“You are Ignatius Slipwhipple,” the man behind the counter said. When I looked at him, I knew I was in trouble. He had a perpetually furrowed brow, dark eyes, and a name tag that read “Welcome to Smith’s Hardware - Keys Made While You Wait - My Name is Vladimir.” My mind may have been playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that the “R” was actually a Cyrillic character.
Yes, yes I know. I should have known much earlier. What are you, my mother? There is one rule at my job, and that is you can never lose your key. NORAD can be very particular like that. Where is my key? Well, if I knew that we wouldn’t be having this discussion now, would we? it’s gone. I mean, gone. I’m thinking I accidentally dropped it in my trash can when I brought it out to the curb. If that’s true, there’s a Colorado Springs garbage man who has no idea he currently possesses half of what is required to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into World War III.
I should have been a garbage man. Would have been much easier that way.
In such a dilemma as mine, I could find only three solutions. I could admit my problem to my superiors. If they would just change chefs at Fort Leavenworth, that might have been my best option. I could say nothing, and hope that Reagan and Chernenko would just be cool and I’d never need my keys. The third option? Swipe my partner’s key and get a copy made on my lunch break before anyone could notice.
Guess which one I picked.
“Yes, that’s me,” I answered his non-question.
“You are Missile Technician Level One at North American Aerospace Defense Command stationed at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.”
I swallowed, but my mouth was dry. I tried not to stare at the staple gun he was cleaning on the counter. That doesn’t even begin to cover Vladimir’s associate, who appeared to be taking a nap on the floor of the back room. “Yes. How did you know?”
He pointed at me. “Your name tag identifies you quite clearly, Mr. Slipwhipple.” The “w” in my name sounded like a “v.” It did. It did? My mind must have been playing tricks on me.
“Oh,” I said. “You make copies of keys here? It says ‘Do Not Duplicate’ on it, but if that’s a problem, I’ll pay extra…”
He stopped pointing and opened his palm. “We specialize in it. Give your key to me.”
I was in too deep at this point. I was, wasn’t I? I reached into my pocket, and for a moment panicked that I had lost the second key in half as many days, but I eventually found them. I handed it to Vladimir.
He examined the key closely, like a jeweler trying to figure out the clarity of a diamond. “Very unusual,” he decided. “Normally I do not carry this type of key, but you may be in luck…” In mid-sentence he retreated to the backroom. His coworker did not stir.
Minutes passed as I heard what sounded to be Vladimir’s key making machine saving my ass. Everything was going to be fine.
After ten minutes, I became less confident in my salvation. After a radio broadcast of “Be Glorious, our free Motherland” joined the cacophony, my dread calcified.
Vladimir rejoined me twenty minutes later holding two missile keys. The radio in the back had moved onto a choir “The Internationale.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking this question,” I said to him, still eyeing his work suspiciously. “But is there any chance you made an extra copy for yourself while you were back there?”
He gave the keys a confused look and then returned his gaze to me. “Why would I do such a thing?” he was all smiles now.
“I…” I said. “I’d assume you would have your reasons.”
“No. Of course not. Here at this establishment we would never betray our customer’s trust like that. Here, take your key. Free of charge. Your satisfaction is wery important to us, Mr. Slipwhipple.”
I grabbed the original and the copy and made my way towards the exit. I had been utterly defeated. I, and I imagine, Capitalism. There really was only one thing left to do. I turned back towards the counter.
“Um… One more question. Are you hiring here? I may need to defect—er, rather—I may be in the job market.”