Layer Cakeby J. J. Connolly
Our narrator’s too smart to tell you his name (“if I [did], you’d be as clever as me”), but he’s not afraid to tell you everything else about the “layer cake”London’s intricately arranged constellation of underworld fiefdoms. The worst thing about drug dealingaccording to our unnamed narratorwhether
Our narrator’s too smart to tell you his name (“if I [did], you’d be as clever as me”), but he’s not afraid to tell you everything else about the “layer cake”London’s intricately arranged constellation of underworld fiefdoms. The worst thing about drug dealingaccording to our unnamed narratorwhether you're a classy top dealer trading millions or a down-and-out street pusher, is that you have to relate to a lot of total idiots - loudmouths and tough-guy wannabes who aren't afraid to "get nicked by old bill and thrown in the boob" (arrested by police and jailed). Our narrator is a smoothly diplomatic 29-year-old cocaine dealer who has earned a respected place among England's Mafia elite. Speaking in a language rich with drug jargon, vulgarities, British slang, and Cockneyisms, he manages high-level trafficking with a tough old veteran partner, Mister Mortimer, a man who gave the narrator his start in the business, and who has seen his share of prison (five and a half year term) and deadly fights (he owns a porn store, and loves to set up guys looking for child porn by directing them to come back at a special time, then beating the living daylights out of them when they return). Our narrator’s goal is to retire at 30 and spend his remaining years far from the danger and double-dealing of London's crime gangs. But like most high rollers, he finds it hard to walk away from "just one more" deal.
Morty rings up our narrator one early Saturday morning with an invitation to an exclusive members only restaurant far off in the English countryside. They’re off for “a spot of luncheon” with the Don, Jimmy Price. Jimmy is a legend, a crime boss who’s been in the business for years by hiring the best lawyers and keeping a low-key profile. This is a man who is always gets what he wants, and is not used to people refusing him favors. Which is exactly the spot our narrator soon finds himself in when over lunch, Jimmy hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy's old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. It’s a hard deal to refuse, but Jimmy can spot the edge on our narrator and makes him a deal if you find Charlotte, you can leave the life for good.
Our narrator sets out to find Billy Bogus, a grifter with a gift for mimicry and ingratiating himself into any area of society he wants. Bank and credit card fraud is his trade, with a healthy dollop of hustling young women out of their trust funds for good measure. On his way to meet Bogus, he runs into a small time punk named Sid in a local nightclub who runs with a band of thugs called “the Yahoos.” With him is a stunning woman, a “real love-a-player type” named Tammy. Sid tells our narrator a bloody story about a friend of his named “The Duke” who recently got ambushed by a state of the art crew armed with laser sighted Uzis. Our narrator won’t figure out the significance of this story until later as he’s too busy checking out Tammy, who flirtatiously gives him her number while Sid is distracted.
Our narrator reports to Jimmy’s right hand man, Gene, that he’s on the case, but Gene has other business. Turns out that the Yahoos have two million pounds' worth of Grade A ecstasy to sell, and Gene wants our narrator to handle the deal. It’s an irresistible deal, just the right amount of money to top off his retirement fund. He sets up a meeting with him, Mort, and the Yahoos kingpins, Big Frankie and JD while finally catching up with Billy Bogus, who agrees to help find our narrator Charlotte by tracking down Charlotte’s boyfriend Kinkyfor a price, of course.
Big Frankie and JD keep quiet about where they’ve gotten the tablets, but the “gear” is top quality, confirmed by none other than Sir Alex (“chief chemical taster”). Things are looking up when Mort sets up his gang to meet up with a crew, headed by a man named Trevor, up in Northern England who he thinks will be perfect to unload the goods on. There’s only one problem they don’t want the goods. This crew informs our narrator that an Ecstasy factory has been hijackedmost likely by the Yahoosand now a brutal neo-Nazi sect wants those pills back. They’ve already hit up a house that belongs to “the Duke”, and here is where Sid’s story from the club all makes sense.
Our narrator drives back to London with Mort in tow and gets a call from Bogus, who tells him he’s found Kinky. Dead. In a London housing project. It looks like a typical drug overdose, but a young kid drug dealer who helped Bogus find Kinky says he was murdered.
Meanwhile, our narrator sets up a rendezvous with Tammy in a hotel room. As he steps out of the shower, two toughs ambush him, who roll him up in a carpet, and abduct him in a long box. The toughs take him to a construction site to meet with their boss, Eddie Ryder, Charlotte’s father. Eddie tells our narrator that Jimmy Price has pulled a fast one on him his daughter’s isn’t missinnnnnng. What’s worse, Jimmy’s made a deal with some renegade Chechens that have swindled him to the tune of thirteen million pounds. To pull himself out of the hole, he set up the narrator to find Eddie’s daughter, then hold her for ransom. The double cross, though, turns into a triple cross when Eddie plays our narrator a tape that reveals Jimmy Price is an informer for the police and has set up a sting for our narrator where he plans to send him to jail for long time, and make off with the narrator’s retirement fund.
Finding himself undercut, double-crossed, hung out to dry, and struggling to survive, our narrator’s survival instincts kick in. He changes from a turn-the-other-cheek diplomat to a revenge-charged hit man overnight, starting by killing Jimmy Price. Next, he agrees to sell the ecstasy tablets to Ryder, who plans to unload them to the Yakuza in Japan, which will put a nice chunk of change in our narrator’s pocket. Just before he leaves, our narrator mentions a bit of dirt that Jimmy gave him in passing about Eddie, insuring that Eddie won’t kill our narratorjust in case he gets any funny ideas about doing so.
Suddenly, all of the narrator’s problems looked solved. Jimmy’s dead, and those two million tabs of ecstasy are headed to Japan. Then, Jimmy’s right hand man Gene asks for a meeting with Mort and our narrator. Gene accuses our narrator of killing Jimmy and threatens to kill him unless he confesses. Our narrator plays the tape Ryder gave him for Gene and Morty, revealing Jimmy’s double-dealings with the police. Gene lets our narrator go and agrees never to discuss the crime again.
All that remains is the little matter of two million tabs of ecstasy. In a flourish of double and triple crosses, our narrator’s deal to exchange the tabs for cash at Heathrow Airport falls apart, but ends up with the tabs in Amsterdam. As he prepares to dash off to Amsterdam to collect the loot, he decides to give Tammy a call before he leaves. Unfortunately, Tammy’s jealous boyfriend Sidney tailed her, and shot the narrator three times, including twice in the head. The narrator lived, recovered in the hospital, and is ordered into retirement and exile by the cops. He rings Tammy to offer her one more chance to meet, but she tells him “girls like dangerous guys but you’re seriously fuckin’ life threatening. How many girls do you know end up covered in blood, chief prosecution witness in an attempted murder trial on their first date?” She wishes our narrator well, who has plenty of time to reflect on his life as an ex-pat in Curacao, Brazil. He acknowledges that, in life, you never stop learning, but you never stop forgetting either. He has plenty of time now to ruminate on both, living a life where he can remember why he left the business, but never forget why he can’t tell us his name.
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Read an Excerpt
By J.J. Connolly
Grove Atlantic, Inc.Copyright © 2000 J.J. Connolly
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHello, Hello, Hello
I parked the motor under a streetlight so there's less chance of anyone breaking into it. I locked it up, got my briefcase outta the back and was walking towards my gaff. I'm preoccupied with my work. Suddenly a flashlight's pointed straight in my face. I've squinted, I'm alarmed. The light's gone down my body. It's the law, I've thought. The game's up cos I've got in the case two kilos of top quality, very pukka, recently imported, cocaine. It's about forty kay or twelve years' worth, depending how you look at it, what tariff you wanna use. I've got electronic jewellery scales and Manatol, Italian baby laxative, on board as well. I'm gutted cos I very, very rarely take my work home with me and to get nicked on this rare occasion would slaughter me. Don't do anything stupid, don't do anything at all, take a deep breath and don't even think about running. Relax, work it out, stop holding your breath, cos if they had come for you, you'd be on the deck now, cuffed up and getting the old 'you do not have to say anything, blah blah blah' routine.
'Sorry, Sir, you okay?' He's genuinely apologetic. 'Only we've had reports of a prowler in the area.'
'A prowler, you say, well well. And there's only the two of you? Maybe you should call for some assistance.'
'We're a bit stretched already tonight, Sir.'
'That's too bad. I'll ring the station if I see or hear anything.' 'Thank you, Sir. Good night. Be careful.'
'Oh, I will be.'
They carry on looking for the burglar in among the bushes and I go upstairs to weave that special kinda magic that turns two kilos into three.
April Fool's Day 1997 Welcome to the Layer Cake
'Well, where the fuck is he?'
'I don't know, Morty. I really can't answer that question. Ask me one on sport.'
'Fuck off. What time does your watch say?'
'Probably the same as yours, exactly two minutes past four.' 'And he said he'd be here at four?'
'On the dot?'
'And he's usually on time?'
'Yeah. He's usually very punctual.'
'So where the fuck is he?'
I'm waiting and I fuckin hate waiting. A guy's meant to be turning up to buy from myself and Mister Mortimer a half-kilo of the finest, purest cocaine this side of the River Thames for twenty thousand pounds cash sterling. If you were an alien looking down on this little scene, one earthling giving another earthling the year's earnings of most people for a bag of white powder that started life growing on a tree, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all a little bit strange. I must admit that some days I still, after all this time, find it a tad surreal. Thank fuck it's illegal, I say.
So now it's Friday afternoon and me and Mort are waiting for a party by the name of Jeremy to turn up and collect the half-kilo that we've put aside for him. It's gonna cost him the twenty thou and we're making out we're gonna be doing him a big favour cos we'll have to find other people to take the rest of the key. We usually try to move only whole kilos. Sometimes it's a problem, but then again, sometimes it's really handy to have half a kilo knocking around. We always make out it's big probs for us to be chopping kilos about. We always make a bitova fuss but we always do it. Business is business. This particular half-key is just pure bunce cos it's the result of us chopping and cutting a little bit more than usual over the last couple of weeks, so Jeremy's twenty can be carved up between us cos we don't owe anything or anybody for it.
I've got my Gucci loafers off, my feet up on the desk in the back office of the letting agency I've got a stake in. The April sun's blasting through the window and I've got a slight breeze blowing through my toes. We've just had a nice bit of lunch in an Italian gaff offa Marylebone High Street where they do some very sexy things with chickens and tomato sauces, the weekend is upon us, and Terry and Clarkie, the kids, as Morty calls our junior partners when they're outta earshot, are out and about running errands. Things are very sweet and I'm as content as my nature will allow. I just wish that Jeremy would hurry the fuck up because I'm starting to get a little bit anxious, I always do when people are running late. I get a wee bit twitchy.
The Golden Rule: Stay as far away from the end-user as humanly possible otherwise it's gimme a freebie, gimme a clue, gimme a move, gimme shelter, gimme a bitta bail chief, gimme a drop of unsecured credit and I say gimme a fuckin break, gimme a day off, gimme fuckin strength. Some days in this line of work you can be left thinking, Is there civilised life anywhere in this whole fuckin universe? In this whole fuckin solar system? Sometimes I doubt it but all this insanity's good for business. We're making so much money playing neat and tidy that we're running outta places to plug the loot. Life is so fuckin good I can taste it in my spit. Demand is high and so is supply but I just wish to fuck that la-dee-da Jeremy would hurry the fuck up.
We always work neat and tidy, we always work as a small team. I try and turn away people who are messy, who are noisy, who'll get us nicked big time, who have to be seen as players, the loud-mouths and braggers. People who are neat and tidy like ourselves we can do business with. All that being flash with racy motors, wearing gaudy diamonds and gold trinkets, the big fuck-off attitude, is just begging to get yourself nicked. No point rubbing the law's noses in your success. What's called for is some peace and quiet, discretion, a low profile so you can crack on uninterrupted and let the Other People go after the noisy, boisterous folk. Some people will say you've got no business being in the game if you ain't double flash with your ill-gotten gains, really upping the old bill with 'em. Why have big dollar if you can't let people know you got big dollar? In this game it often helps if you can agree to disagree with some people, but it ain't always possible.
Don't get me wrong, I ain't saying we live like monks or anything and we ain't exactly on our bellies chipping away at the coalface of life either. On the face of things I run a very successful lettings agency but my legit partner takes care of that on a day-to-day basis. It gives me a bit of income and the pick of some very creamy gaffs to plot up in for six months at a time, but most important it provides a very tidy front to lose myself behind. I've always said I wanna be outta this game by the time I'm thirty. I'm twenty-nine now so this year's gonna be all about getting all my shit together in the one pile. I've seen guys hang around too long in the game until they either get themselves nicked or they simply lose the plot, start doing far too much of the product, get weak or paranoid or both and end up losing everything, become sad cases. Some guys are just too fuckin greedy.
A lot of operators in this powders game only know this swindle, it's their whole fuckin life. They don't know anything else so if they did manage to get out they'd be fucked for something else to do with their time. Everyone, even dealers, needs a sense of purpose. It's not about the money anymore either cos they got as much as you can spend in a lifetime anyway so it's become a fuckin powder power trip for them. Year after year they plod on, some of them don't even get to see the stuff, just take the prime cut on pay day and how bad's that, but that was never my plan cos you still gotta watch your back twenty-four-seven. In and out before I'm thirty but set up for life, a gentleman of leisure. All my moneys spun and back in the system clean as a whistle. I wanna be nicely set up with legit business interests spread all around, a portfolio, a bit here, a bit over there and that'll do nicely thank you very much. I wanna be un-fuckin-touchable.
Am I getting there? Very much so I'm getting there. We place a lotta stuff with a lotta people. We're very close to the top of our particular pyramid, to guys who actually bring the goods onto British soil, the importers, the real big-time money-men, the vicious international players. We get our supply at a price that's right. When these guys start talking they're talking in millions of pounds, hundreds of kilos. Maybe some of the guys I work with will make the leap up into the big leagues and manage to stay there, but I won't be going along with them. Thirty and I'm out. Have a plan and stick to it.
A kilo of very high-grade snorting cocaine, even with the very top, the very very best stuff, skimmed offa the top to make crack, is gonna cost the guy I sell it to twenty-seven and a half grand at today's market price. We, obviously, get it for a lot less than that from the guy who deals with the international players, an old-school Don, name of Jimmy Price, gawd bless him. We work with his blessing and protection but at a price. Jimmy will allow us bail, or credit, up to half a million pounds because over the time we've worked through him we've built up a very good credit rating, so now we just call on what we need and it ain't a problem. Jimmy wouldn't know whether to snort the coke or rub it on his genitals, it ain't his thing, although some of his generation have been known to go totally wobbly with it. Jimmy has no fuckin interest in the effects of the stuff whatsoever, don't like seeing people getting outta control. He's probably very rarely laid eyes on the goods and he certainly don't put his hands on the product. Sir James oversees, if you like, the sometimes messy business of getting it from A to Z. He gets his handling charge for handling something he doesn't even touch. He's a hands-off senior management executive. Having Mister Price's protection is no guarantee of anything cos there's too many hounds about, but I can tell you that it helps being connected. He trusts us to go to work with a high degree of tact and discretion. He knows we're not sloppy wankers and it's certainly in his interest for us to go to work unhindered.
The funny thing is that I've only met Mister Price twice in my life. Once I shook his hand at some seriously moody boxing dinner and another time we were introduced at the wedding reception of Clarkie's creamy younger sister, very briefly and with a minimum of fuss. Morty works with Gene McGuire, who's what the Sunday papers would call an enforcer for Jimmy Price, but he's more a bodyguard-cum-professional-best-mate. He does Jimmy's bidding and Jimmy trusts him with his life. The money and goods go backwards and forwards through Morty and Gene and everyone gets fat together, very fat, baby-chubby.
Morty looks after getting the supply and I look after the selling-on of the product. Having a geezer like Mort around means that nobody who's got any sense is gonna fuck with us cos he's a fearless and ruthless cunt is Morty and he's got a squad of other ruthless and fearless cunts to call on if need be. There's many myths and legends surrounding him and the gist of them all is that you'd have to be fuckin mad or suicidal or both to mess him about. He don't suffer fools for a minute cos first they're very irritating and second they can get you very seriously nicked in this game. I've never actually seen him perform but with guys like Morty you don't have to have seen it to know it can be done. I've seen him warn some very fuckin heavy guys away from our drop of work and they've stayed warned for a long time after.
Morty looks like a cross between Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, taller, but maybe Morty would weigh in at light-heavy these days in spite of spending all those hours in the gym. He's a class act. He likes his ladies, his clothes and a quarter mill a year in his kick. Mister Mortimer is a highly respected geezer and to a lot of firms around London it's the one thing they have in common is a mutual respect for Morty. He's even been asked to sort out disputes, but he don't get involved cos he just don't need the aggravation. He's earned his respect across the board through a drop of charm and a dose of violence, but Morty will tell you it is sometimes necessary. Morty says he will explain but not justify.
About fifteen years ago Morty was running around with a team of guys who were seriously spun out. The loonies' loonies. Morty had known these guys through borstals and young prisoners' nicks and although he was only a fringe member of the outfit he was, as ever, extremely loyal to them in that very fuckin weird way those guy are to one another, bordering on the insane I would say. They're turning over any business that couldn't go running back to the Other People, sex shops and massage parlours, doing blags long after they went outta fashion, doing loads of drugs and not giving a fuck about keeping a low profile. One night after a party with loads of booze, hookers and chemicals, one of this team, who was always regarded as severely unstable even by this wired crew, has, in a tearful and quite pathetic outburst, told all these geezers he loves them and then put a shooter in his mouth and shot himself dead in front of about ten witnesses. Now this is a dilemma cos this desperate posse can't very well go calling an ambulance because they're wanted all over London and the Home Counties. Even if they did explain the truth, all ten of them telling the exact same story, cozzers, the police, ain't gonna believe a fuckin word of it.
'What, he just decided to put the sawn-off in his mouth and pull the trigger?'
'Yeah, that's how it went down.'
'Oh right, that's all right then.'
Like fuck it was gonna happen like that. They're gonna think that there was some kinda dispute among all these volatile nutcases, who could fall out over a perceived dirty look, and this geezer, Kilburn Jerry, got topped or it was a party game gone wrong. Morty was somehow roped into getting rid of the mangled, headless body but someone fucked up by being just too fuckin untogether and Morty got nicked big-time. He was charged with disposing of a body unlawfully or accessory after the fact and was given eight years, of which he served five and a quarter. The crown actually accepted that the guy had killed himself and the guys who had been originally charged with 'murder due to joint venture' were getting acquitted at the Old Bailey while Morty was being weighed off. All the time Morty kept schtum and did his time. Name, rank and serial number was all they ever got out of him and this earns the respect of his peers, both inside and out, both now and then. I can see why he don't entertain any nut-nuts.
Clarkie is the youngest child in one of those fuckin huge families that you just don't get anymore, not since the arrival of the pill anyway. If this business had an elite officer corps then Clarkie would be a product of it. The Clark family are still a major force in this part of town, in any part of town come to that.
Excerpted from Layer Cake by J.J. Connolly Copyright © 2000 by J.J. Connolly. Excerpted by permission.
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