Viva la madness, p.44
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       Viva La Madness, p.44

           J. J. Connolly

  Dougie, meanwhile, is pacing – no doubt worried about how to safeguard his own health and reputation. Suddenly he clicks his fingers.

  ‘Giles, you could fly Sonny over to France in your aircraft, the one at Elstree.’

  Giles shoots Dougie a cutting look but says nothing. But Dougie continues, turns to Morty, ‘Giles keeps a light aircraft, at the aerodrome, just outside London – says it’s a great way to empty a pair of knickers—’

  ‘It would be easier for Sonny to get on a train at Waterloo,’ snaps Giles, obviously not liking Dougie’s idea. ‘I can’t fly in the dark.’

  ‘But it’s not dark, Giles,’ points out Dougie – literally pointing out the window.

  ‘Not yet, Douglas,’ he hisses, the spa glow totally gone. ‘Anyway, I haven’t filed a flight plan. Are you suggesting I fly Sonny down to Spain?’

  ‘No, just to Paris, Sonny could pick up the overnight express, be in Spain—’

  ‘Because I wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to Spain,’ snaps Giles, defensively. ‘It’s bloody foolish to suggest—’

  ‘We got all the way to Marrakech that time,’ suggests Dougie.

  Giles clearly doesn’t want to be reminded about Marrakech that time. His eyes narrow to slits. So do Sonny’s; he’s watching Giles like a Doberman.

  ‘We stopped to refuel, Dougie, if you remember, in Le Touquet.’ Giles straightens up, becomes the courtroom lawyer. ‘Oh, no, you wouldn’t remember, Douglas. You were in your usual drunken haze. Anyway, it will be dark on the way back.’

  ‘Dark? Those crates fly themselves, with the GPS, autopilot – you said so yourself. You have them eating out of your hand up at that airfield, so a flight plan’s not a problem.’ Dougie turns to Morty and laughs. ‘Airfield? It’s a glorified car park, for planes, with a control tower.’

  ‘Fuck’s sake, Dougie!’ barks Giles, suddenly irritated. ‘You shouldn’t even be in here!’

  ‘What?’ screams Douglas, ‘In my own fucking house?’

  ‘No! In this fucking room! Discussing these matters!’

  ‘How dare you!’

  ‘It’s nothing to do with you, you fucking degenerate!’

  ‘It’s everything to do with me, Giles,’ screams Dougie, pointing at Sonny, ‘if my fucking business partner happens to get murdered!’

  ‘Oh, stop being such a fucking old drama queen!’

  ‘My life has been threatened on two occasions and you don’t think I have the right to be concerned? Well, fuck you, Giles Urquhart!’

  ‘And fuck you, Reginald Draper!’ Giles retorts with dry malice.

  This really hurts – using Dougie Nightingale’s real name. Dougie regains his composure, takes a standing count. ‘Urquhart … you are a complete cunt …’he hisses. ‘A cunt with a capital Kay.’

  Giles feigns indifference.

  ‘Oi, Giles …’ says Sonny, interrupting their squabble.

  ‘Yes, Sonny?’ asks Giles.

  ‘Listen to me … I want you to fly me over to Paris tonight, okay?’ Sonny says it in such a way that it would be foolish to refuse. Giles has inbred deference, knows when someone is issuing a command. Sonny isn’t finished. ‘Then I want you to come back and sort this business out. You get the memory stick when I get to France. I’m trustin you, Giles, okay?’

  Giles nods his head. ‘Okay, Sonny, but … I think it would be better if we flew to the south west of Paris, to the field at Le Mans Arnage. It’s suitably provincial … The security, gendarmerie, customs, et cetera, are practically nonexistent.’ Giles is nodding to himself. ‘You can easily catch a taxi into town and pick up the overnight sleeper. You might have to lose that briefcase, and look like a tourist … You have your passport?’

  Sonny taps the Gucci briefcase, holds up three fingers.

  ‘One should be sufficient, Mister King.’

  After farewells and token threats from Sonny, he and Giles cut out and head to the small airfield at Elstree. Giles insists that we don’t accompany them up to genteel, rural Hertfordshire. This was a stealth mission and one nefarious character onboard is enough.

  ‘No offence taken, Giles,’ says Morty. ‘We don’t all need to go.’ Then he tells Sonny, ‘You’re in safe hands with Giles. We’ll keep you posted …’

  So Sonny leaves, still telling us he wants to avenge Roy, still clutching his briefcase across his chest. Dougie shows them out – we shouldn’t leave together, Morty insists, just in case. And when Dougie returns to the dining room …

  ‘Well done, Douglas,’ says Morty, shaking his hand, ‘perfect – a faultlessly executed coup de grâce.’

  ‘Thank you, kind sir,’ says Dougie with a small bow.

  ‘You ever trod the boards?’ asks Mort. ‘Only I think you’re wasted in nightclubs.’

  ‘Well, I do have a strong element of the thespian,’ says Dougie. ‘It’s a stage, you know?’

  ‘Quite right,’ says Mort, dryly, nodding. ‘All the world’s a stage.’

  ‘And all the men and women merely players,’ replies Dougie. ‘They have their exits and their entrances—’

  ‘Good thinking, Dougie, let’s go and get a drink somewhere quiet,’ says Mort, getting up.

  ‘Let us make haste, my noble Lord Mortimer,’ says Dougie with a theatrical flourish.

  Morty has a very thin smile … Thinking he might have started something.

  And so we wait on Giles in the secluded corner of a pub garden in leafy Hampstead, letting Douglas tell us stories of what goes on in public school dormitories after lights out. Seems to think us lower orders have some perverse fascination with their sexual penchants, pecking orders and domination techniques. Morty doesn’t agree with Dougie’s argument that you’re not necessarily homosexual if you sling your tool up another man’s back-alley. Dougie keeps popping off to the khazi for fat rails every twenty minutes. And all the time we’re creeping closer to our multi-million dollar payday.

  Dougie’s reward for his outstanding performance? Control of the Monarch Club, no more interference from Sonny. He’s free to rinse it out, fuck it up big style and generally run it into the ground. While Doug’s having a nose-up Morty drops an FYI on me. The route that Sonny is using to leave the UK is the same one, in reverse, that Duppy Granger used to attend his own funeral – same overnight train, but going north – certainly the same pilot on the final leg of the journey. Ted arrived in London the exact same time I did.

  As the pub begins to shut, at the end of a glorious English summer’s day, and four hours after we left him, Giles rings on Dougie’s phone to say that Sonny is in France, heading due south to Spain – talking about flying some of his crew into Malaga, for protection against the ghost that is Santos de Lucia. Giles is about to take off on the return leg.

  ‘They want to know if you have the thing, Giles,’ says Dougie.

  ‘Mise en place,’ says Giles, laughing against the noise of static and a noisy propeller, ‘mise en place.’

  ‘What the fuck?’ asks Morty.

  ‘French, Mort,’ I tell him. ‘Means everything’s in place, means we’re sweet.’



  Giles wants to have a pre-meet meeting, just me and him – to discuss tactics – away from the rendezvous, at an oyster bar around the back of Piccadilly, before we move on to his private club. So here I am, nice and early, tubbed-up in a booth in the corner.

  This is a bit more civilised – we’ve been jumping about like itchy hillbillies at a barn dance, not like crims at all. Morty is babysitting the memory stick, and neither Giles nor myself have any knowledge of its whereabouts. Mister Miguel, meanwhile, was very inquisitive when I spoke to him on the phone this morning. He was being cute – fishing, trying to keep the expectation out of his voice. Miguel agreed to a meeting and when I told him the where and when, and the fact that he would be meeting a lawyer who looks after our interests, he got more curious still. A lawyer …? That’s good … We made the meet for one o’clock.
  Tip for ya: always strike matches away from the body, never keep a monkey as a pet and always arrive early for a meet. Always sit facing the door, rub a smidgen of talcum powder on your hands before you leave your slaughter or hotel room. Blow your nose, dress appropriately, remain anonymous. Don’t eat the nuts or olives, that’s a schnorrer move, don’t want oily hands. Remember who you’re meant to be. Sit still in your seat, absorb your surroundings and don’t fidget. You’re here on business, not to fuck about.

  This morning before I left my little hidey-hole in Swiss Cottage, I looked in the mirror and told myself that all I have to do is hold it together – not go insane – for a little while longer, deal with this mad shit later. I dream of Stevie, Santos, Evey and Roy – ’course I do. What else would I do? Madness is what happens to sane people around insane events.

  After a couple of minutes Giles arrives. He spots me across the restaurant and makes his way over. We exchange pleasantries once again as he settles in his seat. Today his accent is dry, crisp, almost a drawl.

  ‘Sonny rang this morning,’ Giles tells me. ‘He’s convinced he’s better off out of it.’

  ‘While we’re on the subject, Giles,’ I tell him in all seriousness, getting eye contact, ‘I better get this off my chest. I don’t wish to be rude, but, if you ever pull a stroke on me like you and Dougie did on Sonny, I will kill you.’

  ‘Easy now,’ he says. ‘That charade was your colleague Morty’s idea—’

  ‘Try me, Giles. See if I’m joking.’

  ‘This is totally unnecessary …’ says Giles, genuinely offended.

  ‘Ask Duppy to see my pedigree papers …’ I tell him, leaning in close. ‘Ask Mister de Lucia …’ I whisper, ‘Oh, you never got to meet Santos, did you, Giles …’

  I give Giles a wink. Won’t do any harm at all if he thinks I’m a bit naughty. Giles is slowly nodding, musing, like he does, taking it in …

  ‘It’s not a problem, Giles,’ I say, suddenly all sweetness and big smile, ‘just felt the need to say it, you understand?’

  Giles takes it like a grown-up. The waiter arrives and Giles orders, with my permission, for us both; a dozen native oysters and gentleman’s relish – mashed anchovy with a ton of salt – to spread on toast. Giles doesn’t want to sit down with Miguel and Raul feeling hungry.

  Giles tells me he’s spent the morning reading the brief – the transcripts of Miguel’s conversations with his lawyers and bankers, getting up to speed on all the mischief pertaining to Miguel’s bank. Giles even had a gander at the photos of Jenna Zambrano so he knows what we’re dealing with. The waiter brings the food in double-quick time.

  ‘We don’t tell them we’ve got the memory stick,’ I suggest. ‘We tell them we can get the memory stick.’

  ‘I’m ahead of you,’ says Giles, tipping back an oyster, ‘but why do you think that?’

  ‘Because Raul, the brother, will want to go to work if he thinks he can get the kit today, now, for nothing. He wants to go home. He doesn’t like the food here in England. Smiler told me. He’s driving poor Miguel mad.’

  ‘This is a meeting to explore the feasibility of returning the memory stick.’

  ‘You think this will work, Giles – doing a deal with Miguel?’

  ‘Can’t see why not. He’s been to business school and this is strictly business. If I were Miguel, I’d call it manna from heaven. He made the mistake of letting that gadget out of his possession, even if it was an accident, so he has to suffer the consequences. Our job is to manipulate his perspective, prosecute that argument.’

  ‘Sorry,’ I say, genuinely apologetic, ‘about that business a minute ago.’

  ‘No problem, helps clear the air, buddy. You know …’ says Giles, pensively, like he’s got an agenda, ‘you look like a gent who knows how to spend money … sees it as an entrée … I don’t wish to be rude about Sonny …’

  ‘But you’re gonna be, so you might as well enjoy it … I know what you’re gonna say …’

  ‘How much money can a chap like Sonny King really appreciate?’

  ‘I hope you’re not sounding me out to turn him over. I’ve had this conversation before,’ I say, ‘with The Terrible Twins.’ Giles says nothing. ‘I don’t need to remind you, Giles, that Sonny will be back over this side … and he might have riddled out one or two things.’

  ‘Like what, exactly?’

  ‘Like you wanted him out of the way, so he wouldn’t interfere. He’s only gone because he’s scared of Bridget Granger.’

  ‘I’d be worried about the man who wasn’t scared of Bridget,’ says Giles, scooping down another oyster. ‘I’d rather fight a Ghurkha. Ted told my father that even as a child she was vindictive. You know your intervention saved Sonny’s life?’

  ‘And all the money he’s ever worked for.’

  Giles grimaces. ‘Ted always hated Sonny – never met him, mind. Made money with Sonny, but hated him nonetheless,’ says Giles, shrugging. ‘Ted hated the idea of Sonny King – being arrogant, owning clubs.’

  ‘But you and Ted helped him buy the fuckin thing, Giles. You, no doubt, hooked him up with your chum Dougie … or do I mean Reg?’

  ‘Didn’t say it was rational, did I?’ he says, downing another oyster. ‘Bridget … deadlier than the male … and the males are pretty deadly … no offence.’

  ‘None taken.’

  ‘It was Bridget who suggested getting Sonny working for them, doing the you-know-what … making serious money for them before they swindled him.’

  ‘Before Bridget offed him, you mean, Giles?’ I say. ‘Let’s be adults.’

  He nods. ‘And all this insanity started over some bizarre story about a mother and child marooned at some airport—’

  ‘Oh, yeah?’

  ‘Couple of years ago …’ Giles starts on his toast. ‘I never got to the bottom of it – suddenly Ted’s screaming blue murder, wanting to seriously hurt Sonny King …’

  Mad Eve and Hyper Rory, clucking for smack and e-numbers at the airport while Sonny topped up his tan – the kinda tale that brings out the self-righteous in every crim.

  ‘So instead they go into business with Sonny?’ I ask. ‘To set him up?’

  Giles just shrugs. ‘Told you it was mad, didn’t I? Sonny made money for them, with your friend Mortimer as a go-between.’

  ‘Sonny wasn’t going to retire down to Spain, whether that yacht sank or not, was he?’

  Giles ignores the question, catches the waiter’s eye and gestures for the bill. ‘I think your friend Mortimer kept Sonny alive, for the last two years – kept telling Ted it would be insane to do harm to Sonny … while Bridget was poisoning Ted, telling him nobody’s indispensable. People are strange …’

  There’s no answer to that. Bridget wanted to work Sonny hard in revenge for Evey, before she made him disappear. Maybe me arriving was the beginning of Bridget’s endgame.

  The bill arrives. ‘You know what I’m curious about?’ asks Giles, getting out his wallet and dropping two twenties on the platter, a small frown on his forehead. ‘I don’t wish to be personal, or rude – please don’t take offence – but you don’t come across as a typical criminal.’

  ‘You’re right, Giles. I’ve always believed it’s a short cut … to wealth … within reason … I ain’t greedy. How rich can one man be?’

  ‘You think criminality is about money?’ Giles wipes his hands on a linen napkin then slings it on the table. ‘Interesting concept …’ He looks at his watch. ‘Time to go.’

  Out of the dozen oysters, Giles managed seven, while I got to make do with five – but who’s counting? Toffs. Buggers can’t help themselves.

  We stroll through the backstreets to Giles’ club. I begin to think of Jesus Zambrano running amok in these Mayfair streets a couple of weeks ago. I can see Giles’ thinking in wanting to have the meeting here – it’s not the sort of place that encourages shoot-outs or kidnapping, with its Grecian columns, Union Jack flags, sweeping flight of steps up to the hug
e double doors and attentive, liveried doormen. I would prefer somewhere away from witnesses and curious individuals. But this place is semi-public, so Miguel, or more particularly Raul, won’t be cutting up rough. Giles wants to repeatedly emphasise that it’s a business transaction – plain and simple. And he thinks Miguel, if perhaps not Raul, will appreciate the sense of history that oozes from the very fibre of the building. I have my doubts.

  ‘Follow my lead,’ says Giles, as we enter. ‘It’s best not to over-rehearse. Let our case unfold slowly so Mister Zambrano can digest it. Remember this is commerce, the bedrock of civilisation.’

  ‘Don’t underestimate this guy, Giles.’

  ‘I don’t underestimate anybody,’ says Giles with genuine steel.

  We enter the echoing, baroque entrance hall – cool marble, the air and atmosphere still and calm. There’s a lingering smell, centuries old, of cigars and brass polish. Above the reception desk there’s a Roll of Honour of past chairmen and a small brass plaque, commemorating three staff members killed in the Great War.

  There’s no need for Giles to announce himself; he gets shown through to the dining room – not restaurant – to a table in an alcove in the far corner. The room is oak-panelled, hung with portraits of dignitaries with insincere smiles, cruel eyes that follow you around the room. They were doing white-collar crime, insider trading, here before it was invented. Other guys in the dining room nod to Giles like he’s well-respected in his circle, got a dash of charisma. There’s a surprising amount of young geezers in here. You’d think that these clubs would be full of ancient coffin-dodgers and trust-funded layabouts, half-pissed and dribbling, getting ready to snooze the afternoon away in plump armchairs, but the gaff is full of junior swells, the next wave.

  I order a Sanbitter, with only a little crushed ice, then I sit back to observe.

  These aristocratic fuckers didn’t stay where they are by being all-round good eggs. They got to, and stayed, at the top by being conniving jackals.

  Family mottos: ‘Play Both Sides’, ‘Survive At All Costs’, ‘Eat Your Young’, ‘Strike Back First’, ‘Never Forget, Never Forgive’.

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