge a handling fee, assessed on a percentage of the value of the transaction, depending if the money is to stay in their moneybox available for loans and investments, or the funds were just being landed; that is, sunk and moved on. If you’re a bank you can never have too much cash splashing about; a basis principle of banking is that you hope that all your customers don’t want to withdraw their money at the same time. Even at a commission of between two to ten percent it’s a good afternoon’s work. This trifling percentage might even be a secret contribution to Curtis’ own personal pension fund.
It took almost two hours to count the money. Mister Curtis had two teams, each two-handed, sending the notes flying, taped up into bundles of ten and twenty grand, then cobbling into hundreds, then the hundreds went into millions, checked and signed for. The girls looked like they had a system going; teamwork was the key. Mister Curtis patrolled with a steel clipboard, writing down figures, running between the desks, tapping away at the computer terminals, punching numbers into a quaint old-fashioned adding machine, tearing the paper off the roll and handing it to Sonny.
Sonny kept the girls under surveillance the whole time. I think he was worried that they might stick a few notes down their panties, and he wasn’t working all hours, day and night, to subsidise anyone. One of those bricks of notes represents a lifetime’s labour – maybe they’re too honest for their own good.
All the notes had been prepared in advance, all facing the right direction for feeding into counting machines. I was quite looking forward to watching the fit girls in their sky-blue and white CBB uniforms feeding the notes in. In its full glory, a counting machine in action is a sexy thing, whirling and clicking, but this outfit, the CBB, actually weigh the notes on seriously accurate electronic scales. It gives them a reading down to the fourth decimal point and they know, from experience, exactly how much ten thousand in Bank of England tens, twenties and fifties should come to. It’s quite sedate. After a while I went and joined Morty and Twitchy on the sofas, drinking coffee and flicking through magazines. Only Sonny watched the whole show.
Roy and Mort both dozed off at different times. They’d had a long day and looked relieved as the count started to slow down. Blocks of money were put on a stainless steel handcart and wheeled away. A final figure was arrived at and both Sonny, signing awkwardly as Mister Berkeley, and Mister Curtis signed the receipt. Sonny was presented with a belated customer service pack like any new customer visiting the branch. You never got one of these, did you, Mister Berkeley?
Mister Curtis then disappeared for a few minutes and returned with fresh statements. He and Sonny went into a huddled conversation while me, Mort and Roy waited on the sofa. Sonny emerged rubbing his hands like they were about to catch fire. As he got up to leave he even went as far as to pat Curtis good-naturedly on the shoulder, said he’d pop back later for his suitcases.
The bank was shut as we left through the back entrance, walked across the car park, up the street and round the corner onto the harbour. It’s six, dark, and cooler than it was. A shower of rain has fallen. As Sonny’s walking he makes a call on his cell phone, probably back to London. Then he clenches his fists, crouches and starts rocking his torso backwards and forwards.
‘Yes, yes, yes,’ Sonny says over and over but he seems to be saying, I’ve showed them cunts! I showed ’em! Then Sonny sidles up beside me, calm now, puts his arm around my shoulder, opens the CBB ledger statement and holds it under my nose for me to read in the twilight.
‘Read it and fuckin weep, bruv.’
The credit column is full, one after the other, of six-figure deposits, while the debit column is empty. I do a double-quick double-take. Sonny’s ongoing balance at today’s close of business is a smidgen over fifteen million dollars, about nine million pounds sterling.
It’s my turn to be bewildered. How did a belligerent lunatic make that sorta money?
By the time we’ve walked around the quayside – full of yachts and catamarans bobbing on the gentle swell – and sat down in the Harbour Rendezvous bar, Sonny’s a lot more with us but now my head is seriously spun.
The Rendezvous is about as trendy as it gets in Bridgetown, full of early evening drinkers, groovy Bajans, black and white, rich tourists, ex-pats and ocean-going sailors.
‘Let’s have champagne, but first I wanna large brandy,’ says Sonny. ‘What ya sayin, chaps?’
‘Whatever,’ says Roy, with a tired shrug.
‘Fuckin ’ell, liven up, Mister Burns, you’re on holiday now. That,’ says Sonny, pointing back toward the bank, ‘is mission accomplished.’
