Viva la madness, p.5
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       Viva La Madness, p.5

           J. J. Connolly

  Good old Morty.

  ‘Morty says, “Do you love this Evey?” I say, “I don’t know, Mort.” He says, “Do you even like this Evey?” I says, “I don’t know that either.” Mort says, “Do you wanna do life in a Spanish nick, or start some feud with Duppy’s firm, over some bird that you don’t even like, who you’ve been tryin to jettison for years? Well do you, Sonny?” See Mort’s made me see the funny side of it.’

  ‘He a very good consigliere, Mister Mortimer,’ I say.

  ‘Morty says I shoulda lozzed her out at the first sign of mischief,’ says Sonny. ‘First sign – out!’ He takes a celebratory hit of his drink, nodding, convincing himself over again. ‘Ain’t got time to have people messin with me head. It’s about priorities.’

  ‘Sounds like sense,’ I say, appeasing Sonny.

  ‘Right. So anyways, this is the killer. One year later, eight in the mornin, phone goes and it’s her, Eve, cryin and wailin. I can hear all that bing-bong, tannoys, announcements, flights numbers, so I figure she’s in an airport.’ Sonny impersonates Eve, ‘“Boo-hoo-hoo, I’m really sorry, Sonny, I really am. I love you Sonny. I had to do what I did to know. Maybe we can get back together.” The kid’s screamin in the background. She ain’t got a deano. Her money’s run out so I’ve rung her back.’

  ‘She’s in Spain, right?’ I ask.

  ‘Oh, no. She’s at Gatwick. She’s junk-sick, cluckin, can hear it in her voice. She’s sayin “Sonny, can we come over? Please, I’m beggin yer, I really fuckin need your help right now.” She’s desperado. I says, “What happened to yer boyfriend?” She’s given it, “It was a mistake Sonny, I’m sorry.” She’s givin it, “Can I get a cab over?” I says, “Have you got any money?” She says, “I’ve had to sell everything to pay for plane tickets, Sonny.” She’s fuckin potless. Ted’s crew wouldn’t talk to her. Turns out the geezer she took up with was a grass.’

  ‘That’s not her fault, Sonny.’

  Sonny switches, points at me. I’m spoiling his story. ‘You bein funny? You a pie and liquor?’ Sonny says coldly to Roy and Morty. ‘When did he become a priest?’ Sonny turns back to me, stating the obvious, ‘She’s contaminated.’

  ‘Wasn’t Eve a good mate of Ted Granger’s sister, Bridget?’ pipes up Roy.

  ‘Yeah, what of it?’ snaps Sonny.

  ‘I’m just saying ain’t I,’ says Roy, shrugging his shoulders.

  ‘So what happened with you and Eve?’ Morty interrupts, starting to pay more attention.

  ‘I told ya before, Mort, a few times,’ says Sonny.

  ‘Ya did, Sonny, but tell me again,’ says Mister Mortimer, very dry.

  ‘I says “I’ll come and get ya.”’ Sonny’s pretending like he’s talking into a phone. ‘She says, “No, Sonny, I’ll get a cab.” I says, “No, Eve, we could miss one another, don’t go wanderin about, stay by the phone. Now, tell me where you are. By the KLM check-in at Gatwick? You stay there, Evey babes, I’m comin down to get ya.”’

  Curious, I never booked Sonny as that forgiving.

  ‘I can hear the chav screamin. Always hungry, that kid.’

  ‘How old’s the kid?’ inquires Morty.

  ‘Five, six. Fuck knows. I put the phone down, went in the bedroom, got the suitcase off the top of the wardrobe, packed for a week somewhere hot, got me credit cards, bitta cash and headed out to Heathrow.’

  ‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘You said she was out at Gatwick—’

  ‘She fuckin was!’ says Sonny, exploding with laugher. ‘That’s the fuckin beauty of it, waitin by the KLM desk at Gatwick Airport, with the brat, not a fuckin deano to buy any grub, waitin for some mug, this mug, to turn up and rescue her. Musta been trippin, soppy tart.’ Sonny’s become a slobbering, psycho teddy bear.

  ‘So where did you go, Sonny?’ asks dozy Roy, completely missing the point.

  ‘I always head off on my jack, mid to late February, get a bitta colour, two weeks offa the booze, come back sharp. I normally go down the Canaries, pop in to see the chaps on the Costa on the way back, but the law was gettin busy, drivin poor Duppy mad. Business was a bit quiet, always is, February – kipper season, nobody ventures out. Evey made my mind up for me.’

  ‘So where did you end up?’ I say.

  ‘Tunisia,’ he replies.

  ‘And how was Tunisia?’ I ask.

  ‘Was okay but never again. Funny gaff, really. You could fuck little boys no probs, but tryin to punt for a bird was a major operation.’

  ‘Wouldn’t recommend it, no?’ asks dozy Roy, knowing the answer already.

  ‘It was too fuckin hot, sandstorm blowin everyday. I stayed in the room most of the time with a coupla hookers. I got ’em proper performing. They beg ya to give it to ’em up the shitshoot, they plead with ya.’

  ‘And you obliged?’ inquires Morty.

  ‘When in Rome, I say,’ shrugs Sonny, laughing. ‘You coulda bought these two, I mean to keep – your property, to bring home – for a score each.’

  ‘Any word of Eve?’ I ask. ‘She been spotted?’

  ‘She could still be at fuckin Gatwick Airport for all I care. Fuck her. I told ya it was funny.’

  ‘When was this, Sonny?’ I ask.

  ‘Coupla years ago,’ he replies.

  I don’t say nothing, there’s nothing to say, but I catch Morty giving Sonny a curious look, smiling thinly. You can sometimes hear the cogs in Morty’s brain turning, thinking about the starving kid, waiting out at the airport. Mort spent his early life being the hungry kid, plotted up outside the boozer, munching crisps for Sunday dinner, waiting on the alkie mother or the father, the permanently skint betting shop benefactor.

  ‘What was the kid’s name, Sonny?’ asks Mort, quietly.

  ‘Rory. The kid’s name was Rory. You’ve never asked before, Mort. Why now?’ Mort just raises one eyebrow a smidgen. A snapshot of his cool expression stays with me. ‘Anyway,’ says Sonny, turning to me and Roy, big grin, ‘she always was a nuisance, that bird. Drink up chaps, there’s plenty more. We’re celebrating.’ He turns to Royski and slaps him on the shoulder. ‘I told you it would be okay, Roy. Do you see anyone following you? You worry too much.’

  The main course arrives. The waiter silently places a plate in front of me. ‘The king fish for you, sir,’ he whispers.

  ‘What’s that you’re havin?’ says Sonny, leaning over.

  ‘King fish.’

  ‘Do what, pal?’ says Sonny, suddenly aggressive.

  ‘Hang on, Sonny, it’s actually called king fish.’

  ‘I know it’s fuckin fish, pal. What sorta fuckin fish?’

  ‘King fish, Sonny – Kay, Eye, En, Gee.’ Then Sonny’s cracking up laughing, slapping the table. Other diners turn to look.

  ‘I had ya goin then, admit it, I did,’ he’s pointing at me. ‘“It’s actually called king fish.”’ Sonny’s slapping the tabletop. The waiters look concerned, even scared. Royski don’t get it but Morty looks at Sonny like he’s measuring him for a coffin. ‘Whatta cunt! Fuckin king fish! I saw it on the menu. They named a fuckin fish after me.’ Sonny’s turning crimson, gone hysterical, ‘I say it meself. I can be a funny cunt.’

  ‘Yes, Sonny, you can be funny,’ I agree, nodding my head.

  Fuckin funny peculiar.



  Morty asked me to come by their hotel at eleven the next morning so here I am, by the swimming pool, like a prick, in a linen suit, catching looks from Sonny. Morty is half-asleep on a sunlounger but more interested in watching a pair of bottle-blond Geordie birds – who are deliberately frolicking in the water for his attention – than letting me know why I’m in Barbados. Sonny and Royski are fidgety. And Sonny just can’t accept that I want to sit in the shade under a sun umbrella; I ain’t got the proper sun protection but Sonny seems to think that factor fifteen is for irons and girls. Sonny is happy, in his primitive way, talking non-stop, telling stories about the celebrity punters he gets down his club, going on about how
he ignores them, how they’re just ordinary bods to him, trying to appear blasé and nonchalant but he reveals himself as a little gossip and starfucker. If you’re consciously ignoring someone, stands to reason, you have to be aware of them in the first place.

  ‘I let Dougie get all the publicity,’ he laughs. ‘No fuckin good to me, in my line of work.’

  ‘Who’s Dougie?’ I ask, fishing.

  ‘Dougie Nightingale, my partner. Swell, but not a bad lad when he behaves himself and leaves the oats alone. You’d bet yer bollocks he was an iron, bent as a nine-bob note.’

  Morty opens his eyes. ‘I wanna borrow my man here for a coupla hours,’ he says, pointing at me, getting up. ‘We need to go and have our little chat.’ Sonny nods, but then says:

  ‘You could do that here. Might save time later, Mort.’

  ‘Nah,’ says Morty, not entertaining any discussion, ‘I’m gonna have a shower and then we’re gonna have a mooch about. A spot of lunch, maybe.’ And with that he gathers up his bits and pieces, heads out, leaving me alone with the terrible twins.

  ‘Is this the bollocks or what, Roy?’ Sonny asks Roy, ignoring me. ‘Nobody giving ya a moment’s grief. No reason to watch ya back.’ Sonny goes for a dip but Roy stares into space, looking almost tranquil, his appearance belying his paranoid mindset. I knew Roy once upon a time, in the mid-nineties, when Twitchy Roy Burns was shifting kilos, making a good living but nothing spectacular. Not like the scale me and Mort were working. We would always give Roy a wide, wouldn’t serve him if we could, because Morty always reckoned Roy got his rocks off on all the creeping about, playing secret squirrel, just being on the dark side. If Roy had come under scrutiny from any of the heavy-duty crime squads they would’ve assumed he was a bigger player than he actually was. He was completely obsessed with vigilance, kept up with all the latest innovations, read working manuals of various state police forces. Roy also read every spy book – fiction or non-fiction – gleaning procedural and technical data. At home Roy had devices wired into the phone that enabled him to tell whether anyone was listening in. All this input slowly fed his suspicion. Even paranoids have enemies, he would cryptically tell anyone who’d listen.

  Roy spent a good deal of his profits on counter-surveillance equipment. If one day he got word that the kit he was using had been superseded he junked the lot and bought new. Imagine some hi-fi freak, gripping his missus’ arm, telling her, ‘It ain’t the sound of music, luv, it’s the sound quality of music that counts.’

  Roy would drive round for hours, in circles, jumping reds, reversing up one-way streets, checking if he was being followed – even if he was only stepping out to rent a video – then wonder why Blockbusters was shut when he got there. Roy employed the same attack imminent precautions even if he was only popping over to see his dear ol’ mum, who he worships, in County Kilburn for Sunday lunch. Roy electronically swept the motor and his slaughter daily for bugs, would sweep yours if ya liked. This was routine stuff for Roy.

  When Roy had to go anywhere, he had an elaborate system for losing non-existent tails. This would involve jumping on the tube, waiting for the train doors to shut, then slipping off at the last second and doubling back in the direction he’d just come from. Roy would have different motors plotted up outside different tube stations so he could jump in, drive across town, park up, dive into the Underground, jump in another tube heading to fuck-knows-where. And Roy, straight-faced, would tell people he could smell plainies – undercover police officers – on the breeze.

  I have to remember that Twitchy Roy is a wee bit dangerous and not to get carried away with the prevailing ambience of ridicule and mockery. Sonny and Morty might take a few libs but I’m not in the same category. I look at Royski’s bony feet – basted with factor-two suntan lotion, smelling of chemical coconuts and fake bananas, white as a hospital bed sheet, in spite of him living in Spain – and imagine them stomping some unfortunate’s skull.

  After ten minutes of tranquillity, listening to the waves break on the coral reef, Sonny climbs out of the pool. He’s obviously still highly offended by my outward serenity. He dries himself off. He’s starting to go very red across the shoulders.

  ‘You wanna watch that sun,’ I tell Sonny. ‘It’s deceptive.’

  ‘Oh, yeah?’ says Roy, snapping out of his trance.

  ‘You don’t think it’s hot, cos it’s breezy, but it’s roastin ya alive. It’s the trade wind blowing off the Atlantic, it meets the wind coming from the Caribbean—’

  ‘Cunt’s a fuckin geography teacher now,’ Sonny says to Roy. ‘Take no notice.’

  ‘You don’t think it’s hot but it is,’ I tell them. ‘Especially this time a day, this time a year—’

  ‘I’ve sat in the sun all day, in fuckin Spain,’ says Sonny, throwing a suntan lotion bottle at me. I dodge it. ‘I tan easy. Just cos you wanna sit under a brolly. You’re like someone’s fuckin Nan—’

  ‘And that lotion you’re putting on is worse than useless. That sun isn’t like Spain, it’s lower in the sky. We’re nearer the equator.’

  ‘Look, mister school teacher, fuck right off!’ says Sonny. Then he starts on Roy. ‘Where’s that suntan lotion, Roy?’ he shouts. ‘I’ll do your back if you do mine, okay?’

  I throw the lotion back to Sonny. He catches it. Roy gets up, bends over and Sonny starts squirting the sickly gunk over his back and neck. Sonny rubs it in roughly. Roy squeals. Morty reappears – as if by magic – all spruced-up after his pit stop.

  ‘You know something?’ says Mort, nodding towards Sonny and Roy, without missing a beat, heading towards the car, ‘In some civilisations you two would be married now.’

  ‘You still here, Mister Mortimer?’ says Sonny in mock civility. I follow Mort, wait till I get to the corner, then shout back. ‘Watch that sun! Cook ya alive.’ Then I jump outta sight.

  This is good. At last an opportunity to talk to Morty alone, but Morty’s not saying anything, puts his index finger across his lips and gently shakes his head. I know Morty well enough to know when he’s gonna be receptive to light conversation – or the big Q and A – and when it’s a lock-out. And this is a waste of time.

  We drive away from the hotel. Morty tells me to drive towards Bridgetown. He looks out at the countryside, raw and rugged inland, at the tidy dwellings, at the people mooching about, at the tourists’ duty-free shopping malls, the taxis, buses, cars and lorries honking their horns as they pass their pals, and at every tiny intersection. Morty’s dead calm, absorbing every detail.

  On the outskirts of town Morty tells me to take a turning into the Savannah Grounds, an exclusive part of Bridgetown. Once upon a time it was a parade ground but nowadays the outside is used as a racecourse. The inside of the track is laid out for both rugby and polo. A beautiful, leafy, shaded avenue runs around up to the spectator stands and paddocks.

  We park up against some freshly painted white railings and get out. A short but heavy shower has fallen but the sun is out again. It’s now midday and already in the nineties, but humid. There’s a tiny breeze blowing through the tops of the trees but apart from that it’s very quiet, very bright, and very white. I’m squinting, even with my sunglasses on. Sweat has broken out across Morty’s forehead.

  ‘Let’s walk,’ says Morty, leading the way. We stroll slowly and silently over towards the grandstand of the racecourse, through an unlocked gate and up, high into the stand itself. We sit down halfway up the seats.

  A racecourse, like a funfair shut for the night or seaside promenade in deep mid-winter, has a melancholic, vacant air when it’s off-duty, when all the cheery punters have wandered off home. A tote sign creaks in the breeze. The seat is warm under my arse. I can see a maintenance man through the haze, a hundred yards away, leisurely repainting more white railings. He looks up, spots us and waves. We salute back. Then he goes back to his graft. This is tranquil and I hate to break the spell.

  ‘Why are you and Sonny and Roy Burns here, in Barbados, now, here, at this tim
e?’ I ask. ‘They’re just a coupla hounds, nil class—’

  ‘Listen, comrade,’ Mort interrupts, hand up. ‘If you wanna gang up on Sonny and Roy, you’re gonna have to do it on your own,’ says the very mellow Mister Mortimer. ‘Sonny’s gonna help you get very rich all over again.’

  He allows himself a grin and a wink in my direction then takes out a pack of English snout, Bensons, puts one in his mouth, lights it, takes a long drag and blows the smoke out. Morty’s dying for me to ask what he means.

  ‘How is the old tin can these days?’ he asks belatedly.

  ‘Coming back to life, Mort, getting better by the day. Maybe it’s what I need, a bitta verbal with Sonny King.’

  ‘Don’t be sarcastic,’ says Mort. ‘You ever get homesick?’

  ‘From time to time. There’s a lot I don’t miss about London.’

  ‘Did you keep all your old contacts in one place?’

  ‘No way. Be insane. I remembered figures, who owed who what, what we held, phone numbers. I taught myself, did memory exercises … Why?’

  ‘I’m curious,’ he shrugs. ‘People are curious.’

  ‘If you and me sat down for a while and kicked it about, I’m sure we could remember. A lot of them wouldn’t be in circulation.’

  ‘But a lot of them would.’

  ‘I couldn’t come back to London for good, my nerves wouldn’t stand it.’

  ‘No need. You commute. Think about it, all those dudes we used to serve, back in the day, some are big-hitters now. Four years is a long time. Some are missing in action or semi-retired, in Thailand. Some got careless or Old Bill got lucky. There’s a total lack of sensible geezers back in London,’ he says, looking straight ahead.

  ‘Who’d be involved?’ I ask. ‘Not Sonny, not Roy.’

  ‘Sonny’s governor.’

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