A Shot in the Stark


IT WAS nice and sunny the other day so I went out my garage and pulled the dustcover off my M-48 tank. She's a real beaut, vintage Korean-War model from back in the days of no-holds-barred V-8's and regular gasoline. I was about to start her up when I realized that the chrome and enamel "Kill" stick shift knob was missing. It's not like you can just walk into a tank shop and order a new one. Nowadays they're made of plastic with the words. "Drive safely" on them. It just wouldn't be authentic.

I went back to the house and looked under "Arms Dealers" in the Yellow Pages. I noticed a small ad at the very end of the section: "You've tried the rest, now buy the best. All makes and models. U.S. D.O.D., 1-800-555-ARMS. Must be over 21." I dialed.

"Hello, Pentagon?"

"Hi, I need a very particular weapons part..."

"Where are you calling from, sir?


"Uh, Cambridge."

"Please hold, sir." While I waited the phone played a computerized version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to ease my wait. Boop, boop, boop, boop. Very soothing.

A man came on. He seemed very no-nonsense. "Alright," he said. "You wanna buy some arms? Discount is my middle name."

"I just want one part. The gearshift knob fell of my tank."

His voice became very conspiratorial. "You want to know the truth?" I nodded, then realized he couldn't see me. "Well, I'll tell you. I don't care if you want a gearshift or an antimissile system. Once you've tried our new jet fighter, you won't want anything else. And if you agree to test fly it, you'll be eligible for a free trip to Bermuda."

WELL, I was intrigued. I'd never been to Bermuda before, so I let the guy take me down to the airport for a spin. It turned out his name was Ernie Snakoyl, and he had a top job in the NSC. He just sold arms on the side to put his kid through college. "Actually, this has nothing to do with the Pentagon," he said, "Really."

The plane, strangely, was a French Mirage. We were doing a cool Mach 2 over the Atlantic before I had time to straighten things out. "What the hell is an American arms dealer doing selling French aircraft?"

Ernie turned around from the cockpit and gave me a look like I was Ferdinand Marcos at a March of Dimes rally. "Are you serious?" he said. "What are you, a `Peace through Strength' guy or something?"

I confessed my ignorance, and Ernie obliged in enlightening me. "Say you're running a war against a neighboring country, but at the same time, your President lets it be known that his mansion could do with some renovations. What you need is some discount weapons, right?"

I shrugged. "All right," Ernie continued. "You could go to the U.S., but state-of-the-art F-15's cost serious dough. You'd have to go to Plywood Ranch for the President's renovations. That's no good.

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