‘Just a bit tired, mate,’ says Roy, a low-grade twitch starting to appear.
‘Okay, don’t go on,’ says Sonny. ‘Am I a genius, or what?’
‘That was a tidy bitta work,’ says Mort, trying to get a waitress’s attention. Without warning, Sonny’s on his feet, clenched fists, screaming. ‘Yeeessss!!!’
‘Sonny, mate, sit down,’ says Morty, firmly. People turn and look. It’d only take one disapproving glance for Sonny to be kicking off. Morty’s pulling him back down into his seat.
‘Keep it dark, Sonny,’ I say, then regret it.
‘Who are you, tellin me to keep quiet?’ roars Sonny, standing up again, blocking the light.
‘Sit down, Sonny,’ says Mort. ‘We don’t want anyone gettin busy.’
I’m scared. I’d be mad if I wasn’t. Inside Sonny’s head there’s a switch and if it’s thrown, nobody is gonna stop him from tearing me apart. Once geezers like Sonny go they go. All the jails and punishment blocks in the world can’t stop them. Morty coaxes him back down into his seat. Sonny’s breathing heavy. What he’s saying is now he’s got money a cunt like me should respect him, whether I like it or not. And strangely enough, he has just shot up in my estimation. A waitress comes over. Mort orders four brandies and four beers.
‘Later, Sonny, we’ll have champagne,’ says Mort, like he’s reassuring a child. ‘We’ll have a nice shower and go somewhere nice to eat. How’s that sound?’ But Sonny’s screwing me – eye-to-eye contact. Locked in.
Sonny, I’m thinking, you have to keep a low one over here. This isn’t London. You can’t just lose yourself. Everybody knows everybody’s business. You gotta respect the way people go about their business. They don’t fuckin curse and fucking swear every other cunting word. To them it’s offensive. These Bajans are religious people; wait till you see them on Sunday, all dressed up, off to hallelujah-jump-up church. They’re grafters in the old-fashioned sense. We have to blend in, camouflage ourselves. Flashing the cash brings attention. People talk; it’s human nature. They ask questions. People start getting busy. And to be honest, I’m surprised a Bajan bank entertained a manoeuvre like that. If we were in the Caymans or Panama … Sonny, you ain’t the first to think of turning up here pretending to be a package-holiday punter. Half the dudes knocking around this marina are plainies, undercover operators, or registered informants having a sniff to see who’s buddied-up with who. This is the Caribbean, the Wall Street of the narcotics business. Every government has got agents knocking about. Think about it. Bobbing and weaving are UK Old Bill, Crim Intel, National Crime Squad, MI5, MI6, British Navy, Customs and Excise, Special Boat Service sailors on special assignment, nosing about. Then you’ve got the DEA and CIA, TAF and the FBI in the mix. The United States government have got warships – billion-dollar listening posts – steaming non-stop from Port of Spain to the Gulf of Mexico, Miami to Panama, in one big circle, looking and listening. Mister King, it’s always a good idea to keep a low profile. Out here you could be the one taking a fall – the law need bodies. You do heavy jail time while the local operators run riot. And, by the way, your two and three-quarter mill, Sonny, and your fifteen mill in dollars back over at the CBB, it might be a big deal – it impr
‘Does that sound like a plan, Sonny?’ says Mister Mortimer.
‘Yeah, okay, Mort,’ says Sonny, turning to me, slapping my leg, bringing me round.
‘You’ve gone quiet,’ he says to me. ‘Something on your mind?’
‘No, no, Sonny,’ I reply. ‘I’m sweet.’
MADHEADS, MELTS, MACKERELS
Now Sonny’s got his champagne – at two hundred dollars a pop, in the best seafood restaurant on the West Coast – and he’s as happy as a pig in shit. I got the best table, on the first-storey balcony, overhanging the sea, cos I dropped the headwaiter three hundred bucks. The waves break on rocks below us, sending up spray that doesn’t quite reach us. Yellow-beak cranes fly over the swell and stingrays play kiss-chase in the floodlit water below.
Sonny wants a big basket of French fries, so we can all dig in, and two more bottles of champagne, the fuckin best ’n’ all. Classy guy. Psycho-trash-with-narco-cash. I had the waiters bring a huge seafood platter for a starter, told Morty I’d have what he’s having, then went for a mooch about. I needed a break from Sonny and Roy. Also needed a think. I reckon there’s a drop of entrapment occurring here, but not by law enforcement. I’m being headhunted. But:
Q. If Sonny has a nightclub to flush the spoils, why the cases full of cash?
A. Fuck only knows.
Maybe they need a pointman over this side, to meet couriers off planes, but every time I go to manoeuvre Morty aside, he tells me he’s tired and we’ll talk tomorrow … but it’s all good.
The August night is balmy, the gentle warm breeze changes direction every second. The moon is almost full, there’s fairy lights on the cruisers out to sea and the food is the best. With different company this could be paradise; as it is I’m edgy cos Sonny, I’ve realised, has only three moods – got-the-hump, hostile or mad ecstatic – under the emotional hide of a rhino. When I get back he’s on me.
‘You’re from London, right?’ Sonny’s saying to me, his arms folded tight across his chest, adopting attack mode. ‘So why you talkin like a cunt, some fuckin Yankee. Cell phone, fire-truck, sidewalk,’ he loudly mimics a bad Californian accent. Half the diners here are Americans.
‘You pick up the accent very—’
‘Either that or some moody swell, some posh cunt, on yer splendid holidays. Is that who you think you are? Some fuckin lord or something?’
‘Sonny, I had to have it on my toes outta London. All that talkin outta the side of your mouth like a …’
‘Like a fuckin what, pal?’ Sonny’s alight, leaning forward.
‘It brings attention. And people don’t understand what the fuck you’re on about.’
‘Talking like a fuckin what?’ He isn’t letting go. I ignore him.
‘You gotta be a bit,’ I say, turning to Mort, ‘what’s the word?
‘Inconspicuous?’ suggests Morty.
‘Answer me question,’ hisses Sonny, leaning further over, giving me a poke. ‘Talkin like a what?’ He pokes me again. I give him his answer.
‘Talking like an obvious London villain. Okay?’ Sonny locks his eyes into mine, he’s spitting furious.
‘Loose lips sink ships,’ says Roy, saving me.
‘Do what?’ says Sonny, baffled. ‘What the fuck, Roy?’
‘Wassat yer sayin, Royski?’ says Mort, suppressing a grin.
‘Talk, it’s how we get caught. We talk too much.’
‘Royski … listen to me, now, okay,’ says Sonny. ‘Shut the fuck up, okay?’
‘Tell the boys that story,’ says Mort. ‘You know, the one … ’bout Evey.’
‘Nah,’ says Sonny.
‘Go on,’ says Morty.
‘Okay. Listen to this,’ says Sonny, instantly persuaded. ‘This’ll make ya laugh. I starts seein this bird called Eve, about three stretch ago.’ Three years ago. If it’s the Eve I’m thinking of, Mort used to call her Eve the Mackerel or just Mad Evey. Said she was the kinda bird who came home paralytic with her knickers in her handbag.
‘She was all moved in, as I remember. Wasn’t she, Sonny?’ says Roy.
‘Yeah, yeah, fuckin chavvie ’n’ all. Kid was a right horrible cunt. She’s moved in and things are sweet but one time she’d been into the gear.’
‘Brown?’ I ask. Heroin. Not like Sonny at all.
‘Oh, yes. The Camden Town. But this was long before I met her. The kid’s old man was bang at it and she ended up getting a habit as well. The old man’s been lumped-off, like fourteen years. Geezer’s a melt, a one-man crime wave, doin building societies and petrol stations with a sawn-off, robbing bookmakers to feed a gambling habit.’
‘Went from social security to maximum security,’ says Morty.
‘That’s good … I like that.’ Sonny starts to laugh, warming up now. ‘Anyways the geezer’s no real talent.’
Morty told me that Eve’s husband, the kid’s dad, brought shame upon his family – a tidy family of housebreakers – by running off and joining the British Army, wanted more from life. He met and married Eve on leave. Big mistake. She soon started driving him mad so he started volunteering for tours of duty in South Armagh to get some peace.
‘So she’s cleaned her act up, right?’ I ask as innocent as I can.
‘Yeah. He’s three years into his fourteen stretch. Eve’s dropped him right out, not even a letter, just stopped goin to see him. He’s had the scream, about the kid, sent his family round the gaff. When I starts going with her I had a word, and everything’s sweet. At first.’
‘What was the problem?’ I ask.
‘I see now I got a bit too fuckin cosy. She starts gettin sneaky, sniffin me personal uncut stuff in daylight. You know what I say, don’t ya?’ says Sonny, looking serious. ‘Cocaine’s like the stars; only comes out at night. I’m out chasing a pound note, comin home and she’s pranged, but moodyin she’s ain’t.’
‘That’s when the trouble starts,’ I say. ‘When people start losing control.’
‘You’re dead right, bruv,’ he says, upturned index finger. ‘Cokeheads are liabilities,’ pronounces Sonny King, extremely affluent cocaine wholesaler, all high and mighty. ‘Dangerous! Madheads!’
‘Yeah, liabilities,’ echoes Royski, coke-rich professional sidekick, nodding his head.
‘I like a drop of the oats meself,’ says Sonny, ‘but she’s gone silly on it. In the end I’ve slung her and the kid out but I’ve let her come back cos she’s ringin me up crying and beggin.’
‘Good move?’ I ask.
‘No, not really. She got worse. It wasn’t a giggle anymore. Some people really enjoy a row, a good scream. Evey’s a bird who likes nothing better than a smack in the mouth on Christmas morning, all the presents goin up in the air. All this in and out has gone on for a year. Soon I’m gettin dragged in, sitting up nights sniffin, drinkin like a fish. She starts pipin, smoking stones. Crack! Can you believe it? After she’s had the big use-up she’s … What’s the word?’
‘Remorseful,’ says Morty.
‘That’s it,’ says Sonny, ‘remorseful. And every time’s the last time.’
‘Till the next time,’ I say. ‘It’s no good.’
‘You’re dead right. I ain’t payin attention to business. But when she’s on nuffin she’s a headpecker, drivin me mad to get her something to take the edge off. Mornin time, instead of being out graftin, I’m huntin down those DF 118s. You know the ones I mean?’
‘I know ’em,’ I say. ‘Heavy-duty opiate painkiller.’
‘Right. Bodysnatchers I call ’em. She’s tryin to come down so she can get the chavvie to school and kip all day. I’d end up on missions – tried to bribe a chemist one time to get a few T
‘So what’d you do?’ I ask, genuinely interested. This is confessional and contradictory. Maybe the booze on top of the jetlag is going to his head.
‘Then she’s got back on the gear, the brown, for real, so I’ve slung her out. But it’s the old story – she’s swearing on bibles, the kid’s life, her mother’s life. I taken her back but she’s got a habit. I had an idea. I’ve taken her and the kid down to Spain so she can do a detox. I’ve gone down there to see Ted Granger and his firm.’ This is serious name-dropping. Ted ‘Duppy’ Granger is a major international drug smuggler based in Spain, a good pal of Morty’s. Duppy is a nickname he is not exactly happy with. A duppy is a ghost, a cruel spirit.
‘So you’ve gone to see Ted?’ I ask, half impressed.
‘Turns out a few of Duppy’s team are dabblin, using the brown but obviously keepin it dark. I’ve come home but I left Eve plenty of spends. But after a coupla weeks I’m gettin reports that Evey’s taken up with some hound down there,’ says Sonny, giving me a dose of eye-to-eye. ‘First I’m ready to jump on the plane, go down there, get tooled up, and serve the cunt, but I started to tell Morty about it.’
‘And what did Mister Mortimer say?’
Sonny leans over and gives Morty a playful slap on the shoulder.
‘Well he’s brutal, beautiful but brutal.’ Sonny laughs his mad laugh, refills the champagne glasses till they overflow and make puddles on the tablecloth. ‘Mort won’t beat about the bush,’ continues Sonny, ‘or fuck about.’
‘Or spare your feelings?’ I say.
‘Morty says I should send the geezer down a case of Scotch or a parcel of gear. He’s done you a favour. Mort gives it, “I don’t wanna be rude about your ladyfriend but if this yard-dog has taken her off your hands, he’s got enough on his plate without you goin down there and serving him. You’re capable, Sonny, but do you need the grief?”’
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes