Viva La Madness, p.7J. J. Connolly
‘Why the lecture, Roy?’
‘I’m markin yer card.’
‘Roy. I’m on a final warnin back home. I can go to jail for trespass.’
‘It’s gonna turn out okay,’ says Roy. ‘Sonny knows what he’s doin.’
‘I’m going over to see Ted Granger.’
‘Okay … easy,’ he says. ‘Fuckin relax, pal.’
That’s fuckin choice, coming from Twitchy Roy Burns.
When we arrive at the airport, Royski hangs about even after I’ve told him to trap back to the hotel. He’s burnt fiery red, literally glowing. Living up to his name. The Bajans look at him like he’s crazy. Why do these extremely white folk lie out in the dangerous sun, getting fried? Roy is totally oblivious.
It was only when I got the ticket and passport out of the envelope that I remembered I was travelling first class. Ted was obviously willing to pay the money to get me back to London alive and in one piece. The woman on the desk didn’t mention my distinct lack of luggage, just directed me towards a first-class lounge, but Roy, talking out the side of his mouth, insisted we bake-up, sit tight, in the arrivals lounge where I’d met them yesterday.
Then it occurs to me that he’s been instructed to hang about to make sure I don’t go absconding off to Jamaica. He sits patiently drinking a warm Coca Cola and flicking through the Bajan newspaper. Eventually they call my flight over the Tannoy. I get up to go but Roy grabs my arm. ‘Listen, one last thing,’ he says, all business. ‘Anyone asks you where me and Sonny are, you don’t know, okay?’
‘Roy, I doubt very much if anyone’s—’
‘But if they do, like, you don’t know anything, okay?’
‘But who’s gonna—’
‘I don’t fuckin know, anyone, okay? You understand?’ he says, getting irritated.
‘Okay, so nobody’s looking for you but if anyone asks I ain’t seen ya, is that right?’
‘You’re taking the piss now,’ he says, getting twitchy.
I move in close on Roy, then whisper in his blistered ear, ‘Royski, I’m getting fuckin bored now. Please, let go of my arm, cos I need to get on my flight. I don’t want these security bods getting fuckin lively, okay?’
Roy lets go of my arm.
HOME SWEET HOME
Gatwick Airport, London
Friday, 24th August 2001
It’s five in the morning, London time, when I get off the plane. I sail through immigration without a hitch. The guy took a polite glance at my Jekyll passport and waved me through; someone had been bright enough to put a Barbados entry stamp in it. Also in the little parcel I was given back in Sonny’s hotel room was the return half of a railway ticket. Sonny told me to get the train on to St Paul’s station, not Victoria – it’s easier to see if you’re being followed – and the hotel is a short walk. I haven’t been on British soil for over four years so I haven’t felt cold in all that time. Waiting for the train, the cold bites. It’s August, but early morning, and chilly for the time of year. Sonny volunteered Royski’s prized but battered Aquascutum raincoat for me to commandeer – he can’t very well wear me or Mort’s, can he now? – but I already feel a shopping trip coming on.
The train arrives and pulls out slow. It soon starts to pick up speed through the English countryside. It’s starting to get properly light, the sky crystal clear and ice blue, the early morning sun starting to poke over the horizon. The train slows, pulls into Croydon, and fills up with early morning commuters. Everyone has their head in a newspaper. Or they look incredibly bored. I feel a sudden twinge of melancholy. I’d be homesick if I knew where home was. Mundane days are starting. Traffic is starting to build up on the roads below. I spot my first red London bus. The train increases in speed. It rushes, without stopping, through suburban stations. No time to read the names. The sun is getting higher in the sky. I’m rushing. My heart’s pounding. Hands getting clammy, mouth getting dry. I’m fidgety on my seat. It’s half anticipation, half buzz. I’m feeling good to be back in the UK, in London. Then Royski’s words come back to me – maybe they’ll let ya run. All the passengers, however unlikely, immediately look like plainies. I start checking faces, getting para. The train slows and stops at London Bridge. All the commuters I had down as definite suspects get off while new passengers scramble for seats.
Suddenly the train turns a corner and, in a flash, out across the river I can see St Paul’s cathedral, massive and glorious, surrounded – guarded – by skyscrapers, constructed in concrete and black glass. The sun hits the water, like a river of molten gold. The grandiose bridges disappear into the distance, down to Canary Wharf in one direction and Battersea power station in the west. I see the London Wheel and the new Tate Gallery for the first time. I’m seriously impressed, get a sudden realisation of why people from all over the world wanna be here. To lots of people worldwide the streets of London are still paved with gold. Things happen here. Good things, bad things, strange things, hard things, simple things, illegal things, lawful things, inexplicable things, mysterious things, mad things. But mostly people come to see if they can’t get a tiny slice of a very big pie. You can feel the power in the chilly morning air.
And me and London? I need to get in, do my business, and get out. I’m deep in thought as the train crawls into St Paul’s station. Sonny-boy told me during my final briefing to book into the hotel in the City – someone’s made a reservation in the moody name on my passport – and later someone will be in touch with details of a meet. Pretend you’re a tourist or a businessman. Be a ghost in your own hometown. And stay out of any of your old haunts.
Sonny told me, in all seriousness, to go and find myself a friendly sauna and punt for the deluxe polish off a creamy brass, on expenses.
‘Cheers, Sonny,’ I said. ‘Will you be needing a receipt?’
‘You tryin to be fuckin funny, pal?’ But I’d decided already, as he was droning monotonously on, defiance growing, that I wasn’t gonna be sitting on my hands waiting till one of his whacked-out posse, or Ted even, decided to put in an appearance or make a call.
I find the hotel no sweat. It’s new, twenty-eight floors and five stars. It looks like it’s made entirely of glass. I walk in and silently place my passport on the reception desk. They immediately find my reservation. I’m staying one floor from the top, on the twenty-seventh. The bellboy shows me into the lift and pushes the button with a mischievous grin. The lift flies up the side of the building like a fairground ride, the pavements rushing away, then comes to an equally abrupt halt. The bellboy shows me to my room and it’s the same as a million other hotel rooms worldwide, the same layout. The only difference is an awesome view looking west over London, so high up it looks like a map. I can pick out neighbourhoods, the bends in the Thames, and hills in the far distance.
I’m too wired to sleep so I have room service send up a pot of strong coffee. I sit and drink it overlooking the city, then decide I better pick up a few bits and pieces – I’m travelling too light. I get the lift back downstairs, thinking I’ll get a taxi over to the West End. As I walk through the lobby the concierge calls me back.
‘Excuse me, sir.’ I turn around. ‘We have a package for you,’ he says, turning to the pigeonhole and producing a tape-sealed padded envelope, ‘I was just about to buzz your room.’
‘I’ve saved you a journey. Did it come by courier?’ I ask.
‘Oh, no, sir, it was hand-delivered,’ he says, turning to the bellboy for confirmation. He nods awkwardly. Could be coincidence that it arrived just after I did, or it could be that I’m under surveillance. Someone knows I’m here but nobody’s doing much to make me feel welcome.
I take the package. It looks innocent, no sense of skullduggery about it. My bogus name is typewritten on the front and something about it tells me it was prepared well in advance rather than hurriedly put together.
I walk towards the main entrance. The automatic doors sweep open and the bellboy runs ahead and opens a taxi door. I te
I’ve seen these anonymous cards before. Not even numbers embossed across the front. They’re from discreet banks in Switzerland or the Caymans, basically an upmarket cash point card. As I’m replacing them all back in the packet I spot a smaller sealed envelope tucked right deep in the corner, like it went in first. I open it. A neatly typed message: ‘Please be in your room tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., prompt, to receive further instructions. Thanking you.’
‘Please’ and ‘Thanking you’ means it’s not from any of Sonny’s firm. This is no doubt from the geezer who rang Sonny in Bridgetown exactly on the chimes of the church clock. A poetic touch, punctuality being a gentleman’s calling card. The stationery is superior quality, proper Bond Street issue. I’m getting more curious by the minute, but curiosity can get your nose bitten off. It don’t seem like Duppy Granger’s MO either.
The cab heads west, the driver chatting away like mad, a running commentary, blahdy-blahdy-blah all the while.
‘Nice suntan you’ve got there, mate. You been on yer holidays?’
‘No, I’ve been …’ Meter clicking away nicely, click-click-click, up past the tenner mark in no time. We head along the river, then over the bridge, up through Soho, all the old haunts and memories, meter’s up past the twenty – a nice little fare – heading into Old Bond Street.
I have the cab drop me off, then stroll till I scope out what I’m looking for, an ATM inside a bank. I go inside, remove the card from the envelope and put it carefully in the machine. I punch the PIN number in. I ask to withdraw cash. It asks me how much.
‘How much?’ I say to myself. ‘Good question,’ I reply. I punch in the figures – five, zero, zero – and hit the ‘enter’ button. Instantly I can hear money being counted automatically, a beautiful, whirling sound, same the world over. The screen shows those exquisite words, ‘Please take your card and wait for your money’. A thin but tidy wad of notes – five hundred sterling – slides out of the machine. The ATM is flashing, ‘Do you require another service?’ Out of curiosity, I push the ‘Account Balance’ button. ‘Let’s see how much yer holdin, bruv.’ The balance instantly appears on the screen – £149,500.00p in credit. If that’s what Mort meant by Ted putting me on ex’s, that’s generous. A very nice surprise.
I eat lunch then go and buy the bits and pieces. A salesman on Jermyn Street admired Roy’s battered Aquascutum raincoat but suggested reconditioning. I laughed. I’m feeling surprisingly relaxed, like this whole set-up might be a bitta me – flying in and doing deals, with a hundred and fifty grand in my expense account to be getting on with, to show good faith.
I sit in Green Park till late afternoon, watching the world go by, then head back to the hotel. Now I’m tired and suddenly jetlagged. There’s a red light blinking on the bedside phone. I’m pouring myself a brandy, a nightcap, from the mini-bar before I answer it when it starts to ring again. For some reason I’m thinking it’s Morty ringing from over there. I let the phone ring three times before I answer it.
‘Hello there,’ says a quiet, rasping Londoner’s voice.
‘Who is this?’ I say, double cautious, but the caller completely ignores my question.
‘See,’ he says, ‘I’ve been ringing you all day. I thought you were supposed to wait home indoors.’
‘I got a note.’
Drag on snout. Small cough, ‘Well, where was ya?’
‘I went for a walk,’ I say cautiously.
‘Musta been a long fuckin walk. I ain’t got time to fuck about.’
‘I’ve got a cell phone, you coulda called me on that.’
‘Work of the devil, them things.’ Who the fuck is this? Is this Ted? I don’t wanna ask him. I can hear him take another pull on a cigarette before he continues. ‘Now lad, has your pal rung you yet? With the news …’
‘Bad news, I’m afraid.’ Drag on snout. ‘The fella they call the ghost—’At that very second the mobile in Roy’s raincoat starts to ring.
‘One second,’ I say into the landline as I try to find the mobile, searching through all the pockets till I find it. It might be the elusive Ted himself. I answer the mobile, ‘Hello?’
‘Listen, I ain’t got long,’ says Morty, breathless, feeding coins into a payphone, ‘I’m in the airport, in Barbados, trying to get an earlier flight. Gonna be tight but … What time is it there?’
‘Seven at night,’ I tell him.
‘I’ll see you there at nine tomorrow morning. We’re going to a funeral.’
‘Ted Granger,’ says Mort.
‘He better be – they’re burying him tomorrow.’
‘That ain’t fuckin funny.’
‘Well, that’s the best I can do at the moment,’ says Morty. ‘I’m a bit … He was a mate.’
‘This fucks everything.’
‘Not on the phone, pal,’ he half-whispers into the receiver, like it would make a difference.
‘That’s selfish, that is.’ I guess it is. Morty goes quiet. I can hear the bing-bong of the PA in Barbados Airport.
‘You got money?’ he asks. ‘You better pop out and buy some funeral clothes.’
‘Morty, it’s seven at night. All the shops are shut.’
‘You’ll have to go as you are.’
‘Funerals! I’m meant to be keeping a low.’
‘You gotta pay yer respects, bruv.’
‘This fucks everything,’ I say. ‘Am I right?’
‘No,’ Morty replies defensively, ‘but you’re not wrong either. It’s gonna need a rethink.’
I realise I’ve still got the landline receiver in my other hand. ‘One second, Mort,’ I say, ‘I’ve got some joker on the other line. Give me two seconds.’
‘Hello?’ I say into the receiver, ‘You still there, buddy?’
‘Yeah, I’m still here. And I heard all that,’ says the voice.
‘The bit about the funeral,’ he says, ‘and the bit about some fuckin joker—’
‘Oh, yeah? I didn’t say fucking joker—’
‘Whatever. Lotta business gets done at funerals, son,’ he interrupts then pulls on his snout again. ‘Listen, I’ll see you tomorrow, okay.’
‘Hang on, pal, one second,’ I say. ‘Why did you ring exactly?’
‘To tell ya the bad news. About Ted. But it seems … Till tomorrow, son,’ he says, and the line goes dead. I go back to Morty.
‘Who the fuck was that?’ I ask Morty. ‘Ringing me here?’
‘How the fuck would I know?’ he replies. ‘Listen, they’ve found me a flight. Gonna rush, but get up early, go and buy some kit, you know what I mean.’ A silly hat and big divvy glasses. ‘And maybe buy a proper raincoat. I’ve seen the weather forecast and it looks like rain.’
‘Anything else ya wanna tell me?’
‘I’m gonna love ya and leave ya,’ he says. ‘See you at nine sharp, tomorrow.’
I’m left with dead phones in both hands and a severely spun nut. I play the earlier message back. The same smoky, phlegmy voice I spoke to a minute ago. It’s short and sweet. ‘Where the fuck are ya?’ Don’t recognise the voice, and the gent neglected to leave a name.
LOVELY DAY FOR IT
Ted Granger was big school. In the age of Time magazine exposures about multi-national plutocrims, vill
The late Ted Granger was legend in the fraternity. He was an international drug trafficker but his reasons for being in the business were not as straightforward as the serious top-end money-makers. Ted was a gambler, addicted to drug trafficking the same way as a crackhead is welded to his cherry. What made it all the more bizarre was Ted’s lifestyle.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous it was not. He had more money than he could count but didn’t know how to spend it. He didn’t look like a deadbeat, cos every bitta clothing was boil-washed and steam-pressed – always wore a vest, even in mid summer, and the mail-order, ex-RAF, special-purchase shoes were spit-polished. Ted looked like he got kitted-out in the army surplus store but he shaved every morning, and once a week he got whoever was on hand to use the hair clippers up the back and sides so he looked like a squaddie off to batter insurgents down in Malaya. Even pensioners thought Ted was a throwback. Ted was the most unlikely master criminal there ever was.
Viva La Madness by J. J. Connolly / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes