Apparently no-one who knows anything about firearms calls a gun a gun. It’s a ‘weapon’. So I have been told anyway, though on the one occasion I met a man claiming to be an arms dealer, he referred to them as ‘shooters’.
I was on a plane to Peru, out of Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, a tremendously modern and efficient airport which nevertheless managed to lose my luggage, leaving me ‘that guy’ standing watching the carousel going round and round in Lima airport, empty bar a battered cardboard box tied up in tatty blue plastic.
This was yet to come. Taking my seat on the plane, I found my next door neighbour was a small man in a gaudy waistcoat. His hair was long, tied back in an old rocker’s ponytail, and he squinted through thick milk-bottle specs. He had a number of gold teeth.
First thing he did was open up his hand luggage and take out what appeared to be a large encyclopaedia of guns. As he whacked it down on the tray table a couple of photos fell out of the front cover. They were of him with his specs off, firing an assault rifle. Next, he plugged himself into the on-board radio, and started singing along in a low voice to what I’d like to think was the 80s channel, and jerking about in his seat like an ADHD kid. The whole row shook with the force of his chair-dancing. I had all kinds of uncharitable thoughts about him, then dropped off to sleep.
As usual when I make snap judgements on people, I was wrong about Gun Guy. I came round an hour or so into the flight to find him holding out a glass of water.
‘You were asleep when they brought water, but I got an extra glass for you’, he explained. He was, as it turned out, pretty good company. His opening gambit was a tall tale about how he’d been closing a deal for some ‘shooters’ in Germany, and it involved him ending up victorious over a bouncer in a fight, and seducing an air hostess. He produced a photo of a lady in uniform, and in looks she was, as my hero Marlowe would say, ‘a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window’. Gun Guy himself was not in the photo.
He recounted to me how he’d just been over in Europe closing a deal for 300 MP5 submachine guns that he was supplying to a ‘special police unit’ in Lima. I found it unlikely that any police force in any respectable capital city in the world got their murderation tackle off some chancer flying economy class, but I didn’t for a moment believe he was an arms dealer anyway, even when he confided in hushed tones that he had some sample ‘shooters’ in the hold.
But perhaps he was. In Aruba, as we were herded out into the transit lounge while the plane refuelled, he was keen to ascertain whether or not the hold would be opened, and when we finally arrived at Lima airport, he walked straight into the glass-fronted customs office and spent a long time filling in forms. I know he spent a long time because he was still there when the lady from the KLM desk came over and apologised for the fact that my rucksack for five months away was still languishing in Schiphol. Was he arranging to get firearms through customs, or maybe just bringing in a load of cheap fags? I’d like to think he was a gun-runner.