Viva La Madness, p.47J. J. Connolly
Change the fuckin record, pal.
‘You hear all that bullshit about “the third party who holds the device as we speak,” – it’s bullshit, English diplomacy. They’re past masters. I didn’t believe it for a second. I think they were negotiating with the Sonny guy … The one who stole it from Jesus. They were playing for time, you see? Getting round the security system that that Austrian prick put on without waiting to be asked.’
‘So, let me get this straight …’ says Raul, ‘I’m not getting it, Miguel … We pay them and then we kill them?’
‘No, Raul!’ replies Miguel. ‘We go into business with them! Don’t you see? These are people who can make things happen. They have the connections, Raul – we don’t. Raul, you’re not going to do anything to sabotage this thing. Promise me, Raul.’
‘I promise, Miguel,’ replies Raul, no doubt with hand on heart.
‘They’re wired in at the top and the bottom, Raul. Jesus has done us a major solid. If that prick weren’t dead I’d kiss the fucker.’
‘So what happened to Jesus?’ asks Raul.
‘Who gives a fuck? I’ll ask them afterwards, you understand – wouldn’t be decorum, old boy, to ask beforehand … I’ll ask them if they know why he was in London … And what happened to Santos … But, Raul …’ He adopts a mad English accent, ‘that would be totally infra-dig, old boy.’
I can hear Miguel crack up laughing. Raul don’t think it’s as funny as Miguel who’s obviously hit his own sweetspot and can barely stay the right side of hysterical.
Smiler moves the recording on. ‘ … and when Giles said one hundred million I thought I’d misheard him,’ says Miguel. ‘I wanted to run to the bank to give it to him, the sanctimonious prick. Thought he was dealing with idiots. No, Raul, whatever happens these guys stay alive. Voy a prender una vela en la iglesia pa’ que no les pase nada a nuestros nuevos amigos. I’m going to light a candle in the church for our new friends. Going to pay the priests to say mass for the motherfuckers … Gonna hire them the best guardian angels money can buy.’
‘But,’ says Raul, ‘they’ve swindled us.’
‘Raul, it’s not our money. I can’t wait, everything’s back on track. I thought I was going to have to pay it out of my own pocket for a minute. One hundred million … it’s beautiful.’
Miguel is laughing, then he stops suddenly. ‘Only one hundred million …’ he asks himself. ‘It makes sense … but then it doesn’t …’
‘Could it be a trap, an ambush?’ asks Raul.
‘How could it be a trap, Raul? Nothing moves without the device. They understand that, their money’s on the memory stick … ’
‘Could still be a trick, Miguel,’ growls Raul.
‘But how, Raul?’ says Miguel. ‘You tell me … I couldn’t believe it that these London jokers settled for one hundred million.’
I see it now, in hindsight. Miguel didn’t miss a beat when Giles said one hundred million. It was surprise, not indignation, he was expressing, or suppressing. He indulged in token resistance, for the sake of form, this being England. Sonny was right; we should have pushed for more. I feel slightly belittled but it’s my perspective that has been manipulated. Millions of dollars, washed up, in an offshore bank, with Miguel Zambrano’s thanks and blessing – with no comebacks – looks real handsome at the moment. Sonny’s greed could be fatal at this stage of the game. My whack will be in the region of twenty-five million, tax-free, to invest in real estate. I can lose myself again, live off rental income, be set up for life. I know I’m gonna get paid … get out alive … I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time – relief.
‘Smiler,’ I tell him, ‘I’m gonna make sure you get a bung out of this. How’s a couple of million dollars sound?’
‘I don’t really need a million dollars,’ says Smiler, casually. ‘I’ve got more money than I know how to spend. Peace of mind is more important than money.’
‘Oh, bless. You’ve had a revelation, Smiler. How sweet.’
‘You just keep me sweet with Sonny and Roy – put a word in when you see ’em. Tell ’em how helpful I was … Roy ’specially … He’s the real … you know?’
‘I know, Smiler, I’ll have a word with Roy, let him know you riddled it out.’
