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Viva la madness, p.46
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       Viva La Madness, p.46

           J. J. Connolly

  ‘And it transpires our bosses have “associates” who do business with this Cayman bank. These people – nasty, nasty people by all accounts – have deposited their funds there, in expectation of great returns. It’s a small world, isn’t it, Miguel?’

  ‘Getting smaller all the time,’ says Miguel, roasting beneath the Prada collar.

  ‘Maybe incestuous would be a better word,’ says Giles, musing, contemplating this concept. ‘But business is still business. Apparently one of our associates buys “commodities” from one of these investors – if you catch my drift – has done for years. In fact, they advised him to deposit his cash in this Cayman bank but ultimately he preferred to keep it under his Swiss mattress. I think our associate would be delighted to hear his instincts were correct. You know what they say about bad news?’

  ‘Travels fast.’

  ‘Correct,’ says Giles taking a sip of wine. ‘Yes, containment is the name of the game …’

  ‘See, Mister Urquhart …’ says Miguel very politely, ‘let me know if I’m wrong, but I think you’re blackmailing us. I think all this … is just bullshit to sugar the pill.’

  ‘And the pill is what, exactly?’ asks Giles.

  ‘The fact that you’re shaking us down, hustling us like a pair of beach grifters,’ says Miguel. ‘The pill is what, exactly?’ He imitates Giles in a passable English accent.

  ‘The pill, since you ask,’ says Giles, getting eye contact, ‘is ten percent of the balances of the New York accounts.’

  ‘Ten percent?’ asks Miguel, taken aback. Eyebrows raised, quizzical expression.

  ‘Yes, Mister Zambrano … it comes to approximately one hundred million dollars … by our calculations one hundred million dollars for the return of this memory stick.’

  Miguel leans in close to Giles – a quick glance back into the room. ‘Why the fuck should we give you ten percent …?’ he asks real slow. ‘Or ten fucking cents? That piece of equipment is totally worthless to you.’

  ‘You’re not wrong, Miguel,’ says Giles, ‘and it’s reflected in the price. But your extremely ambitious future schemes – that’s schemes plural, long-term and short-term – are in complete and utter jeopardy without it. They’re going to melt down, like ice in the sun.’ Miguel goes to speak but Giles silences him with his hand. ‘We take a “consultancy fee” of ten percent for our help in getting them back on track … and you get to keep a whopping ninety percent … enough for Jenna’s dowry … and in later years, her campaign war chest, a few well-publicised charitable works, a hospital dedicated in her name, no doubt. And, I should point out, without being discourteous, Mister Zambrano, that it’s not actually your money we’re using to facilitate the equipment’s return.’

  Miguel looks at Giles in total fucking amazement, like he can’t fucking believe what a sly, slippery cunt this a-rist-o-crat-ic motherfucker is … I coulda told you what they’re like.

  ‘Ten percent?’ Miguel asks again, incredulous. ‘One hundred million dollars?’

  Giles nods. Miguel translates for Raul but Raul has worked it out already; he understands one hundred million dollars.

  ‘This is a generous deal, on our part,’ says Giles. ‘We want ten percent of what’s deposited in those accounts in New York. We’ve studied the figures … it’s a fair solution.’

  Miguel turns to me. ‘I made an offer to you – it was in product. That’s what we discussed.’

  ‘We didn’t discuss anything, Miguel. And the commodity in this case is money.’

  ‘Miguel,’ says Giles, ‘your cousin started this mess and we are tidying it up, doing your firefighting.’ Giles taps the printouts. ‘When is this project going to run to term?’

  ‘Sorry?’ asks Miguel, like he can’t believe Giles’ impertinence.

  ‘When are you hoping to cash out, Miguel?’ asks Giles.

  ‘Easy now!’ snaps Miguel. ‘Back Fucking Up! That’s none of your business.’ He obviously doesn’t like being out-manoeuvred. ‘How do I know this will be the end of it?’ asks Miguel.

  ‘A deal’s a deal, Miguel,’ says Giles calmly. ‘The people I represent wouldn’t want it to become common knowledge that they received funds from a failed bank … the assets of distraught criminals who deposited their monies there in good faith. They wouldn’t want this to come back to haunt them – they hold positions of power in the legitimate world. They would require complete severance. This would be a collaboration … Think of the fee as a legitimate expense.’

  ‘Your consultancy fee?’ asks Miguel sarcastically.

  Giles nods. ‘For that fee, we make sure the information doesn’t go anywhere near law enforcement. We would be colluding with you, Miguel. Containment is in both our interests. Our bosses are also men of their word. They would require complete confidentiality from you.’

  Giles is going well, careful not to tip the balance between pragmatism and pride. Giles is looking to provide Miguel with enough of a loophole for him, and his ego, to jump through – to grease the sides so decorum is maintained.

  ‘Miguel,’ he says, ‘let me explain something … It’s not in my interests, or the interests of my associate here,’ Giles nods at me, ‘or the people we represent, for those photographs to see the light of day, now or at any time in the future. It would bring attention. This is a business transaction. Any commitments we make will be adhered to. You are dealing with reasonable men …’ Giles takes a sip of water. ‘In that respect, Mister Zambrano, you got very lucky …’

  ‘Lucky?’ says Miguel, with a curious look.

  ‘Through sound judgement, or pure instinct,’ says Giles with a shrug, ‘you approached the correct people in London.’

  ‘I think you’re trying to flatter me now, Mister Urquhart.’

  ‘You know something,’ replies Giles, ‘you’re right … And I would also have thought, Miguel, that one hundred million dollars would be a cheap price to pay when one day in the future you intend to take over a whole country … after building your twin sister up as a popular idol. Her reputation, and maybe her virginity, will need to be intact.’

  Giles’ comment stings Miguel but he says nothing. He stares at the far wall of the room – a hint of megalomania in his faraway eyes, his vision of ruling Venezuela by proxy fulfilled.

  ‘One hundred million dollars …?’ he says, pondering, weighing it up.

  ‘Please let’s not haggle, Miguel,’ says Giles. ‘Let’s both retain our dignity … We know how to keep a secret … you understand?’

  Miguel has the face of a man who’s trying to digest something bitter. Then, just as I think Miguel’s gonna tell us to go fuck ourselves, his expression changes to one of acceptance.

  ‘I’ll pay you.’

  ‘A wise decision,’ nods Giles.

  ‘You know why I’m going to pay you?’ asks Miguel, looking to Giles and me in turn. ‘The money? Fuck the money! My sister’s reputation! It’s worth every cent! But if those photographs appear in years to come … I promise you …’ Miguel gets all Latino. ‘I will come back and haunt the pair of you. I will slice your balls off.’

  Miguel pushes his untouched Dover sole away. He leans forward, a small glance to the left and right. ‘Let me ask you, Mister Urquhart,’ says Mister Zambrano, ‘what is the market like here for product?’

  ‘Given the right infrastructure and distribution you could recoup your hundred million in no time at all.’

  Miguel nods, leans back in his seat. ‘One last thing …’he says. ‘A condition.’

  He points at me. ‘He stops fuckin my sister.’

  ‘Done!’ says Giles. Then he turns to me; this development is breaking news to Giles. ‘Have you been fucking his sister? My God, you are a secretive chap.’

  Suddenly Raul pipes up – hasn’t said a dickie-bird all day. Now he’s gone all rapido Español to Miguel. Fuck it! He’s only insisting on getting Jesus’ body returned – they’re devoted Catholics. Raul can go and dig it up himself. Jesus has already caused enough troubl
e for ten lifetimes.

  Miguel politely asks the question on Raul’s behalf. Giles deflects it, with the utmost grace and cunning, over to me.

  ‘I’m not sure that’s possible … You see … the party who had the altercation with Jesus has actually departed this life themselves … Sadly leaving no clue as to the whereabouts of the remains of Jesus …’

  But then Raul begins chuckling, slowly at first, then gathering in momentum. He’s choking, but trying to keep a straight face. Soon Raul is hysterically giggling, rocking backwards and forwards, spitting fish and soggy potatoes over the table.

  ‘Forgive my brother …’ says Miguel, nodding at Raul, ‘he has an evil sense of humour.’

  ‘Fuck him, fuck Jesus,’ says Raul, through a half-chewed mouthful, fat tears rolling down his chubby cheeks. ‘Let the motherfucker rot in hell.’

