The final spotlight came on right in the middle of the stage, illuminating Sly Gantlet in radiant white light that glittered off the wide studded leather belt and large square pure silver belt buckle with the stylized, embossed “G”. With his motorcycle boots, leather pants and Gantlet Brothers tank top he looked more like a biker who had just spent a weekend in Tijuana than a world famous musician. But then again, with his extraordinary musculature, unruly mane of blond hair and beard stubble he also looked as if he could have been a Viking warrior or savage barbarian right out of Robert E. Howard dropped into the modern age. But when he started playing the first notes of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” there was no doubt that he knew his way around a guitar.
And for the next ninety minutes Sly Gantlet showed that he more than lived up to his reputation. Those other guitars weren’t on the stage just for show as he switched them up depending on what he was playing and on his mood. He only stopped occasionally between numbers to wipe the sweat from his face and take a swig of beer from a bottle on a stool. As soon as he finished one, a fresh frosty one took its place. Dillon reflected that Sly Gantlet must have had a bladder the size of a watermelon because not once did he take a break through what proved to be a really amazing set.
After “Start Me Up” he went right into a selection of songs from his solo album. “Woody & George” sounded to Dillon as if it got its inspiration from 1960’s hipster jazz while the song that followed it, “What It Do” was pure straight up and down James Brown funk mixed in with George Clinton. Sly switched up guitars and did a reflective and somber nine minute version of “Triangle” which sounded to Dillon as if it were heavily influenced by classical music.
Of course Sly couldn’t go without doing some of the more famous Gantlet Brothers hard rock/heavy metal songs that featured his guitar work and so he played “Adventure In Africa” “Don’t Behave Any Different Than You Did The Week Before” and “The Gun of The Duke.”
Despite himself, Dillon found himself enjoying the show. Sly Gantlet knew how to work a stage and how to play an audience as well as he played his guitars. He didn’t just walk back and forth across the stage. He strutted. He bopped. He glided. He moved and grooved. He made a connection between himself and his audience with his eyes and his killer smile and his music which got the entire audience up out of their seats to boogie.
Sly then went with a solo rendition of “Danny Boy.” Played with such depth of feeling Dillon would never have believed Sly Gantlet possessed The audience fell silent while Sly played, eyes half closed as his fingers moved with not only precision but genuine emotion as well. The concert band rejoined him for his final two numbers; “Bang A Gong” and Billy Ocean’s “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” where he was joined by a surprise guest artist: Billy Ocean himself, still looking and sounding as great as when he had first recorded the song.
When it was over, the audience went nuts. There was no other way to describe it. They stood on their feet, cheering and clapping and stomping their feet while yelling for more. Sly Gantlet took off his soaking wet tank top and threw it into into crowd, standing there in the light with sweat glistening on his biceps, broad chest and abs that looked as if they were chiseled.
Dillon ground his teeth. He downed his twelfth Vesper of the night and plotted foul murder. Yes. Yes. Sweet sweet murder would be most satisfying right about now.
He watched as Sly Gantlet left the stage to the pandemonium of cheers and applause. Sathyra got up from her table and walked around the stage to a door that Dillon presumed led to the backstage. He followed, golden eyes burning with the madness of jealousy.
A bodyguard poorly disguised as an usher stood at the door. He allowed Sathyra and her escorts to go on in and closed it after them. He turned to give Dillon the once over with an expert eye and didn’t like what he saw. One hand went up to block Dillon’s advance while the other went to his hip and the walkie-talkie clipped there to call for backup. “Sorry, sir. Nobody allowed backstage-“ Dillon planted a solid right fist into the man’s stomach. The bodyguard doubled over, temporarily paralyzed by being hit in his solar plexus with exactly the right amount of force to disable him. In two or three minutes he’d be fine. Dillon helped him to sit in a chair. The bodyguard stayed where he was, arms wrapped around his abdomen, mouth working wildly as he struggled to draw in air.
Dillon looked around to confirm that no one was paying attention. The audience was too involved in exiting the theater and their milling bodies obscured the sight of the waiters and waitresses cleaning up the tables and booths. Dillon judged he had a couple of minutes before the alarm was raised.
He went through the door, closed it. He gripped the knob and with a surge of strength, cleanly snapped off the knob. He turned back around to face the corridor, dropping the knob. As with most backstages after a show, it was loud and boisterous. Dillon eased his way through the men and women high-fiving, kissing each other and backslapping. He heard bottles of champagne being popped. And then, at the very far end of the corridor he saw Sathyra in a heated embrace with Sly Gantlet. And they were kissing as if this was the wedding night they’d been waiting a year to consummate.
For a few seconds Dillon thought his eyeballs were going to explode from the pressure he felt building up in his head. If he’d been asked what his name was at that moment he couldn’t have answered since his brain had gone totally into shutdown.
Thoughts of murder returned. But now these were thoughts of murdering them both. Yes. Yes. A deranged smile slowly spread across Dillon’s face as he continued to squeeze between bodies. Shoot them both in the head. No. No. That wouldn’t be satisfying enough. Strangle them both with his hands. Yeah, that was the ticket.
Sly Gantlet and Sathyra broke their kiss. He took a few seconds to slip into a fresh T-shirt and shrug into a leather vest. Then the two of them headed toward an exit. One of Sly’s huge arms went up to push the door open and they stepped outside. Dillon left off all pretense of trying to be cool and shoved aside the last few celebratory bodies standing in his way. He ran to the door, slammed into it with his shoulder. It flew open with a BOOM! as it hit the wall. “Gantlet!” Dillon yelled.
Sly turned around, his eyes honestly surprised. It took him about three seconds to recognize Dillon. “You!”
By now, Sathyra had also recognized Dillon and she likewise blurted out; “You!”
“Damn right it’s you! I mean me! ME!” Dillon pointed a shaking finger at Sly while his blazing eyes locked on Sathyra’s startled ones. “And you’re going to explain to me what you’re doing here with…with…with…HIM!”
Before anybody could explain anything, black clad forms emerged from the shadows and leaped down on them from the rooftops, cloaks flapping and billowing like ebony wings.
Sly shoved Sathyra toward a tour bus parked nearby with the doors open. “Get in the bus, baby!” He swung a fist and connected with one of the black clad attackers. That one flew backwards as if shot out of a cannon. Sly Gantlet had a lot of muscle to put behind a punch and when he did, the target of that punch knew he’d been hit.
“Don’t you ‘baby’ her!” Dillon’s long right leg went out in a side kick to take out another one of the attackers. From head to toe they were dressed in black and their masks had no eye or mouth holes. Their capes snaked out like whips to wrap around arms and legs, yanking Dillon and Sly off balance.
Sathyra’s bodyguards were no match for these lightning fast ebony imps and they went down in seconds. Two of the attackers scooped up Sathyra, one seizing her by the legs, the other by the shoulders. Holding her over their heads like a trophy they ran toward the street. The rest of their crew scuttled up the sides of the buildings to the rooftops as if they were huge spiders.
“Sathyra! I’m comin’, baby!” Sly scrambled to his feet and took off in pursuit.
“I told you to stop calling her ‘baby’!” Dillon howled as he too got to his feet and ran after Sly.
A man stepped into their view. A big man. With skin so black it actually was blue. A large gold hoop earring flashed in one ear and when he smiled Dillon and Sly could see his gold teeth twinkling. He hefted something on his shoulder that he pointed at them.
“Oh, shit! Look out!” Dillon yelled, pushing Sly to the left side even as he dived to the right.
Gold Teeth fired the Russian made RPG-22. The high explosive warhead whooshed between the two men to impact with the front of the tour bus. The ground shook as the bus went up in a gushing fireball of orange and red. Hot air washed over Dillon and Sly as they watched the bus crash over onto it’s right side, wreathed in flames.
The two of them got to their feet. It was too late. Gold Teeth was gone. The black clad attackers were gone. And Sathyra was gone.
Dillon turned back around to look at the blazing tour bus. “Sure hope you got insurance,” he said, brushing dirt from the sleeves and pant legs of his tux.
“Ah, I rented it while I was here. I’m just glad nobody was inside when…HEY!” Sly grabbed Dillon by the arm and yanked him around so that they were face to face. “What the hell are you doing here in Khusra?”
Dillon showed him a grin that was more of a snarl, really. “Don’t you know I’m one of your groupies? I follow you around, going to all your shows, hoping against hope that one night you’ll notice me enough to invite me backstage.”
Sly walloped Dillon with a right cross. “Man, I ain’t in the mood for your smartass mouth! What kind of crazy you done brought with you? Who were those guys? Why are they after you? Why did they take my woman?”
Dillon felt gingerly of his jaw before answering. Good thing Sly had pulled his punch or he might not have a jaw to feel. “First of all, what do you mean, your woman? And those guys had to be after you, not me!” Hearing police sirens, Dillon gestured toward the street. “Cops coming. Let’s get over to my hotel room and swap stories there. Unless you want to hang around and explain that.” He jerked his head at the burning bus.
Sly shook his head in a negative. “Let’s go. And man, you better have one hell of a good story to explain all this or I’m gonna open up a Costco size can of whoop ass on you.”
Sly Gantlet looked around the suite and nodded in approval. “Not bad. I’ve been in better but I suppose this is all you could afford.”
“Well, I don’t make a million bucks a night jumping around on a stage like a frog on a hot skillet like some people I could name. What’s your poison?” Dillon walked over and behind the bar, pulled out a couple of glasses.
“Make mine Wild Turkey.” Sly said, taking off his vest and throwing it onto the bar. Dillon dug into a sterling silver Willoughby ice bucket, dropped a couple of ice spheres into each glass. He poured a splash of Wild Turkey Rare Breed into one, shoved it toward Sly.
Sly looked at it as if were a dead rat. He pointed at the glass. “What the hell is this?” he demanded.
Dillon frowned. “It’s a drink. It’s what you asked for.”
Sly snorted. He reached over, took the bottle from Dillon and poured the entire contents into the ice bucket. He gave the bottle back to Dillon. Sly picked up the ice bucket, lifted it to his lips and didn’t put it back down on the bar until a full forty-five seconds had passed. He grinned at Dillon, wiped his lips dry and said with tremendous satisfaction, “Now that’s a drink.” He sat down on a bar stool watching in smug amusement while Dillon poured himself a shot of Demerara rum in his glass.
“I suppose offering you a chaser would be a waste of time,” Dillon mumbled, sipping his own drink. “So we might as well get down to business.”
“You are absolutely the last human being I expected to run into here in Khusra,” Sly said. “ Gotta admit that after that night at La Esca I did some homework on you. You got a mad reputation, homes.”
“And speaking of that night you still owe me a hundred G’s. Now you give. What the hell are you doing in Khusra, Gantlet? And with Princess Sathyra?”
“Waitamminit…you mean she really is a princess? I though Velvet was just having a good one at my expense.”
“Velvet? John Velvet? You’ve seen him?”
Sly nodded. “He gave me my visa to work here in Khusra himself. He acted like he recognized Sathyra’s name and asked her was she the princess of Tosegio. Guess he wasn’t just yanking my chain after all. How do you know her?”
“I met her during a job on Tosegio. Awesome Times and I were hired by the Japanese Secret Service to steal some gehooka from this really hardcore nutcase named Baron Potzdorf. You heard of Awesome Times?”
“Timothy Times, yeah, I know him by rep. Go on.”
“Long story short, the job went bad-“
“Bad enough that Awesome flew away with the gehooka and Sathyra and left me to fend for myself with Sathyra’s bodyguards hunting me down. I just barely got away.”
“Ouch.” Sly took another swig from the ice bucket. “From the way you talk about her it occurs to me that you and Sathyra got close during this job.”
“I was going to ask her to marry me, you blockhead.”
“Oh. So what was the deal with Times all about?”
“She claimed she fell in love with him.”
“With Awesome Times? She left you for him? Now that really hurts. Bad enough I got your sloppy seconds but Timothy Times as well?” Sly shook his head.
“Your turn. How’d you meet her?”
Sly shrugged, took another swallow from the bucket before talking. “Met her while my brothers and I were doing a show in London. She was at a party. We met. We hit it off and one thing led to another. That was about six months ago. She never told me she was a princess. Said she was from Tosegio, alright. But told me her family name was Folasade and her folks had made their money from video game designing.”
“But you still haven’t said how the two of you would up here in Khusra.”
Sly shrugged. “I had some time off. I was spending it writing songs for my second solo album, talking to some people I wanted to work with me on. All of a sudden, Sathyra had it in her head she wanted to visit Khusra. Said she’d never been here before and heard that it was the new place to see and be seen since the revolution. So I said, sure, why not? I asked our group’s manager to find me a gig here. Figured that if I was going to come here, why not make it a working vacation?”
“And it didn’t seem funny to you that Sathyra would all of a sudden just get it into her head to come over to Khusra? A country that seems to have caught the same overthrow fever the rest of this region has?”
“It does now. But I talked to a few people I trust, including John Velvet and they said Khusra was okay. I figured that Velvet okayed me to come over here because if anything went down, he’d tap me for the wetwork.”
Dillon fixed himself another drink. “What would you say if I told you that I tried to find Sathyra once I got some free time and found out she’s been crisscrossing the world, jumping from one sugar daddy to another? She’s left at least a dozen men pining away for her. Not to mention leaving their wallets considerably leaner for having known her. Awesome told me that a few months after they hooked up she left him for some diplomat.”
Sly shrugged. “Hey, things happen, man. Sometimes women don’t love you as much as you love them. You deal with it. Move on.” Sly took another gulp from the bucket before continuing. “Sounds to me as if what’s really eating at your ego is that she was more interested in getting off of Tosegio to have a life of her own rather than spending the rest of her life being Mrs. Ain’t I Just The Hottest Thing On Two Legs.”
“Oh, so you’re some kind of amateur psychologist now?”
“Just callin’ ‘em as I see ‘em, man.” Hearing the unlocking of the suite’s door, Sly whirled around with a tigerish speed. “You got guns?”
“I do but we won’t need them. Relax and have another swallow.”
The door opened and Monde Meiceli stepped inside, accompanied by his four bodyguards. Monde smiled as if he were attending a cocktail party, hands folded neatly, his steps short and precise.
“And who the hell is this?” Sly said.
“Sly Gantlet, allow me to introduce Mr. Monde Meiceli, Director of Internal Security and Intelligence in Khusra.” Dillon swirled his ice spheres in his glass as he continued. “Y’know, you really should look into getting a cool acronym like U.N.C.L.E. or A.C.E.S. or F.L.A.G.”
“I have a team working on it. So many of the really good ones have already been taken. It is much more difficult than you would think.”
“You heard our conversation?”
Monde nodded. “Every word. And may I say that while I am distressed I am also in awe. I would say that both you and Mr. Gantlet have today set some sort of personal best record. In my country not even forty-eight hours and already the both of you stand in the center of chaos and mayhem.”
Sly caught on. “The suite is bugged?”
Dillon nodded, gestured with his glass as Monde. “Mr. Meiceli here was good enough to give me the use of this suite on behalf of His Majesty. Thought that it would save us all a lot of time all way round if you and I just exchanged notes here.”
“And give your friend here a chance to eavesdrop and get brought up to speed.” Sly nodded in grudging agreement. “But how’d you know to come right back here, Meiceli?”
“Surely you jest. Your tour bus being blown up. Reports that there was a fight. An employee of The Sandstone reported being assaulted by a man fitting Dillon’s description. It was not difficult to figure out, I assure you.”
“How much did you hear?” Sly wanted to know.
In response, Monde withdrew a mobile headset from his ear. “Enough to know that we have a potential diplomatic incident on our hands. If Princess Sathyra is injured or even killed on Khusran soil-“
“If they wanted her dead, they wouldn’t have bothered taking her,” Sly said firmly.
Dillon nodded in agreement. “Whoever they were, they were definitely after her, not me and not Gantlet. Soon as they had their hands on her they split. They could just have easily slit her throat right then and there or a sniper could have put a bullet in her brain from a block away. And they knew she was with Gantlet. That’s why they brought a whole lot of guys. Whatever the reason they want her for, they need her alive. At least for a while.”
“Could it have been her own people? Maybe they were sent by her father to bring her back home to Tosegio?” Monde asked.
“Nah,” Dillon shook his head in a negative. “That big guy with the RPG…he most definitely wasn’t a Tosegian. Maybe you can get a line on him? Huge guy. Gold earring, gold teeth. Extremely dark skin. So dark it’s almost blue.”
One of the bodyguards bent down to whisper in Monde’s ear. Monde nodded and looked at Dillon. “Andoheb Bey. A mercenary who primarily works in North Africa. But no one except his mother calls him by his birth name. He’s known by the nom de guerre of ‘Bomaye’”
Dillon looked at Sly. “It’s a word from a Bantu language. It means-“
“Kill him. I know, I know. I’ve been doing this for a while, y’know? I’ve picked up a few things here and there. Where can we find this Bomaye?”
“What are you intentions when you find him, Mr. Gantlet?”
“I dunno. Thought maybe I’d start with an good old fashioned ass kickin’ then see where we go from there.”
Monde looked at Dillon. “This still could be very bad. If anything happens to the princess, my country and my king would be held responsible.”
“Look, outside of the guys who snatched her and the seven of us in this room, who else knows that Princess Sathyra is even in Khusra? Nobody, right? So we keep it that way. How much do you trust these men?”
“With my life. They are all my first cousins.”
“Okay. So nobody else has to know. Gantlet and I can find her. All you need is to point us in the right direction and we’ll take it from there. If it turns out that we screw it up, you’ve got plausible deniability. You’ve got proof she came into your country with Gantlet under an assumed name so how were you supposed to know she was the princess of Tosegio? Worse comes to worst you can stick the blame on him.”
“Hey!” Sly yelled.
“But it’s not going to come to that, now is it?” Dillon said, turning an upraised eyebrow on Sly. “We’re going to get her back alive and in one piece and everybody’s going to be cool, right?”
Sly nodded. “Right.”
Monde sighed. “What I should do is put the two of you under arrest and send my own men out to recover the princess. But I wager that the two of you would not allow yourselves to be arrested, would you?”
“You’re a okay guy, Monde. I like to think we’re on the way to being friends. Let’s both not do anything to spoil that, okay?” Dillon said.
“C’mon, man…if you’re any good at your job and I think you are then you know what Dillon and I are all about. Just step back and give us the road. We’ll get it done.” Sly stepped forward and placed a hand on Monde’s shoulder. “Promise.”
Monde sighed again. “Very well. At least try to keep the property damage to a minimum. What do you need?”
“My weapons are in my hotel room. Can you send one of your guys to go get it for me?” Sly asked.
Monde nodded. “What else?”
“A plane,” Sly continued. “A fast plane, fully fueled and standing by to take off as soon as we say. I got a feeling that when Dillon and I find Sathyra we’re gonna have to get out of Khusra quick fast and in a hurry. Once I get my weapons and a change of clothes you can put my stuff and Dillon’s as well on that plane. Savvy?”
“Savvy. It will be ready and waiting at a private airfield. I will give you the location.” Monde turned to his men. “You go to the hotel and get Mr. Gantlet’s luggage. Bring it here.” He pointed at the man next to him. “You go to the Allen airfield and get a plane ready. Make all the necessary clearances.” Monde turned back to Dillon and Sly. “Anything else?”
“Just one more thing,” Dillon rubbed his hands together. “Call down to the kitchen and send us up dinner. Sly and I better eat. I got me a feeling it’s going to be a long night.”
The capital city of Khusra, North Africa
Dillon adjusted his backpack more comfortably on his shoulders as he walked along the busy, extra wide sidewalk. The location of the hotel he wanted was in what was popularly known as Downtown Center. Renowned for its many business and residential skyscrapers of innovative design and construction, its parks and its shopping malls, Downtown Center represented what the Khusra of the 21st Century was all about. A thriving, vibrant country, this Khusra. Full of tradition and power that made it one of the strongest and most prosperous of North African nations for thousands of years. While the backbone of the country’s economy was the export of oil and natural gas, Khusra was rapidly embracing technological research and development as well as reviving it’s once thriving tourism industry.
Khusra had once been a major tourist destination but that had been before Omoro had taken the throne. Omoro had severely limited tourism and made deals with several major terrorist organizations, turning Khusra from a country known and respected as an ally to its neighboring countries into an active threat. If Dillon had been wearing a hat when receiving the news Omoro was no longer in power in Khusra he’d have tossed it in the air with a whoop and a holler. The country would be far better off without him. Dillon liked Khusra. He liked the people, the energy, the food, the culture. He looked forward to spending a few days here and getting reacquainted with the country.
The Amber International derived its name from the unusual amber color of the building itself, a color enhanced at night by a special lighting system that intensified the color of the structure, causing the entire building to glow as if it were made of amber. Dillon entered the sparkling bright lobby which looked large enough to comfortably park airplanes in. He waved away the offer from a porter to help him with his backpack as he walked to the registration desk. The extraordinarily pretty young girl behind the counter smiled at him and said in a voice so bubbly and cheerful it was almost unnerving, “Good morning, sir!”
“Good morning to you as well,” Dillon replied, setting down his backpack and reaching for his wallet. “I’d like a suite, please.”
“I’ll be happy to accommodate you, sir. Right after your meeting.”
Dillon blinked. “Meeting? What meeting?”
As if by magic, men appeared on either side of him. Four big men. Four big unsmiling men in black suits. Blindingly white shirts with ties the color of carbon black. Sunglasses so dark it was hard to believe they could see out of them. The universal uniform of security men the world over. Dillon sighed. “Yes, I do believe I have a meeting with these gentlemen. Would you be good enough to look after my luggage?”
“But of course, sir! Happy to be of service!”
Dillon nodded at the four men. “Gentlemen, I am at your disposal.”
They escorted him efficiently and quietly to the security office. Dillon had a suspicion as to who wanted to see him. He wasn’t particularly worried. More curious than anything else, actually. If someone wanted him dead, they’d have tried to kill him as soon as he left the American Embassy. And these men hadn’t bothered to search him for weapons which if they knew him then they knew he was armed. No, this was someone who actually only wanted to talk.
A man waited for him inside the security office. Blocky, beefy, with an amiable, friendly face and even more friendly smile. He waved to a chair. “Please, sit down, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. I will not keep you long.” He now waved to the four men. “Wait outside.”
Once the four men had left, the smiling man leaned forward, rubbing his palms together. “Let us get down to business, shall we? I am Monde Meiceli, Director of Internal Security and Intelligence.”
“The Khusran secret police, you mean.” Dillon crossed his legs, interlaced his fingers behind his head to support it as he leaned back slightly.
Monde Meiceli blinked in honest surprise. “Not at all. Once my brother was removed from the throne, one of the first things we did was to dismantle his secret police and reorganize the legitimate police department and my office.”
“And who are we?”
“Ah, I should have made it plain. We are the Mwinyimkuu. My family is still in control of Khusra. It was the family who made the decision to rise up against Omoro. It was the second eldest brother Kunimu himself who delivered the death blow. A tragedy to be sure. But it was one that had to be done.”
“You don’t sound very regretful at having a hand in killing your own brother.”
“Between the two of us-“ and here Monde lowered his voice and leaned forward even more as if sharing a bawdy joke with Dillon. “-nobody in the family liked Omoro much anyway. Even as a child he was obnoxious and disagreeable. Papa said frequently that he believed one of the nannies must have dropped Omoro on his head twice or thrice. Mama said many times that yes, she loved Omoro as she did all of her children but she did not like him.” Monde shrugged. “He never should have been king.” Monde leaned back and again rubbed his palms together vigorously as if washing his hands of that subject. “But let’s get back to a more important subject. You.”
“I suppose you want me out of Khusra before sundown?”
“On the contrary. You are welcome to stay in Khusra as long as you like. My sole purpose here is to inform you that as far as my brother King Kunimu is concerned the slate between you and Khusra is clean.”
Dillon raised one of his severe eyebrows in honest surprise. “Really? What about the whole thing with me stealing The Horns of Bren?”
“Did you not hear? Our sacred artifact was recovered by my youngest brother, Farega. Stole it right out of the Natural History Museum in London.” Monde chuckled. “It was quite the exploit. If you ever meet Farega you must get him to tell you all about it. He fancies himself quite the swashbuckling adventurer, in fact. He idolizes a grand uncle of ours who achieved some notoriety adventuring around the world back in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.”
“What about your train station? I’m pretty sure you know I was involved in that.”
“I personally had a long and informative conversation with John Velvet who completely and comprehensively explained your part in that whole debacle and I am satisfied that you were not responsible.”
Dillon frowned slightly and sat forward. “So that’s it? All you wanted to do was to tell me that all has been forgotten? Just like that?”
“My brother Kunimu wishes to restore the reputation of Khusra as a fair and honest nation that seeks nothing more than to be once again respected and honored as it once was by the other nations of the world. The proud reputation of Khusra was severely tarnished by Omoro’s greed and paranoia. To this end, Kunimu has granted pardons to thousands of political prisoners and released them from our jails. He has also rescinded all bounties placed on the heads of imagined enemies of Khusra. He has either slain or extradited the terrorist elements infecting our country. Knowing that you were in the country, I took it upon myself to personally meet with you and assure you that you can enjoy your stay in Khusra with no worry or concern. As I said, you have the word of my brother that the slate is wiped clean. Our artifact is once more in our museum where it rightfully belongs and we do owe you a great debt of thanks for seeing that the Princess Salena arrived here safely.” Monde leaned forward, eyes and voice suddenly serious. “But let me make something clear. And this comes from me, not my brother. Whatever you choose to write on that slate from here on out is entirely up to you. You understand?”
Dillon nodded. “I want no trouble with you or King Kunimu, sir. And I intend to make none while I am here. I intend to rest and relax for a few days and enjoy myself in your beautiful country. That’s all.”
“Excellent. Then I shall let you complete your registration and leave you to your enjoyment. The staff at the hotel has been instructed to extend to you every courtesy as a guest of His Majesty. Your money is no good in the Amber International. And here is my card.” Monde stood up, removed a business card from his jacket pocket and gave it to Dillon. “If there is anything you require, please feel free to make use of that number. I can be reached there at any time of the day or night.”
Dillon stood up as well, accepted the card. “Thank you. I would assume you would appreciate me giving you a call when I leave Khusra?”
“That would be most satisfactory, sir.”
They shook hands and Dillon left the security office. Monde’s four men stood out in the hall but did not follow Dillon back to the registration desk. The same young was still there and a porter had Dillon’s backpack on his own back, waiting patiently with a smile.
“And how was your meeting, sir?” the young girl asked with that same near manic cheerfulness. Dillon looked at her name tag.
“It went very well, Adia. Very well, indeed. Thank you for asking. What rooms to you have available?”
“It’s all been arraigned, sir. Mr. Meiceli has instructed us to give you one of the Diplomatic Suites.”
“Oh, he did, did he?”
“You’ll find it supremely adequate for whatever your needs may be while you honor us with your presence. It features a pre-function lounge, three bedrooms, a private bar and a dining room that can accommodate eight.”
“That sounds lovely. I’m sure I will be quite comfortable there.” Dillon was sure that the room was bugged in every and any way conceivable but he didn’t mind. True to his word he wasn’t planning to do anything but relax and sightsee a bit. A week of just hanging out would be just the thing he needed to wind down after the week he’d just had.
“Can you send your tailor up to my suite? I’d like to purchase some suits and be fitted.”
“But of course, sir. If you’ll just give me a minute to get someone to relieve me here, I’ll fetch him myself and we’ll both accompany you up to your suite.”
Dillon nodded and grinned. I think I’m gonna like it here
Dillon paused outside the main entrance of the hotel to light a Vegas Robaina cigar. He admired himself in the reflection of the glass doors as he did so. He had to give the hotel’s tailor credit. The Forrester tux fitted him as well as tuxedoes he’d owned for years. Considering the man had such a short amount of time to alter the tux, it was nothing short of amazing. Dillon took out his cellphone to make a note that he should buy a few more suits and have the tailor alter them before he left Khusra.
One of the porters walked up to him. “Everything okay, sir?”
“Yes, yes,” Dillon put away his phone and took the cigar out of his mouth. “Where’s a good place to go get a good dinner and a show?”
“We’ve got fine entertainment and restaurants right here in the Amber International, sir.”
“I’m sure you do and I intend to sample them as I’ll be here for a week at least. But for tonight I’d like to get out a bit.” Dillon passed over a folded bill. “Someplace that sings and swings, know what I mean?”
“Yes, sir…I do believe I do. Let me get you a cab and instruct him to take you on over to The Sandstone. I think it’ll be just what you’re looking for.” The porter whistled up a cab and soon Dillon was inside and the driver eased the vehicle into the moderately heavy traffic. Turned out that The Sandstone was only a ten minute drive away. Dillon would have actually preferred to walk if he had known where it was. But like most hotels, the porter and the taxi drivers had an agreement to work together so that everybody could make a little money. Dillon didn’t begrudge them. He paid the driver, gave him a reasonable tip and stood outside the nightclub/restaurant, smoking his cigar for a bit before he went on in.
A limosene pulled up to the curb and Dillon moved aside so he wouldn’t be in the way of the three obviously skittish bodyguards that emerged from the limo as if ready to battle to the death. Dillon had to grin a little. Young, eager. They needed a few more years of seasoning. They were drawing unnecessary attention to themselves with their exaggerated looking about and grimacing at pedestrians who gave them a “what the hell is wrong with you?” look back.
Apparently satisfied with the street, one of them opened the passenger door and helped out the woman he and his partners were escorting. Dillon got a good look at her. A very good look. And his eyes opened as wide as they possibly could. The cigar fell out of his mouth, landing on the pavement between his feet, sparks spraying. A couple of pedestrians actually chuckled at his expression and one could not be blamed for Dillon at that moment did indeed look quite comical.
But he felt anything but funny at that moment. There were so many emotions churning inside of him that he had to start doing deep breathing exercises to get his madly beating heart under control.
The woman walked into the nightclub with the poise and regal bearing of a queen. Her floor length, one-shoulder ebony evening dress glittered gloriously as if a million stars were caught inside of it. It had been five years since he’d seen her but to Dillon’s eyes she looked as exotic and as gorgeous as the last time he’d seen her.
She did not look to the right or the left and so did not see Dillon. She did not just walk. She strode as if the red carpet underneath her four inch Zanotti heels was woven from gold thread and not cloth.
Dillon continued to gawp in astonishment, trying to calm down his pounding heart. He couldn’t breathe. His vision dimmed. With a visible effort he got himself under control and went on inside the nightclub. He saw the woman with her three bodyguards walking rapidly through the well-lighted restaurant. Dillon corralled the maître d’ and pressed some bills in his hand. “Who’s that woman who just walked in?”
The maître d’ smiled knowingly and nodded his head in approval. “You have a good eye, sir. The lady is extraordinarily beautiful, is she not?”
“Who is she?”
“Miss Sathyra Folasade, sir.”
Dillon pressed more bills in his hand. “Is she from Tosegio?”
“I have no way of knowing the young lady’s country of origin, sir. Do you know her?”
“I don’t know,” Dillon said slowly. Folasade was a Tosegian name but it wasn’t this woman’s family name. Obviously she was traveling under an alias. But why? Dillon turned back to the smiling maître d’ “How is it that you know her name?”
“She came in with the gentleman who is our headline performer in our Starpool Theater.” The maître d’ turned away to indicate a holographic display window showing the headline performer. The maître d’ turned back around to face Dillon and took a step back away from him in sudden surprise. And with good reason. Dillon’s eyes were no longer their usual copper color, sparkling like freshly minted American pennies. They had darkened into a moody, molten gold that radiated pure rage. Dillon pointed a shaking finger at the image. “Him. You mean to say that…that…that…HE is your headline performer?”
“Yes, sir.” The maître d’s voice came out in a squeak.
“And she’s with HIM?” Dillon’s voice held nothing but implied murder.
“Of course I’m not one to gossip, sir…but to my eye they seem most enamored of each other.”
“We’ll see about that. Is he playing here now?”
“His first show of the evening is about to start, sir.”
Dillon stalked away. Took five steps. Stopped. He turned his head, fixing his hot molten eyes on the maître d’. “You’re going to get the notion that you should call Miss Folasade and tell her there’s a man here looking for her. My strong advice is that you don’t.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Dillon again turned away and made his way through the restaurant and down a long hallway to a lounge area. From there, one doorway led to the dance floor where a DJ spun the latest electronic dance music. The other door led to The Starpool Theater. Dillon went on in. He was surprised at how large the theater was. Easily able to accommodate a thousand patrons, it boasted vaulted ceilings and plush red leather booths. An usher attempted to lead Dillon to a table near the stage but Dillon spied Sathyra sitting right up front. He wanted to remain unseen and so with the casual tip pressed into the usher’s hand, Dillon obtained a seat in the back.
“What would you like to drink, sir?”
“Bring me a Vesper. And make it a double. And bring me one every fifteen minutes.” Dillon passed over another bill.
The usher’s smile increased as he examined the bill’s denomination. “Very good, sir.”
The stage’s velvet curtains were completely closed but the concert band were already on stage as they could clearly be heard tuning up their instruments. A miniskirted hostess brought Dillon’s drink. He downed it in one gulp and handed it back to the girl. “Another.” His eyes never left Sathyra.
Ever since she had flown away with Timothy “Awesome” Times, leaving Dillon on the island of Tosegio to be chased by her bodyguards, Dillon had made an effort from time to time to find her. But Sathyra proved to be highly elusive. He’d get a report of her being in Singapore or Sydney or wherever but by the time he got there, she was gone. And usually there was a rich man left behind both broken hearted and considerably less richer. Sathyra was obviously enjoying being out in the world and not the pampered princess she had been. On Tosegio, Sathyra had virtually been a prisoner, unable to even take a walk in the palace gardens without an extensive entourage.
Dillon had wanted to take her away from all that and he had been thisclose to proposing marriage to Sathyra. But then everything had sort of went to hell and ended up with her flying away with Awesome Times while Dillon spent the rest of the afternoon trying his best not to get killed.
The lights dimmed and applause rippled around the theater. The curtain opened. The stage was absolutely black. A commanding male voice emanated from the speakers: “Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight here at the world famous Starpool Theater here in The Sandstone, the premier club for entertainment, dining and dancing in Mahaiso. For your safety we ask you to please take note of the clearly marked exits at the front and at the rear of the theater. If there is an emergency, please follow the directions of our staff. They have been trained to know exactly what to do in multiple emergency situations and your safety will be their primary concern. At this time we also ask that you silence your cell phones. We also would like to remind you that audio and visual recording of this performance is prohibited by law. Thank you for your kind co-operation.”
The unseen announcer paused for a few heartbeats. And then;
“And now, The Starpool Theater is proud to present our feature performer.”
And here a spotlight came on to illuminate a Music Man StingRay bass guitar on a stand over on the left side of the stage.
“With his brothers he has become renowned as one of the world’s premier rock guitarists.”
Another spotlight came on to illuminate another bass guitar. This one a Fender Precision Bass likewise on a stand on the right side of the stage.
“Nominated for multiple Grammy, Billboard and American Music awards for his first solo album, ‘The True Blue Chariot’…ladies and gentlemen it is our honor to introduce to you, the one…the only…the spectacular lead guitarist of one of the music industry’s truly great rock band legends, The Gantlet Brothers…ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together and make some noise for SLY GANTLET!”
Here it is! The PULPWORK CHRISTMAS SPECIAL for 2014 which contains the complete novella; Dillon and The Night of The Krampus. We’ll hit you with the official and obligatory back cover blurb first and then a link so you can get your hands on a copy. Happy Holidays!
Herein, you’ll find a septet of holiday tales in which the poor characters come to grisly, gory, and sometimes gruesome ends. Pay close attention, and learn from their fates, so that you might not make the same mistakes as they.
You may find it safer to eschew the holiday tradition of the Christmas tree, for at least two stories in the coming pages warn of coniferous killers of the most sinister variety. Just when you’re getting comfortable with the idea of deadly flora, Josh Reynolds and Joel Jenkins turn things topsy turvy by swapping characters. Jenkins tries his hand at a tale of the British Royal Occultist, Charles St. Cyprian and his intrepid and sometimes bloodthirsty apprentice Ebe Gallowglass—both characters created by Reynolds. Not to be outdone, Josh Reynolds borrows Jenkin’s Native American gunfighter, Lone Crow, and teams him up with St. Cyprian and Gallowglass as they hunt down a wendigo in the Canadian wilds.
Then Derrick Ferguson treats us to a full-blown novella, in which the global instigator, known only as Dillon, takes on the malign entity called the Krampus–drawn from one of the most malign Christmas legends ever recited to frightened, shivering children.
The Last Rail to Khusra or Thoughts on the Arab Spring?
By: Brent Lambert
Dillon and his adventures have always struck me as having subtle political undertones to them. Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell had some things to say about colonialism and imperialism. And I think this story points out a few of the problems with revolutions in history. Harak, for my money, struck me as a parallel to Libya circa a couple of years ago. You have what on the surface seems to be a fight for freedom, but you quickly find out it’s been hijacked by self-important extremists who can’t even figure out their own name. That particular naming fiasco of course has its humorous element, but I also think it highlights just how quick and absurdly the waters change when a country is in societal upheaval. Things quickly spiral out of control and the people that were once seen as the “oppressors” suddenly don’t start to seem so bad anymore.
I think this is exactly what Princess Salena symbolizes. In a way, she kind of comes from the Anastasia tradition. The last child of the royal family escaping away until it is time to come back to the throne and all that. Unfortunately, we know what we really happened to Anastasia, but let’s just focus on the legend. You see the reverence that the people have for her when she’s first revealed. The desperate people are looking for stability in the wake of their revolution and see a spark of hope in the Princess. It also serves as a bit of commentary on how dependent people are on others for their stability and the dangers that come along with that.
And I don’t think that the story is necessarily advocating for the status quo either. The power of Salena’s ancestors shows how violent and bloody protecting the status quo can be. She’s the last of their line and do some unspeakable stuff to protect her. I think that’s a pretty powerful statement about our society and what lengths are gone to maintain it. Salena may just seem like a little girl, but I really feel like she’s the heaviest hitting piece of symbolism in the story.
Dillon, under those circumstances, isn’t just the hero of this story. He’s almost an idea. A living force for right. He doesn’t choose a side based on national interests or personal gain. He chooses it simply because of the fact that it is the right thing to do. An almost unbelievable concept in today’s world. But when you really get down to it, he’s the only person in the story just doing what has to be done because it’s right. The soldiers are heroic of course, but they’re duty and order bound. Dillon could walk away at any moment but chooses not to. As much as Salena is a symbol for the status quo, Dillon is symbolic of a far older tradition going back to the great heroes of mythology.
Of course, I could be reading a whole lot of stuff into this that Derrick never intended to even be there. So as to not embarrass myself if that be the case, let me talk about the story on a surface level. It’s wonderfully written, the pacing is great and the balance between action and humor is struck very well. I think one of the things I really appreciated in this story is the respect that Dillon gives to the soldiers in it. Far too often in stories like this, the men of the military become cannon fodder and are killed left and right to show how bad the antagonist is. Derrick doesn’t take that easy route. He takes the time to acknowledge the deaths and give them weight. As someone who comes from a long line of military veterans and currently has a little brother serving that part of the story meant a lot to me. So hats off to Derrick for that.
I am definitely intrigued by S.P.E.A.R. and I feel like this is going to be some crazy mix of anti-SHIELD and Illuminati type conspiracies. There certainly was a feel of the occult to these world changers at the end of the story. I’m looking forward to when and where Dillon runs head on into these guys. And the thing I enjoyed about this scene was that Derrick made sure it was earned. He didn’t just plop these guys on us out the blue. The work was done in the main body of the story beforehand. Good due diligence on the part of the writer.
My only real complaint was that I wished Winifred got popped with a bike spoke. Man was that woman grating. It shows Derrick’s skill that I wanted to jump through the story and wring the woman’s neck. All I could see was that Dolores Umbridge every time Winifred opened her big mouth. Ugh!
Otherwise; great story, great author. Do yourself a favor and read it if you haven’t.