Except … No Roy. Ted shot Roy.
‘Smiler,’ I tell him, ‘you can pack and go. Thanks for your help.’
‘What about all this hardware?’ he says, nodding at the computer gear.
‘Sling it in a skip … if you can be bothered.’
I get back on the street and ring Morty.
‘What’s the verdict?’ he asks.
‘Carpe diem, Mort.’
‘Seize the day? Am I right?’
‘Affirmative. We get on a plane and ring that arrogant little fucker Miguel from New York City.’
VIVA LA MADNESS
Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
Thursday, 20th September 2001
I landed back here on last Friday evening, three days after the planes hit the towers. I could feel, in the midst of the chaos and speculation, somehow safe, as if a conjurer’s sleight of hand was diverting global attention far away from me. There was an atmosphere of psychosis in the air but I felt thankful, for once, to be a nonentity. Truth be told, nobody was looking for white guys, wearing Ralph Lauren linen suits, travelling on British passports, that nice Mister Berkeley, perfect gentleman, whose nonexistent fiancée’s old-money parents held land interests in Barbados, Canada and South America. The Bajan border control personnel were alight, asking the right questions, double-checking passports, but I knew it was simply a formality. I’d already ditched the passport I’d travelled in and out of New York on and was travelling on the passport so kindly donated by Ted Granger, complete with its indefinite US visa.
Two weeks ago, on the overnight flight from London to New York, my head started doing a number on me, plotting a last-minute price hike, the belated coup d’état. But then I decided that I was being greedy and should start to think in terms of receiving twenty-five million rather than thinking I was getting swindled out of more. I was in this as the result of Sonny’s greed and inability to let an opportunity to make some easy money go. I couldn’t exactly say I’d earned the readies – not with a straight face. I was in the right place at the right time and greased the sides. I’d been extremely fortunate. Old wisdom – don’t smack a gift horse in the mouth.
Morty was on the same flight but we didn’t acknowledge each other. One look at Mort told me that any dissent at this stage would be met with disapproval. He wanted mucho dollar to set up his kids with parcels of land in far-flung corners of the globe.
For once we were going to do the deal as arranged. We’d get our money to disappear, wipe our mouths and march on. But then events started to get jumbled up; all those old clichés about fact being stranger than fiction started to become self-evident and too fuckin obvious. Just when I thought I was back to reality, getting a handle on life again – without people getting murdered all around me – something comes along to totally jam the circuits. In Sonny’s words some cunts took a massive liberty. Or, to paraphrase Missus Burns, no matter how mad you think you are, there’s always someone madder … And you can’t negotiate with madness.
We arrived on the Thursday before, just before midnight of the sixth, and rang a surprised Miguel back in London from JFK. Next morning New York was alive, roasting hot, with painted-on blue skies, just as it should be, but in my paranoia I started thinking does everybody know something I don’t know? We went underground, up on the Upper West Side, but the deal kept getting delayed. I was getting understandably itchy. Morty – backed-up by a little firm from London, proper grown-ups, not kids – was bodyguarding the memory stick and me, shadowing me to see if I was being followed, but I wasn’t.
Miguel had moved fast, arrived in New York on the Friday, at midday, but was immediately playing for time, telling us not to be impati
Giles and Miguel were getting increasingly cosy. Giles calmly tells Mort and me that Miguel has decided to cash out and this might cause delays. Everything was happening on Miguel’s schedule now, and he was talking his time to get his ducks in a row.
It annoyed me and Mort but by then Giles the Toff seemed to be in a different camp, had morphed into Giles the Limey – he’s giving you twenty-five million dollars for God’s sake, these things don’t happen overnight.
Then Giles dropped a little surprise on us. He wanted to land all the funds with Curtis in the CBB, before transferring them to each individual offshore account. And Curtis was looking for a fat commission. I disagreed, severely. It almost came to blows one night in a steak restaurant up on the Upper East Side.
I told Giles I wanted mine paid directly into my own account. Giles turned – hissing, frowning, showing cold steel – don’t fuck this up, okay? Don’t you fucking dare make me look like some parochial hillbilly.
Giles is telling us to fucking relax; he can smell the money blowing up Broadway from the financial district. I’ll say this for him, Urquhart couldn’t be intimidated, could get shouty with the best of them – it’s the deal I’ve done with Miguel. You’re making us look like we don’t trust them, like we’re buffoons! He pitched it like we would be fools to not go ahead, telling us Miguel is a fucking genius, hitch your wagon to this chap. Mort was looking for a bucket to throw up in but instead he seriously threatened Giles, marked his card, while waving a steak knife under his nose. Only Giles gets more animated, tells us he’s not an imbecile – he doesn’t want to end up dead or to be running for the rest of his life. Mister Mortimer made sure that Giles got more than a glimpse of his slotting crew, anonymously eating rare sirloin at the next table.
Giles takes a deep breath, tells us that he’ll put the CBB accounts in the name of Berkeley, but separate from Sonny’s – What more do you want, for Christ’s sake? You’ll control the accounts, not me … He turns to me, huffing and puffing – you’ll be the front man, the point of contact. You have the correct ID.
Then he calmed right down; got chatty, blasé, like nothing’s happened, ordered another vodka martini. Take a tip, Mister Mortimer? Twenty-five million dollars is a lot of money. Buy land, as an investment. It’s only going to go one way – up. South America, especially The Argentine. Have a little holiday down there. Montevideo and Buenos Aires are fucking extraordinary … Then Giles went to hook up with Miguel. I went back to my hotel overlooking Central Park.
On the Monday, Giles asked me to meet him in a coffee shop off Liberty Street, down in the Financial District.
‘We’ve bought a closed corporation, off the shelf …’ he told me. ‘You should come and see your company … Pursuit Investments.’
‘And where do I find this Pursuit Investments, Giles?’
‘Slow down, I’m coming to that. We’re on floor ninety-six …’ Giles pointed upwards with his nose, ‘World Trade Centre.’
Miguel met us outside, took me and Giles into the World Trade Centre, Tower One. The lobby was the size of a gigantic shopping mall. We got in the fast elevator. Someone pushed the button for the thirty-eighth floor, not the ninety-sixth. We got out, walked through a reception area without a word being said, and onto a mezzanine overlooking a frantic trading floor.
‘Down there …’ said Miguel, waving like a young emperor, ‘trillions are moving as we speak. Do you think anyone’s looking for our few hundred million? Giles says you’ve got a problem. Is that right?’ I shrugged. ‘You ever read much history?’ he asked. I nodded. ‘You know what this is all about? What we intend to achieve?’ I nodded again. ‘We’ll give you Jenna as a hostage. You sit and wait at a location unknown to us. And when you get the word from Mister Urquhart here, we send Raul to collect her …’
‘How do I know Raul won’t …’
‘Kill you? This is commerce. I don’t know what Mister Urquhart has told you but we will be going into business together. I’ve re-evaluated, decided this is an investment, for the future.’ He tapped his temple. ‘It’s about perspective … The hundred million will be an advance. And it will be recouped.’ He let go a rare but genuine laugh.
I was being told I was definitely getting twenty-five million dollars but felt belittled, like some snotty shitkicker getting in the way of the adult’s aspirations.
‘Mister Urquhart may have a position for you,’ Miguel said, ‘in the infrastructure.’
Giles nodded, dead sneaky. I knew he wasn’t going to turn me over, but he had unquestionably switched sides. He opened his briefcase and handed me a CBB new customer pack that had been couriered over. ‘As we agreed …’ said Giles, with a smirk.
‘You deliver the equipment to Giles,’ said Miguel, ‘and we’ll conclude our business. I’m not about to put my own sister’s life in danger. I want nothing to go wrong … nothing unexpected. We’ve hired a suite of offices upstairs …’
‘So I’m told.’
‘Good, so everything’s good to go. All we need is …’
The memory stick that Morty, and his squad, was holding across town.
‘We go tomorrow,’ said Giles.
‘Nice and early,’ said Miguel.
They had a little chuckle.
I thought the Jenna hostage manoeuvre was designed to get me away from the trade … and maybe it was. If Giles didn’t want me in the building I was going to neglect to inform him where I was tubbed-up with Jenna.
Later I got a phone call from her – where do you want me?
Jenna was the most compliant kidnap victim in history. She was apparently looking at her wristwatch when two of Mort’s crew arrived at the Paramount Hotel coffee shop to collect her from her bodyguards.
They dodged about, losing any tails, real or imagined. Swept her for trackers, confiscated her phone, and used a device to see whether she was bugged. Their shadows worked out that nobody was following them, or Jenna. They brought her to the Hudson Hotel, over by Central Park.
Jenna asked me, by way of greeting – Are you this suspicious about everything? You don’t get how much we want to do this deal, do you? But she complimented me on her abduction – slick, Mister English, muy slick …
She rang Miguel to let him know she was safe … And then slowly took off all her clothes … so I could search her properly … We both knew what was coming next … we’ve got lots of time to kill.
It wasn’t your usual hostage situation – in bed, hot night, making love, strangely tender, then licking the salt off each other. After the festivities, all the events of the last few days caught up with me. I fell asleep, suddenly exhausted … like I’d been drugged … hypnotised by the ceiling fan, but like I was actually relaxed …
But next morning Jenna woke up weirded-out; she’d dreamt about Jesus. He was laughing, full of his insane, hateful mischief, telling her Miguel will get his comeuppance. I was spooked. Jenna was rattling on – reminded me a bit of Roy in the scrap yard – telling me that Jesus will be a restless soul. Jenna swore she saw Jesus’ ghost. She felt his presence from beyond the grave.
I wasn’t that sympathetic, was double alert to a deception. It was a fuckin dream, Jenna! I’m telling her, all the time thinking … This could turn into a fuckin nightmare.
Next thing Giles is on the phone, delivering the real-time sit-rep. He can hear Jenna in the background. Is she all right? Don’t fuck her, okay! Don’t mess this up!
She’s pacing, long strides, talking to herself in rapid Spanish, her fear of Jesus runs deep. Giles is hissing again, telling me to keep her fucking quiet. He puts the phone down on me.
Then Morty called, whispering. He’d delivered the memory stick to Giles
I put Jenna in the shower. She seemed to calm down. Then I got back on the phone with Giles, checking in – stage-by-stage, step-by-step. I could hear irritation in his voice – Give us a break. We’re starting work now. I realised I trusted Miguel more than I trusted Giles but soon he lightened up, even had a little chuckle – fuck me, it’s a breeze. They’ve been in rehearsal. I’ve got to check something with Miguel … I’ll ring you back.
The next time he rang, Giles said, relax, buddy, in two minutes you’ll be a very rich man. I’ll ring you back … Then he was gone again.
Jenna came out of the shower – calm again – kissed me on the lips and half apologised.
Next thing, she’s gone again; she seemed to disappear into herself – physically present but mentally absent. Too bizarre. She sat on the edge on the bed staring into space. I wrapped her in a robe, but got more suspicious still, if that was possible. Then Jenna suddenly leaps up. She wants to go to where Miguel is – right now! All her usual composure and what was left of her poise gone.
I had it explained later, by Mister Mortimer, no less. It was a curious but not totally unique phenomenon. It was psychic trauma. Her twin was in a place of grave danger, maybe dying at that very moment. And she felt it too, felt it to the marrow of her bones.
I told Jenna to call Miguel, punched in the numbers in the phone for her, ready to hand it to her when Miguel answered. But there was no answer, just a low, flat tone – no ring. I tried the number again – same result.
I called Giles; his phone was dead. I tried it again and again, hitting the green button repeatedly. No fuckin answer. Now I’m worried. I tried Morty’s number; no answer – a recorded message, number unobtainable. I got a sickening feeling in my guts.
Jenna was freaked. It got contagious. She tried to get out the door, in spite of only being dressed in a bathrobe. I stopped her. Locked us in – you’re a fuckin hostage, remember? Was your brother’s idea!
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes