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Viva la madness, p.48
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       Viva La Madness, p.48

           J. J. Connolly
 

  I stood in front of the door but I don’t know if someone was going to come flying through it to shoot me dead. Jenna screamed at me – Something’s going on. I don’t know what, but it is!

  She tried to get out again. I barred her way.

  What do you know, Jenna? Fuckin tell me! Is someone coming to kill me?

  Jenna stopped struggling, her voice small, tears in her eyes, something’s happening to Miguel. I just know it. What have your men done? Have they killed him?

  I’m asking Jenna if I’m about to be assassinated but she’s telling me that I’ve killed her brother, after making love to her, telling me I’m an animal. A hostile stalemate broke out. I ain’t a fuckin murderer. I told her to get dressed, straight away, right fuckin now. Jenna quickly pulled on her clothes. I got dressed as well, trying Giles’ number the whole time – nothing.

  ‘Where are we going?’ she asked.

  ‘To that fuckin office.’

  We got in a cab outside. The driver was from Kuwait and had the news station on loud and crazy Arabic music, wailing pipes and racing drums. It sounded frivolous and optimistic. I told him he’d get a fat tip if he hurried. He smiled, put his foot down. Me and Jenna were speeding downtown on Broadway, sat at either ends of the back seat. Then the news comes on the radio; reports that Tower One has been hit by a plane – a fuckin plane?

  The cab driver pulled over to the curb and snapped the music off. We sat in silence, just listening to the news reporter getting increasingly frantic. For a couple of minutes Jenna and me were close – sat together, hugging like kids.

  When the second plane hit the driver started crying and praying, quietly rocking backwards and forwards in his seat. Fire trucks, police cars and wagons were all screaming south. I sat in the back of the cab and slowly, selfishly, began to decide that the gods were conspiring against me.

  Jenna suddenly started feeling her pain by proxy again. It was eerie – something bad is happening to Miguel. She began screaming at the driver, ordering him to drive but he just retreated further and further into himself. Then she was out of the cab and gone. I jumped out but I couldn’t see her; she vanished, disappeared – headed south.

  I didn’t wanna leave the driver on his own weeping but I did. I felt awkward stood on the pavement. I dropped a bundle of notes through the cab window then put my head round the door of a crowded coffee shop. Everyone was in shock, stunned, gazing open-mouthed at the tiny television above the counter. I realised I was doing the same, watching two burning skyscrapers. There was gridlock, sirens and a dark vibe on the sunny streets.

  The plane had hit around the floor were our Giles had so proudly rented his office. It looked bad. And Morty was missing. The phones are inactive so the only way for anyone to contact me would be at the hotel. Morty would riddle that out – if he was alive – but Giles didn’t know where we were at.

  Everyone was glued to televisions, or sat on the curb staring, or weeping. I started marching back to the hotel. I felt lonely and a long way from home. I knew one thing – it wasn’t another elaborate diversion. I was caught up in the most inconceivable incident in history.

  I knew straight away that things were gonna get tricky; the whole of the USA was going into massive lock-down. In an atmosphere of justifiable anger, panic, paranoia and fear the dragnet was coming down. Maybe I should be gone, but back in my room the television was so addictive I watched, transfixed – trying, like everybody else, to process circumstances beyond my comprehension.

  Then the first tower came down. I couldn’t believe it, thought I was hallucinating. I’d felt, earlier that day, humiliated that I wasn’t in that building … It seems that, for once, there was no swindle. My hunch was Giles and Miguel had sent the money minutes – or seconds – before the plane hit. I was going to be extremely rich, except … I felt guilty for feeling that way.

  I knew I had to sit and wait. I had no choice. A part of me kept thinking that Jenna was going to return to the hotel but the rational bit of my brain knew it wasn’t going to happen. I only ventured out briefly, in case I missed her, or Morty. In Central Park there were preachers saying prayers for the dead, singing hymns, making appeals for forgiveness. Others were screaming for immediate revenge – punish the evildoer, quoting Revelations, predicting the end of the world – The Apocalypse starts here.

  Factions in government were, in Roy’s words, making lemonade, declaring war, apportioning blame, trying to exploit the lunacy.

  Next day I called Curtis. He didn’t wanna talk on the phone, just kept asking when we would be arriving; refused to transfer any funds without the permission of Mister Giles Urquhart. Mister Cee didn’t wanna believe that Giles wasn’t around anymore. I told him where my share was going but he wasn’t going to do anything. He told me not to ring him at the bank, under any circumstances, gave me his personal cell phone number, told me to ring as soon as I knew my ETA.

  Thursday morning I checked the drafts folder on the email address me and Morty shared. He was alive. He’d altered the draft, left me a riddle; not to spin my head, it was spun enough, but so any FBI eavesdroppers didn’t catch a scent.

  Happened as planned. Meet me where he didn’t get champagne. Check in at the same time.

  The Rendezvous Bar on Bridgetown Harbour – keep checking in at six p.m.

  Morty wanted to go see Curtis, to make the necessary moves to access the money. I felt kinda weirded-out about the money. Small problem – nothing was flying in or out of the USA. The money was there but we were here. I altered the draft – ASAP.

  The hotel concierge got me on a train travelling south. A day later I tripped up in Miami where the vibe was seriously muted – wild shirts but sombre frowns. I rang Curtis, left a message, then managed to get a flight over to Barbados. After a stopover in Puerto Rico, I landed at Grantley Adams Airport three weeks after I left. I got a taxi to the Rendezvous Bar but didn’t arrive until half past six on the Friday.

  Morty was sitting at the same table we’d sat at with Roy and Sonny, sipping a beer, reading an English newspaper. As I sat down he placed the paper between us. The whole front page was a photograph of the aftermath.

  ‘Fuckin insane,’ said Morty, by way of greeting.

  ‘Nice to see you, Mister Mortimer,’ I said.

  ‘Likewise,’ he replied.

  ‘How come you weren’t up there – you know, with Giles and Himself?’

  ‘My ears popped on the way up – it threw me. Once I knew we weren’t getting shafted … there’s a smell you get when you are … The money was sent, you know that, don’t you?’

  Mister Mortimer had delivered the memory stick to Giles and Miguel in the World Trade Centre then cut out, leaving his hired help to oversee the proceedings. He never did like being too deep or too high … was worried about getting a nosebleed.

  ‘I thought you were in there …’ says Morty, tapping the paper.

  ‘Why?’ I ask.

  ‘That woman, Jenna, the one you was meant to be holding hostage …’ I nod. ‘I swear I saw her, among thousands of people, running towards the building … Everyone else was running away but she was …’

  ‘Trying to find her twin.’

  Morty nods. ‘The money … We’ve got a problem.’

  ‘Tell me.’

  ‘No Curtis.’

  Mort had a hunch – I think Mister fuckin Curtis has gone through …

  Morty had moved heaven and earth, and paid out a lot of money to jump the queue, found the Bajan community in New York and bought a ticket from a chap who was stranded. He’d got, miraculously, a flight on Friday, arrived in time for lunch, but went to show me face at the CBB instead. Transpires Mister Curtis is on sick leave, had not been in since the previous morning, not called in either. And now that fuckin bank was fuckin shut till Monday.

  We can’t walk into a bank and demand the proceeds of a crime. They won’t entertain us. They’ll call the law or think we’re a pair of lunatics.

  ‘You’re taking this ver
y well, Mort.’

  ‘What fuckin choice do I have?’

  Maybe if Morty or me had got there a day or two earlier Curtis would have simply pocketed his commission and moved our money on … Maybe if we’d sent someone to sit on him before the trade … But Curtis got restless; his head did a number on him.

  He’d done a Ted and disappeared; had a Brazilian girlfriend apparently … could be anywhere. It makes you wonder – how much would you walk away from your life for? Never see your family again, sever all contact, never go home again … Some people would walk away for a crisp tenner, others for one hundred million. But Curtis’ crimes were of the non-reported variety – the law wouldn’t be looking for him – no bells, no sirens, no flashing lights.

  ‘Could be lying low, Mort.’

  ‘Could be touching down in Australia.’

  The gardener up at Curtis’ house up near Speightstown told us that Mister Curtis had been gone since Thursday – given him a couple of month’s wages in cash, then got into a taxi … no doubt to the airport … no doubt to catch a flight into thin air … via the Bridgetown branch of the Conciliated Bank of Barbados.

  ‘See,’ Morty told the gardener, ‘we’re police officers, from England. We need to look inside.’

  ‘Don’t insult me,’ said the gardener. ‘You’re not policemen.’

  ‘Okay, we’re not …’ said Mort, ‘but suppose we give you a shitload of money?’

  Inside the house there was no evidence of someone clearing out in a hurry; the only clue was a pile of empty photo frames. Everything else was as it should be. There was a wall safe behind a large mirror in the master bedroom – closed but unlocked, and very empty. And a cell phone with a few missed calls.

  Morty modified his theory – after Giles was killed, with the money parked up in some twilight account, neither in nor out of the system, the temptation was too much for Curtis. We picked the wrong day to attempt large-scale financial skullduggery.

  We looked high and low, all weekend, but Curtis couldn’t be found anywhere. And just when we were thinking it’s ninety-nine percent certain Curtis has cleared the accounts out, and we were wondering how to break the bad news to a sceptical Sonny … Sonny got in touch. He tracked Morty down … They had a short conversation. Mort was in a call box on the West Coast – outside where we’d had our fish supper that night – and Sonny was in Marbella, Southern Spain.

  Sonny was not best pleased … The previous day, Friday, he’d walked into a bank in Gibraltar with some slimy lawyer to move some money, to buy into a nightclub – never idle, that boy – but there was no money, not a fuckin bone.

  Transpires Curtis – once Giles, his old school chum, had given him the idea, morally corrupted him, persuaded him how easy it could all be – decided it was time for a change of location. Once you put an idea in someone’s head, it’s hard to get it out again … In for a penny and all that … Complete severance, Miguel would have suggested.

  ‘That cunt, that fuckin mouse!’ I could hear Sonny screaming. ‘That fuckin straightgoer cunt! No more trades with these toffs! They can’t be trusted! I’ll find that Curtis cunt, I promise you I will. I’ll bury him!’

  Morty informed Sonny that Giles died in New York.

  ‘I know! It’s all over the papers. RIP? I’ll kill that cunt ’n’ all.’

  We could hear Sonny smashing up his Spanish phone box. We left him to it.

  ‘Sonny’ll bounce back,’ said Morty, looking out to sea. ‘Won’t take long, either. He’s at his best when his back’s against the wall. He wanted to know why we were in Barbados.’

  ‘And you told him what?’

  ‘We’re on holiday, mate – we’re off-duty.’

  ‘You’re very philosophical about all this. You haven’t got religion, have you?’

  ‘Just glad to be alive, brother.’

  First thing Monday morning Morty and me went to the bank, with me clutching Mister Berkeley’s ID, armed with the paperwork the late Giles Urquhart had handed over exactly a week ago in the World Trade Centre. We checked out the account; a desperate formality – maybe he left us a few quid. Lots of action but zero balance, not really unexpected. And you can’t call mum if someone’s been naughty. Twenty-five million dollars is a lot of money to lose, even if you’ve never actually had in your hands.

  But just as we were walking out of the bank, we bumped into, quite literally, Pearl, the cute Customer Relations Manager, who’d looked after Sonny when he’d come over with Jesus’ loot. Fortunately for us she was late for work that day, first time ever. She asked me if we had come for our suitcases – the Samsonites were still cluttering up the corridor.

  ‘Of course,’ said Morty, without missing a beat. ‘Why else would we be here?’

  Morty took the cases from Pearl, and wheeled them out the door to our hire car. I still hadn’t tumbled. We drove right up through Barbados, only stopping at a hardware store to buy some tools, screwdrivers and hammers. We kept going right up to where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. We stopped in a clearing, off the main road, away from inquisitive eyes, and then Morty began systematically – with a mixture of brute force and stealth, using the screwdriver – taking the cases to pieces, neatly dismantling them. I was catching on rapido …

  In the very last case he found what he was looking for, snug between two plastic skins. Morty had worked out – in a split second, after Pearl’s innocent inquiry – that the Samsonite suitcases concealed the bearer bonds that Jesus stole in Miami, sold to Sammy Laniado, then retrieved in Berkshire. Jesus was using the bearer bonds as a bartering device but Roy Burns went to his grave never knowing of their existence. That was the information that Santos was attempting to trade … before Patsy O’Malley …

  A nice consolation – nine million dollars in negotiable US bearer bonds, for me and Mort to carve. No partners, no expenses; very easy money, but it still feels like the booby prize.

  We got our few days knocking about in the Caribbean but it was too quiet, nobody about, and I soon wanted to be on my toes again. A mixture of curiosity and sadness got me ringing Smiler in Brighton and asking for his help. He got busy. Five minutes later he sent me a link to a website containing information on Jenna and Miguel Zambrano – suggesting two ambitious and highly talented Venezuelan nationals were killed in the attack on New York. I felt sick for them both, but obviously more so for Jenna … Her beauty and her determination got Jenna into that building – through cordons and police lines – just before it collapsed.

  Mort and myself agreed that I should travel down to Uruguay alone, sit tight for a little while, then get a decent deal on the bonds in Montevideo, and, working on Giles’ tip, look into the property situation down there.

  I’d nicked a trick from Jesus and hid the bonds in the shell of an attaché case, but even if the authorities had something to say they’d have to prove that they were stolen. Morty drove me over to the airport and bid me farewell – be careful … stay lucky … see you soon – exactly thirty days after I’d waited for him, Sonny King and the late Roy Burns.

  As the plane taxis across the tarmac towards the runway, preparing for take off, it occurs to me that maybe someone should grant Jesus Zambrano’s greatest wish and ghostwrite his autobiography; someone who knows all the ins and outs … has heard the recordings, talked to all the key players … been there … Because I’d riddled something out; people know bits and pieces, but nobody knows the whole story. That degenerate prick Jesus would have loved the ending to his tale, would have buzzed, from his dark hole in Kent, England, on the trouble he caused; would have been thrilled by the fatal serendipity of getting Miguel and Jenna into that building; would have cherished the unknown body count, the mindless destruction and the grief of innocents – all in the name of an obsessive but unobtainable cause. Some folks love a drop of madness, whether they realise it or not. Personally I don’t. I like to think I’ve grown out of it.

  But then I think fuck him … and his memory … mad cunt …

/>   The plane’s engines throttle back … we gather speed on the runway … then we’re airborne …

  Q. A title for Jesus’ fantasy memoir?

  A. Could only be Viva la Madness.

 


 

  J. J. Connolly, Viva La Madness

 


 

 
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