  North west Kent actually, Raul.



  Giles clarifies the terms – the Brazilian creditors must be paid off, and ten percent of the account balances shown in the shadow accounts must be transferred to the bank where the now grandly named ‘London Syndicate’ hold accounts. Time is the essence of this agreement, Giles tells Miguel. Miguel simply nods.

  Miguel then points out that for this to work both him and the memory stick must be in the same room. It will only work if Miguel uses the money in the Ponzi accounts to pay off the Londoners. Okay so far …

  ‘You said it yourself, Mister Giles, I’m not paying with my own money. Your consultancy fee needs to come out of those accounts. You’re being naïve if you think I’m paying you out of my own funds. It isn’t going to happen.’

  ‘You buy the kit, Miguel,’ says Giles, ‘we return it to you, then do your business—’

  ‘Hold fire,’ says Miguel, ‘all you’ve shown me is some printouts and told us some bullshit about fairies killing my cousin. And you want me to transfer a hundred million dollars to exactly where? With what evidence that you actually have possession of the merchandise? You’re asking me to trust you and you’re not showing a great deal of trust yourself.’

  ‘This is not an impasse,’ says Giles.

  ‘Too fucking right, it’s not,’ snaps Miguel. ‘Let’s not complicate this. I get in a room with the equipment. I have a foolproof method of matching passwords up with accounts once I’ve got them all in front of me.’

  ‘This Austrian fairy story?’ asks Giles.

  Miguel nods, ‘I send you your money to wherever it needs to go. You then leave and let me do what I need to do. Let’s not make difficulties for ourselves …’ Then Miguel drops a bombshell. ‘But the transaction must be done in New York.’

  ‘New York?’ says Giles, eyebrows raised. ‘Surely the monies can be moved from anywhere?’

  ‘Not these funds. The procedure was always designed to trigger in New York. The accounts are with American banks. We have our people infiltrated into those banks. We’re talking about large amounts of money and years of planning. Show faith, Mister Urquhart.’

  ‘Are the Americans in on it?’ asks Giles.

  ‘Enough already with the questions,’ replies Miguel, smiling a genuine smile. ‘We must retain a little mystique. I wouldn’t worry – financially, New York is an open city. You could buy your own bank and transfer the money there, do what the fuck you like.’

  ‘We have acquiescent banks in place already.’

  ‘That’s good. In New York?’ asks Miguel. Giles says nothing. ‘We work in New York all the time,’ Miguel continues, ‘much prefer it to Miami. There’s something solid … dependable. See … forgive me … this is not criticism, you understand, but you English guys don’t travel well … you’ve got your comfort zone …’

  Miguel gives a regal wave, indicates our grandiose surroundings, then hits us up with an artillery barrage of dazzling possibilities for you gentlemen to think about – the quick-fire round.

  Incorporate a bank in New York State … bypass federal taxes and regulations … the bank is not actually in New York, you understand … flexible currency regulations … open an account in the destination bank … then simply instigate an inter-bank transfer … we’ve done this sort of thing many times … we’ll actually be in the same building, a couple of floors apart … The holding bank and the destination bank will be in the same building … We’ll be relying on you not to make it traceable back to us … use some hocus-pocus, black magic … ‘Severance’ – I like that … We do big deals … We transfer funds all the time … We have global partnerships …

  Miguel is showing off his business school education. He wants to do the deal – no fuckin question. It’s suspicious how much he wants to do the deal. Miguel knows it’s good business, needs the kit back in his kitbag.

  ‘But …’ Miguel shrugs, ‘nothing can move until we get that memory stick in a computer terminal with our men on the inside. Once your money is moved, to our mutual satisfaction of course, and you get confirmation of the transaction from your destination bank, you walk away, leaving us with the memory stick. You retain your paperwork, your “insurance policy” with your attorneys. You want to do business. This is how we do business …’

  Miguel stands up and extends a hand. ‘I realise you will need to talk to the people you represent, Mister Urquhart.’ He shakes Giles’ hand vigorously, and then mine. ‘But I feel we have made progress here today. Let’s speak first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime I will begin arranging travel to New York. Till then, gentlemen.’ Miguel marches back towards the lobby, with big Raul tailing him out. ‘Shall we say nine …?’ he says over his shoulder. Then they are gone. Miguel didn’t eat; his Dover sole went back to the kitchen to feed the cat. Giles is looking pensive.

  ‘Does that make sense to you, Mister Urquhart?’ I ask.

  ‘In a mad kind of way, it makes the most perfect sense, but I need to think this through …’

  Morty has been sat in a motor outside since quarter to one with some gents who look seriously capable. With a nod from Morty they vanish into thin air.

  ‘How did it go?’ he asks.

  ‘Interesting, Mort. They wanna give us a hundred mill but there’s one or two complications to be ironed out.’

  Morty wants to leave the car and walk before he gets the full sit-rep, stretch his legs. Apparently he watched them come out; Miguel was rubbing his hands.

  We walk across St James’s Park, past the bandstand, over the bridge on the lake, trying to work out if we’re being followed.

  ‘It’s good news … mostly, Mort.’

  I explain the situation to Morty.

  ‘Fuckin New York?’ says Morty. ‘What’s Giles saying? Where is Giles, by the way?’

  ‘Giles has gone home to put his head in a bucket of cold water.’

  ‘So what are you saying?’

  ‘The geezer’s prepared to give us one hundred million dollars. I think we might have to prepare ourselves for some give and take.’

  ‘Does that mean we’re going to New York?’

  My phone rings. It’s Smiler.

  ‘I’ve got a funny feeling that this might be significant,’ I tell Mort. ‘How ya doing?’ I ask Smiler.

  ‘You fancy a curry … just me and you?’ He says in such a conspiratorial way that you know that he has something to tell me.

  ‘Yeah, could be good,’ I reply.

  ‘Been eavesdropping, you know?’

  ‘See you at the usual place … about thirty minutes.’

  ‘Come alone,’ says Smiler, melodramatically. ‘Don’t bring the twins, you know?’ He means Sonny and Roy. ‘Good news … if you’ve got a thick hide … And don’t come with the big fella.’ He means Mort. ‘This is for your ears only. I want it to be your call. You seem, like, balanced, pragmatic.’


  ‘How hot do you like yer curry?’ he asks.

  ‘Hot as you can handle.’

  ‘Watch yer Union Jack,’ Smiler says as he disconne

  I hail a cab. I tell Morty I’ll catch up with him in a couple of hours, I’ve got to go and see Smiler, alone – he’s got what Roy Burns would have called real-time intel. Morty just nods.

  Half an hour later I arrive at Smiler’s lab. Sonny’s guys have cleared out but Smiler is still in residence. Before Sonny went to France and Roy went to wherever he ended up, they told him to stay put, so here he is. But he’s not been idle. He’s been earwigging – listening to Miguel and Raul on their arrival back at the Belgravia hacienda, using the landline telephone as a bug.

  Smiler sits me down and we listen to the recording while eating an eye-watering king prawn vindaloo. Transpires Smiler is double competitive where curries are concerned. And Smiler has provided neat English transcripts to complement the tidied-up and amplified recordings in Spanish – the edited highlights. I have a nasty feeling in my guts; thought I was home and dry but now I feel a stitch-up coming. Good news, if ya got a thick hide is rattling around the canister.

  Over in Belgravia, a celebratory mood is the order of the day. Miguel sounds like he’s got champagne bubbles tickling his nose. Raul asks him if they’ll go through with the arrangement – he could easily get them all wiped out. Miguel tells Raul it would be foolhardy. He’s telling Raul to send a team down to talk to these Brazilian monkeys, offer them ten cents on the dollar … If they refuse, you know what to do … Have your fun, live ammo practice. It’s beautiful. We’ve just got to make sure nothing happens to these Brits.

  ‘And after …?’ says Raul, with a trace of hope in his voice.

  ‘And after … we open up a London office, Raul. Think about it – Caracas, New York … and London. These guys are looking for good raw product coming in the diplomatic bag. It’s wide open here … we use these guys to develop the market. We landed on the top of the pyramid. If they step up to the plate, great … If not, we find someone else. I like this place, it’s civilised … Eating Dover sole, sitting around drunk all afternoon. Papa would love it here … These Brits have got something going on … it’s called class, Raul, and you can’t fuckin buy it.’

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