Viva La Madness, p.42J. J. Connolly
We can all get out alive, with a tidy payday, nobody else has to get killed. So I’ve been delegated to sound out Sonny, see where his head’s at. Try and make Sonny see sense before Miguel decides that diplomacy is futile and lets Raul go to work. I’ve been given twelve hours to convince Sonny to cooperate or they will instigate an intervention. I don’t want Sonny on my conscience. Bridget is all for killing Sonny and sparing Roy. It had to be pointed out that would leave us without the kit. She doesn’t know about what happened …
A cat like Ted will have his own resources to dispose of a body. Roy’ll end up dropped in a pine-dipping bath or down a deep hole, out in the countryside … it don’t bear thinking about … Ted’ll maybe feed him to the yard dog. But nobody will be finding Roy ever again. The person most concerned about Roy’s whereabouts – for selfish reasons – will be Sonny … And he doesn’t wanna meet in the park – insisted I come over here, no debate, no chit-chat.
I get a cab over to the AQK Club. I’ve been briefed by Mort to forget about what went down with Roy. Plead ignorance – you can do that, can’t you? If Sonny asks, Mister Mortimer is out and about, with Patsy, Chip and the rest of The Flintstones, looking for Santos. The AQK has a slight siege mentality – can you have a slight siege mentality? The habitually suspicious clientele have been given something to get paranoid about. The guy behind the jump has been told that I’m coming, so without a word he leads me through the downstairs café, out the back, to a staircase, and points upwards.
I follow the stairs up three floors, then a guy appears in a dank corridor, silently beckons me towards him, pushes open a door and nods inside. It could be night or day. Sonny has taken to the lockdown lifestyle with ease. He’s been doing coke, swigging vodka, and getting paranoid; wearing his bulletproof vest over a towelling bathrobe. One of his soldiers is checking for bugs. He gives me a sweep then Sonny dismisses him with his eyes. After the guy leaves I ask, with all the sincerity I can muster, ‘What’s the story, Sonny?’ pointing at the firearms scattered around. ‘And where’s Roy? What’s going on?’
‘Roy …’ says Sonny, looking cagey, ‘has gone missing …’
‘What d’ya mean?’
‘I mean missing.’
‘Ain’t like Roy.’
‘Fuckin know it ain’t like Roy. He’s left all his tackle, his passports, everything. He was checkin in, every hour, on the hour. Was driving me mad, to be honest, but it ain’t like Roy to go through the slips, not without letting anyone know.’
‘His phone might be dead.’
‘No, he might be dead.’
‘Since when?’ I ask. ‘Since when’s he been missing?’
‘About half seven last night. His phone went off, switched off or died, but Roy would get a message through. You know what he’s like … codes and contingency plans.’
‘Might have been kidnapped.’
‘No contact. You don’t kidnap someone then keep it a secret. Not how it works, mate.’
‘So, what’s your theory, Sonny?’ I ask. ‘What do you reckon happened?’
‘I reckon Santos must have found him, weighed him in.’
‘If Santos had killed him, he’d be in touch – like when he killed Stevie, but thought he’d killed me …’
‘Good point,’ says Sonny, nodding his head. ‘So this Miguel geezer must have killed Roy, for serving his cousin.’
‘It’s not his style. Miguel fancies himself as more of diplomat – far too sensible.’
‘You defending him?’
‘Just saying, it’s not his MO. If it’s anyone’s it’s Santos’.’
Sonny is deep in concentration, rubbing the stubble on his chin, weighing up scenarios.
‘You don’t know he’s dead yet …’ I say.
Sonny seems upset about his buddy, after years of taking the piss. You’re a soldier, he said – it’s a mission. He suddenly clicks his fingers, gets up – a decision made – walks across the room, empties out a bag of sportswear, pulling off tags, getting dressed double-quick.
It’s a tricky manoeuvre – jogging pants, tee shirt, Kevlar bulletproof vest, tracksuit on top, fresh trainers. He’s cursing Santos, cursing Miguel, cursing Ted – gonna get more firepower out there, find this fuckin Santos once and for all.
I hope the O’Malleys can keep their mouths shut … but it’s only a question of time …
‘Anyway …’ Sonny stops dead, ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’
‘I’ve got a proposal – a few things you need to be aware of.’
‘If ya wanna talk, we’ll have to do it on the way.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘To Roy’s mum’s. Talks to his mum every day, Roy.’
I’d forgotten about Mum. My head is spun enough already. Missus Burns is the last person on earth I wanna see right now …
Sonny takes two guys as bodyguards for the drive around to Roy’s mum’s. Sonny wants to know what the score is, but I won’t talk in the motor – don’t wish to be rude. One of Sonny’s guys gives me a look like he’d like to wrap me up and put me in the boot, work on me later. I’d like to get it sorted before we arrive at Roy’s mum’s so I don’t have to go up there but I can’t bail out and leave Sonny to go up there on his Jack – would be bad form.
When we arrive at Missus Burns’ block, Sonny’s straight out the motor, looking left and right. We leave the guys outside. We slip in through the security door, while it’s open – the postman was leaving – and together we trot up the stairs as I try to get Sonny to listen to The Miguel Deal – say they wanted to do business – but Sonny refuses to listen. Let’s get this sorted first.
‘Sonny, we ain’t got time to fuck about.’
‘What did I just say to you?’ says Sonny, as we hit the corridor.
‘At the moment you’ve got the gadget but—’
‘Dead right I’ve got the gadget.’
‘But you’ve got one hundred percent of zero.’
‘I’ve got readies.’
‘Sonny, what deal would suit you?’
‘Fifty-fifty – yeah?’
‘Not going to happen – they’d start popping us before they’d give us half their money. Miguel’s the easy option.’
‘Miguel?’ Sonny stops abruptly. ‘Miguel? Have you been talking to this Miguel already?’
‘Not yet, but I wouldn’t wanna lose the opportunity.’
‘Only, you seem very pally with Miguel.’
‘He knows we have what he wants, Sonny.’
‘Good, we’ll let the cunt roast – he mighta topped my pal.’
‘I don’t think he did.’
‘You seem to know what he knows, and what he doesn’t.’
‘That gadget has got some Judas device, some tracking system.’
‘Don’t care,’ says Sonny, walking towards the door. ‘Fifty, fifty. Tell your South American mate, Miguel, I’m gonna let him keep half …’ Sonny rings the doorbell. ‘If he behaves himself.’
I can hear Missus Burns fumbling with the bolts and catches. I have the power of life and death over Sonny – a tricky dilemma. I want out; the authorities are hunting me and Sonny is holding everything up, but everyone’s losing patience with me, not him. They know it’s pointless getting angry with Sonny. They think I’m delaying a lucrative deal, think the time for chit-chat and diplomacy has passed, that I’m being a stubborn cunt. I could have Sonny killed with one call. If only Sonny knew how I look out for him.
Missus Burns opens the door. ‘Is Roy with you?’ she asks, looking hopefully down the hallway. One look at her tells you she’s worried.
‘No,’ says Sonny, trying to appear calm. ‘I haven’t seen him. I popped round on the off-chance, to collect my briefcase.’
‘What briefcase is that, Sonny?’
‘I left it here the other day, when I was here with Roy. I didn’t want to bring it to the club with me.’ Missus Burns looks unconvinced. ‘It’s on top of the wardrobe. Roy put it there.’
‘Not at the moment,’ says Sonny. ‘Not sure we’ve got time for tea. You haven’t seen Roy then?’ he asks, trying to sound calm.
‘No, I’m sorry,’ says Missus Burns, apologising. ‘I’m a little worried.’
‘Roy was meant to pop round last night. He said he had an appointment to keep.’
‘What appointment was that?’ says Sonny, getting curious.
Missus Burns turns to me, her wrinkly hand on my sleeve, ‘He calls twice a day, wherever he is in the world, Spain or the West Indies—’
‘One second,’ Sonny interrupts her, an edge in his voice. ‘He didn’t say who he was going to meet, did he?’
‘No, Sonny, just that he had someone to meet and he would come after. Are you sure you haven’t seen him?’
‘Not since yesterday morning,’ says Sonny.
‘I just worry that he might have had an accident, got in some trouble.’ Sonny has a frown across his forehead, trying to riddle out who Roy was meeting. ‘Should I ring the hospital, do you think?’ she asks Sonny.
‘He’s only gone missing one day, Missus Burns. They might not entertain yer.’
‘But he’s usually so regular, with his calls, I mean … And I tried ringing his phone this morning, but it said that the service was unavailable. What does that mean, Sonny?’
‘Means his phone’s turned off, or run out of battery. Maybe he met a girl,’ says Sonny with an unconvincing tone.
‘He’d still ring me, Sonny,’ replies Missus Burns with a hint of anger. ‘Now where did you say this case was?’
‘Top of the wardrobe, Missus B,’ says Sonny moving towards the door. ‘I can get it, no worries.’
‘Maybe I should ring the police,’ says Missus Burns.
Sonny stops dead. ‘I don’t think Roy would like that.’
‘No, Missus Burns,’ says Sonny with an edge. ‘See, Roy had problems with the police, didn’t he?’ She nods. ‘People pick on Roy, for some reason … police did as well. Remember, he had that trouble … They made allegations they couldn’t prove … It’s why he had to go away …’ Missus Burns is nodding furiously. ‘See, I don’t think Roy would want you ringing the police.’
‘No, you’re right, Sonny.’
‘I only wish I had a mother like you, looking out for me,’ says Sonny, and then to me, ‘Don’t you wish you had a mother like Roy’s?’
‘Yeah, I do,’ I reply, but I feel like I’m gonna vomit all over her carpet any second. This is day one of Missus Burns’ life as a mother of a desaparecido – a disappeared – never being able to grieve or go to a funeral, because Roy is gone to an unmarked grave or disintegrated back to dust, a victim of a double life his little old mum knew nothing about. And Missus Burns would defend Roy’s reputation to her dying breath. I see Roy’s face now like Roy saw Jesus’ yesterday, can hear Roy now – do you feel the need to confess, Ted, to unburden yourself? – his redemption mantra, can smell his blood and the cordite. Trouble is, the only way for Roy’s mother to get answers is for me, Mort and Ted to be either in the witness box or the dock … Life is a contact sport – someone is going to end up carried from the field.
‘Are you okay there, son?’ Missus Burns asks me. ‘You don’t look well.’
‘I’m okay,’ I reply. ‘Could I get a glass of water?’
‘You won’t have some tea?’
‘No, water will be fine.’
Missus Burns goes into the kitchen. Sonny is looking at me with an intensity that could burn through steel, looking into me – almost a smug expression – nodding to himself, like he’s got a clue … Missus Burns comes back with a glass of water and hands it to me.
‘If I may, Missus Burns,’ says Sonny, ‘could I get that briefcase? I know where Roy put it.’
‘You help yourself, Sonny,’ says Missus Burns.
Sonny dodges out the living room, into the bedroom leaving me alone with Missus Burns.
‘You look like you need a good feed …’ she half-whispers to me, ‘and different company.’ She takes my hand in her dry, bony one, ‘remember, you are the company you keep.’ Her eyes dart, for a split-second, towards the bedroom, contempt in her eyes. ‘Always remember that, son.’ She pats my hand. ‘Is my Roy okay, son?’ she asks.
‘As far as I know, Missus Burns,’ I lie. I feel like crying.
I want to wrench my hand away and run but she lets it slip away as Sonny returns with his briefcase.
‘Best we be going,’ he says, moving towards the front door, knowing it can be an elongated process leaving. But today Missus Burns appears tired, and half shoos us out.
Sonny walks fast to the stairs, breathing heavy, swinging his case. Suddenly he turns to face me. I push past him, almost tumbling down the stairs, but he keeps getting ahead, intercepting me.
‘What was all that about?’
‘You know. I saw your fuckin face.’
‘What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I think you know something about where Roy was last night, and why he isn’t around this morning.’
‘I don’t know nothing about Roy – you’re getting carried away.’
‘Oh, yeah? So, tell me, where were you last night?’
‘Leave it out, Sonny. This is hysteria—’
‘Hysteria? You cunt! My pal’s dead—’
‘We don’t know that. His mum’s worried about him, and you’re starting a witch-hunt—’
‘So? If it’s all a loada bollocks, where were yer?’
‘I ain’t gonna get into this—’
‘Maybe you were out with yer pal Miguel, planning to row me out …’
‘Leave it out, Sonny—’
‘Maybe you were trying to bend Roy’s head, and he weren’t having it …’ He leans in close. ‘See, I know stuff about you, your old boss, how you put one in his can. You ain’t all sweetness and light …’ What the fuck is he on about? I trot past him down the stairs. ‘See, I know you’ve put people away.’
I stop at the bottom of the stairs, turn and face Sonny.
‘Hang on, are you saying I killed Roy? Are you mad?’
‘I ain’t mad, pal,’ he says, trotting down the stairs, ‘but there’s shit going on that I don’t know about … that worries me.’ I push open the security door. We pass through. It shuts automatically, with a clunk, but he’s in front of me again. ‘Hang on,’ he says, looking left and right, ‘where’s them two boys? Where’s the motor?’
The Range Rover is gone. The street is deserted. Quick as a snake, Sonny grabs me, his free hand on my throat, and pushes me against the brickwork. ‘What you know about this? What do you know about Roy, you cunt?’
I’m wriggling, choking, trying to get his hand off my neck. He’s crushing my adam’s apple, but suddenly a huge motorbike roars into the courtyard and skids to a halt, fifteen feet away from us. Two people are on the bike, both with crash helmets with dark visors, wearing cheap wedding suits like the ones Santos’ crew had on … and gloves.
The passenger aims a semi-automatic pistol with a silencer directly at Sonny, both hands on the gun. Sonny swings me round; I’m a human shield. The shooter lets go two quick shots – doff, dooff. They shatter the wired glass in the door behind us. Sonny uses all his strength to manoeuvre me between him and them. The shooter takes careful aim again. Two more shots. We duck. This time they clunk into the brickwork, just missing Sonny’s head. Sonny is moving like a boxer, bobbing and weaving. The gunman is calmly pointing at Sonny with his gun, gesturing for me to move aside. It’s Sonny they’ve come to execute – they’re stalking him. The shooter lets go two more shots. They miss by a whisker. Our luck’s running out. Sonny starts to drag me backwards. The two guys on the motorbike appear remarkably calm.
The driver calmly guns the engine and rolls the bike to a better angle, like he’s got all the time in the world. Sonny drags me backwards. We take cover behind a metal dustbin, dodging backwards and forwards.
‘Ask them what they want! Tell them they can have the fuckin thing!’ Sonny screams in my ear. ‘You talk their language!’
‘What fuckin language?’
‘Just fuckin tell ’em!’
‘It’s too fuckin late for that, Sonny!’
The shooter starts putting rounds into the huge dustbin – they ricochet, echoing – someone’s hitting a gong with a hammer. They reposition the bike again, both slowly shaking their heads. They’re impatient. They could so easily just shoot me to get me out of the way. I’m dispensable. Sonny retains his grip on the Gucci briefcase. With the other hand he’s holding on for dear life. The shooter goes to get off the bike, to come over and finish us off, but the driver taps him on the helmet and shakes his head. The driver rolls the bike closer.
Sonny, not missing a trick, suddenly sprints – behind the bike, zigzagging as he goes. Moving fast, faster than he should for a guy his build, across the courtyard, away from the street and the gun. It confuses them; the shooter gets off a shot but it misses. The driver lumbers the bike around – there’s cursing under helmets – been too casual. But Sonny’s hit fifth gear. He’s heading for a row of old sheds at the far end of the courtyard. Sonny, on the move, throws his briefcase over the sheds. He hits one of the doors at full speed with his leg almost straight out. It gives him enough momentum to grab hold of the ledge on the top and scramble up onto the roof. In double-quick time Sonny’s rolling across, and dropping down out of sight. This confuses the assassins. They speed the bike over to the sheds and the passenger quickly clambers up onto the roof. He looks around then jumps down, indicates to his pal, in basic sign language – a shrug and a circular movement of the gun – that they must go round the back to find Sonny. But they don’t know how to get to the other side.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes