Viva la madness, p.6
Viva La Madness, p.6J. J. Connolly
‘And who’s that, Mort?’
‘Sonny works, indirectly, for Ted Granger.’
‘Correct,’ says Morty. ‘If you meet Ted don’t call him Duppy, okay?’
‘Ted looks after Sonny?’
‘I wouldn’t have thought.’
‘Well, he does. Things change … Sonny makes him money and distributes his merch.’
‘Since when has Ted been serving Sonny King?’
‘I dunno,’ he shrugs, ‘last coupla years.’ But something in that casual shrug says don’t get busy, mate, please.
‘Ted Granger brings in the white, and Sonny King breaks it down and gets it to where it needs to be. Ted doesn’t like Sonny all that much, never did.’
‘That doesn’t take a lotta workin out.’
‘Ted’s attitude is, what has liking someone got to do with business. Bridget Granger – Ted’s sister and junior partner – seems to have a pathological hatred of Sonny King but will concede that Sonny is very good at what he does.’
‘Bridget?’ I ask. Ted’s twin sister, geezer-bird, hardcore. I’d rather fuck her than fight her.
‘I know, I know, don’t say it,’ says Mort, reading my mind, ‘we all think it but just don’t. It ain’t polite. Ted is never in the same place for long, Bridget dislikes Sonny even more than Ted does so they need a buffer. A go-between.’
‘And that’s me, middled-up and up for none,’ says Morty. ‘Now Ted wants to open up a whole new front, wants to shift some serious weight. Needs a salesman. You negotiate on behalf of Ted. He’s a smuggler not a salesman.’
‘Who’d do the schlepping?’
‘Sonny King. Well, Sonny’s crew deliver for a consideration. Everything’s for a consideration. Look, it’s dead simple,’ says Morty, ‘Ted needs to shift tackle, needs a closer. You hit the ground running. Go back to London, meet up with Ted. He points you at all the leads you need, plus what you can drum up yourself. You get a commission same as any salesman. You don’t negotiate one-offs. You agree consignments to be delivered each month or week. Repeat business. You work on a sliding scale – more weight, better price. Less cash that needs spinning, the better the price. If they need bail … You work out with Ted what they return. You work out the details with Ted. But he needs to know quick if you agree in principle.’
‘I’m interested but—’
‘It’s a good move,’ says Morty, slightly incredulous. ‘You wanted me to put out feelers.’
‘True, but I’m still a target with the law over there—’
‘You’ll never be near any tackle or readies. If they nick ya for conspiracy to supply you’ll slip out of it.’
‘Let’s hope it never comes to that. Does Sonny know the reason you’re here?’ I ask.
‘’Course. And he’s screwing. Ted wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s looking to create a drop of sibling rivalry. See, here’s the thing, bruv, the wholesale price per kilo has dropped to twenty-three grand …’ Was nearer to twenty-eight gee in my day. ‘And the quality is better. Twenty-three grand buys a top quality brick, sealed and stamped with a moody scorpion. There’s an awful lotta powder out there that needs shifting.’
‘It’s interesting, Mort.’
‘Nobody’s going to trouble you if you’re with Duppy, and I’ll be making sure your whack gets to you. Any deals you make, contacts you develop, you get paid.’ Morty’s laying it well, perhaps too well. Mort always did oversell.
‘If you’re half-wanted, you’ll wanna keep it dark. You only see who you gonna see. No welcome home parties. Nothing’s changed over that side. Some of them ain’t changed their underpants since you’ve been away. You fly in, do the business, then away. It’s like corporate hospitality these days. You chase up all our old contacts—’
‘I’m not sure why they’re here.’
‘Sonny and Roy. Who else?’
‘They needed to get outta town, I needed to speak to you. I didn’t wanna go to Jamaica cos it’s on top at the airports, too much law enforcement.’
‘Why do they need to be outta London?’
‘God knows, bruv. Probably gave someone a hiding. I didn’t even know Royski was in London till a few days ago.’
‘And what about the two-point-seven and change, where’s that from?’
‘You tell me, mate. They’ve obviously turned someone over.’
‘And you ain’t curious?’
‘I am, but I don’t want to get told lies,’ he shrugs. ‘They’re saying it come from a bitta freelance.’
‘They can’t stay off the phone, ringing home every two minutes for the sit-rep.’
‘You know what they’re like,’ says Morty, starting to laugh, ‘Roy gets didgy, it gets contagious.’
‘What was all that performance in the bank all about? Sonny showing off? Why’s he bringing his poshes halfway round the world?’
‘That money wasn’t outta the business. That much I do know. It’s not how it works.’
‘Don’t underestimate Ted. He fills the warehouse. Buyer calls on the oats. Sonny delivers it from the warehouse. Everyone’s sweet. The buyer transfers the agreed amount into an offshore account. Ted don’t like to take cash payments anymore, too much paperwork.’
‘He won’t take cash for drugs? What’s the world coming to?’
‘He’ll take it but he don’t like it. You wanna pay cash the price goes up not down. Ain’t like paying builders. Cash is a liability.’
‘So Sonny buys a nightclub to rinse his money out?’
‘It’s an obvious move but Sonny’s an obvious geezer. He buys a club, with Giles holding his hand, of course. Giles set up Sonny with that account in the CBB.’
‘Back up a minute. Who is Giles?’
‘Giles Urquhart. You’d like him, or be entertained by him. A proper toff.’
‘But who is he?’
‘Sonny’s tricky lawyer.’
‘Not particularly, but he’s a swell. All tricksters – can’t help themselves, can they? But Giles did fire Sonny onto an agreeable bank manager.’
Morty nods. ‘Old school pal. Giles will wanna get you sorted with an account of your own.’
‘Bit too cosy for me.’
‘Yer man, Giles, absolutely insisted you meet his chum Rupert Curtis.’
‘That was sweet of him,’ I reply. ‘You know Sonny showed me a balance statement coming outta that jug showing almost fifteen million dollars. That’s nine million pounds … How could that belligerent cunt accumulate that sorta money?’
‘Pure hard work. More pies than fingers. Sonny’s got your nut, ain’t he?’
‘His bank balance has seriously cracked my coconut.’ Mort laughs. ‘Does Ted know about Giles?’ I ask.
‘Who knows what Ted knows. Ask him when you meet him but I’ll warn ya, Ted’s not very forthcoming.’
‘You go into a restaurant with Ted, look at the menu, you ask Ted what he’s having, he won’t tell ya – tell ya you’re being nosy.’ Morty gets up, stretches. He looks tired. ‘Well,’ he asks. ‘What are ya saying?’
It’s what I need. I nod.
‘Now,’ says Mort, ‘that charade out at the airport – coming in with the bucket and spade gang – was Roy’s idea. No harm in it, but I’m outta here on a scheduled flight the day after tomorrow and I’ve got you the hardware to fly out tonight using that profile you ordered.’
‘Yeah. I’ve got you a passport, flight ticket, the lot, back to London.’
‘Did you say tonight?’
‘Yeah, first class. Why hang about?’ he says, lighting another snout. ‘The sooner you get over there, the sooner you can have a sit-down with Duppy. Speed is of the essence.’
‘It’s just a bit sudden, Mort, I’m half wanted over th
‘Get on the plane, nice milky drink, get yer nut down and wake up at Gatwick. They took the liberty of booking you a hotel, over by the City. No curious eyes or big mouths chatting yer business. And you’re on expenses. You just gotta sit tight and Ted’ll be in touch. He has to pick his moment, just in case he’s being spied upon by the odd lot. If it all goes to plan, you agree terms with Ted. Coupla week’s time, you’re back in Jamaica. You save up, buy out your partners on the QT, and scarper. You pop in and out of London to do a few deals. Get outta Jamaica, mate, it’s not the smartest place to go AWOL.’
‘Why didn’t you mention it before?’
‘I assumed you knew what you were doing.’ Morty starts to walk back down the steps. ‘Now, let’s go and get a nice bitta lunch down in Bridgetown, leave those two nuggets to their own devices,’ he says, rubbing his hands now. ‘And don’t worry, mate, it’s gonna be cool.’
‘You’re asking me to have a bitta blind faith?’
Mister Mortimer stops, turns, winks, wisely nods his head.
‘All faith is blind, brother – ain’t no other sort.’
Needless to say, when we get back to the hotel, Roy and Sonny are severely sunburnt; glowing and scorched even beneath layers of calamine lotion, sizzling red like Brick Lane chicken tikka masala. Serves ’em right, maybe they’ll listen in future.
They’re feverishly huddled in the shade by the breakfast buffet, arms folded across their chests and long, spanked faces on them. Sonny has a wet towel wrapped round his head and Royski, who’s worse, is rocking like a rabbi at the Wailing Wall, with a pool towel across his shoulders, nose already blistered. The pair of them attract looks of concern from other guests but the normally inscrutable Bajan waitresses are having trouble repressing their delight. Sonny had been snapping his fingers at them before we left.
‘You wanted to look like tourists,’ I tell them, feeling brave. ‘Now you do.’
‘Fuckin watch yourself, pal!’ says Sonny with the pointy finger. ‘You’re startin to give me the right hump.’
‘Let’s take a few beers up the room, Sonny,’ says Morty. ‘Have a little sit-rep.’
‘Let’s do that,’ says Sonny, groaning melodramatically as he gets up. ‘And Roy, bring that calamine lotion!’
Driving into Bridgetown from the racecourse earlier, I started to realise how much I miss London, how much I’d been in limbo. I don’t miss the cold, the winter dark and the continuous moaning. What I really love about London is the energy and the sense that it really is the centre of the world. Back in Jamaica I would read every paper and magazine from back home I could lay my hands on. I would sit drinking four slow beers looking out onto the most spectacular sunsets you’ve ever seen in all your life – burnt oranges, awesome golds, fiery reds and violent yellows – getting nostalgic for driving around London in torrential rain, hypnotic windscreen wipers sending me into a stupor, paranoid about being tailed by the Odd Firm, the law. Crims, like everybody else, get nostalgic for a time or a place that never really existed.
And there’s a Londoner’s attitude that you never lose. One evening, I’m sitting on the hotel terrace, watching the sun disappearing into the sea, when I feel a presence behind me. Turning around there was this shit-kicker from Memphis, Tennessee stood there.
‘That, sir …’ said the Yank, pointing spellbound into the west, ‘is the Good Lord’s paint-box.’
‘Fuck off, Elvis,’ I said. ‘This part of the hotel’s private.’
In reality there’s nothing stopping me from excusing myself, leave them waiting in Sonny’s hotel room, driving to the airport, getting a hop-fight over to Jamaica, tidying up affairs there – there’s two or three people I trust – and flying straight out again, maybe on to Australia via Honolulu, new places and people. But after Morty said I was going back, after four years exile, a green light came on.
Morty taps in the combination of Sonny’s room safe. The tumblers roll and the door pops open. He reaches in, emerges with a plastic envelope and lobs it carefully over to me. I catch it. Inside are a flight ticket and a nicely aged British passport containing the photos I couriered to Morty last week. I look dangerous, but who looks good in a passport? Inside, at random, on the various pages are entry stamps and visas from other Caribbean counties, the US and – a nice touch – a ninety-day work visa for Australia.
‘Hear you’re goin on a trip,’ says Sonny, lying back on his bed in discomfort. ‘You should be flattered to be working with me.’
‘Oh, I am,’ I say.
‘We’ve got you a ticket as well – this evenin’s flight outta here,’ he says. ‘You’ll be in Gatwick in the morning. A bit previous I know but … there’s no place like home. Royski, give him the thingy.’ Roy digs in his pocket, brings out a tiny key and walks it over to me.
‘What’s this for?’ I ask.
‘Key to a safe deposit box,’ says Sonny, trying to be cool, ‘in the Deposit Box Centre, on Finchley Road.’
‘What’s in the box?’ I ask.
‘Coupla kilos, split into samples. Ain’t been slapped.’ Sonny points at the passport that’s now lying innocuously on the bed. ‘That name’s been authorised – to get you in.’
Roy pipes up. ‘You’ll have to bottle the key when you go through the airport.’ He’s eating a banana, turning a deeper shade of red. Morty laughs.
‘What’s the problem?’ Roy shrugs. ‘You grease yer arse, bitta Vaseline, and slide it up. Won’t get found.’
‘That key’s plastic,’ says Sonny. ‘Don’t show up on X-rays.’
‘It’s an emergency key,’ says Roy. ‘Ain’t meant to be used any more than a coupla times.’
‘The proper metal one’s in the deposit box already,’ says Sonny. ‘You open it with that,’ he nods over, ‘and get the metal key.’
‘I’ll put it on a keyring,’ I say. ‘They’ll never think of looking there.’
‘Don’t be funny, pal,’ says Sonny.
‘Don’t worry, Sonny, I’ll get it back to London but I ain’t sticking it up my arse.’
‘Don’t see your problem – it’s what you do in nick all the time,’ says Roy.
‘You’ve never done any serious bird, have ya?’ asks Sonny.
‘Don’t intend to either, Sonny.’
Royski’s eating his sixth banana on the trot cos the waitresses told him, deliberately and erroneously, that they’re good for sunburn. Morty’s smirking. Sonny’s stretching out on his cot, hands behind his head, looking up at the hypnotic fan, muttering to himself. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with ya, pal,’ says Sonny King, a man I wouldn’t ask to blow up a balloon. ‘Your bottle ain’t gone, has it?’
‘No, Sonny, my bottle’s gone nowhere but if I’m going, I better get moving.’
Things move fast. Sonny insisted that Roy, not Mort, drive me out to the airport. He’s ringing it that it was his idea for Ted to get me back on the firm, hijacking the idea, and Morty, being Morty, is happy to allow him to do it. I was glad to get away in the end, glad to be getting on with it but now I’m tripping out, thinking about London and what I’ve got waiting when I land.
After my initial shock on the arrival of Mister Mortimer with Sonny and Roy in tow, after Morty’s pitch and time to think it through, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re manna from heaven. If Ted’s putting it together, Sonny and his merry men are doing the warehousing and distribution, and Mortimer is chasing down the paperwork I’d be silly to turn down a serious opportunity.
So three hours after Morty’s suggestion that I go back to London, Roy’s driving me out to the airport but driving me mad at the same time. He’s been waffling on while I’ve been daydreaming and watching the parched countryside go by. The sugar cane is high in the fields and the rum distillery – looking like an oil refinery – is pumping hard, turning out its lethal, colourless liquor that could take the paint off the bonnet or send you permanently
I learnt long ago to tune people out if they started to become a pest, but now I begin to pay attention. Roy’s onto his favourite specialist subject: surveillance.
I am, due to a spot of trouble back in spring ninety-seven, barred from the UK, have been told that if I even set foot on British soil, before I even get the chance to engage in any illegal behaviour, I’m getting nicked. I took my warning seriously. Now I’m about to get on a plane to London and land at Gatwick, a viper’s nest of surveillance personnel. I could very easy get led away in chains. Roy started off ten minutes ago giving me the you-ain’t-got-a-thing-to-worry-about speech, a morale-boosting pep talk. But soon he couldn’t help himself – Twitchy Burns started banging out a familiar old riff:
‘They’ve got spotters at the airport, lookin for anythin outta the ordinary, signs of stress, they can even smell if yer scared. I’ve been a fugitive myself, you know, travelling on a wrong ’un. Old Bill are clued-in, get on it if you’re over-compensating, if you’re tryin to be too cool, seeing if you avoid eye contact or seeing if you deliberately try and look straight at ’em, like you don’t give a fuck. They reckon they’ve got this computer gadget now that recognises facial features. The CCTV’s clockin ya and if your details are in the database and you get flagged-up – crash! You’re fuckin nicked! Eye recognition’s the next big one, yer fuckin iris! Think about that. Along with voice tone recognition, about one hundred times more unique than fingerprints is the human iris. You could lose your fingerprints but you couldn’t lose your iris, not without goin blind. They’ll have ’em all on one computer, pan-fuckin-continental, so they can cross-reference – Interpol, FBI, MI5, French or Spanish and Italian Old Bill, the fuckin lot. You come through an airport and you’ve got a bitta outstanding, bang! You’re gone!’ Roy considers this for a moment. ‘Unless they let you run, they put a team on ya, let you go wandering but tailing you in, under obs – maybe a tiny GPS device tucked away in yer luggage or on yer person, seeing where you end up, who you meet up with. You think you’ve gone through the slips but you ain’t! Little fucker’s givin out a signal, beep-beep-beep, up to a fucking satellite. Global positioning systems! You’re totally fucked! They’re smart fuckers these Old Bill, customs – highly intelligent people. They’ve been to university, degreed-up. These ain’t everyday plod. They’re clever geezers. If they’re droppin yer phone, they can set up the system so it recognises keywords, like names, your name, my name, or coke, or white, or oats – any malarkey, it alerts the controllers. It comes from the time of the Cold War. You know that MI5 are on everybody’s fuckin case now back home. You know that, don’t ya?’
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes