Training for secret agent status is not without its trials and tribulations. One day you’re in deep cover trying to infiltrate a Scandinavian arms deal, the next you’re gambling away blood and treasure at the Baccarat table. It’s about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
So, a few months ago I decided it was time to prove my resolve. I needed to do something out of character; so against the grain that my mettle would be tested. I decided to delay gratification.
Patience, surely the lowest rung on the ladder of virtue, has never been a strong suit.
The object of my affection was the Walther PPK; a German designed pistol and the firearm of choice of my favorite British Secret Agent. The Walther emerged early in the series when James beloved Beretta was replaced at the suggestion of a Fleming reader. The reader felt the Beretta was a ‘ladies’ gun’ (it was the 60s) and lacked stopping power. After a few exchanges with Fleming by mail, the Beretta was replaced by the Walther in Dr. No. And it has held an indelible position throughout the series appearing in several films.
The PPK’s notorious history precedes Bond. Released in 1931, PPK stands Polizeipistole Kriminalmodell (Police Pistol Detective Model), the ‘K’ indicating that it is more concealable than the longer PP variant and suitable for detective or undercover work. It was carried by European policemen in the 30s and, regrettably, German officials in WWII. I take solace in the fact that it was the instrument of Hitler’s final solution when he took his own life in the bunker as the Russians closed in.
After taking my first firearms class I knew a PPK was in my future. The problem was finding one. Not widely distributed, the Walther wasn’t available in the area. I’d have to purchase one through a broker which, at the time, sounded complicated. I set my sights on a less expensive and more available solution – my Ruger SR9c.
Months later my desire to get my hands on a PPK was unabated. As part of the aforementioned training, I decided to wait until a critical work-related milestone was successfully achieved. Fortunately for me, after months of work and more than a bit of stress, the milestone was achieved in fine fashion. Gratification delayed, for a record five months, I started shopping just days after my event was complete (possibly that night).
I started with Google. The Walther website linked to a number of distributors in the area; one of which was not too far from home. Lowpriceguns.com, a sure sign of SEO optimization being the tail that wags the dog, had a huge catalog of guns on their site, but no Walthers. Luckily for me, they directed me to Gunbroker.com – an online marketplace for firearms.
While the idea of buying a gun on the Internet might be scary to some its reasonably safe. A seller can only ship a gun to a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer (FFL). And you can only collect one there after the standard background checks. No one from Amazon is dropping a firearm off at your front door.
I located a number of dealers who had the Walther PPK, in nickel of course, listed as NIB (new in the box). Osage County Guns had fantastic reviews as a seller and quickly accepted my price. After receiving a copy of the FFL license from LowPriceGuns.com (LPG), they shipped it out.
The LPG offices are located in the exact same location as my old Kenpo Karate studio on auto row in Bellevue. I arrived to find, not surprisingly, the walls lined with all manner of firearms – from handguns to assault rifles. The fee for collecting my weapon was about $50 higher than I expected – I had to pay sales tax for collecting it in Washington. While this was a minor annoyance as I hadn’t anticipated the cost, it was an affront to the would-be mercenary handling my transaction. He said “taxes” with an audible disdain befitting words of an altogether different meaning – like colonoscopy or Michelle Bachman.
I headed straight to the range. After waiting for months I wanted to kick the tires immediately. Upon initial inspection, the packaging left much to be desired. I was hoping for something, well, designed. The black plastic case was the equivalent of a plain brown wrapper; its inconspicuousness decidedly conspicuous. The contents of my black plastic case, however, were a marvel of German design and engineering. Short, blunt-nosed, but somehow still elegant – the Walther is a classic design and easily concealable (not that I ever intend on doing so).
Right away everything about the Walther felt different. Where the Ruger was light and balanced the Walther was heavy and cold. The contrast was startling. The Ruger, designed 70 years later, is made largely of composite plastic and steel. It’s an informed design with a subtlety and nuance that belies its purpose. The Walther, with its hard, metal edges felt violent. Its weight was so appreciable it’s as if the term “blunt instrument” was coined in its honor. Imagine my surprise upon firing it and feeling the kick. With less surface area to absorb the recoil the Walther kicks like a mule; easily rivaling my Ruger despite being a smaller caliber.
I immediately learned a valuable lesson. Nostalgia-based purchases come in two flavors. First and foremost is reacquainting one’s self with a lost love. For the antique car buyer it might be restoring the classic car from one’s youth. In my case that would be a 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit. The second form, and mine in this case, is an experience only a new found fan can appreciate – the inevitable let down resulting from rampant romanticizing. Having only fired more modern-day pistols, I was ill-prepared for my vintage firearm experience.
Undeterred, I soldiered on and exhausted the mere five shots remaining in my clip. My heart raced at the difference in feel and the alarming pain in the webbing between my thumb and index finger. When I looked down I saw blood run down my hand. The dovetail on the Walther isn’t long and I’d just received my first slide bite. Nostalgia can be a bitch.
After a few more rounds alternating between the two I was approached by a German gentleman from two lanes down. This didn’t surprise me. Firearms seem to be the antidote to the Seattle Freeze. He asked me what I’m shooting. When I mention the Walther he says (in a delightful German accent) – “did you know that’s James Bond’s gun?”
“Yes” I replied, “yes I do”.