With a Pistol by My Side

Summary: An adventurer confronts a crime boss in the Golden Triangle.

A field researcher without a revolver is improperly equipped. My mentor ensured I learned that well, especially when traveling in the dangerous parts of the world. That axiom has served me well, ensuring I returned with life and lore from the dark, dangerous places others ignore exist. It takes a rare sort of scholar to be devoted enough to risk life and limb for their work, and an even rarer one to be willing to take it for the sake of research. That was why I sat across from Ye Thagyamin, the most dangerous man in the Golden Triangle.

Burma, or Myanmar, depending on your source, had several de facto micro-states within it: the Shan, Karen, Kachin, Mon, and many others. Conflict with each other, and with the brutal Tatmadaw, were the biggest drivers of crime and conflict in the Golden Triangle. The sheer corruption and rough terrain rendered effective unification impossible. Thailand, India, local authorities in China, and other foreign actors had their own reasons to keep the Tatmadaw occupied, instead of threatening their territory. That was why I sat across from the crime-boss, here in an improvised office here on the border of Shan State.

Ye Thagyamin was like a human valley between two bodyguards, each of whom was as big as professional athletes in other countries. The Chinese-made Type 56 carbines looked like toys in their hands. I knew that even with initiative, they'd overwhelm me in time. The reproduction percussion revolver I carried was from an era in which swords or bayonets were more reliable and efficient ways off several adversaries. This was a scenario I could not shoot first, although that was not my reason for bringing it. The short, dumpy predator across from me made a similar assessment, noticing I was armed.

"Ah, what brings you to my humble place of business?" he asked, folding his hands on the folding table. "I hear you are a connoisseur of small arms."

"Specific small arms," I replied, placing a piece of paper on the table. "Specifically, antique revolvers and pepperboxes."

"Why search for such relics out here? Why not a museum?" Ye Thagyamin chuckled. His grim-faced guards forced themselves to laugh after he slapped both of them on the back.

"Because my client wants one in particular, one from a stockpile of old Webley revolvers the Tatmadaw retired," I said, turning the piece of paper over. There was a Webley Mark IV revolver, an iconic pistol of the British Empire. This one had engraved ivory grips on it, as though it was made from the elephant shot in George Orwell's story on the topic, back when he was a colonial policeman here. I saw Ye Thagyamin's eyes widen, and a look of excitement on his face.

"I heard you might possess it, and I am prepared to offer one of equal or greater value," I said.

Ye Thagyamin leapt from his chair and pointed it at my head. I saw it up close, exactly as the client had described it. It was not the rusted old warhorse I'd seen similar pieces in, but an immaculately cared for antique. While he was a ruthless smuggler and criminal kingpin, my counterpart was at least a man of taste in sidearms. That was one thing we could agree on, but I hoped it was enough to walk out of here alive.

"Yes, that's the one," I said coolly. "Here is what I can raise you."

I pulled out my own sidearm, slowly and deliberately. I placed it gingerly on the table, holding it in both hands as I set it down like a delicate dish. It was narrower and ganglier than the Webley, and it lacked a visible trigger and trigger guard. It was the archetypical revolver, the ancestor of the Webley. It was a percussion cap muzzleloader, unable to load cartridge ammunition. It was the first revolver worthy of the name: the Colt Paterson, named for the industrial New Jersey town it was made in.

"What is this?" Ye Thagyamin asked, not lowering his pistol.

I pulled the hammer back, the cylinder rotated, and the trigger spring down from above. The weapon was live and ready. Ye Thagyamin snatched it with his other hand, and he fired it at a tree outside an open window. A deafening crack filled the interior of the room, as the acrid stink of spent gunpowder intermingled with the tropical heat. He cocked the hammer and fired again, enjoying it like a child with a new toy.

"One of the first ever revolvers, one worth at least a quarter million US dollars," I said. "I am prepared to provide sources for it."

"If you walked in here with this, why should I let you walk out?" the gangster asked, a predatory grin crossing his face.

"-Because." I hesitated for a moment. If I slipped up, they'd never find me. His two bodyguards cracked their knuckles. I rehearsed my response before, but I almost forgot it.

"Because if you do, there will be no more business like that. My client has taken note of your endeavors, and he proposes a mutually beneficial agreement."

Ye Thagyamin sat back in his chair, setting both pistols down. I tried to prevent it from showing, but it was like the weight of a wine press was lifted from my chest. He sighed, and his bodyguards backed off. He opened the Webley, removed the cartridges, and he slid it across the table to me.

"Tell your client this is a down payment," Ye Thagyamin said. "We will be in touch."

"We thank you for your good will."

Taking the pistol, I let his bodyguard escort me back out. Needless to say, I was out of the country as soon as I could. I'd given Ye Thagyamin a fake, a fully functional and detailed copy of an authentic Colt Paterson. I'd managed to get the rare Webley revolver, and I'd pulled one over on a crime boss. It was a feat I could not have accomplished without a pistol by my side.