Karen Flynn, an intent career woman, just now engaged in rearing her children, opened an unexpected letter from The Department of Homeland Security and screamed.
“What is it, dear,” her fortyish husband Dan, who was just then cooing into a crib near the fireplace, asked, “your bill from Bloomingdale’s?”
“A letter from The Department of Homeland Security,” she exclaimed, blue eyes intent.
“What do they want with us?” he asked, and walked over to ascertain the nature of the unexpected missive.
“You won’t believe it,” Karen went on, holding the offending letter toward him. “As part of homeland security, they want to install a missile in our chimney.”
“A missile – in our chimney?” Dan responded, with understandable incredulity. “Hey, I approve of everything Washington does to make us safer, but that seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it?”
“Look,” she pointed out. “It says a representative will be here with the missile at 2 PM on the 25th. We can ask all about it then.”
“The 25th?” Dan repeated, checking the date on his watch. “Hey, that’s today!”
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Oh, my, do you think that’s the representative?” Karen asked.
“Well, it is 2 o’clock,” Dan informed her.
“Let’s pretend we’re not home,” his suddenly wily wife suggested.
“No, we should see him,” Dan concluded, nervously pushing his brown, combed-to-the-side hair off his forehead. “It’s the patriotic thing to do.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she agreed.
Dan crossed to the front door and pulled it open. He was confronted with Captain Richard Wiggins, a confidently straight-arrow fellow, spiffily attired in the latest military dress.
“Good afternoon,” he said, with forthright affability. “I’m Captain Richard Wiggins – from The Department of Homeland Security.”
“Welcome, Captain,” Dan replied, “we just got your letter today.”
“Sorry, you didn’t have more notice. We’re moving as quickly as possible to implement our new Homeland Protection plan. May I come in?”
“Of course,” Dan replied, stepping aside.
“Thank you,” Captain Wiggins said, and entered. “I only need a few minutes of your time.”
“Always glad to help out with homeland security,” Dan assured him, closing the door.
“Good,” the captain said, and became comfortably confident. Then he pointed to his briefcase. “I have the missile right here.”
“You do?” Dan asked, startled by the realization of its sudden imminence.
“Oh, my,” Karen sighed, with concern.
“Then it’s not a very big missile?” Dan queried.
“No, but surprisingly powerful,” Captain Wiggins informed him. Noting their apparent uneasiness, he immediately added, “Nothing to worry about. It comes with free homeowner’s insurance.” Assuming he had eased their anxieties, he asked, “Mind if I sit down?”
“Go right ahead,” Dan told him.
Captain Wiggins plunked himself on the couch, snapped open his briefcase, removed a document, and took a pen from his shirt pocket. “Just sign the homeowner’s policy. Then I’ll install the missile in your chimney and be on my way.”
“Mind if we ask a few questions first?” Dan dared.
“Not at all.”
“Does it come with any kind of listening device? We value our privacy a lot.”
“No, no, we’d never do something like that. It’s purely a defensive weapon.”
“Have you installed them in a lot of other homes?” Karen wanted to know.
“Quite a few,” he said a bit tentatively. “We just launched the program this week.”
“What if it blows up by accident?” Karen blurted out.
“Oh, that can’t happen,” he assured her. “We have to launch it from Cape Canaveral.”
“Oh,” she acknowledged.
“How powerful is it?” Dan asked.
“Let me just say it’s a potent addition to the war on terror.”
“How potent?” Dan persisted.
“I can’t reveal that. But I can say that, in honor of the President, we call it the Baby Boomer.”
“Oh, funny you should mention the word ‘baby,’” Dan said, deciding to extend the meaning to slip in his immediate concern, and, pointing to the crib, informed the captain, “We have one ourselves.”
“Near the fireplace,” Karen indicated, perhaps in a subtle quest for mercy.
“Why, I’m a father myself,” Captain Wiggins exclaimed, seeking to defuse their concern through parental mutuality. Then he held the insurance policy out again. “Can we sign the policy now?”
“I’m a little hesitant,” Dan indicated, firming up his resolution.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Captain Wiggins volunteered. “I walk around with it in my briefcase all day long. Even dropped it once.”
“Really?” Dan asked.
“Yes, and look,” the captain confided, spreading his arms, “I’m still in one piece.”
“Lucky for you,” Dan told him. “But we do have our baby to think about.”
“We really can’t take any risks,” Karen affirmed.
“If there were any risks, we would never be implementing the program,” Captain Wiggins assured them. “After all, our goal is to protect you, not endanger you.”
“Then it’s really safe to have around?” Dan wondered, with skepticism’s insistent voice prodding at him.
“Completely, unless, of course, you’re on the receiving end. Then, wham! It’s curtains.”
“Of course,” Dan replied, wondering how he might, at least, for the nonce, overcome his usual patriotic inclinations. “I’m just not sure our chimney can handle it.”
“It looks like a perfectly sound chimney to me,” the captain said.
“It’s kind of old, like the house,” Dan confided.
“Just last year some bricks came loose,” Karen admitted.
“Did you have the problem repaired?”
“Yes,” Dan told him. “New mortar.”
“Excellent,” the captain replied, holding the pen toward him. “Then there should be no problem whatsoever.”
Dan girded himself, and dared to state, “As much as we support the war on terror, we don’t want it.”
“What?” Captain Wiggins asked, astonished at their seeming indifference to common sense. “Why not?”
“We’re concerned about the children,” Karen interposed.
“But think what you’re standing in the way of! You have a chimney, your neighbor has a chimney, millions of chimneys, all across the America. Those terrorists show up anywhere, we blast ‘em.”
Dan weighed the situation carefully, and then asked, “How about, what you call, collateral damage?”
“Oh, that! No need to concern yourselves at all. It’s a smart missile. It seeks and destroys only people with anti-American sentiments.” Then his brow fretted with an intimation of impatience. “But I do have to move along. I have an appointment with your neighbor.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to put one in their chimney, too?” Karen asked.
“Oh, no. Your chimney gets the missile. His garage gets an Abrams tank.”
“I feel safer already,” Dan scoffed.
“But, we told you, our baby likes to nap near the fireplace,” Karen reiterated somewhat pleadingly.
“No problem,” Captain Wiggins assured her. “Babies love missiles. I’ll show you.”
He reached into his briefcase.
“What are you doing?” Dan asked.
“Here,” the captain said, gingerly lifting out the missile, which was actually quite small – only about a foot long, Dan noticed, with a circular panel on the side. “See how little it is. And look.”
At that point, he got up and walked over to the crib, where he began to wave the missile over the baby, saying, “Coo-chi, coo-chi, coo.” The unsuspecting innocent began to giggle. “See that?” said the captain. “Your baby thinks it’s a toy.”
“That’s not our only child,” Dan informed him. “We have a 10-year-old son who likes to take things apart.”
“No worry there,” Wiggins promised, and pointed to the missile proudly. “We already thought of what rambunctious children might attempt. So we put all the controls under a childproof cap.” With that, he pressed on the circular panel hard enough to depress it. Then he twisted it and open it popped. “See. No child has the strength to do that.”
“But what if we accidentally light the fireplace?” Dan wanted to know.
“We thought of that, too. It’s fireproof.”
Dan considered the captain’s reassurances and then grew curious, asking, “Exactly how does it work?”
“Glad to explain,” Captain Wiggins replied, and crossed to him with the missile. Raising it toward Dan, he pointed inside the now-open panel, and continued, “In the event of a terrorist attack in your neighborhood, we send a signal from the cape that flips this little red switch from here to here, and ten seconds later, whoosh! – off it goes, to neutralize the target.”
“From where to where?” Dan wanted to know, examining the missile more carefully.
“Here to here,” Captain Wiggins indulgently demonstrated, inadvertently flipping the switch. A ticking sound ensued. The captain looked up, with wide-eyed fear, and announced, “Oh, my!”
“Did you just flip the switch?” Dan asked urgently.
“I am so sorry,” the captain exclaimed, and couldn’t help picking up the countdown at the timely digit. “Eight, seven, six …”
“Flip it back the other way!” Dan shouted.
“I can’t!” Captain Wiggins confided. “Once it’s flipped, it locks in place to prevent sabotage.” Then he continued the countdown.
“Quick! Put it in the chimney!” Dan exploded.
“You’re right,” Captain Wiggins replied, and ran toward it, continuing the countdown: “… four, three …”
“The baby!” Karen shouted to Dan. “Get the baby!”
“Right!” Dan shot back, and raced for the crib.
“Oh, no!” Karen screeched, as the countdown approached zero.
The captain, arms outstretched so that he might attain the orifice of the fireplace a moment sooner, was just about at the location where he could hurl the missile up the chimney when, unfortunately, he reached, “Blastoff!”
Curiously, the missile did not detonate. Instead, a flag popped out of the tip that said, “Dummy!”
Captain Wiggins, who had been gawking at it with extraordinary apprehension, suddenly sagged his shoulders, and exhaled, “We’re in luck. It’s a dummy.”
“A dummy?” Dan reiterated with unrestrained perturbation.
“We salt some around,” the captain continued, “so the enemy isn’t sure which chimneys to make a preemptive strike against.”
“It’s not the only dummy in the house!” Dan exclaimed, no longer able to moderate his fury. Then, repressing his generally forthright patriotism, just for the moment, he pointed toward the front door, and informed their still-shaken caller, “Do you mind launching yourself out of here?”
By Tom Attea