originally published August 6, 2013
Today’s article is brought to you by the open road. For the first time in the last 584 days, I’m dropping these syllables into the milky impermanent water of MS Word whilst rocketing along the highway, the Dead’s “Terrapin Station” on the radio, the Rocky Mountains’ immature cousins rubbing shoulders with the British Columbian landscape. Like Jack Kerouac punching at a typewriter from the back of a truck. If he ever did that. I really don’t know.
But I do know that this entire scene, the blurred weeping willows and rusty towns with vaguely suggestive names like “Barriere” and “Bone Creek”, would be far more bad-ass if I was packing heat.
Nothing menacing and nothing murderous of course, simply a little one-shot pistol or something similarly concealable and sexy. Just to the let the world know that I can spill some blood if the situation were to call for it. Why should the only blood I see be my own words upon the printed page? Who’s to say Kerouac never carved some gore from the guts of another human? And where can I get ahold of one of those Apache revolvers?
Drawing from the tradition of the Swiss Army, Louis Dolne’s Apache revolver was a multi-purpose tool. Actually, each feature of this device serves the same purpose: to render someone either dead or bleeding. It’s a small, easily-concealed weapon, perfect for those occasions when you’re heading out on the town, and not quite sure how you’ll want to dispatch of any hooligans you may encounter. Will you crumple his jaw with the knuckle-buster brass knuckles? Shwing out the dual-edged knife and skewer his spleen? Maybe the pinfire revolver will deposit some lead on the mushy side of his temple-skin.
Not only does the Apache not have a barrel or any sights, meaning you’ll need to be practically within stabbing range to land your shot where you need it, but there is no safety mechanism to prevent you from accidentally launching an unwanted bullet into your flesh. People had to make sure the chamber under the firing pin was left empty – still, the possibility that your Apache revolver might do more damage to you than to some future bad-guy was pretty good.
Venturing a little deeper into espionage territory, there’s the Sedgley OSS, a product of the US Navy’s Intelligence Office. Mounted conveniently on the back of a cowhide glove – perfect for the rage-prone motorist – this single-shot pistol was meant to stay invisible until the moment the bullet hit the open air.
The Sedgley’s trigger is a bar that extends past the barrel. The shooter, after tucking down the rim of his fedora to ensure his face remains obscured by shadow, would press the trigger against his body to fire a shot. This gun requires a long-sleeved coat to conceal it, but then if you’re the type who would make use of a Sedgley OSS, you probably already own a trenchcoat or two.
And yes, this is the pistol that was fired in the movie Inglourious Basterds.
The Kiss of Death was the KGB’s answer to James Bond’s funky little toys. You know how the sexy Soviet female spy is always the one who’ll seduce then clip someone for a bit of information? Well this may be how that really happened. The Kiss of Death is a 4.5mm pistol concealed inside a lipstick tube. It sounds like a spy novel’s plot device, but a genuine Kiss of Death pistol found in West Berlin is sitting behind glass at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.
This one isn’t quite as devious, but it could still take an eighteenth-century ruffian by surprise if you conceal it in your topcoat. This is the Queen Anne pistol, so named because it only enjoyed a brief period of popularity in England during Queen Anne’s reign. On this little toy, the lockplate, breech and trigger plate are all forged as a single piece. The version pictured above is a coat pocket pistol, but these things were made in all sizes. They even made one called a Toby which was meant to be concealed inside a lady’s hand-warmer muff.
Civilians liked this model, as it was a great deterrent against street thugs, provided you only encountered one at a time. Because of its design, you’d only have to pour some powder into the chamber and plunk in a lead ball – there was no need to tamp the gunpowder with a ramrod. Much classier than the standard pistols of the time – no one wants to be seen tamping a pistol chamber in the street, especially after Labor Day. The snooty types could also get these babies done up with some fancy ornamentation.
The FP-45 Liberator was designed to do just that – it was a pistol crafted by the United States government for distribution among resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. Allegedly. There is no documentation that states that this pistol was ever passed among the underground, so we’ll call it an unofficial Liberator. General Motors was contracted to build these in secret, with the project’s official lingo containing code words – ‘tube’ for barrel, ‘yoke’ for trigger – in order to keep the whole thing on the down-low.
Containing only 23 steel parts, the FP-45 also has no barrel, so after about 25 feet your bullet would trickle off course. This lack of use at anything but point-blank range earned the gun the nickname of the Woolworth Gun. The gun probably had more of a psychological effect than a physical one – mass amounts of them parachuting into Axis-occupied territories likely unnerved the occupying soldiers. Most FP-45s were destroyed by the Allies after the war, but they can still be found among collectors. They were great for sneaking up on a Nazi soldier so you could take him out and get yourself armed with a gun that can do some actual damage.
The Deer Gun is the FP-45’s illegitimate child. The CIA concocted this snazzy-looking unit for distribution to South Vietnamese rebels in the late 1960’s. There was no mechanical safety, just a removable plastic clip that slid in near the receiver to keep you from prematurely shooting your load, so to speak.
Only a thousand Deer Guns were produced in 1964, but the Vietnam War’s sudden escalation from clandestine civil conflict into all-out brouhaha made the demand for these tiny single-shooters drop considerably.
Now that I think of it, Jack Kerouac probably never had a single-shot pistol tucked into his boot or his hand-warming muff. A weapon of death and destruction has no place here among the spectacular swath of nature just west of the Rockies. But I guess you never know who you’ll encounter along the way.