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Viva la madness, p.8
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       Viva La Madness, p.8

           J. J. Connolly
 

  At forty-five he had energy but looked world-weary. If someone asked you to guess his age you’d say mid-fifties cos jails had nicked years they were never going to give back. Ted had gone through approved school, borstal training, then heavier stretches for highly organised burglaries and robberies. Ted did a four and a six. He was, like Twitchy Roy Burns, someone you underestimated at your peril. Rumours said he was responsible for possibly three murders – he was heavily implicated in the fatal stabbing of a Palestinian terrorist in Parkhurst. The prison authorities couldn’t prove anything, but Ted was ghosted up to Durham, the other end of the country. This is a guy who looks like a whistling milkman – extra pinta, missus? Somewhere along the line he picked up the moniker ‘Duppy’ from black prisoners: Duppy meaning ghost or spirit. Nobody could work out if it was a compliment or an insult but it stuck. Maybe because Ted was so glow-white, translucent from too much birdlime, too little sunlight, looked like he could see through walls; always knew what was going on in the jail, in the prison system, in your head.

  How did Ted get up there? There was a time when dealing in drugs was considered below the dignity of the British criminal. Ted had got nicked, got a seven, of which he did almost four. Morty and Ted ended up with adjoining cells in Wandsworth and soon become allies in the constant battle of wits with the screws. Ted would be lecturing Morty about the cancerous effects of drugs on the fraternity – the end of everything he stood for. Morty had no such scruples. Morty thought Ted was a man born in the wrong era. But, Ted being Ted, he was soon on his feet again after getting out, working meticulously as a burglar on an industrial scale, stealing computer equipment, jewellery, watches and perfumes, antiques, family heirlooms from long-term storage facilities, spares for high performance cars, official documentation from remote sub-post offices. Anything, in fact, that was sellable, cos Ted liked his punt on the gee-gees.

  Ted’s well-executed robberies become his trademark. He had teams of experts – alarm specialists, drivers – but most importantly Ted had eyes and ears all over the Home Counties who got a bunce if any work they put up paid off.

  But the problem with having a recognisable criminal trademark is that it brings attention. He had to lose a tail every morning before he could go to work. The Regional Crime Squad was tailing him in shifts, baked-up outside his drum. They even put him under observation when he took his extended family down to Tenerife for some winter sun. It was as much about them topping up their tans as watching Ted. He was no longer flattered. When the law has to justify the expense of plane tickets, hotels and subsistence allowance, you know you’re looking at a long stretch.

  One night about a decade ago, nineteen ninety-one, Ted came away from a burglary in Brighton with a Chinese cabinet over five hundred years old. It had a secret compartment; he found four kilos of pure flake inside. When an acquaintance told Ted what it would fetch wholesale – in the region of one hundred and twenty grand – Ted decided he was in the wrong profession. All the incredibly dated criminal morality went straight out the window and Ted jumped full-blast into the drug importation business. He entered the world of hopefully unreported, supposedly victimless crime, away from alarm bells, flashing blue lights or wailing sirens. Ted entered a world where his organisational skills, criminal pedigree and ability to hold his own under questioning all went in his favour. Into a world where, for Ted Granger at least, anonymity was paramount.

  Ted was an amateur smuggler who became an international trafficker, who became so big he never saw any tackle. He became a glorified haulier. Ted went from hiding merchandise in juggernauts criss-crossing the North Sea to delivering sealed containers via shipping brokers in only four or five years. Promotion comes rapid in the drugs game; there’s a lot of natural wastage. Smuggling is the ultimate gambling experience. You win some, you lose some. The law knew he was at it but they couldn’t prove it – the tricky part. Duppy was more schooled in police and legal procedure than most cozzers. He loved the cat-and-mouse – the surveillance, the meets in dark places, the ready-eyes, the codes, the phone taps, the bugs, the bribes, the odds – but I guess what Ted Granger liked most was the adrenaline. Loving it didn’t stop him from having a persecution complex, cos the authorities wouldn’t leave him alone to break international law on an industrial scale. He believed he was being systematically hounded, was a businessman who’d done his birdlime and grafted hard. They were jealous.

  Ted Duppy Granger started working outta London till it got warm, so he decamped over to The Dam. Some days he had four surveillance teams on him. So he uprooted himself once more, down to Southern Spain, Costa del Sol. He thought that some of the chaps down there were loudmouths, so he relocated to Costa del Azahar, near Valencia, where the address of a house could be a map reference, the entrance a narrow track up a mountain, and that suited Ted. Even up there, up among the goats, he had to keep moving, but he’s at the top of his game, got his funds all spun and spendable, smart lawyers and accountants to keep the heat off. He could easily have stayed home and watched the horse racing.

  What does Edward Albert Granger do? According to Mister Mortimer, he’s up early, six or half past. Old lag’s thing that, always up early, does an exercise routine devised in a punishment block, the HMP Segregation Unit workout. Don’t need equipment! Simply bags of motivation! Consists of hundreds of press-ups, sit-ups, star-jumps and running on the spot in thirty-bob plimsolls and baggy Y-fronts. Keep those fuckin knees up!

  Then Ted has a stripped-to-the-waist wash, his shave, a coupla boiled eggs and a gallon of strong diesel tea made with long-life milk. Then at about eight thirty he goes off on his rounds, out to meet his team up and down the coast, in churches, railway stations, on golf courses, in gas station washrooms or boats out on the Med. They rendezvous on building sites, luxury villas tucked in the hills, flitting in and out back doors, and on crowded beaches, all because every single thing Ted the Duppy Granger needs to tell his crew, he needs to tell them face to face. It then becomes the job of the capos to track back to shipping agents, enforcers, boat captains, loaders and suppliers. All to keep the buzz going. And he rose to dizzy heights. But now he’s dead. Adios amigo.

  But he got the perfect weather for a funeral – unseasonable cold snap, ten degrees centigrade under the norm for the time of year, persistent, driving rain. Ted would have approved. Once upon a time Morty would have avoided the funeral because these things can turn into a gathering of the clans for both the fraternity and the law enforcement élite, but he’s full of surprises these days. Old Bill will – no doubt about it – be lurking about, smudging up the proceedings with a long lens.

  Morty was insistent that I come along. And what a gathering of faces it is, the real boat show outside the crematorium chapel, waiting for the festivities to begin. We have the up-and-coming and the semi-retired, the dabblers and very active, liggers who love a scoundrel and the dear-departed’s kith and kin – the Granger family.

  Four brothers, not counting Ted who’s in the box, one other missing, away up the country for a double-figures gig, and four sisters, bruisers with very hard, sharp faces, and Missus Granger the senior, going on eighty, with a lit Capstan Full Strength wedged in her mouth like a Canning Town docker. She’s coughing and spluttering, rattling her dentures, looks frail as a brittle twig but going strong, fuelled by non-tipped snout and milk stout. Her hair is stained nicotine yellow above her right eye. I catch her eye, or more to the point she catches mine. She looks straight into me, fearless. I look away quick. I realise she’s made from high-carbon steel. Unbreakable.

  The younger gelhead members of the Granger clan had been transplanted out to the more gentle pastures of leafy Hendon and sedate Edgware courtesy of Uncle Ted’s charitable foundation but they’re still joined by an umbilical cord to the old toil-and-trouble neighbourhood. They can never really let go because their neighbours out in the bland suburbs view them with creeping distrust – neighbourhood watch generalissimos taking photos of the new-installed pikies.

/>   Ma Granger and all Ted’s brothers and sisters have that malnourished look, the legacy of rickets and scurvy, that takes generations of pease pudding and good living to shift – the high cheek bones and the wiry, double-jointed physique. They could easily handle a raging smack habit but regular doses of vitamins and fruit would have them keeling over. Their systems couldn’t handle it. They’ve all got the same darting eyes and pronounced frown. They’re all snouted-up as well, lighting one off the other, but it ain’t the constant fags that’s given them the seriously caned complexion, it’s year after fuckin year of stress and anxiety.

  The Granger Family don’t look quite right in their funeral garbs either. Some guys can wear formal clobber, and these guys can’t. The collars on the shirts are too big, making them look scrawnier still, all red razor rash and protruding Adam’s apples. The suits are baggy on the shoulders, the shoes almost brand new, only getting out to weddings, funerals and court appearances. The sisters, wives and girlfriends have obviously had an outing to Bondo Strasse to get togged out but it still doesn’t look right. Santa Versace and Giorgio A’s best black creations weren’t meant to grace a damp crematorium in windswept Cricklewood. A couple of women wear inappropriate, sodden satin shoes that are now ruined, but even in their grief they couldn’t give up the desperate need to impress. This is where Holloway meets Hollywood, California meets Caledonian Road.

  Upsetting Sister-Number-One Bridget could be fatal, get the face ripped off your head. Bridget looks like a female bodybuilder – hard boat, drag queen calves. She’s greeting people she likes by calling them a cunt, as a term of endearment – all right, ya cunt, glad ya could make it, ya cunt. She’s definitely in charge of today’s proceedings, as she’s the dear-departed’s twin. I get the distinct feeling that some of the congregation have had a massive sniff of white to get them up and on parade. I also get a whiff of cut-one-and-we-all-bleed camaraderie, closely aligned with vicious jealousies and bitter sibling rivalry. They can have their disputes between themselves, but woe betide any poor fucker who attacks any of them.

  Morty in his funeral garb looks like the dignified Third World Head of State at Ascot – the charismatic Brigadier General who staged the coup d’état. All he’s short of is a silk top hat. He’s got a barrister look thing going on – black jacket and waistcoat, with pinstripe strides, white shirt, black tie, obviously, shiny brogues, with an ankle-length, waxed moleskin topcoat from a swell’s shooting-and-fishing outfitters. He’s got a black golf umbrella that’s about six foot across. When you’re that well prepared you don’t really give a fuck about a full-blast monsoon. Morty’s holding black leather gloves, soft as fuckin silk. Now I’m jealous.

  I’ve got Roy’s borrowed Aquascutum raincoat that turns out to be no good in driving rain and a telescopic umbrella that’s worse than useless, a heavy gust of wind will soon send it inside out. Morty’s got me wearing a pair of ridiculous, tinted spectacles and a deerstalker hat as a lame disguise. I feel damp, dishevelled, jet-lagged and I’ve got a feeling I’m having the piss ripped out of me by General Mortimer. I also feel like a criminal starfucker, cos I never knew Ted ‘Duppy’ Granger personally. Looking round there’s guys here who are legends in their own imaginations – do you know who I think I am? They’re here to pay their respects to a guy worthy of that twisted respect the chaps bestow upon each other.

  The hearse arrives with a wreath saying ‘ADIOS BROTHER’, picked out in pink and white carnations, leaning against the side of the coffin. I suppress an urge to laugh, put it down to nerves. The whole hearse is packed solid with flowers from well-wishers. It’s surreal; bright, vibrant colours in a drab, wet crematorium. The drilled undertakers load up four of the brothers with the casket containing Ted and they make their way slowly into the chapel of rest. It occurs to me that it’s all being done in complete silence. No blubbering, no wet hankies or hysterical, fainting mourners. I can hear the gravel underfoot and my own breathing.

  Ted’s kinda in the box. The term ‘remains’ in this case is appropriate and accurate. There wasn’t a great deal left of Ted to send home, and cremating him again seems pointless. An eyewitness reported seeing Ted’s powerful car go skidding off the road and into a gorge. They watched it, horrified, sailing through the air, till it bounced a few times before exploding in a fireball at the bottom. Ted had been driving very fast, heading towards the main road that heads towards the south of Spain. He’d been spotted in a petrol station twenty minutes before the accident; told the kid pumping the gas that he was in a rush, kept asking him, in bad Spanish, if he could hurry up, por favor. He still had the kid clean the windscreen, check the oil and fill the radiator with water. Ted tipped him five euros, so he remembered him, the serious-looking English gentleman. Ted also had the petrol tank filled right up. All the signs were that he was heading off on a lengthy journey, but the irony was that the full tank made the carnage all the more destructive.

  Ted’s scorched and singed personal effects that had been found in the car had, strangely, followed the body home in plastic bags, meticulously labelled and documented by Spanish plod. They thought Edward Granger was a tourist because it was a hired motor, and contacted the British Consulate straight away. The consulate Johnnie had the dental records faxed through from the UK, the only available records being kept in the Prison Service database. They were out-of-date but held enough information to determine that the charred remains were in fact Duppy. There was a loud whisper that British Old Bill asked their Spanish counterparts to double-check everything but a senior detective in the Guardia Civil sent though a report saying they were convinced that the remains were Edward Granger. They were treating it as a road traffic accident.

  Mister Mortimer and me slip into the last row of pews. The damp seems to have followed us in. A couple of heavy looking dudes, the kind who have turrets instead of heads, show out to Mort with a wink or a nod of the head. One guy gives Morty a pat on the shoulder in passing. As Mort turns they give one another a wry smile and a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God shrug. Another lively dude, a bitova face, a big dealer, passes by, whispers something in Mort’s ear and jogs on without waiting for an answer. Morty turns to me and gives me the same stoic shrug.

  A large photo of Ted has been placed in a gilded frame on a stand surrounded by vases of white lilies. Ted obviously didn’t like having his picture taken so he glares out into the chapel with a hostile expression. He’s got the most razor-sharp widow’s peak you’ve ever seen, and the camera’s bleached-out flash, plus a drop of red-eye, gives the deceased Duppy an ironically demonic appearance.

  The coffin is placed in front of the altar. The crowd settles. The piped organ music begins to fade. Suddenly two gents come walking swiftly, trotting, up the aisle of the chapel looking like they’re holding hands. Their hands swing in unison but one is dragging the other along. They march to the front and squeeze into the family pew. Members of the family reach over, shake hands and kiss cheeks with one of the late arrivals but the other one just stares straight ahead. I cotton on. The two guys are handcuffed together, one a con, one a screw. Mort turns slowly backwards towards the door. I turn as well. Behind us, stood in the door, is a guy with ‘Prison Officer’ written all over him, chewing gum in pure defiance and brushing drops of rainwater off a waxed anorak. The screw gives us a smile that’s unadulterated sarcasm.

  The prisoner in the ringside seat has the definite stamp of the Granger Clan about him, with added buried-deep-then-dug-up concrete complexion – the Seg Block suntan. Now with all ten kids together, dead Ted tucked up cosy in his coffin, Ma Granger’s offspring are reunited under the one roof. She looks nonchalant, like she’s waiting for the bingo to start. Eyes down for a full house. There’s not a blubber from anyone in the whole church, more a tangible sniff of impatience, wanting to get the whole thing done and dusted and a few slurps of firewater inside them.

  The service is short and sweet – no Sinatra, just a bitta bible-blahdy from some threadbare chaplain. It’s all wrapp
ed up in minutes and away goes Ted ‘The Duppy’ Granger, multi-millionaire career criminal par excellence, through the tasselled scarlet velvet to rendezvous with the equalising flames of the gas furnace and the ultimate bewigged sentencing judge, sitting on the high bench of the Great Central Criminal Court in the sky. Ted had simply, on this last occasion, run out of final grounds for appeal.

  But where does that leave me?

  CHAPTER TEN

  NUT DOWN IN CHELSEA

  For guys like me or Mister Mortimer to travel five miles we have to drive ten. Doing U-turns back to where we just come from and going round roundabouts twice becomes second nature. We left Ted’s wake in the upstairs room of the boozer in full swing. After the toasts with Scotch to wash down the ham and mustard sandwiches, we ghosted away quiet. Morty slipped off at one point and was having a word with Bridget, but nodding across at me, like my ears should be burning. Mort also had a few confabs with some seriously connected guys – some with battered, stoved-in faces, some tanned and handsome – plenty of whispering and double-handed handshakes, a few brief bear-hugs and several knowing nods in my direction. These are heavy guys, but beneath the enamel – among their own, at funerals and weddings – their sentimental nature comes lapping over the sides. A couple of these guys, obviously business associates of the late Mister Granger, turned to me and without any introduction …

  ‘Hello there, son,’ little wink, nod. ‘Nice to see you back over this side.’

  Then they’d carry on talking to the rest of the company without missing a beat. They knew who and what I was. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. Part of me would dearly like to remain anonymous but another, less rational, part of me quietly loves the recognition of these headmen and elders. We all wanna be one of the chaps.

 
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