Arnold Lamplighter, known in the trade as The Gasman, lived in a rather exclusive area adjacent to Chalfont Saint Giles, about a forty-five minute ride and a couple million pounds sterling from the east side of London. He had sounded a bit surprised when I called and said I had an urgent need to speak to him in person, but he said to “drop by” around eight.
I was wearing a leather jacket and motorcycle boots when I arrived on my Triumph. Partly, I wanted to look like someone out for a joyride, but the leather and boots might give me a little additional protection if things went south in a hurry.
The three security men who met me at the front door of the mansion gave me a cursory pat down before we entered. Once inside they were a little more thorough. “You will get your Glock and this... lady gun... back when you leave.” one of them said gruffly. Evidently he had a low opinion of the 25 caliber automatic that I had inside my boot. He then pointed to a door just off the huge entryway. A different security man walked in front of me, opened the door, and stepped aside. Inside the room was a large desk, and behind the desk sat a large man, Arnold Lamplighter.
“Come in, W,” he called out loudly and waved his hand.
I stepped in and sat down in the large upholstered chair that was centered in front of the desk. He was silent for a moment and then said almost flatly, “Finn called me. I know why you’re here.” He paused and then said a little more urgently, “You have to understand, W, I had no choice. This man would kill me. He would kill my family... or worse.”
“So you kidnapped my niece,” I said angrily.
“I didn’t know who it would be,” he almost wailed. “And I only provided the equipment. I knew it was nasty because he is. ...And because he made such severe threats.”
He visibly shuddered and then continued, “I can’t tell you anything else or he will do everything that he promised to do to me and my family.” He shuddered again and said in a very shaky voice, “Even if I could trust you, he would find out I told you. He has operatives everywhere. You can trust no one.”
He stopped, looked over at the door for a moment as if listening carefully, then he smiled at me. It was a very strange smile. “But,” he said slowly and very softly, “if you were to use that needle gun that you have in your pocket disguised as a pen and knock me out, and if you were to ransack my office and open my safe, you might find an envelope with enough details to take you directly to the man you want.”
The smile left his face as he set a thick envelope on the desk in front of him. “My most trusted men have already taken care of the office,” he said very softly. “I guarantee they will fire over your head as you race away on your motorcycle... but trust no one!”
I sat there totally dumbfounded as he set my guns on the desk with the envelope. “You will need these,” he said as he opened the front of his coat. Then he asked, “Does it hurt?”
I didn’t answer his question. Instead I triggered the needle gun. He gasped loudly and fell forward onto the desktop.
“Yes,” I said as I scooped up the weapons and the envelope. I figured it would look best if I left through the window like a fleeing burglar. Since it was only about a four foot drop to the grass, I was able to start sprinting for my bike as soon as my feet hit the ground. I was half-way there when the guards started shooting. The Gasman had promised they would shoot high, but I could still hear the zing of bullets whizzing past way too close to me. I jumped on the Triumph and hit the starter. As soon as the engine caught, I roared out of there, zig-zagging slightly on the narrow roadway.
Just as I reached the main gate, I heard the very distinctive “Poink” of a bullet striking the bike. Evidently someone didn’t get the message or had shot just high enough for the bullet to arc back down and strike. I wiggled the handlebars slightly to see if anything felt amiss. It didn’t, so I continued my speedy escape.
A few miles up the road, I pulled off at a wide passing area and stopped to put on my helmet. The last thing I needed was some traffic officer stopping me for not wearing a proper UK approved safety helmet. As I unstrapped the helmet from between the back sidepacks, I stopped and shook my head. Then I looked back down the road toward the Lamplighter Mansion and muttered several of my favorite cusswords. There was a small, neat hole going in one side of the helmet and a slightly larger hole coming out the other side. There was also a groove on the top of my rear fender just under the seat. A foot or so higher and that groove would have been in my back.
I tossed the helmet out into the field alongside the road and got back on the bike. If necessary, I could play dumb American and just pay the fine for not wearing a helmet, but they take firearms very seriously in the UK. It would be complicated proving I had the proper permits to carry the two weapons I had on me. But trying to explain bullet holes would be a lot more complicated and would possibly end with me speaking to detectives at the station.
I made it back to my hotel without encountering police of any sort and parked the bike. I told the concierge that someone had stolen my helmet while I was dining and would he please locate a shop where I could get a replacement because I would be checking out.
I was in my room studying the papers in the envelope when there was a discreet knock on my door. It was a server with a covered cart. I hadn’t ordered anything so I grabbed my Glock and stood back before calling out, “The door’s unlocked, come on in.”
A young miss pushed the cart through the door and then stood there shaking slightly. My gun was behind my back, but she could tell that something was not right.
“The concierge sent me,” she said, obviously frightened. “Please don’t hurt me, Mister W,” she wailed as she burst into tears.
“I won’t,” I said. Then I pushed the Glock into my belt in the back and showed both my hands as I continued, “Please take the cover off the cart... slowly.”
She slowly lifted the cloth revealing a half-dozen motorcycle helmets sitting on the cart. “The concierge said that the one that fits will be added to your bill,” she said softly. Then she added, “The rest will be returned to the shop.”
She stood there while I tried on two of the helmets that looked like they would fit. The Shark something was a good fit, so I set it on the bed and returned the others to the cart.
The young girl again covered the cart, but before she could leave, I asked softly, “Why were you afraid I would hurt you?”
“The police have been checking up on you,” she replied, looking down at the floor. “And there were some other people– not the police, but tougher looking... with cold faces– who were also asking about you.” She stepped back slightly as if still afraid and then said in a very shaky voice, “The staff talks. They think you are an American criminal of some sort.”
“I’m not a criminal,” I said softly. Then I added, “...it’s complicated.”
She then stepped very close to me and whispered, “I think they put something in your room,”
“Thank you,” I whispered back. Then I pressed two fifty pound notes into her hand and said, “It might be a good idea if you were to take the rest of the day and tomorrow off. I will be gone by the time you come back to work.”
After she left, I stood in the middle of the room and said loudly, “I have a message for whomever is listening. If you are the police or officials of some sort, we can work together. If you are the people holding my niece, you’d better make your play now because I am coming for you.”
I moved one of the chairs to the corner where I could cover the door and the window and waited. It took a little longer than I expected. Maybe the message had to pass up the chain of command. Or maybe the right person wasn’t immediately available. It was almost two hours later when there was a soft knock on the door.
“W?” a female voice asked cautiously, “is it safe to enter?”
“Depends on who you are,” I responded.
“Right thigh,” the woman’s voice said, almost laughing.
I chuckled and said, “Come in, Tat, you’re safe.”
She wasn’t alone. There were two male agents with her. Both looked like they could double as hired muscle anywhere. They were probably the ones the maid had called the “but tougher men” who had been asking about me.
“This is Andre` and Devon,” Tat said quickly. “They... work with me.”
She looked down at the table and said sharply, “What did you get from Arnold?”
“From him, nothing,” I replied. “He was too afraid of his customer to tell me anything.”
I held up the envelope and added. “But from his safe, I got this.”
I probably could have told Tat the truth, but The Gasman’s life depended on me keeping up my side of the charade and I knew nothing about the two agents with her.
“We were worried you were wounded,” Devon said gruffly.
“But there was no blood on the helmet,” added Andre`.
“You followed me!” I said angrily.
“Didn’t have to,” Devon said, shaking his head. “We had a beacon on your bike.”
“Shit!” Tat said loudly, looking up from the papers. “We knew he was a bastard, but we thought he was just a local bastard.”
“So sex slavery is OK as long as you keep it local?” I replied, a little more contemptuously than I had intended.
“No,” Tat said slowly, “but we can’t go after everyone. Some things are internal problems for a country.”
“And nobody wants to get involved in Uganda,” I said bitterly.
I noted that Andre` looked startled when I said that.
“They are much better than they once were,” Tat said, smiling at me. “But the Amuru District is very poor and very rural. It looks like General Agua Amin has carved out a small jungle kingdom in the middle of nowhere.”
“Is he related to the original?” I asked.
“Amin is not even his real name,” Tat replied, “but he claims to have inherited the spirit of the great dictator. Agua means divine or the spirit of.” She gave me a look of frustration and continued, “What he probably inherited... or found... or stole... is a good portion of the gold that Idi Amin stashed away before he was overthrown. That and his small army of mercenaries helps keep control of the local population.” She paused, looked up at me, and asked, “Are you going after him?”
“It’s personal,” I replied as I stood up. “And I promised my baby sister.”
I noticed the two agents back up slightly as I spoke.
“You look like a very dangerous man when you are angry, W,” Tat said firmly. “But you can’t do this alone.”
“I’ll talk to some friends,” I replied. “I won’t be alone.”
“I hope I am one of those friends you were planning to talk to,” a gruff voice said from the doorway.
Special Agent Anthony Bricker walked into the room, followed by Mistress Nora.
“No, Special Agent Pricker,” I replied curtly, “you weren’t even on the list.”
“Thank you for the work,” he said angrily as he grabbed the papers from Tat’s hand. “Agent Tatiala and I will handle it from here. I expect you to be on the next plane to DC. Agent Hugo is downstairs checking you out.”
Tatiana winced when he called her by the wrong name but quickly regained her composure. When he finished speaking, she took the papers back from him and said firmly, “Remember Agent... Bricker, you are on English soil now and I am in charge.”
“Then let’s go back to your headquarters and plan the operation,” he replied as he turned and walked out of the room. The others followed him out of the room. Andre` was the last to leave. As he was leaving, he turned, looked at me, and gave me a strange, twisted smile. Something was familiar about him. I don’t think I had ever met him before, but there was something about his eyes that tickled my memory. I had seen those eyes many times before.